God’s discipline

Moses’ preparation of the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land focused on the essential responsibilities they had in keeping their covenant with God. One of the things that Moses wanted the people to do was to consider the discipline of the LORD. Moses said:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day, and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did.” (Deuteronomy 11:1-7)

Moses described the discipline of the LORD as “his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds” (Deuteronomy 11:2-3) and then, went on to identify specific things that the people had seen God do in order to discipline them. Discipline is a type of personal involvement in the lives of others that is usually motivated by love. Hebrews 12:3-17 states:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The writer of Hebrews associated discipline with making straight paths for our feet and indicated that holiness is required for us to see the Lord (Hebrews 12:13-14). The Greek word that is translated see, optanomai (op-tanˊ-om-ahee) means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable)” (G3700). This particular kind of vision is different that simple voluntary observation or mechanical, passive vision. Optanomai has to do with spiritual discernment and one’s ability to understand spiritual truth.

Knowing and seeing the discipline of the LORD are connected with our personal experience as a believer. Jesus told his followers, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23). The Greek word that is translated knew, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) “signifies ‘to be taking in knowledge, to come to know, recognize, understand,’ or ‘to understand completely,’…”In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of a relationship” (G1097). Epiginosko “suggests generally a directive, a more special, recognition of the object ‘known’ than does ginosko (G1097); Sometimes epiginosko implies a special participation in the object ‘known,’ and gives greater weight to what is stated…Cf. the two verbs in 1 Corinthians 13:12, ‘now I know in part (ginosko); but then shall I know (epiginosko) even as also I have been known (epiginosko),’ ‘a knowledge’ which perfectly unites the subject with the object” (G1921).

The Hebrew word that is translated discipline in Deuteronomy 11:2, musar, (moo-sawrˊ) appears throughout the book of Proverbs and is used figuratively in speaking of “warning or instruction; also restraint” (H4148). Musar is used three times in the first seven verses of Proverbs 1 which “provide the title (v. 1), the purpose (vv. 2-6), and the theme (v.7) of the book as a whole” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7). It states:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1-7)

According to Solomon, instruction or discipline is connected with wisdom and intelligence and therefore, it is silly to disrespect the person that gives it to you. Proverbs 3:1-12, which encourages believers to trust in the LORD with all their hearts, contains the original text that is cited in Hebrews 12:5-6. It states:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
    and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:1-12)

Solomon warned believers against leaning on their own understanding or being wise in their own eyes. The point that Solomon was trying to make was that our minds and God’s mind do not work the same way. God’s way of doing things is superior to our own and he is able to accomplish anything he wants to. Isaiah 55:6-11 states:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Thinking “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived” (H2803). Typically, people do this without giving any consideration to God’s thoughts about the matter or his ways of doing things compared to their own. Isaiah’s argument in favor seeking the LORD was that God is compassionate and he is willing to forgive our mistakes.

Judges 1:1 tells us that “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’” “The expression ‘inquired of the LORD’ refers to the fact that the civil ruler of Israel had the right to ask the high priest to consult the Urim and Thummin for him (Numbers 27:21). This was the means that God set up for the judges, and later the kings, to know his judgment on any particular matter” (note on Judges 1:1). The Urim and the Thummin were necessary in Old Testament times because the Holy Spirit was not yet available to believers. When one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus said to them:

“When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:2-13)

Jesus used the example of an unfortunate friend to illustrate his point that God always responds to our requests for help and then, concluded with the statement, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit is our primary means of direct communication with God. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). The Holy Spirit doesn’t intercede on our behalf in order to make our request known to God, but, so that God can communicate his will to us.

After the people of Israel “inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’ The LORD said, ‘Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.’” (Judges 1:1-2). The answer the people received gave them the confidence to move forward and resulted in successful conquests, but a pattern developed where there was a failure to complete the conquest. Judges 1:19 states, “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” Judah’s inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron was not a matter of it being impossible. Israel’s conquests in Northern Canaan involved a great horde of soldiers, “in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots” (Joshua 11:4). The problem that developed was that the people who had seen the great work that the LORD had done for Israel all died. “And there arose a generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7, 10). Israel’s disobedience caused the angel of the LORD to tell them, “I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you…And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:3, 11-12).

Israel’s early abandonment of the LORD was predicted before Moses’ death. Deuteronomy 31:16-18 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.” The LORD hiding his face meant that his favor had been withdrawn, making it seem as if he was no longer present with his people (H5641). The LORD was certainly aware of what was going on because he continued to intervene on their behalf when they got into trouble. Judges 2:16-22 tells us:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.”

The statement, “They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways” (Judges 2:19) indicates that the people of Israel were at that point doing “what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25), rather than inquiring of the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated practices, maʿalal (mah-al-awlˊ) refers to “an act (good or bad)” (H4611). Maʿalal is derived from the word ʿalal (aw-lalˊ) which specifically means “to glean” or to produce an effect, “by implication (in a bad sense) to overdo” (H5953).

Psalm 50 provides some additional insight into what was going on during the period of time between Joshua’s death and the installation of Israel’s first king. Psalm 50:7-17 states:

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
    O Israel, I will testify against you.
    I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
    your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house
    or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
    the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
    and all that moves in the field is mine.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
    for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
    or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

But to the wicked God says:
    “What right have you to recite my statutes
    or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
    and you cast my words behind you.

God indicated that his people were continually sacrificing burnt offerings to him, but for the wrong reasons. The Israelites weren’t thankful for the things that the LORD had done for them; they were trying to earn God’s favor. God associated the wicked with being able to recite his statutes and being identified with his covenant, but indicated that the wicked were not open to his correction or willing to apply his word to themselves. Subjugation to God’s discipline was an important aspect of the relationship that was demonstrated between God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus used the parable of the two sons to emphasize his point that it is necessary for us to change our minds in order to do what God wants us to. Jesus asked, “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).

Reviving the soul

The Bible teaches us that God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are considered to be one (Deuteronomy 6:4). Likewise, the Bible tells us that there are three components to human beings, a body, a soul, and a spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). “The Scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way” (H5315). When God created man, it says in Genesis 2:7, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The Hebrew word that is translated creature, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) means “soul” (H5315) and corresponds with the Greek word psuche (psoo-khayˊ) which refers to “the soul as the vital principle, the animating element in men and animals” (G5590). Man’s soul and spirit are immaterial and yet, considered to be real parts of his being. The material part of man, the body is what most people think of as the person, but the Bible indicates that the soul, the inner being is “the life element through which the body lives and feels, the principle of life manifested in the breath” and more “specifically the soul as the sentient principle, the seat of the senses, desires, affections, appetites, passions, the lower aspect of one’s nature.” The Hebrew word psuche is usually translated as soul, but it is also translated as life, mind, and heart. Jesus connected the word psuche with anxiety. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25, emphasis mine). Matthew 20:28 tells us that Jesus’ psuche or life was the price that was paid to redeem our souls from death. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11, emphasis mine).

The immaterial part of man which is known as the soul is held in common with animals, “However, animals are not said to possess a spirit; this is only in man, giving him the ability to communicate with God…In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the whole man is indicated as consisting of spirit, soul, and body; soul and spirit, the immaterial part of man upon which the word of God is operative” (G5590). Hebrews 4:12-13 states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” The author of Hebrews indicated that the word of God penetrates or is able to move through our being and separates the soul from the spirit so that it can expose the intentions of our hearts. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). In this verse, Jesus used the same Greek word in reference to the Holy Spirit and to the spirit part of man and indicated that it is the Holy Spirit who gives life. In this instance, the Greek word that is translated life is zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-ehˊ-o). Zoopoieo, as a verb, means ‘to make alive’” and speaks “of the impartation of spiritual life, and the communication of spiritual sustenance generally, John 6:63, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Galatians 3:2” (G2227). The soul and the spirit of man can be distinguished from one another in that the soul is associated with sin and death (Ezekiel 18:4) and the spirit is associated with salvation and eternal life. Jesus told a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (John 3:3-6). Jesus went on to say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

The bronze serpent that Jesus referred to Moses lifting up in the wilderness was a cure for the consequences of the people’s sin. Numbers 21:4-9 states:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Numbers 21:4 indicates that the problem that caused the Israelites to speak against God and Moses was that “the people became impatient on the way.” The King James Version of the Bible states the problem this way: “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.” Basically, what that meant was that the people began to experience the results of their rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 1:26-32) and it made them want to stop following the LORD’s directions.

Hebrews chapters three and four focuses on the situation in the wilderness with regard to the Israelites’ attitude about God’s promises. It states:

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

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

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief…Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 3:12-19; 4:6-13)

The author of Hebrews indicated that it was an evil, unbelieving heart that caused the Israelites to fall away from the living God and that it resulted in disobedience. The Greek word that is translated disobedience in Hebrews 4:6 and 4:11, apeitheia (ap-iˊ-thi-ah) refers to the “obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). The author’s statement that “the word of God is living and active” and is able to discern “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) implies that God created man in such a way that his words have an effect on our hearts and souls, but we are free to reject his message.

Psalm 19 begins with a declaration that the heavens speak to us on God’s behalf. King David stated:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6)

The fact that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork and yet, their message seems to have no effect on people’s hearts shows that Israel’s disobedience is typical of all mankind.

David went on to explain in Psalm 19 that people need to know more about God than just that he exists and has created us in order to submit themselves to his will. David said:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)

David indicated that the law of the LORD is perfect and that it is able to revive the soul. The law that David was referring to was probably the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible that were written by Moses. These books revealed God’s plan of salvation under the Old Covenant. “The law of God is that which points out or indicates his will to man. It is not arbitrary rule, still less is it a subjective impulse; it is rather to be regarded as a course of guidance from above. Seen against the background of the verb yarah, it became clear that torah is much more than law or a set of rules. Torah is not restrictive or hindrance, but instead the means whereby one can reach a goal or ideal. In the truest sense, torah was given to Israel to enable her to truly become and remain God’s special people. One might say in keeping torah, Israel was kept. Unfortunately, Israel fell into the trap of keeping torah as a means of becoming what God intended for her. The means become the end. Instead of seeing torah as a guideline, it became an external body of rules, and thus a weight rather than a freeing and guiding power” (H8451).

The perfection that David saw in the law of the LORD had to do with the effect of God’s word or more specifically the effect that knowing God’s will has on a person’s soul. David said that the law of the LORD revives the soul. The Hebrew word that is translated reviving in Psalm 19:7, shuwb (shoob) means to turn back. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure…The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). The process of conversion is depicted in the Pentateuch or torah through the lives of the Israelites who returned to the land that God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants after 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Also, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the Israelites were brought back to the place of their rebellion and given a second chance to enter the Promised Land. Moses told the people, “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and rules and will obey his voice. And the LORD has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and the he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised” (Deuteronomy 26:16-19).

The certainty of God’s promise is discussed in the sixth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. It says, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:13-20). The author of Hebrews talked about God’s promise being guaranteed with an oath and said that we have hope “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). The Greek word echo (ekhˊ-o) “stresses that one has the means to accomplish a task” (G2192). Jesus demonstrated that our souls can be saved by going before us into God’s presence and interceding with him on our behalf.

James’ letter, which was written to the twelve tribes of Israel in the Dispersion, addressed the issue of hearing the word God versus doing it with regards to saving the soul. James said, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:19-25). James described the law as the law of liberty. The Greek word that is translated liberty, eleutheria (el-yoo-ther-eeˊ-ah) stresses the completeness of Jesus’ act of redemption. “Not to bring us into another form of bondage did Christ liberate us from that in which we were born, but in order to make us free from bondage” (G1657). Eleutheria is derived from the word eleutheros (el-yooˊ-ther-os) which means “unrestrained (to go at pleasure), i.e. (as a citizen) not a slave” (G1658). Jesus told the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31, 34-35).

James concluded his letter with a discussion about the prayer of faith in the context of reviving the souls of others. James indicated that a person could be converted or saved as a result of the prayer of a righteous person on his behalf, a righteous person being someone whose life is consistent with God’s word. James said:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:13-20)

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).

Confidence

The result of being born again is an absence of guilt in the believer’s heart. It says in Hebrews 10:2 that sacrifices are no longer necessary “because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” The fact that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every sin of every person from the beginning of time until God establishes his kingdom on Earth, means that “He has made perfect forever all those who are being set apart for God-like living” (Hebrews 10:14, NLV). Therefore, the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

The Greek word translated full assurance in Hebrews 10:22, plerophoria (play-rof-or-ee’-ah) means entire confidence (G4136). The writer of Hebrews indicated that we can be frank or out spoken when we interact with God because our sins have been pardoned (Hebrews 10:19). This is important to note because prayer is essentially the only way we are able to communicate with God and therefore, what we say in our prayers to God matters. Hebrews 10:35-36 states, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (NKJV). Casting away our confidence basically means that we lose our nerve or hold back our true emotions when we talk to God.

The way that we talk to God should always be rational and respectful, but we do not have to pretend that we are happy when we are not. King David, who wrote many of the psalms that are recorded in the Bible, communicated in a very open and honest way when he was praying. Psalm 17 which is titled “A prayer of David” begins with these words, “Hear a just cause, O Lord, attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.” (Psalm 17:1, NKJV). David asked for divine protection and prayed, “Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, from my deadly enemies who surround me” (Psalm 17:7-9, NKJV).

The writer of Hebrews suggested that boldness and confidence are essential for receiving the promises of God (Hebrews 10:1, 35). This might be true because our faith is activated through prayer and does not work without having genuine interaction or more specifically, a relationship with God. Communication is essentially the vehicle that enables a relationship to go somewhere. The more open and honest two people are with each other, the more deeply they get to know each other and become committed to their relationship. God doesn’t expect us to blindly follow his instructions. He wants us to grow closer to him through a process of ongoing communication that results in a deeper understanding of his way of living and a conscious choice to do what pleases him rather than alienating him through sin.

God's eternal kingdom

As creator of the universe, God exercises divine control over all things. One of the unique abilities that God has is to ordain events and circumstances that accomplish a specific, desired outcome. In other words, God can make things happen the way he wants them to. The Hebrew word hayah (haw-yaw) means “to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass” (H1961). In Genesis 12:2, God told Abraham “…I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be [hayah] a blessing.” “The use of hayah in such passages declares actual release of power, so that the accomplishment is assured — Abraham will be blessed because God has ordained it.”

The prophet Isaiah, who lived approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, wrote about future events that were ordained by God. He stated, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and declared about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:23, 29). Jesus’ ministry on Earth was a part of God’s divine plan of salvation that was intended to correct the effects of every human’s sinful nature. Instead of death and eternal punishment, all who trust in Jesus for their salvation will receive forgiveness of their sins and live forever (John 3:16).

The mechanism by which God chose to save mankind was the death of his son Jesus on the cross (John 14:6). After Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he entered into heaven and now sits on the right hand of God (1 Peter 3:22). The book of Hebrews reveals what is taking place in heaven while Jesus waits for his eternal kingdom to be established on Earth. It says in Hebrews 4:14-16, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus’ role of great high priest in God’s eternal kingdom consists of two primary responsibilities, making sure that all who get saved stay saved and go to heaven when they die. During his ministry on earth, Jesus told many parables about things getting lost, such as a coin (Luke 15:8-10), a sheep (Luke 15:4-7), and a son (Luke 15:11-32). In each of these stories, the lost thing was found and restored to its rightful owner. After he told these parables, Jesus talked about an unjust judge that refused to respond to a woman’s plea for help. He told his disciples:

And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man, yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her; lest by her continual coming she weary me? and the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:4-8)

The point I believe Jesus was trying to make was that God is willing to answer our prayers, but he won’t do it unless we exercise faith. Therefore, it is Jesus’ responsibility to keep our faith alive and active through continual use (Hebrews 6:4-8). God was so certain that Jesus would be able to fulfill this responsibility that he confirmed his new covenant with an oath. It says in Hebrews 6:17-18, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

Confidence

It could be said that Jesus was the most confident man that has ever lived. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a significant event because it demonstrated that Jesus’ claim to be God had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The prophet Isaiah said of Jesus Christ, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). A key prophecy about the arrival of Israel’s Messiah was that he would be identified as the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:11). Zechariah said of this man, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on what is now referred to as Palm Sunday.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was a noteworthy event because he was defying the religious authorities that were planning to kill him. Everyone was paying attention to what Jesus was doing and probably knew something spectacular was about to happen. Many of the people that met Jesus in Jerusalem had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18). Even the religious leaders said among themselves “behold, the world is gone after him” (John 12:19). The key issue at stake was Jesus’ authority (Mark 11:28). If Jesus was God, then he had the right to rule over the nation of Israel and was accountable to no one but his heavenly Father. The Apostle Paul later described Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” and said of his authority, “for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:15-17).

In the midst of all that was going on, Jesus let his disciples know that his human needs still had to met. Matthew tells us, “Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he was hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the tree withered away” (Matthew 21:18-19). Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples about the power of faith and about the authority they had received from him. Jesus said:

“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-24, ESV)

Jesus’ command pointed out that believing was an essential element of answered prayer. The only thing that could keep his disciples from getting their prayers answered was doubt. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated doubt diakrino means to separate thoroughly (G1252). Jesus was probably telling his disciples that doubt was going to be the result of being separated from him. The reason Jesus was able to act with complete confidence was because he and his Father were one, spiritually there was literally no distance between them. The Greek verb translated received in Mark 11:24, lambano actually means to take or objectively “to get hold of” (G2983). This may mean that our confidence in receiving what we pray for comes from a recognition that we are just as close to Jesus as he was to his Father. Jesus prayed that all believers would be united with him just before he was arrested. He said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Prayer

Jesus used the parable of the widow and the judge to teach his disciples the importance of persistence in prayer and told them, “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Jesus viewed prayer as a sign of faith and made it clear that God acts quickly to vindicate his chosen people (Luke 18:7). When the widow asked the unjust judge to avenge her of her adversary, Jesus said of the unjust judge, “he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:4-5). The Greek word translated weary, hupopiazo (hoop-o-pee-ad´-zo) means “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist)” (G5299). In other words, the widow acted like a prize fighter and gave the judge a black eye.

Jesus pointed out that the difference between God and the unjust judge was that God wanted to avenge his children, but no one was asking him to do it. Jesus’ next parable showed that pride was the main reason why God’s chosen people were not receiving his forgiveness. He said:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week: I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!'” (Luke 18:10-13, ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that the tax collector was justified or declared innocent rather than the Pharisee because he humbled himself before God. Jesus then used a half grown child as an example of our dependence on God and said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter in” (Luke 18:17).

Spiritual treasure

Jesus told an innumerable multitude of people that he referred to as his friends to “beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:1-4). The warning Jesus gave was directed at those among the crowd that wanted to kill him. Even though the multitude of people were interested in hearing what Jesus had to say, there was probably only a small percentage of people that actually believed and intended to follow his teaching. It says in Luke 12:13, “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus rebuked this man and went on to say, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:14-15).

Hypocrisy and covetousness were deep seated problems that Jesus had to deal with in order to reach the people that appeared to be hungry for the spiritual truth he came to share with God’s chosen people. Some of the things Jesus said were most likely meant to weed out the people that were trying to trip him up or start an argument. It says in Luke 11:53-54, “the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.” As Jesus neared the end of his ministry, he had to be careful about inciting riots and stirring up the crowd because the Jewish religious leaders were looking for a reason to arrest and kill him. One of the tactics Jesus used was teaching in parables so that his words couldn’t be misconstrued or taken out of context. Jesus used the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) to focus people’s attention on the topic at hand, monetary versus spiritual treasure.

Speaking directly to those that he considered to be believers, Jesus said:

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment…And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. (Luke 12:22-30)

Jesus’ instruction had to do with the believer’s focus of attention and prayers to God. The point he was trying to make was that it wasn’t necessary for a believer to be concerned with material resources. Jesus went on to say, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things will be added unto you” (Luke 12:31). The Greek word translated seek, zeteo (dzay-teh´-o) means specifically to worship. In other words, the time one dedicates to God. Jesus assured his followers that God would take care of their physical needs if they focused their attention on and prayed for spiritual resources. In his final admonition, Jesus challenged believers to risk everything for the sake of his kingdom. He said, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in heaven that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).

Relationship with God

One of the things that was radically changed when Jesus came to Earth was a person’s ability to have a relationship with God. Because God had never been physically present with them, it was very difficult for the Israelites to understand his way of doing things. Probably, the most difficult barrier Jesus had to overcome was the preconceived ideas the Jews had about their Messiah and his mission to save the world. Reconciling the differences between God’s intentions and the expectations of his people took a significant amount of Jesus’ time and became one of his primary goals during his three year ministry. As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus focused on leaving a lasting impression on his disciples and preparing them for the time when they would once again be physically separated from him.

A direct benefit of Jesus being present with them was that his disciples could ask him questions and get his opinion about things that were difficult for them to understand. Although many things were still confusing to them, Jesus’ disciples were given private lessons that could help them decipher God’s will and his plan of salvation for the world. One of the things his disciples noticed was Jesus’ constant communication with his heavenly Father. Because they were aware that Jesus was praying for them and was asking God to do certain things that he couldn’t do himself, the disciples understood that prayer was a vital part of having a personal relationship with God. They also knew the time was coming when they would have to carry on without Jesus, so one of his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).

And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so  in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” (Luke 11:2-4)

A key aspect of this prayer was the way Jesus instructed his disciples to address God. When Jesus referred to God as “Our Father,” he was in a sense making his disciples equal with him because they were all on the same level from a relationship standpoint, God’s children. The three things Jesus instructed his disciples to ask for: daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation; showed them that their relationship with God was meant to be a way for them to benefit from his divine resources and sovereign control over the universe.

After sharing his template for prayer, Jesus told his disciples that they could depend on God and shouldn’t hesitate to ask him for the things they needed. Jesus explained that God is more reliable than a neighbor that has extra resources and told them, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened: (Luke 11:9-10). The progressive verbs Jesus used; ask, seek, and knock, probably had to do with the enhanced quality of a relationship with God over time. You could say there was a certain amount of boldness that could be expected the more intimately one got to know his heavenly Father. Jesus suggested that God would never say no to anything his children asked for, but then he clarified what he said with this statement, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13). In other words, we should be asking God for spiritual, not physical resources.

Intercessory Prayer

Daniel took it upon himself to intercede for God’s people. According to Jeremiah’s prophecy, the nations would serve the king of Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11). Daniel knew the seventy years had expired when Darius the Median conquered the Babylonian kingdom in 539 B.C. (Daniel 5:31). Therefore, Daniel prayed that God would forgive his people and return them to the Promised Land. Daniel said, “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Daniel did not presume that God would automatically let his people go back to their homes just because their 70 years of captivity was completed. One of the conditions of their return was that God’s people had to repent of their sins and want to restore their relationship with God. Daniel prayed, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries wither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee” (Daniel 9:7).

The phrase Daniel used “confusion of faces” (Daniel 9:7) had to do with the identity of God’s people. In part, God’s righteousness meant that he had acted consistent with his character. It was right for God’s people to be punished. They were guilty of the offences they had been accused of. Their “confusion of faces” was in essence saying God’s people had changed, they were no longer consistent with what God had made them to be. Another way of looking at it would be, that the Israelites were no longer recognizable as God’s people, their identity had been stripped from them. Due to the shame they felt, God’s people most likely did not want to return to their homeland. There was probably some feeling that they no longer deserved God’s blessing. Daniel’s intercessory prayer was a plea for God’s mercy. He said, ” Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our father, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us” (Daniel 9:16).

Daniel made the argument that God should forgive his people “for the Lord’s sake” (Daniel 9:17). In other words, Daniel was saying, don’t do it for us because we don’t deserve your mercy, but do it for the sake of your Messiah that is still yet to be born. Daniel’s intercessory prayer was responded to immediately. It says in Daniel 9:21, “Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.” Gabriel told Daniel, “At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou are greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter and consider the vision” (Daniel 9:23). Clearly, Daniel’s prayer reached God’s throne room and was consistent with God’s plan for his people. Gabriel laid out for Daniel a timeline for the Messiah’s birth and crucifixion,  and then told Daniel, there was still more to come after that. A prince would come to challenge Jesus’ authority. He would reign for seven years and would instigate the complete annihilation of the entire world (Daniel 9:27).