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).

 

The Living God

Jeremiah exposed the trade of idolatry as a worthless pursuit of self glorification. He spoke of those who practiced idolatry as being vain. He said, “For the customs of the people  are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold, they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:3-5).

Idols were nothing more that inanimate objects that were portrayed as having superhuman powers that could harm people unless sacrifices were made to them. Jeremiah said, “Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jeremiah 10:5). At the heart of idolatry was a superstitious belief that a person could control his own destiny and did not need help from God to be successful in life.

Jeremiah pointed out that God’s role in the universe was to control the final outcome of his creation. He said, “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king; at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). The Hebrew word translated everlasting, ‘ôlâm (o – lawm´) refers to something that is concealed or the vanishing point when time no longer exists (5769). Another interpretation of olam is eternity. In the context of an everlasting king, it refers to the God who always has and always will rule over the earth.

Jeremiah’s reference to the LORD as the true God, the living God, was meant to emphasize the fact that God is alive and is a divine being with real superhuman powers. Jeremiah said, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jeremiah 10:12). Jeremiah’s use of the words power, wisdom, and discretion to describe God indicate that he is an intelligent being with the ability to create a world that is stable in the midst of a chaotic universe.

Jeremiah acknowledged that there is no comparison between man’s ability and God’s ability. As much as we want to think we can control our own destiny, it is impossible. Without God, there is no way to know how our lives will change over the course of 40 – 50 years. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).

 

The power of prayer

You may wonder, Can one person make a difference in the world? Is it possible to change the course of history? Hezekiah, king of Judah reigned from 715 B.C. to 686 B.C. during a critical time period when the Assyrian empire was spreading rapidly throughout the middle east. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Sargon II, king of Assyria and its people were taken into captivity. In 701 B.C., Sennacherib, king of Assyria attacked Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Judah. Shortly before this, Sennacherib led a campaign against the strongholds of Judah and took them (2 Kings 18:14).

It says in 2 Kings 20:1 that “in those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die and not live.” Isaiah’s use of the words “thus saith the LORD” indicated that God had sovereignly ordained Hezekiah’s death. In response to the news, Hezekiah cried out to the LORD. It says in 2 Kings 20:2-3, “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

In the early years of his reign, Hezekiah had instituted many reforms in Jerusalem in order to counteract the evil behavior of his father, king Ahaz (2 Kings 18:4). Much to his credit, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:5, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” Hezekiah’s relationship with the LORD gave him the confidence he needed to ask God to change his mind. It says in 2 Kings 20:4-6:

And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the  God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears:  behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.

Based on the LORD’s message to Hezekiah, “I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 20:6), it appears that the  LORD intended to give Sennacherib victory over Jerusalem after Hezekiah’s death. It could be that the LORD planned Hezekiah’s death in order to spare him from going into captivity in Assyria. Whatever his intent, the LORD saw Hezekiah’s sincerity and decided to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army instead.

An interesting aspect of Hezekiah’s situation was that he asked for a sign that the LORD would actually do what he said he would. “‘Signs’ are attestations of the validity of a prophetic message” (226). In essence, Hezekiah’s request for a sign meant that he doubted what Isaiah said was true. Perhaps, because he knew he could not defeat the Assyrian army. Isaiah gave Hezekiah two options. “And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?” (2 Kings 20:9).

The only miracle recorded in the Bible comparable to what Isaiah suggested the LORD would do for a sign to Hezekiah was when the sun stood still while Joshua and his army fought the Amorites. In that instance, it says, “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13). Since we know now that the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun, what actually happened was the earth stopped spinning for about 24 hours.

In Hezekiah’s case, what Isaiah was suggesting was that the LORD could make the earth rotate in the opposite direction, equivalent to 10 degrees of movement, so that the shadow would go backward instead of forward as it usually did. Based on what we know today, this was scientifically impossible. The amount of time that would have been gained or lost would have been about 20-40 minutes, a somewhat insignificant amount of time compared to the whole day that Joshua gained. Therefore, the evidence of the shadow made it possible to verify that is actually happened.

Hezekiah’s response indicated that he wanted God to do the impossible. “And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz” (2 Kings 20:10-11).