Justified by grace

Paul tackled one of the most difficult topics for Christians to understand in the final section of his short letter to Titus: justification by grace. Paul wrote:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Looking at his statement from a mathematical perspective, Paul was saying that: regeneration + renewal = justification. Regeneration or (spiritual) rebirth “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth” (G3824). Renewal, “by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God.” Paul indicated that the outcome of this life-long process was “being justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7). The Greek word that is translated justified, dikaioo (dik-ah-yoˊ-o) means “to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent” (G1344).

Paul talked at length about justification in his letter to the Romans. He stated in Romans 2:6-13:

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Paul’s declaration that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) was intended to focus his readers attention on the mercy of God which made salvation possible for all who have sinned. Repentance “involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). Therefore, God’s kindness was an important factor in what causes a person to want to repent. Paul went on to explain that we are justified by grace, but the redemption that is in Christ Jesus has to be received by faith in order for God to be able to render a verdict of innocent in each individual’s case. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Paul noted that there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and then, stated that we are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24). What Paul meant by a gift was that God’s grace was given to believers without a cause (G1432). The Greek word doron (doˊ-ron) means “a present; specifically a sacrifice” (G1435).

Paul’s discussion of justification included the motive behind it: God’s love. Paul said, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:6-9). Paul reasoned that because Christ died for us while we were still sinners, his propitiation for our sins would be sufficient to save us from the wrath of God. The wrath of God is a reference to the judgment that awaits those who have not put their trust in Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation gives us a preview of God’s judgment and reveals when it will take place. The beginning of God’s judgment is recorded in Revelation 6:1-17. Verses 12-17 state, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by the gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and powerful, and everyone slave and free, hid themselves in the caves among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Paul made it clear that God did not save us “because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Mercy “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it—efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656). Paul’s statement that we are “justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7) tells us that grace is necessary for justification to occur. The Greek word that is translated grace in Titus 3:7, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers specifically to “the divine influence upon the heart” (G5485). In the Hebrew language, “The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. 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 Saul was anointed King of Israel, 1 Samuel 10:9 tells us that “God gave him another heart.” God didn’t physically replace the organ in Saul’s chest. The Hebrew word haphak (haw-fakˊ), which is translated gave, was being used to convey “transformation” or “change” (H2015). As a result of him receiving a new heart, Saul was “turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6). Saul was not the same person on the inside as he was before, but we aren’t told exactly how he was different. The only thing we know for sure is that afterward, the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul, “and he prophesied” (1 Samuel 10:10). Prophecy is speaking or singing by inspiration. The function of the true prophet in the Old Testament was to speak God’s message to the people “under the influence of the divine spirit (1 Kings 22:8; Jeremiah 29:27; Ezekiel 37:10)” (H5012). In Saul’s case, the gift of prophecy was intended to be an outward sign of his anointing and only lasted a short while. After Saul returned home, it says in 1 Samuel 10:14-16, “Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, ‘Where did you go?’ And he said, ‘To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.’ And Saul’s uncle said, ‘Please tell me what Samuel said to you.’ And Saul said to his uncle, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.” When it was time for him to be proclaimed king before the people, Saul could not be found. 1 Samuel 10:22 states, “So they inquired again of the LORD, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the LORD said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’”

Saul’s unusual behavior after he was anointed King of Israel suggests that he was reluctant to become Israel’s king. “Saul showed himself to be a man who had no regard for God’s will. Though Samuel had already affirmed that the kingdom would pass from him to another (1 Samuel 13:13, 14), Saul did not repent. He continued to disobey according to his own whims, especially in regard to the battle with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3, 9). When Samuel discovered that Saul had kept the sheep alive following the Amalekites victory, claiming that he wanted to sacrifice them to the Lord (1 Samuel 15:21), the prophet declared, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice’ (note on 1 Samuel 15:1-9). Saul admitted to Samuel that he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” rather than doing what God told him to (1 Samuel 15:24). The Hebrew concept of obedience was closely linked to hearing the voice of God. In his final message to the people of Israel, Moses focused heavily on hearing and obeying the voice of the LORD. Moses asked the Israelites, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:33-36).

The Hebrew word that is translated heard in Deuteronomy 4:36, shama (shaw-mahˊ) means “to hear intelligently…Hearing can be both intellectual and spiritual…In the case of hearing and hearkening to a higher authority, shama can mean to obey (Genesis 22:18)” (H8085). Shama is translated obeyed in 1 Samuel 15:24. When Saul said that he feared the people and obeyed their voice, he meant that he regarded their will to be more important than God’s. Saul said to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the LORD.’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Samuel 15:25-28). The neighbor that Samuel was referring to was David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Earlier, Samuel referred to David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The primary difference between David and Saul was that David wanted to do God’s will.

1 Samuel 16:1-7 indicates that God was looking for a man with a certain kind of disposition to rule over Israel. It says in 1 Samuel 16:1, “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” God said that he had rejected Saul and provided for himself a king. “God will not force man to do His will, so He sometimes must ‘reject’ him…Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…As a creature of free choice, man may ‘reject’ God…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988). When Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought he was the one that God intended to make king, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is able to see the motives, feelings, affections, and desires of our hearts. As well as, “the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of every man” (H3820), not only of those that God accepts, but also of those that he rejects. God knew that Eliab, who was likely Jesse’s oldest son and the one who would naturally have been assigned a position of leadership, was not the kind of person that could take Saul’s place. Instead, God selected David, Jesse’s youngest son who was responsible for “keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11).

David and Saul began their reigns as King of Israel with the same advantage, they were both anointed by Samuel. “The Old Testament most commonly uses mashach to indicate ‘anointing’ in the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function” (H4886). “If the verb is used in association with a religious ceremony, it connotes the sanctification of things or people for divine service…The most common usage of this verb is the ritual of divine installation of individuals into positions of leadership by pouring oil on their heads. Most frequently, people were anointed for kingship: Saul (1 Samuel 10:1); David (1 Samuel 16:13; and Solomon (1 Kings 1:34).” In both instances, after they were anointed, it is also noted that “the Spirit of God rushed upon” Saul and David, but in David’s case it says in 1 Samuel 16:13, “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated rushed, tsaleach (tsaw-layˊ-akh) means “to push forward…This word generally expresses the idea of a successful venture, as contrasted with failure. The source of such success is God: ‘…as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper’ (2 Chronicles 26:5)” (H6743). This might seem to suggest that David never sinned or did anything to displease the LORD after he was anointed King of Israel, but we know that David didn’t live a perfect life. The Spirit of the LORD was there to keep David on track with his responsibilities as the King of Israel and to make him successful in accomplishing God’s will for the nation of Israel.

David’s personal relationship with the LORD was what set him apart from Saul, as well as, all the other Kings of Israel that followed him. The Apostle Paul’s formula for successful Christian living: regeneration + renewal = justified by grace: shows us that regeneration in and of itself does not produce the effect of justification. Renewal, the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he lives and the restoration of the divine image, requires the person to be a fellow worker with God in the process of sanctification (G3824/G342). Jesus told his followers that a tree is known by its fruit in order to express to them the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart. Jesus said:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)

In this instance, the word justified refers to acquittal from guilt (G1344). When Jesus said that we will be justified by our words or condemned by them, he meant that our own words will be used as evidence for or against us in the final judgment of mankind. Jesus went on to explain that repentance is necessary for the heart of a person to be changed (Matthew 12:39-42). In his parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that fruit is produced by the cultivation or development of God’s word and then, explained to his disciples, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).

Jesus’ discussion with a lawyer who wanted to test his understanding of the scriptures resulted in the Lord using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to teach the lawyer that it is impossible for us to be justified without God’s divine influence upon our heart. After the lawyer cited the law that stated we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Luke tells us:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)

Jesus said that the Samaritan had compassion on the man who was robbed and left half dead. Jesus continually showed compassion to the people that came to him for help. It is likely that Jesus used this characteristic to describe the Samaritan’s actions so that the lawyer would realize that the Samaritan was not acting of his own accord, but was responding to the divine influence upon his heart.

The day of judgment

Peter addressed his second letter “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Peter’s intention in addressing his audience as equals may have been to let them know that the topics he was going to cover were not meant for people outside the faith or for those who thought of him as being different because he was a Jewish believer. Peter talked about things in his second letter that were important to every believer. Peter encouraged his followers to be eager to grow spiritually and warned them about false teachers “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” and “exploit you with false words” (2 Peter 2:1-3). Peter referred to false teachers as “the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6), a group of people that do not worship the true God (G765). Jude said about the ungodly, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). The phrase crept in unnoticed means “to settle in alongside, i.e. lodge stealthily” (G3921). This implies that the ungodly people Jude was talking about were members of the church.

Jude indicated that ungodly people were designated for condemnation (Jude 1:4). Being designated for condemnation meant that the ungodly were not predestined for adoption into God’s family through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). Jude said ungodly people “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). The Greek word that is translated deny, arneomai (ar-nehˊ-om-ahee) means “to contradict, i.e. disavow, reject, abnegate” (G720). Arneomai is used in John 18:25-27 in connection with Peter’s denial of the Lord shortly before his crucifixion. It states, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples are you?’ He denied (arneomai) it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied (arneomai) it, and at once the rooster crowed.” Peter’s refusal to admit that he was one of Jesus’ followers is recorded in all four of the gospels. In Luke’s account of the incident, it says, “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-62). In Jesus’ statement, “you will deny me three times,” the word aparneomai (ap-ar-nehˊ-om-ahee) is used, which means “’to deny utterly,’ to abjure, to affirm that one has no connection with a person…The strengthened form is the verb used in the Lord’s warning as to being ‘denied’ in the presence of the angels (Luke 12:9)” (G533).

The fact that Peter wept bitterly after he realized what he had done shows us that he was remorseful for his behavior. Peter’s relationship with the Lord was restored after Jesus’ resurrection. At the end of a conversation in which Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15, 16, 17), Jesus repeated his original invitation to Peter, stating, “Follow me” (John 21:19). The book of Hebrews asserts that it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened to be restored after they have fallen away from their faith (Hebrews 6:4-6). It states, “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8). According to this passage, the fruit or outcome of one’s actions determines the condition of the person’s heart. Jesus told his disciples, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. The Greek word metanoia (met-anˊ-oy-ah) “as a noun, means ‘afterthought, change of mind, repentance,’…In the New Testament the subject chiefly has reference to ‘repentance’ from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). Paul went on to say, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:5-11).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him about the sign of his second coming and of the end of the age, he told them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4-5). Jesus went on to say, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be…But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man…Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time, Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:21-51).

Jesus compared the faithful and wise servant with the wicked servant and said that it was his master’s delay that caused the wicked servant to neglect his responsibilities. Peter addressed the issue of the Lord’s delayed return in his discussion of the judgment of the ungodly. Peter said:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:1-9)

Peter indicated that the heavens and earth that now exist are being stored up for fire and being kept until the day of judgment (2 Peter 3:7). Peter compared the day of judgment to the flood that caused all life on earth to perish and said that it would result in the destruction of the ungodly. The Greek word that is translated destruction, apoleia (ap-oˊ-li-a) refers to “the second death, perdition, i.e. exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom” (G684).

The book of Revelation provides some insight into what the second death is about. It says in Revelation 2:11, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Hurt in this instance has to do with Satan’s ability to harm people (G91). In the second death, anyone whose name is not written in the book of life is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). “Thanatos, death, has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God. Death, in whichever of the above-mentioned senses it is used, is always in Scripture, viewed as the penal consequence of sin, and since sinners alone are subject to death (Romans 5:12), it was as the Bearer of sin that the Lord Jesus submitted thereto on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). And while the physical death of the Lord Jesus was of the essence of His sacrifice, it was not the whole. The darkness symbolized, and His cry expressed, the fact that He was left alone in the universe, He was forsaken (Matthew 27:45-46).

Jesus encouraged believers to enter by the narrow gate and said, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus went on to explain to his disciples that knowing God’s will and doing it are not the same thing. Jesus said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:21-27)

Jesus’ analogy of a house built on the rock was particularly meaningful to the Jews because their Messiah was referred to in the Song of Moses as the Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31). Jesus also used the analogy of a rock when he affirmed Peter’s declaration that he was the Christ. Matthew tells us:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)

Jesus said that he would build his church on this rock, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18); meaning that, just as the rain, floods, and the wind beating against it could not bring down the house built on the rock, so also, the forces of Satan would not be able to bring down Jesus Christ’s church.

The nation of Israel was intended to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), but shortly after they received God’s Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), “the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up make us gods who shall go before us.’” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron “made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:4). After the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land, idolatry became a problem for them and “remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile” (note on Judges 2:13). It says in Judges 2:19-22. “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.” Judges 17:6 states, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The corruption that developed among the people of Israel is evident in a situation that resulted from a man traveling through one of the towns inhabited by the people of Benjamin. The man and his concubine were taken into the home of an old man living in Gibeah. Judges 19:22-30 tells us:

As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

This low point in the nation’s development shows that not all the people of Israel were committed to doing things God’s way. All who saw it were stunned by what happened in Gibeah and were prompted to “consider it, take counsel, and speak” (Judges 19:30).

Judges 20:1 tells us, “Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah.” The unification of the people of Israel was an important first step in their attempt to correct the problem that had developed in Gibeah. It says in Judges 20:8-11, “And all the people arose as one man, saying, ‘None of us will go to his tent, and none of us will return to his house. But now this is what we will do to Gibeah: we will go up against it by lot, and we will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the people, that when they come they may repay Gibeah of Benjamin for all the outrage that they have committed in Israel.’ So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man.” The Hebrew word that is translated united, chaber (khaw-bareˊ) has to do with fellowship and is similar to the Greek word koinonia (koy-nohn-eeˊ-ah). Koinonia is derived from the word koinonos (koy-no-nosˊ) which means “a sharer, i.e. associate” and is used “figuratively, of those who eat meats offered to idols, partakers or companions either with God or with demons (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20).” Koinonos is also used “figuratively, of those who serve Christ, partakers of divine blessings” (G2844). Peter used koinonos to refer to himself “as a partaker in the glory that is to come” (1 Peter 5:1) and said of God, the Father, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, though the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers (koinonos) of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Peter indicated that the divine nature is shared among believers and is obtained through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. When the people of Israel became united as one man, they were operating in the same way that the body of Christ is expected to.

Judges 20:12-17 states:

And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What evil is this that has taken place among you? Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel. Then the people of Benjamin came together out of the cities to Gibeah to go out to battle against the people of Israel. And the people of Benjamin mustered out of their cities on that day 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered 700 chosen men. Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.And the men of Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered 400,000 men who drew the sword; all these were men of war.

The battle that took place between the Benjaminites and the rest of the people of Israel initially resulted in 40,000 of Israelite soldiers being killed. Judges 20:26-28 tells us, “Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. And the people of Israel inquired of the LORD…saying, ‘Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?’ And the LORD said, ‘Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.’” It says in Judges 20:34-5 that “the battle was hard…And the LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All of these were men who drew the sword” Further details of the event are provided in Judges 39-41. It states:

Now Benjamin had begun to strike and kill about thirty men of Israel. They said, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.” But when the signal began to rise out of the city in a column of smoke, the Benjaminites looked behind them, and behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. Then the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were dismayed, for they saw that disaster was close upon them.

When the men of Benjamin saw that disaster was close upon them, they realized that the day of judgment had arrived for them. The Hebrew word that is translated disaster, raʿ (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrong-doing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). The Hebrew word that is translated destroy in Judges 20:35, shachath (shaw-khathˊ) is used in Genesis 6:11-13 in reference to the corruption that God saw in the world before he destroyed it with the flood. “This word especially marks dissolution or corruption and also to the physical destruction of all that was living on the earth and of the earth itself” (H7843). The writer of Hebrews tells us, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Incomprehensible strength

Sanctification was a central characteristic of the Israelites’ relationship with God. When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, they were told, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) means sacred. “It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony…This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9)…God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918). Qadowsh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means, “to be (causative, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally)…The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they became holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)…The word is used most often in the intensive stem, meaning to pronounce or to make holy, to consecrate” (H6942). Exodus 19:8 tells us, “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’” And then, “When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’” (Exodus 19:9-11). The Israelites’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai was a unique experience in that they could hear what God was saying to Moses. When they heard God speak the words of the Ten Commandments, “the people were afraid, and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

“God made a conditional promise to the Israelites that if they would obey him and keep his covenant, he would regard and treat them in a special way. The people chose instead to make a golden calf and forsake the God who had rescued them from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 32:1-24). That event, as well as persistent infidelity throughout most of their history, greatly limited the extent to which the Israelites could realize these promises. The designations ‘royal priesthood’ and ‘a holy nation’ are also applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:9, 10” (note on Exodus 19:5, 6). Peter addressed his letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling in his blood and said:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Peter’s mention of the sprinkling in Jesus Christ’s blood is related to the Old Testament process of sanctification. During their ordination, the blood of a bull and two rams were used to consecrate Aaron and his sons so that they could serve God as priests (Exodus 29:1). Exodus 29:19-21 states, “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and their garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.” The placement of blood on the tip of the right ear symbolized sensitivity to God and his word. The placement of blood on the right thumb and great toe of the right foot symbolized a life of service to others on God’s behalf (note on Exodus 29:20, KJSB). Peter wanted his readers to understand that as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the elect exiles of the Dispersion were set apart to serve God and were expected to accomplish what the Old Testament priesthood failed to do, to be sensitive to God’s word and to serve others on God’s behalf.

Peter emphasized the importance of abstaining from the passions of the flesh and indicated that they “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The flesh represents the unregenerate part of man that is associated with human nature. The soul is regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life. The soul as an essence differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (G5590). “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the afterlife [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). Peter’s determination that the passions of the flesh war against your soul was reinforced by James’ warning against worldliness. James said:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)

The war between the flesh and the soul of a man is a spiritual conflict that James associated with submission to God. James admonished believers to resist the devil and said, “He will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7).

On an individual basis, the Israelites were able to consecrate themselves to God by making a special vow, “the vow of a Nazirite” (Numbers 6:2). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God. The Nazarite vow included abstinence from strong drink or the cutting of his hair, and no contact with dead bodies” (H5139) because of his separation to God (Numbers 6:7). If the vow of a Nazarite was broken, it was considered a sin (H5088). The person would have to go through a process of purification which included making atonement for his sin (Numbers 6:11). “The word ‘Nazarite’ (not to be confused with ‘Nazarene’) means ‘separated,’ and in this context refers to one who was specifically ‘holy to the LORD’ (Numbers 6:8). By the terms of the vow, men or women could voluntarily separate themselves unto the LORD for a specific period of time, even for life” (note on Numbers 6:2-21). Samson is one of the two Nazarites mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. The circumstances of Samson’s birth are recorded in Judges 13:1-5. It states:

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Samson’s designation as a Nazarite was a life-long commitment that began even before his conception. His mother was told to “drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4) in order to keep Samson from being defiled while he was in her womb. When Samson’s mother told her husband about what had happened, she said, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6). The Hebrew word that is translated awesome, yareʾ (yaw-rayˊ) means “to fear…This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God” (H3372).

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD had the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him” (note on Exodus 23:20-23). When the angel of the LORD appeared a second time, Samson’s father, Manoah said to him, “’What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’” (Judges 13:17-18). The Hebrew word that is translated wonderful, pilʾiy (pil-eeˊ) means “incomprehensible” (H6383) and is derived from the word pala (paw-lawˊ) which means “to separate, i.e. distinguish” (H6381). “While nothing is too extraordinary for God, various things are said to be beyond the abilities of some individuals to do or comprehend.” The angel of the LORD’s appearance to Samson’s parents was likely intended to prepare them for the incomprehensible things that God intended to do through their son Samson. “Samson was a Danite, living adjacent to the Philistines. He was selected before birth as the one who would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). God gave him superhuman strength to achieve this, but Samson’s life was filled with compromise in his repeated refusal to control his sensual desires and whims. His physical blinding by the Philistines (Judges 16:21) seems to have brought about the opening of his spiritual eyes; he gave his life for his people and is commended for his faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32)” (note on Judges 13:24).

It says of Samson in Judges 13:24-25, “The young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” The Hebrew word that is translated stir, paʿam (paw-amˊ) means “to tap, i.e. beat regularly; hence, (generally) to impel or agitate” (H6470). It was as if God was continually tapping Samson on the shoulder and asking him, when are you going to do something about this? Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was used by God to begin the process of change. Judges 14 tells the story of Samson’s embarrassing disappointment from the vantage point of a young man in love for the first time. It states:

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes.

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” And he said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”

And in three days they could not solve the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” And Samson’s wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

“Mixed marriages of Israelites with other races were forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4). Samson’s parents were right to oppose his marriage to a heathen woman from the Philistines, who constantly oppressed the Israelites” (note on Judges 14:3). “God did not force Samson into the marriage; Samson made his own decision. God used Samson’s marriage to accomplish his will in spite of the lack of wisdom on Samson’s part. It proved to be a crucial step in the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 15:1-8)” (note on Judges 14:4). It says in Judges 14:19, “In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” Samson’s passion for the woman that he wanted to marry was turned into zeal for the LORD because of his personal experience which revealed to him how the Philistines were taking advantage of the Israelites. Samson’s slaughter of thirty men so that he could pay his debt to the men who solved his riddle also demonstrated to the people of Ashkelon the incomprehensible strength that he was capable of exerting in order to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

Deliverance

God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was accomplished by means of signs and wonders that were intended to establish the LORD’s supremacy over human kings and kingdoms. God told Moses, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5). One of the primary uses of the Hebrew word yadaʿ (yaw-dahˊ), which is translated know in this verse, “means to know relationally and experientially: it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God’s desire to make himself known to the Egyptians was based on his pronouncement of judgment on them (Exodus 7:4) and his determination that Pharaoh would harden his heart against him (Exodus 7:3). “The natural inclination of man is to oppose God (Romans 3:9-23), and God sometimes allows men to follow the evil desires of their own hearts and experience the subsequent consequences (Romans 1:24-32). God allowed Pharaoh, in his pride and sinfulness, to do as he desired” (note on Exodus 7:3) because it served the purpose of his will, which was to save the Israelites from their bondage (Exodus 6:5).

After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:29), Moses declared, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31). Moses indicated that the LORD saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians. The Hebrew word that is translated saved is yashaʿ (yaw-shahˊ). “The underlying idea of this verb is bringing to a place of safety or broad pasture as opposed to narrow strait, symbolic of distress and danger.” Yashaʿ refers to “the salvation that only comes from God (Isaiah 33:32; Zephaniah 3:17)” (H3467). As a result of being saved, the people of Israel feared the LORD and believed in the LORD, which meant that they recognized God’s power and position and rendered him proper respect (H3372), as well as, experiencing a personal relationship to him (H539). Hebrews 11:29 tells us that the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea as on dry land by faith. The Greek word that is translated faith, pistis (pisˊ-tis) is “spoken by analogy of the faith of the patriarchs and pious men from the Old Testament who looked forward in faith and hope to the blessing of the gospel” (G4102). “It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ.”

The Song of Moses expressed the Israelites’ attitude toward God after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. It states:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
    your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
    pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
    trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:1-18)

In Exodus 15:2, it says, “The LORD is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.” This verse implies that something had happened that changed the Israelites’ status from unsaved to saved. The Hebrew word that is translated salvation, yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-aw) means “something saved, i.e. (abstractly) deliverance.” The name Jesus is a Greek form of yeshu’ah and it might be said that when the Israelites experienced salvation, they experienced what Jesus’ death on the cross intended to make possible for them; but at that point, it was not understood as a salvation from sin, since the word denoted broadly anything from which “deliverance” must be sought (H3444).

Jesus used the Greek word soteria (so-tay-reeˊ-ah) when he told a man named Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). “Soteria denotes ‘deliverance, preservation, salvation.’ ‘Salvation’ is used in the New Testament of material and temporal deliverance from danger and apprehension,” as well as, “of the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is to be obtained, Acts 4:12” (G4991). Soteria is derived from the word soter (so-tareˊ) which means “a deliverer, i.e. God or Christ” (G4990). Jesus went on to tell Zacchaeus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus used the word sozo (sodeˊ-zo) to describe the act of being saved and made it clear to Zacchaeus that it was his mission to save people who were identified as the lost. The Greek word that is translated lost, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) “signifies ‘to destroy utterly’; in the middle voice, ‘to perish.’ The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622). Apollumi is used in Matthew 10:28, where it says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy (apollumi) both soul and body in hell.”

Jesus used the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate his point that it is not God’s will for believers to experience apollumi. Jesus said:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (apollumi).” (Matthew 18:10-14, NKJV)

Jesus associated being lost with going astray. The Greek word that is translated goes astray and straying, planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is derived from the word plane (planˊ-ay). “Literally, plane means a wandering whereby those who are led astray roam hither and thither and is always used of mental straying, wrong opinion, error in morals or religion, 2 Thessalonians 2:11, ‘delusion.’ It is akin to planao, ‘a wandering, a forsaking of the right path’” (G4106). James used planao and plane in the concluding paragraph of his letter that was addressed to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. James said:

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 5:19-20).

The phrase brings back has to do with a reversal in thinking or you might say, unlearning something that is incorrect. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). It says in Matthew 18:2-3, “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In order to become like children, Jesus may have been expecting his disciples to unlearn some of the traditions of the elders that the prophet Isaiah referred to as the commandments of men (Matthew 15:1-6). Isaiah’s prophecy dealt with the upside down religion that had permeated Israel’s culture before they were sent into exile. Isaiah 29:13-16 states:

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

The Hebrew word that is translated turn things upside down is similar to the Greek word that is translated brings back in James 5:20, both are associated with the process of conversion and suggest that there are two sides, or if you will, states of salvation. A person may be saved and sanctified, that is an active adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God is taking place (G342); or one may be saved and unsanctified, meaning that the sinner has been removed from the kingdom of darkness, but is not living according to the truth of God’s word (James 5:19-20).

The Israelites’ experience after they entered the Promised Land is an example of what it looks like to be saved, but not living according to the truth of God’s word. It says in Joshua 2:11-13, “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. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and Ashtaroth.” “Canaanite deities, such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths, remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile…It took seventy years in captivity to finally cure the Israelites of their idolatrous ways” (note on Judges 2:13). The LORD warned the people of Israel about disobedience before they entered the Promised Land and told them that curses would come upon them and overtake them (Deuteronomy 28:15). Moses said, “The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20). Judges 2:15 tells us, “Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.”

The terrible distress that the Israelites felt was indicative of them being out of the will of God, but it didn’t mean that the LORD had abandoned them. On the contrary, God was using their circumstances to develop their faith. Judges 2:16-19 states:

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.

The Israelites’ salvation wasn’t dependent on their behavior, but their behavior did determine the measure to which they experienced the positive effects of being saved. When it says that the judges saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them, it means that the Israelites experienced a military victory that bolstered their faith and gave them the confidence they needed to put their trust in God. The problem was that the judges were only providing temporary fixes because when that person died, the Israelites turned back to their idolatry (Judges 2:19).

Judges 3:1-2 tells us that the foreign nations that were left in the Promised Land were left, “to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.” Warfare played an important part in the development of the Israelites faith because their dependence upon God for victory was evident to them. James opened his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion with the statement, “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). The key words James used: trials, testing, faith, steadfastness, and complete; all reflect aspects of the process of sanctification that believers must go through in order to be delivered from their practices or their stubborn ways, what we might refer to today as business as usual. James went on to say:

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 encouraged believers to receive with meekness “the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). James’ reference to the implanted word was likely related to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-8). Jesus likened the word of God to seed that is sown in a person’s heart. Jesus said, “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:12-15). Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in our hearts and not be choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life in order to bear fruit. The Greek word that is translated hold fast, katecho (kat-ekhˊ-o) “stresses holding fast in order to hinder the course or progress of something or someone” (2722). In the instance of the Israelites, they were expected to hold fast to the commandments of the LORD in order to hinder the course or progress of the nations around them that were practicing idolatry. Instead of doing that, the people of Israel “abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13).

It says in Judges 3:9, “But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them.” The Hebrew word that is translated cried out, zaʿaq (zaw-akˊ) means “to shriek (from anguish or danger). Zaʿaq is perhaps most frequently used to indicate the ‘crying out’ for aid in time of emergency, especially ‘crying out’ for divine aid. God often heard this ‘cry’ for help in the times of the judges, as Israel found itself in trouble because of its backsliding (Judges 3:9, 15; 6:7; 10:10)” (H2199). The deliverance that the LORD gave the Israelites was based on their anguished cries for help. It was similar during Jesus’ ministry in that many of the people that Jesus healed cried out to him for help (Matthew 15:23; 20:30; Mark 10:47; Luke 18:39). On one occasion, when Jesus came to his disciples walking on the sea, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ’Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:27-31). The fact that Peter cried out, “Lord, save me” indicates that he still viewed salvation as temporal deliverance from danger, but in his first letter, Peter used the same Greek word, sozo to refer to “the present experiences of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin (1 Peter 3:21)” and “the future deliverance of believers at the second coming of Christ for His saints, being deliverance from the wrath of God to be executed upon the ungodly at the close of this age and from eternal doom” (1 Peter 4:18-19). It is clear from Peter’s statement that he considered Jesus to be the source of his deliverance, the person who could save him. Later, when Jesus asked his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “’You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:15-17).

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).

God’s word

When he was asked the question, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36), Jesus summarized the Mosaic Law by stating, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The key ingredient in both of these commandments is love. 1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Love is a part of God’s essential nature and can be known only from the actions it prompts. “God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9, 10)…Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6). Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God. Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren , or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered” (G26). Christian love is depicted in the book of Ruth by Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17), Boaz’s generosity and kindness toward Ruth who was a foreigner from the land of Moab (Ruth 1:22; 2:8-9, 20), and Ruth’s selection of Boaz as her kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 3:10).

Abraham’s covenant with God was based on him having a personal relationship with the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated kindness in Ruth 2:20, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “means ‘loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; devotion.’ The term is one of the most important 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 the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers 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 of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute 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 the promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617). Chesed appears in Deuteronomy 7:7-12 where Moses explained God’s choice of the people of Israel and his expectations for them. It states:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.”

Moses indicated that the people of Israel had to not only understand the rules that God had given them, but also to keep and do them (Deuteronomy 7:12). The three verbs: listen, keep, and do; suggest a progressive type of obedience that results in one’s behavior being completely conformed to the rules that have been established.

The Apostle Paul talked about believers being conformed to the image of Christ in his letter to the Romans. Paul said of God, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). Paul went on to talk about spiritual worship and said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The Greek words that Paul used in Romans 8:29 and 12:2 are both translated conformed, but have different meanings. Summorphos (soom-mor-fosˊ) and suschematizo (soos-khay-mat-idˊ-zo) are both derived from the root word sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together” (G4862). Each of these words shows us that being conformed is a joint effort, but the important thing to note is that our human tendency is to be conformed to the world, rather than to the image of God’s Son. Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2 emphasis mine). The Greek word that is translated transformed, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) is “spoken literally of Christ’s transfiguration on the mount (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2)” and is “spoken figuratively of our being transformed in mind and heart (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18)” (G3339). Paul indicated the way that believers are transformed is “by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine). “Anakainosis means ‘a renewal’ and is used in Romans 12:2 ‘the renewing (of your mind),’ i.e. the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer.” A synonym of anakainosis is palingenesis (G3824). “Palingenesis stresses the new birth; whereas anakainosis stresses the process of sanctification” (G342). “Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is the act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainosis, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Sanctification is mentioned throughout the book of Exodus in connection with worshipping God. When something was sanctified or consecrated, it was considered to be holy (H6942). A sacred anointing oil was used to “anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand” (Exodus 30:26-28) And Moses said, “You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy” (Exodus 30:29). The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to be made holy, be sanctified” (G37). In his high priestly prayer, shortly before his death, Jesus asked his Father to keep his followers from the evil one through the process of sanctification. Jesus prayed:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:14-17)

Jesus asked that God would sanctify us in truth and said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated word is logos (logˊ-os), which refers to “something said (including the thought)…also reasoning (the mental faculty or motive)…the reasoning faculty as that power of the soul which is the basis of speech” (G3056). John described Jesus as the Word or the Logos. John said, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). When he was tempted by Satan, Jesus quoted Old Testament scripture in order to defeat his opponent. In response to the tempter’s suggestion that he turn stones into bread, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Greek word that is translated word in this instance is rhema (hrayˊ-mah). “The significance of rhema, (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ Ephesians 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture” (G4487).

Psalm 119:11 states, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The Hebrew word that is translated stored up, tsaphan (tsaw-fanˊ) means “to hide (by covering over); by implication to hoard or reserve” (H6845). The idea that the psalmist was trying to convey was creating a surplus of truth that he could draw on in the future. One of the illustrations that Jesus used to describe the process of taking in and processing God’s word was seed that is sown on different kinds of soil. Jesus told the parable of the sower to a great crowd that was gathering as he and his disciples traveled from town to town. Afterward, Jesus explained the meaning of the parable to his disciples in private. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:4-15)

Jesus indicated the way that God’s word is stored up or to hold it fast is by having an honest and good heart. The Greek word kalos (kal-osˊ), which is translated honest, speaks of that which is good because it “is well adapted to its circumstances or ends” (G2570). In other words, it is suitable for its use. With respect to a person’s heart, honest means that your heart is used to speaking the truth.

The book of Deuteronomy teaches us that the condition of a person’s heart is partly dependent on the bad things that it is exposed to and partly dependent on how much effort one makes to keep their heart in good condition. Moses told the people of Israel:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Moses’ instructions included multiple ways for the people of Israel to keep themselves immersed in God’s word. The key seemed to be for the people to integrate their study of God’s word into their normal daily activities.

Psalm 119:1 states, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) means “a road” and is used figuratively as “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). From the standpoint of a road, a person’s way being blameless could mean that he has already or will eventually reach his desired destination. With regard to the course of your life, blameless might mean that you are saved and going to heaven when you die. Walking in the law is a way of saying that you have put God’s commandments into practice. When Jesus was asked by a rich young man what good deed he must do to have eternal life, Jesus responded:

“Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:17-26)

On the surface, the rich young ruler’s lifestyle seemed to be perfect, but Jesus’ command to sell his possessions and give to the poor revealed that there was selfishness in the young man’s heart. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that God’s word isn’t able to transform a person’s heart by itself. God has to be involved in the process.

Psalm 119:9-16 shows us that God’s involvement is the process of sanctification is typically behind the scenes and will likely go unnoticed unless we understand the way he operates. The psalmist asks:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:9-16)

The psalmist requests of God, “Let me not wander from your commandments” (Psalm 119:10) and “teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:12). The Hebrew word that is translated wander, shagah (shaw-gawˊ) means “to stray” (H7686). Jesus often portrayed sinners as lost sheep that had gone astray and indicated that they needed a shepherd to bring them back home (Matthew 18:12). Jesus taught his disciples that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11) and told them, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all of his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

The picture that Jesus gave his disciples of sheep following a shepherd was meant to show them that God didn’t intend for them to find their own way through life or to try and figure things out on their own. Jesus said of the shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice” (John 10:3). This was most likely a reference to the rhema, “the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need” (G4487). Paul connected rhema with faith and said, “But what does it say? ‘The word (rhema) is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word [rhema] of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For in the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word (rhema) of Christ” (Romans 10:8-10, 17). Paul emphasized the importance of confessing with your mouth what you believe in your heart. The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) is a compound of the words homou (hom-ooˊ) which means “at the same place or time” (G3674) and logos (logˊ-os) “something said” or “a word” (G3056). The derived meaning of homologeo is “to speak or say the same with another, e.g. to say the same things, i.e. to assent, accord, to agree with” (G3670). Paul indicated that agreeing with God’s word is what saves us. It’s not enough for us to just believe that the Bible is true, we must talk to others about what we believe in order for the process of sanctification to work.

God’s Promise

God’s relationship with Abraham was based on mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations that were established through a covenant. The covenant that was formed between God and Abraham was the result of God selecting Abraham, a sovereign act by God that was intended to create a predetermined outcome according to the purpose of his will. Genesis 15:4-21 states:

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

God’s covenant with Abraham was an unconditional promise to fulfill the grant of the land to Abraham’s offspring (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Genesis 15:6 “is one of the key verses in the entire Old Testament. It is an important witness to the doctrine of justification by faith and to the doctrine of the unity of believers in both Old and new Testaments. Abraham’s faith was credited to him for righteousness before he was circumcised and more than four hundred years before the law was given to his descendants. Therefore neither circumcision nor the law had a part in Abraham’s righteousness. Abraham’s faith was not merely a general confidence in God nor simple obedience to God’s command; Paul stressed that it was indeed faith in the promise of redemption through Christ (Romans 3:21, 22; 4:18-25; Galatians 3:14-18)” (note on Genesis 15:6).

God’s promise of redemption through Christ was evident when he tested Abraham’s faith. It says in Genesis 22:1-18:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

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

God’s provision of the lamb for the sacrifice was central to Abraham’s understanding of redemption through Christ. The ram that God initially provided pointed to the substitutionary nature of Christ’ sacrifice and John the Baptist’s declaration when he saw Jesus coming toward him, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) indicated that Jesus’ death was meant to atone for the sins of everyone, not just the nation of Israel.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that God’s promise could only be realized through faith. Paul said:

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:13-25)

Paul indicated that God’s promise to Abraham depended on faith, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring” (Romans 4:16). Paul also pointed out that the God in whom Abraham believed was the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). The Greek word that is translated grace, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). Abraham’s faith was a response to God’s influence upon his heart; the result of God’s sovereign power being exercised in and through him (H1285/H1254).

Paul explained in his letter to the Galatians that Christ was the offspring that God’s promise was intended for and that believers in him are Abraham’s heirs according to that promise. Paul said:

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slavenor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:15-29)

Paul used the phrase justified by faith to describe what happens when we are born again, “’justification’ being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344).

Paul talked about Abraham’s justification by faith in the context of faith being counted as righteousness (Romans 4:1-12). The Greek word that is translated counted, logizomai (log-idˊ-zom-ahee) is derived from the word logos (logˊ-os) which means “something said (including the thought)” and typically refers to “a word, as uttered by the living voice” (G3056). John identified Jesus as the Logos or the Word that was “with God” and John said “the Word was God” (John 1:1). When our faith is counted to us as righteousness, it is as if we are saying the same words that Jesus said. Jesus’ words are being attributed or charged to our account by God. Righteousness “is the character or quality of being right or just. It denotes an attribute of God (Romans 3:5). It is found in the sayings of the Lord Jesus of whatever is right or just in itself that conforms to the revealed will of God (Matthew 5:6, 10, 20; John 16:8, 10); whatever has been appointed by God to be acknowledged and obeyed by man (Matthew 3:15; 21:32); the sum total of the requirements of God (Matthew 6:33)…It is used of that gracious gift of God to men whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into right relationship with God. This righteousness is unattainable by obedience to any law, or by any merit of man’s own, or any other condition than that of faith in Christ. The man who trusts in Christ becomes ‘the righteousness of God in Him,’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), i.e. becomes in Christ all that he could never be in himself. Righteousness in not said to be imputed to the believer save in the sense that faith is imputed (reckoned) for righteousness (Romans 4:6, 11). The faith thus exercised brings the soul into vital union with God in Christ, and inevitably produces righteousness of life, that is, conformity to the will of God” (G1343).

Paul talked about believers being slaves to righteousness and said that we must present our members to God “as slaves of righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:19). Paul went on to say, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23). Paul identified eternal life as the end of sanctification. The Greek word telos (telˊ-os) means “(to set out for a definite point or goal); properly the point aimed at as a limit, i.e. (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state (termination [literally, figuratively, or indefinitely], result [immediate, ultimate or prophetic], purpose); specifically an impost or levy (as paid)” (G5056). The point that Paul was making was that we should allow God to do what he wants to in our lives because the end result is eternal life. In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase present your members (Romans 6:19) is translated yield your members. The Greek word that is translated yield, paristano (par-is-tanˊ-o) means “to stand beside” (G3936). The root word histemi (hisˊ-tay-mee) “means ‘to make to stand,’ means ‘to appoint’” (G2476). It seems likely that Paul’s instruction to present our members as slaves to righteousness was intended to mean that we should allow God to determine the course of our lives and accept that his placement of us in certain circumstances is the destiny that he wants us to have.

God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was followed by an assignment that they refused to accept. The Israelites disobedience was described in Hebrews 3:19 as unbelief; indicating that at that particular point they were still unbelievers, without Christ. Forty years later, Moses told the people of Israel, “The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them’” (Deuteronomy 1:6-8). Moses later explained to the Israelites that they were God’s chosen people and that God intended to keep the covenant that he made with Abraham hundreds of years earlier (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Moses said it was not their righteousness that prompted God to do it (Deuteronomy 9:4); but, “that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deuteronomy 9:5). The confirmation of God’s word meant that he was making what he said to “stand up, come about.” The Hebrew word quwm (koom) is “used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965).

Joshua played an important role in the Israelites’ transition from wandering in the wilderness to entering the Promised Land. God told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). A requirement for the Israelites to live in the Promised Land was that they had to drive out the previous tenants and possess it in their place. Joshua was given Moses’ leadership role in order to make that happen. After the land was divided among the twelve tribes and each of them had received their inheritance, Joshua 21:43-45 states:

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Joshua indicated that “not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). In other words, God’s covenant with Abraham had been brought to fruition and was at that point considered to be complete, but that was not the end of God’s involvement with Israelites because Abraham’s offspring had not yet been born (Galatians 3:16). God told Abraham that he would give the land to him and his offspring forever (Genesis 13:15). Therefore, eternal life was required and Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection was necessary for that to happen.

The inheritance

God’s covenant with Abraham focused on the inheritance he would receive as a result of his obedience. God told Abraham, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Genesis 15:7). The Hebrew word that is translated possess, yarash (yaw-rashˊ) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place)…This term is sometimes used in the generic sense of inheriting possessions (Genesis 15:3, 4). But the word is used usually in connection with the idea of conquering a land. This verb is a theme of Deuteronomy in particular where God’s promise of covenantal relationship is directly related to Israelite possession (and thereby foreign dispossession) of the land of Israel. This theme is continued throughout Israel’s history and prophetic message. Possession of the land was directly connected to a person’s relationship with the Lord; breaking the covenantal relationship led to dispossession” (H3423). The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians contained an explanation of the covenantal relationship and made it clear that the inheritance promised to Abraham was received through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said:

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:15-29)

Paul referred to the Mosaic Law as a guardian that was necessary until Christ died for the sins of the world. Paul used the phrase justified by faith to indicate that salvation changes our status with God, we are no longer considered guilty sinners, but righteous saints and heirs according to the promise that God made to Abraham.

God told Abraham, “’This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:4-6). “This is one of the key verses of the entire Old Testament. It is an important witness to the doctrine of justification by faith and to the doctrine of the unity of believers in both the Old and New Testaments. Abraham’s faith was credited to him for righteousness before he was circumcised and more than four hundred years before the law was given to his descendants. Therefore neither circumcision nor the law had a part of Abraham’s righteousness. Abraham’s faith was not merely a general confidence in God nor simple obedience to God’s command; Paul stressed that it was indeed faith in the promise of redemption through Christ (Romans 3:21, 22; 4:18-25; Galatians 3:14-18)” (note on Genesis 15:6). “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abraham, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites’” (Genesis 15:18-21).

The central point of God’s covenant with Abraham was possession of a specific tract of land (Genesis 15:7, 18-21). After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they conquered many of the kingdoms in the north and south (Joshua 10:29-11:22) and it says in Joshua 11:23, “The land had rest from war,” but afterward, Joshua was told, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess” (Joshua 13:2). Even though the Israelites were living within the borders of the Promised Land, they had not driven out all of its previous tenants. God told Joshua, “I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh” (Joshua 13:6-7). The land was to be divided among the people and, “Their inheritance was by lot” (Joshua 14:2). The Hebrew word that is translated lot, goral (go-ralˊ) is properly translated as “a pebble, i.e. a lot (small stones being used for that purpose); (figurative) a portion or destiny (as if determined by lot)” (H1486). The idea behind the lot was that individuals didn’t choose which portion of land they would possess, it was determined by casting the lot or what we might think of today as rolling dice. According to Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” The decisions that God makes about peoples’ destinies are not based on haphazard guesses or random verdicts, but are based on legal decisions, judgments rendered by him (H4941).

God’s covenant with Abraham was not a one-sided attempt to accomplish a specific goal. The relationship between God and Abraham was based on God’s kindness or mercy toward him, but the Hebrew word cheçed (khehˊsed) “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…Biblical usage frequently speaks of someone ‘doing,’ ‘showing,’ or ‘keeping’ checed” (H2617). When God told Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering, “Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him…When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (Genesis 22:3, 9-12). “Abraham proved that his faith in God was genuine, for he believed that God could bring Isaac back to life if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19)” (note on Genesis 22:12). God rewarded Abraham for his obedience. It says in Genesis 22:15-18:

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

God specifically stated that he was going to bless Abraham because he had obeyed his voice. When Isaac sent his son Jacob to Paddan-aram to get a wife, he said to him, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated sojournings, magur (maw-goorˊ) is derived from the word guwr (goor) which means “to turn aside from the road (for a lodging or any other purpose), i.e. sojourn (as a guest); also to shrink, fear (as in a strange place); also to gather for hostility (as afraid). A word that is related to magur that is also derived from guwr is magowr (maw-goreˊ). “A masculine noun meaning fear, terror. The fundamental concept underlying this word is a sense of impending doom. It is used to signify the fear that surrounds one whose life is being plotted against (Psalm 31:13[14]); the fear that causes a soldier to retreat in the face of an invincible foe (Isaiah 31:9; Jeremiah 6:25); and the horrors that befall those facing God’s judgment (Lamentations 2:22)” (H4032).

Taking possession of the land of his sojournings meant that Jacob had to not only conquer his enemies, but he also had to overcome his fear. The reason why the Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land when they were first given the opportunity was because they were afraid. The men that went up to spy out the land told the people, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are…The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:31-33). When Joshua was instructed to lead the people over the Jordan River, he was commanded to “Be strong and courageous” and the LORD said, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The words frightened and dismayed have to do with the focus of our attention. God wanted Joshua to pay attention to him rather than his enemies. In Moses’ final instructions to the people of Israel, Joshua was told, “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I, How can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt, the great trials your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deuteronomy 7:17-19).

Jesus told his disciples numerous times not to be afraid. On one particular occasion, Jesus connected Peter’s fear with his lack of confidence in him as well as doubt. Matthew 14:22-33 tells us:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

The disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the sea. What they saw affected the disciples’ minds and caused them to be disturbed or troubled about their situation. Jesus said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27), something similar to what God told Joshua shortly before the battle of Jericho (Joshua 1:9). In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase take heart is translated be of good cheer. The Greek word that Jesus used, tharseo (thar-sehˊ-o) means “to have courage” (G2293).

Peter demonstrated courage when he got out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but when he saw the wind, he was afraid again (Matthew 14:30). The problem that Jesus identified was that Peter’s faith was too small (G3640). The Greek word that is translated doubt in Matthew 14:31, distazo (dis-tadˊ-zo) “means to stand in two ways implying uncertainty which way to take (Matthew 14:31; 28:17)” (G1365). Peter intended to keep his eyes on Jesus when he began walking on the water, but the wind got his attention and afterward, Peter couldn’t get the thought out of his mind that the wind was stronger than he was. Jesus rebuked Peter for this and later explained to his disciples that it only takes a very small amount of faith to do impossible things. Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Just as Joshua was instructed to “remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:18), so believers today must think about and meditate on the things that God has done for them. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:29-32). Paul referred to his teaching and preaching of the gospel as the word of God’s grace and said that it could build you up and give you the inheritance. The Greek word that is translated inheritance, kleronomia (klay-ron-om-eeˊ-ah) means “’a lot’, properly ‘an inherited property.” Paul used kleronomia in Galatians 3:18 to stand for “the title to the inheritance,” but in his speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul was referring to, “The prospective condition of possessions of the believer in the new order of things to be ushered in at the return of Christ, Acts 20:32; Ephesians 1:14; 5:5; Colossians 3:24; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4” (G2817).

Paul indicated that sanctification is connected with receiving the inheritance. The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) “means to make holy and signifies to set apart for God, to sanctify, to make a person or thing the opposite of koinos (G2389-common)” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os). “Hagios expresses something more and higher than sacred, outwardly associated with God; something more than worthy, honorable; something more than pure, free from defilement. Hagios is more comprehensive. It is characteristically godlikeness” (G40). Paul used the word hagios in many of his letters to refer to believers. Hagios is also translated as holy and is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians about the Holy Spirit being the guarantee of our inheritance. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul said, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). Paul said that when we heard the gospel and believed in Jesus we were sealed with the Holy Spirit. To be sealed with the Holy Spirit means that we have received a secret mark that identifies us as God’s children. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is considered a pledge or you might say a down-payment on the inheritance that we will receive when we are resurrected like Christ. In his first letter, Peter indicated that our inheritance is being kept for us in heaven until the last time. Peter said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Peter describe the inheritance as imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, suggesting that it may have something to do with our glorified bodies and our eternal union with Christ. The book of Revelation provides further insight by identifying the context in which the inheritance will be received, the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2). John wrote:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:1-7, NLT)

Spiritual success

The conquest of the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua began with God instructing Joshua to take the people to the other side of the Jordan River (Joshua 1:2). God told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). It appears that God commanded Joshua to “be strong and courageous” because his spiritual success was linked to these two characteristics and they were not a natural part of Joshua’s personality. The Hebrew word that is translated strong, chazaq (khaw-zakˊ) means “to fasten upon” or “take hold of.” Chazaq appears in the book of Exodus in connection with Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go so that they could worship God. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought. Pharaoh was responsible for his hard heart. Four times we read: ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:35)” (H2388). God’s command to be strong likely meant that he wanted Joshua to be strong in the sense of having the necessary hardihood to set himself against the people of Canaan. The Israelites were instructed to “save alive nothing that breathes” and to “devote them to complete destruction” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). The Hebrew word that is translated courageous in Joshua 1:6, ʾamats (aw-matsˊ) has to do with being mentally alert (H553). Both chazaq and ʾamats are connected with being obstinate, a personality trait that is associated with stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action despite attempts to persuade one to do so. God reemphasized the importance of strength and courage to spiritual success when he said to Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7).

God told Joshua that he would have good success if he did everything according to the Law of Moses. The Hebrew word that is translated good success, sakal (saw-kalʾ) means “to be (causative make or act) circumspect and hence, intelligent…It’s first use in the text, in Genesis 3:6, contributes to an interesting paradox, for while the forbidden fruit was ‘to be desired to make one wise,’ it was a very unwise thing to take it! The basic meaning of sakal seems to be ‘to look at, to give attention to,’ as illustrated in this parallelism: ‘That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand…’ (Isaiah 41:20). From this develops the connotation of insight, intellectual comprehension” (H7919). God reiterated his prescription for good success when he told Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). God said that Joshua should be careful to do according to all that was written in the Book of the Law because it would make his way prosperous. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) is used figuratively throughout the Old Testament of the Bible to refer to “a course of life or mode of action…In one passage derek signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life or his ‘destiny’” (H1870). When God said that Joshua’s way would be prosperous, he meant that Joshua would have spiritual success; that Joshua would thrive spiritually (H6743).

Psalm 1 echoes God’s message to Joshua and depicts spiritual success as a tree that yields its fruit at the appropriate or appointed time (H6256). It states:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)

The author of Psalm 1 reinforced the message that the person who wants to experience spiritual success should meditate on the law of the LORD day and night. Biblical meditation typically involves a verbalization of scripture or rather one’s emotional reaction to its message. The Hebrew word hagah (haw-gawˊ) means “to meditate, moan, growl, utter, speak” and conveys “the idea that mental exercise, planning, often is accompanied by low talking” (H1897).

Bearing fruit was a common theme in Jesus’ teaching throughout his ministry. Jesus’ parables made it clear that bearing fruit was not the norm, but that it usually required some type of special circumstance or an intervention for it to happen. In one of his conversations with his followers, Jesus connected repentance with a fig tree’s ability to bear fruit. Luke 13:1-9 states:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The Greek word that is translated repent in Luke 13:3, metanoeo (met-an-o-ehˊ-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider…to change one’s mind or purpose” (G3340). The LORD identified the change that needed to take place in Joshua’s mind when he said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Joshua may have been dreading the moment when he was going to have lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and begin conquering the people living in the land of Canaan. The Hebrew word that is translated dismayed, chathath (khaw-thathˊ) means “to be dismayed, shattered, broken, terrified” (H2865). Joshua acted according to God’s command in spite of his natural inclination to tremble in fear and be in dread of what was going to happen (Joshua 1:10-11), but in what may have been a moment of weakness, Joshua “sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho’” (Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:1-11 tells us what happened when the two spies encountered a woman referred to as “Rahab the prostitute” (Joshua 6-17). It states:

And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

Rahab’s declaration that the LORD, “he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” was a profession of faith that bolstered the spies confidence and her testimony was shared with Joshua who was then able to lead the people across the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1). In exchange for her help, Rahab was told, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the LORD gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you” (Joshua 2:14).

The two words the spies used to describe their future relationship with Rahab, deal kindly and faithfully with her, were associated with the covenant God made with Abraham. Checed (khehˊ-sed) which means kindness “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 of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute 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. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…Behind all these uses with man as the subject, however, stand the repeated references to God’s cheçed. It is one of His most central characteristics. God’s loving-kindness is offered to His people, who need redemption from sin, enemies, and troubles” (H2617). The Hebrew word that is translated faithfully in Joshua 2:14, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). “Aman means ‘to be firm, endure, be faithful, be true, stand fast, trust, have belief, believe…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or 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 in 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 with God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

We know that Rahab believed in God because she is commended for her faith in Hebrews 11:31, which states, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” The Greek word that is translated disobedient, apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Rahab distinguished herself from the rest of the people of Canaan because she cooperated with God’s plan and did her part to make sure that is was carried out. Being mentioned by name in Hebrews 11 meant that Rahab the prostitute was a significant contributor to the spiritual success of God’s plan of salvation. Rahab was also mentioned in James’ message about faith without works and was set alongside Abraham as an example of being justified by individual acts of faith. James said:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Rahab was likely identified as a prostitute to show that her moral depravity prior to her encounter with the Jewish spies made her an unlikely candidate to risk her life in order to help them escape. “The Hebrew term zonah (H2181) is the common word for an ‘adulterer’ or ‘prostitute’ (Leviticus 21:7; Jeremiah 5:7). The New Testament affirms that such a woman can be pardoned (Luke 7:37). Rahab was not only pardoned but raised to a position of honor. She married into an Israelite family and was an ancestor of David, thus placing her in the line of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:5)” (Note on Joshua 2:1).

“It was not unusual for strangers and foreigners to go to Rahab’s house, and thus the spies would not appear suspicious there. Others who passed through the prostitute’s house would provide the spies with information on the situation in Jericho. God did not bless Rahab for lying but for her faith in the report that the spies gave” (note on Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:23-24 tells us, “Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” The two spies’ report to Joshua affirmed their belief in what Rahab had told them even though she was a prostitute and had no credibility as a woman. The reason why Rahab’s words had such a big impact on the two men who came to her for help was because she demonstrated the characteristics that the Israelites needed for spiritual success, strength and courage, when she hid the spies and lied to protect them from the king of Jericho (Joshua 2:2-3).

Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The impact of Rahab’s words is evident in the way the two spies reacted to the things she said. Jesus’ spent most of his ministry telling people things that were intended to change their lives. The power of the tongue is a way of describing the influence that a person has over another person when he says something that impacts him so much that it changes his life. The reason why the power of the tongue can lead to death or life is because hearing and believing God’s word is the only way we can be revived from spiritual death, but if we harden our hearts and rebel against God’s word we will not (Hebrews 3:16-19). The Apostle Paul explained this point in his letter to the Romans. Paul began by asking the question, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17).

God knows me

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was addressed “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Paul used the term saints to identify “those who are purified and sanctified by the influences of the Spirit…This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40). Since Paul was also a saint, he referred to this group as us when he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4, emphasis mine). Paul indicated that saints are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and were chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him. The Greek word that is translated chosen in Ephesians 1:4, eklegomai (ek-legˊ-om-ahee) means “to select” (G1586) and is derived from the words ek (ek) which speaks “of the efficient cause or agent, that from which any action or thing proceeds, is produced or effected” and lego (legˊ-o) which means “to ‘lay’ forth, i.e. (figurative) relate (in words [usually of systematic or set discourse])” (G3004). The Greek word logos (logˊ-os) is derived from the word lego and was used in John’s gospel to identify Jesus as “the Word.’ John said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the same way that God spoke things into existence in the creation account recorded in Genesis 1:3-26, God causes those whom he has chosen to become saints to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ by relating its message to them personally.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews made it clear that faith is the means by which everyone, including Old Testament believers, are justified or grated access to God (Hebrews 10:38). Hebrews 11:1-3 states:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews went on to name specific individuals from the Old Testament that by faith had been commended as righteous before God and would be made perfect along with all the New Testaments saints at a future point in time (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Moses talked about the Israelites being chosen by God in his final discourse shortly before his death. Moses said:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-10)

God dealt with the people of Israel as a whole, but also singled out individuals who hated him and would not keep his commandments. When the covenant was renewed in Moab, Moses pointed out that a reciprocal choice had to be made by each person. Moses said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Deuteronomy 30:19, bachar (baw-kharˊ) means “to select” and can designate human choice or divine choice, “in either case, it generally has theological overtones.” Bachar’s “meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him.” An example of this in the Old Testament can be seen in the life of King David. When David was anointed king of Israel, the Prophet Samuel went to his home, but didn’t know which of his father Jesse’s sons had been selected by God to be king. It says that Samuel “looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:6-7). The Hebrew word raʾah (raw-awˊ), which is translated looks, in this instance is being used to connote “seeing only what is obvious” (H7200).

David talked about God’s ability to see what was obvious in his heart in Psalm 139. David opened this psalm with the declaration, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” (v. 1). The Hebrew word that is translated searched, chaqar (khaw-karˊ) is properly translated as “to penetrate; hence, to examine intimately” (H2713). David’s statement implied that God could penetrate the surface of his being and examine the intimate parts of his soul. Knowing David this way meant that God had a relational viewpoint of David’s character and could communicate with him about intimate matters. God talked about his relationship with the people of Israel in the context of love and unity and promised to go with them into the Promised Land. Moses told the people:

“The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:3-6)

The words leave and forsake suggest that God could physically depart from his chosen people, but the Hebrew words that are translated leave and forsake have to do with God’s divine influence upon the human heart. The Hebrew word ʿazab (aw-zabˊ), which is translated forsake, “can mean to ‘allow someone to do something,’ as in 2 Chronicles 32:31, where ‘God left [Hezekiah], to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart’; God ‘let’ Hezekiah do whatever he wanted” (H5800).

God promised not to leave or forsake his chosen people, but indicated there would come a time when he would hide his face from them because of their evil behavior (Deuteronomy 31:18). God said, “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21). A person’s inclination to do certain things is a result of the way his heart and/or mind works. The Israelites were known to be stubborn and rebellious (Deuteronomy 31:27) and God did not expect them to change even though he had given them the opportunity to do so (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:19).

The thing that distinguished David from the other Israelites that God had to choose from when he anointed David to be king over Israel was his openness to having intimacy with the LORD. David said:

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:2-4)

Just like the twelve apostles that lived with Jesus during his three-year ministry on earth, David believed that the LORD was aware of his every movement and also knew what he was thinking during every waking moment of the day. David also believed that God was in control of his circumstances. David said:

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:5-6)

David admitted that God’s knowledge of his inner workings compared to his own was incomprehensible. David didn’t even have access to or you might say have an awareness of the things that God knew about him. David concluded:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

David realized that he couldn’t keep God from knowing things about him. Even if David wanted to escape God’s presence, there was no where he could go, including Sheol or Hell that God didn’t have access to. Proverbs 15:3 states, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

Jesus’ eminent departure from Earth after his resurrection from the dead likely caused his disciples to wonder how he was going to continue to be involved in their lives after he was gone. Jesus told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus said that he would be with his disciples always. The Greek word that is translated with, meta (met-ahˊ) denotes accompaniment and is generally used to convey an association with someone in the sense of participation or proximity (G3326). Meta appears in Matthew 1:23 where is says of Jesus, “’They shall call his name Immanuel!’ (which means, God with us)” (emphasis mine). After he died on the cross, God gave Jesus authority in heaven and on earth which means he now has the privilege of coming and going as he pleases. Jesus was given an all access pass, so to speak, to God’s kingdom. Jesus explained to the religious leaders who thought that God’s kingdom would be manifested on earth as a physical structure that God’s kingdom exists inside believers. It says in Luke 17:20-21, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven revealed the internal nature of God’s kingdom (Matthew 13). In his parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-8), Jesus taught his disciples about the effect of God’s word on the human heart. Luke’s gospel tells us, “And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:9-15). Jesus also talked about the light in you being a source of spiritual health. Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light” (Luke 11:33-36).

In Psalm 139:13-16, David depicted the intricate detail of God’s work in his invisible soul. David said:

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

David indicated that God had formed his days and wrote them in his book before his birth. The Hebrew word that is translated formed, yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) means “to press (through the squeezing into shape); to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)…By extension, the word conveys the notion of predestination and election (2 Kings 19:25; Isaiah 49:5)” (H3335).

God used analogy of the potter and the clay to describe his process of conversion to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “’Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” The Apostle Paul also used the analogy of the potter and the clay to refute the injustice of God’s sovereign choice. Paul argued, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)

Paul’s argument in favor of God’s sovereign choice points out the fact that everyone would be destined for destruction if it weren’t for God’s mercy. Proverbs 15:10-11 also indicates that God knows the hearts of people so well that he is able to determine who wants to go to heaven and who wants to go to hell. It states, “There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man!”

David concluded Psalm 139 by inviting God to search his soul and to determine if there was anything inside of him that needed to be corrected. David said:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

David indicated that he wanted to go to heaven by asking God to “lead me in the way everlasting.” The way refers to “a course of life or mode of action.” The Hebrew word derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life” (H1870).

In the New Testament book of Acts, Christianity is referred to as “the Way.” Before his conversion, Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was dedicated to persecuting Jesus’ disciples. It says in Acts 9:1-2, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” According to the Book of Hebrews, belonging to the Way meant that a person had access to God in the same way that Jesus has access to his Father (G3598) and in the same way that God has access to us. Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross opened up a new and living way that enables believers to draw near to God in the full assurance of faith and it says in Hebrews 7:25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us.” Because Jesus is making intercession for the saints, it is not only possible for God to know believers intimately, but it is also possible for them to experience intimacy with God and to have the full assurance of faith that they will be with him forever (John 14:1-4).