A spiritual journey

The nation of Israel began with a single act of obedience that set in motion a mass relocation of millions of people that were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; who was given the name Israel after he prevailed against God in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:24-30). Like their ancestor Abraham whom God commanded to leave his country (Genesis 12:1), the Israelites were told to leave their homes in Egypt and travel to a land that they had never seen before. Exodus 12:37-38 states, “And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude went with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.” The Hebrew word that is translated journeyed, nasa (naw-sehˊ) means “to pull up, especially the tent-pins, i.e. start on a journey” (H5265). One year after the Israelites left Egypt, “the tabernacle was erected” (Exodus 40:17) and Exodus 40:34-38 tells us:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

The Hebrew word that is translated journeys in Exodus 40:38, maççaʿ (mas-sahˊ) is derived from the word nasa and means “a departure (from striking the tents), i.e. march (not necessarily a single day’s travel); by implication a station (or point of departure)” (H4550).

In Exodus 40:38, it says that “the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated sight, ʿayin (ahˊ-yin) has to do with perception and more specifically with the processing of information through the physical senses. In Exodus 40:38, ʿayin refers to the physical perception of God’s will for the people of Israel. In the Hebrew language, “eyes” were used “figuratively of mental and spiritual abilities, acts and states” (H5869). It is likely that the sight that Moses was referring to was connected to both the physical and spiritual realms. The cloud and the fire were physical manifestations of a spiritual entity, namely the preincarnate Jesus Christ (notes on Exodus 3:2 and 13:21, KJSB).

Jesus associated his body with the temple that was located in Jerusalem during his ministry on earth. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus cleansed the temple and afterward the Jews asked him for a sign of his authority to do such a thing. John recorded:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The metaphor of the temple being Jesus’ body was meant to illustrate how the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would replicate in the lives of believers the Israelites journey through the wilderness. The Apostle Paul touched on this in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul asked, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Paul went on to explain in his letter to the Hebrews that the correlation between the tent of meeting that the Israelites used to worship God and the believer’s body was that they both foreshadowed the perfect union with God that Jesus made possible through his death, burial, and resurrection. Hebrews 8:1-7 states:

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

Paul’s reference to the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (Hebrews 8:2) had to do with the eternal nature of believers’ resurrected bodies. Paul indicated that Jesus’ New Covenant was enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6), meaning that the power behind the promises was capable of doing more than before i.e. conquering the physical and spiritual death that affects the lives of human beings once and for all.

Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, made a statement in his final speech before he was stoned to death that might be overlooked if you weren’t aware of the details of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land. Stephen said, “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen” (Acts 7:44). The tent of witness is mentioned in Revelation 15:5-8 where it says that John looked, “and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” According to Stephen’s testimony, the tent of witness in the wilderness was made according to the pattern of the tent of witness in heaven that was connected with the final judgment of the world. The Greek word that is translated witness, maturion (mar-tooˊ-ree-on) is being used in this instance as a designation of the Mosaic tabernacle being evidence of the existence of the tabernacle in heaven (G3142). In other words, we know that the tent of witness in heaven exists because the Mosiac tabernacle was a replica of it.

In the same way that the tent of witness in the wilderness was evidence that a tent of witness exists in heaven, so was Jesus’ physical presence on earth evidence that God exists and that he is currently residing in heaven. Jesus told his followers that he would go back to heaven after his death and would prepare a place there for them so that they could live with him there. Jesus said:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:1-11)

Jesus’ explanation that whoever had seen him had seen the Father was based on the fact that he and his Father were one person and could not be distinguished from each other from a physical perspective. The difference between Jesus and his Father was that they existed in two separate locations and were therefore distinct individuals that were identified as the Father and the Son. One way of understanding the trinity of God is to look at it in the same way that we do substances like water that change or you might say adapt to their environment. When you heat water to a certain temperature, it becomes vapor. When you cool water down to a certain temperature, it becomes ice. In the spiritual realm, God exists in a spiritual form. In the physical realm, God exists in a physical form. The physical form of God is the person we know as Jesus Christ. No other physical form of God exists, but there is a spiritual form of God this is not the same as Jesus because the spiritual form of God does not have human characteristics.

In order for us to connect with God, to have a relationship with him, we must enter into the spiritual realm. In his conversation with a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:3). Jesus also told a Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers of God will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

Everything that the Israelites did after they left Egypt was designed to bring them closer to God. The tabernacle in particular was intended to give the Israelites a materialistic view of God’s plan of redemption and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). In other words, there wouldn’t have been a Savior of the World if the Jews hadn’t become God’s chosen people and produced the physical heir to God’s kingdom on earth. The primary connection the Jews had with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was the annual Passover celebration that was instituted the night they fled from Egypt (Exodus 12:50). The second Passover celebration occurred just before the Israelites left the wilderness of Sinai. Numbers 9:1-3 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.”

The Israelites were commanded to “keep the Passover at its appointed time” and “according to all its statutes and all its rules” (Numbers 2-3). The Hebrew words that are translated appointed time and according to all its statutes have to do with the synchronization of physical and spiritual activities and indicate that the Israelites were focusing on God and their relationship with Him (H4150). Numbers 10:11-13 tells us:

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses.

The phrase set out by stages (Numbers 10:12) contains two Hebrew words that specify a journey was about to begin and the phrase they set out for the first time indicates that this was a new experience for the Israelites. What was different about this setting out as opposed to the Israelites’ departure from Egypt (Exodus 12:37) was that the tabernacle of the testimony was with them (Numbers 10:11).

Paul connected the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, which were identified as God’s testimony (H5715), with the doctrines of Jesus (G3142). Paul encouraged his spiritual son Timothy not to be ashamed of his testimony about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Paul said:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12)

Paul talked about the testimony being “manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10). The Greek word that is translated manifested, phaneroo (fan-er-oˊ-o) means “to render apparent…as opposed to what is concealed and invisible…Phaneroo is thought to describe an external manifestation, to the senses hence open to all, single or isolated” (G5319). Epiphaneia (ep-if-anˊ-i-ah), which is translated appearing, refers to “the advent of Christ” (G2015).

Paul told Timothy to “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). It is important to note that at the time that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, Paul’s spiritual journey on earth was coming to a conclusion. The book of 2 Timothy was written by Paul from a prison in Rome. “Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to The Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Later in his letter, Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Paul’s instruction to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14) had to do with a spiritual gift that Paul wanted Timothy to “fan into flame” (2 Timothy 1:6). It seems that Paul thought of Timothy’s spiritual gift as being similar to the appearance of fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness. It says in Numbers 9:15-18:

Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents. At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the Lord they would camp; as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained encamped. (NKJV)

The Greek word that is translated fan into flame in 2 Timothy 1:6, anazopureo (an-ad-zo-poor-ehˊ-o) “as a verb, denotes ‘to kindle afresh’ or ‘keep in full flame’… (2 Timothy 1:6, where ‘the gift of God’ is regarded as a fire capable of dying out through neglect)” (G329). The message that Paul was trying to get across to Timothy was that you have to keep the Holy Spirit active in your life in order to successfully complete your spiritual journey.

God’s protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David concluded his prayer to God with this statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is love

The LORD’s relationship with the children of Israel is made clear in the book of Deuteronomy where the terms of the covenant that God made with his chosen people is spelled out in great detail. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 states:

“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.”

One of the key characteristics of the LORD’s relationship with the Israelites was that God chose them and considered them to be his treasured possession. The Hebrew word bachar (baw-kharˊ) is “a verb whose 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).

The Hebrew word that is translated treasured possession in Deuteronomy 7:6, sᵉgullah (seg-ool-lawˊ) is “a feminine noun meaning a personal possession, a special possession, property. This noun is used only six times, but it gives one of the most memorable depictions of the Lord’s relationship to His people and the place established for them. The primary meaning of the word theologically is its designation ‘unique possession.’ God has made Israel His own unique possession (Exodus 19:5). Israel holds a special position among the nations of the world, although all nations belong to the Lord. Israel’s position, function, character, responsibility, and calling create its uniqueness (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4)” (H5459).

Deuteronomy 7:8 indicates that it is because the LORD loves his chosen people that he brought them out of Egypt and redeemed them from the house of slavery. God’s love caused him to do something for the Israelites that he hadn’t done before, redeem people from the consequences of their sins. The concept of redemption is centered on the payment of a debt. Leviticus 25:47-55 explains the concept of redemption in the context of a poor man that sells himself into slavery. It states:

“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The Year of Jubilee occurred once every fifty years and began on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:8-9). Leviticus 25:9-10 states, “On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”

A key prophecy of the prophet Isaiah had to do with the Year of Jubilee. Isaiah 61:1-2 states, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LROD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Jesus paraphrased this passage of scripture when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth where he grew up. Afterward, Luke’s gospels states, “And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:20-21). Jesus connected the proclamation of the Year of Jubilee with the preaching of the gospel in order to show that the liberty that was intended for God’s chosen people was the freedom from spiritual death. Jesus told a man named Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

The kind of love that motivated God to give his only Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world is known as agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). This word is broader in its meaning than phileo (fil-ehˊ-o), the kind of love that is expressed through sentiment or feeling (G5368). Agapao embraces “the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.” Phileo implies an instinctive, affectionate attachment; but agapao of a sentiment based on judgment and adulation, which selects its object for a reason (G26).

The Apostle John used the word agapao in his statement, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7). John indicated that love is a part of God’s essential nature and therefore, it should be present in all those who have been born into his spiritual family. The Greek word that John used in his declaration, “God is love,” is agape (ag-ahˊ-pay). Agape is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “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…it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver” (G26).

John expounded on Jesus’ statement that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16) by explaining the reason for God’s sacrifice. John said, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). The Greek word that is translated propitiation, hilasmos (hil-as-mosˊ) means “atonement” and signifies “an expiation, a means whereby sin is covered and remitted…Provision is made for the whole world, so that no one is, by divine predetermination, excluded from the scope of God’s mercy; the efficacy of the ‘propitiation,’ however is made actual for those who believe” (G2434). The Day of Atonement, which is described in detail in Leviticus chapter 16, was an annual event that involved the sacrifice of animals and sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat above the ark of the testimony in order to expiate the sins of the Israelites. On this day, the priest confessed all the sins of the people and put them on the head of a goat that was sent away into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:21-22), depicting the process whereby a Savior would one day take away the guilt and punishment of all sin completely by bearing it upon himself.

John concluded, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). The Greek word that John used that is translated perfected, teleioo (tel-i-oˊ-o) means “to complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal” (G5048). John made it clear that God’s sacrifice of his only Son was intended to produce a chain reaction that would result in love being expressed around the world. When Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), he was essentially telling them that they needed to replicate the process of propitiation everywhere so that God’s love could reach all the people it was intended for. 

God promised the Israelites that he would reward them for their obedience. God told them, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:11-13). God indicated that he had broken the bars of the Israelites’ yoke and made them walk erect. This seems to be a reference to God changing their destiny. The Hebrew word that is translated erect, qowmᵉmiyuwth (ko-mem-ee-yoothˊ) is derived from the word quwm (koom). “Sometimes quwm is used in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). An example of this is found in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place.”  After Jacob placed his head on a stone and fell asleep, it says in Genesis 28:12-13:

And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring.”

Jacob’s encounter with God was a part of his plan to fulfill his promise to Abraham. Jacob was unaware of God’s presence in the land of Canaan until he came to a certain place. The place where Jacob spent the night was not only a geographic location, but a spiritual condition that made him open to God’s intervention in his life. Even though Jacob wanted God to take care of him, he was reluctant to make a commitment to the LORD at that point in time (Genesis 28:20-22).

During his ministry on earth, most of the people that Jesus encountered were unaware that he was God’s only son that had come to save the world, but the numerous miracles that he performed eventually made it clear to everyone that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. In spite of this, Jesus was crucified and was even abandoned by his own disciples. John explained that Jesus’ ministry was being opposed by Satan’s demonic forces. John said:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)

John used the term antichrist to describe the spiritual opponent that was trying to keep people from being saved. The Greek word antichristos (an-teeˊ-khris-tos) refers to “an imposter for the Messiah. Antichristos can mean either ‘against Christ’ or ‘instead of Christ,’ or perhaps, combining the two, ‘one who assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ and takes His place” (G500). John encouraged believers by stating, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

John addressed the issue of having assurance of salvation when he made it clear that anyone that has confessed Jesus as his or her Savior has been saved. John said, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:13-16). The Greek word that John used that is translated confesses, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) was also used in 1 John 1:9 where it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (emphasis mine). The base word of homologeo, homou (hom-ooˊ) means “at the same place or time” (G3674). In one sense, when we confess our sins, you might say that we are having a personal encounter with God. It is as if we are talking to Him directly and God acknowledges our communication by regenerating us from within.

John’s repetition of the statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) was probably meant to emphasize the fact that knowing God is all about being loved by him. John said, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:17-18). John described God’s love as perfect love. What that means is that God’s love is able to do exactly what it is intended to. God’s love is able to save us from our sins and to keep us from being condemned on the day when Jesus judges everyone based on his book of life (Revelation 20:12). The result of God’s love is that fear is cast out or you might say ejected from our bodies like an unwelcome guest. We have nothing to worry about because Jesus has once and for all reconciled us to God for all of eternity (Revelation 5:9-10).

Children of God

John opened his gospel about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ with a somewhat confusing statement about the nature of God’s only Son. John said:

In the beginning was the Word, and 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 any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

John referred to Jesus as the Word. The Greek word that John used, logos (log’-os) refers to something said and in this case signifies “the Divine Expression” (G3056). John connected Jesus’ divine expression with life in an absolute sense, life without end, “that life of bliss and glory in the kingdom of God which awaits the true disciples of Christ after the resurrection” (G2222). John went on to say:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

John used the phrase children of God to express the kind of relationship we have with God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. John indicated that we are born into the family of God in the same way that we are born into our biological family, except that we are not born “of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Jesus described this transaction in his conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Jesus made it clear that our birth into the family of God is a spiritual birth and suggested that it will be like we are starting all over from the beginning. That’s why Jesus referred to it as being born again. The Greek word that is translated again, anothen (an’-o-then) means “from above” with regard to place. We are born from a higher place. “Hence spoken of whatever is heavenly or from heaven, and since God dwells in heaven, it signifies from God, in a divine manner” (G509).

Jesus talked about the believer’s relationship to God in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus’ instruction to let our light shine before others was intended to point out that we are not meant to keep our spiritual birth a secret. Eternal life is something that everyone would want to have if they knew that it was available to them. We know that eternal life is available to everyone because Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

Jesus made it clear in his Sermon on the Mount that spiritual life is not easy. In fact, spiritual life goes against our human nature and is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). The Greek word that is translated sons, uihothesia (hwee-oth-es-ee’) means “the placing of a son, i.e. adoption…In the New Testament, figuratively meaning adoption, sonship, spoken of the state of those whom God through Christ adopts as His sons and thus makes heirs of His covenanted salvation” (G5206).

Jesus went on to explain in his Sermon on the Mount that if we have been born again, our behavior is important to our Father. God wants us to act like we are his children and he rewards us when we do so. Jesus warned his disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 3-4). Jesus also talked about prayer and taught his disciples to address God as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:5-13). Jesus concluding his teaching about the believers relationship to God by stating, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

John went a step further in his first epistle in explaining our relationship to God by talking about the kind of love that we receive from God as his children. John said:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

John said that when Jesus appears, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Even though believers become children of God through a spiritual birth, they are not immediately transformed into the likeness of Christ. The Greek word that is translated like in 1 John 3:2, homoios (hom’-oy-os) means “just like, equal, the same with: in kind or nature (Jude 7); in conduct, character (John 8:55); in authority, dignity, power (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Revelation 13:4)” (G3664). John indicated that the key to being like Christ was seeing him as he is. In other words, seeing Jesus in his glorified state will have such a great impact on us that we will not only want to, but also will be, immediately transformed into his likeness.

John’s comment about everyone who hopes in Christ being purified as he is pure (1 John 3:3) had to do with believers possessing a confident expectation of good things to come (G2192/G1680). One of the reasons why the Israelites had to go through a continual process of purification in order to have a relationship with God was that they weren’t able to do the things that they were expected to in order to remain in fellowship with him. God’s deliverance of the Israelites wasn’t based on their relationship to him, but their relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

John the Baptist discouraged the Pharisees and Sadducees that were coming to him to be baptized from doing it because he knew they didn’t believe his message about salvation. John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham s our father, for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9).

The biological descendants of Abraham were used to thinking of themselves as the special people to whom God would grant eternal life. They didn’t understand that eternal life was connected to spiritual life and therefore, it was necessary for them to experience a spiritual birth. The closest thing the Israelites had to the concept of spiritual birth was the process of sanctification. Sanctification made it possible for the Israelites to become holy or pure. The LORD instructed Moses, “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8). The LORD’s emphasis of his expectation for the Israelites to be holy made it seem as though it was a permanent state that they were able to attain, but in actuality, being holy was impossible for anyone but God. The only way the Israelites could be holy was for them to be completely isolated from everyone and everything that was not dedicated to God (Leviticus 20:22-26).

Throughout the book of Leviticus, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the children of Israel. God gave Jacob the name Israel after he wrestled with him all night. Genesis 32:24-28 states:

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28)

The Hebrew name that is translated Israel, Yisra’el (yis-raw-ale’) means “he will rule as God” (H3478). The idea being that of equality. God gave Jacob the name Israel because he had striven with God and with men, and had prevailed (Genesis 32:28). The King James Version of the Bible translates it this way, “for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The Hebrew word that is translated power, sarah (saw-raw’) is “a verb meaning to persist, to exert oneself, to persevere” (H8280). The Hebrew name Yisra’el is derived from the word sarah and is also connected with the name Sarah which was given to Abraham’s wife after Isaac’s birth was promised to them (Genesis 17:15-16).

Jacob’s ability to prevail against God and man had to do with his attitude about life. Jacob believed that God had the power to save him from death (Genesis 32:30; H5337) and that God’s blessing would ensure that he obtained eternal life because he would be resurrected after his death (Genesis 49:29). When God called the Israelites the children of Israel, God was essentially reminding them of their relationship to Jacob and the encounter that Jacob had with him, as well as the blessing that Jacob received, even though he wasn’t Isaac’s oldest son. God often pointed out that the connection that kept the children of Israel in a state of blessedness was their common bond of sanctification (Leviticus 22:31-33), which was linked to the celebration of appointed feasts and more specifically, the holy convocations (Leviticus 23:1-2) that were intended to focus everyone’s attention on obedience to God’s commandments.

John contrasted believers who were purified through Christ with unbelievers that ignored God’s commandments by pointing out that habitual sin was evidence of being in an unregenerate spiritual state. John stated:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:4-8)

John distinguished the children of God from the children of the devil by their ability to practice righteousness. John said that “whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7). In other words, our righteousness is a result of our identification with Christ.

John said the reason why the Son of God was made visible to the world was to loosen the bonds of sin and wickedness that the devil had imposed on those who did his will instead of God’s. John indicated that anyone that is not a child of God is by default a child of the devil. John said:

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)

John’s explanation of why someone that has been born of God cannot practice sin may seem like an over simplification of the believer’s ability to resist the devil’s temptations, but John’s use of the Greek term meno (men’-o), which is translated abides, reveals an important truth about the type of sanctification that comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that actually keeps them from practicing sin (G4690). John referred to the Holy Spirit as “God’s seed” (1 John 3:9), indicating that He is the source of our spiritual birth in the same way that the sperm is the seed of conception to a woman’s egg, and John said that God’s seed abides in us, meaning that the Holy Spirit keeps us united with Christ in such a way that we are one with him in heart, mind, and will (G3306).

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that it is our spiritual birth into God’s family that entitles us to share in Christ’s eternal inheritance. Paul said:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)

Paul indicated that believers are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, but also added the stipulation that we must suffer with our Savior in order to be glorified with him. Paul went on to talk about God’s everlasting love for his children and the fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34) and then, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). Paul concluded by reassuring believers that our relationship with our heavenly Father is unbreakable. Paul stated, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Us and them

The Apostle John’s first epistle began with a declaration that made it clear that God had become a part of the physical realm in which we live. John referred to Jesus as “the word of life” (1 John 1:1) and said, “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2). John stated that the life was made manifest to us. John used a plural form of the Greek word ego (eg-o’) to refer to the people that the life was made manifest to. From a psychoanalysis point of view, the ego is “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity” (Oxford Languages). It seems likely that the “us” that John was referring to in 1 John 1:2 were all of the people that believed in Jesus Christ, but he may have been thinking about everyone that Jesus interacted with during his ministry on earth. The Greek word that is translated manifest, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) means to “show oneself openly, to appear” (G5319). John said, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). John’s first epistle was written to a group of people that were all considered to be believers. The fellowship that John wanted these people to have wasn’t just the fellowship of salvation, but a fellowship that had to do with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (1 John 1:2).

One of the key aspects of God’s promise to Abraham was that his descendants would possess the land that he was giving them forever. Genesis 13:14-15 states:

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.”

The Hebrew word that is translated forever in this passage is owlam (o-lawm’), which is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; (generally) time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practical) eternity” (H5769). Before Jacob died, he told his son Joseph about the encounter he had with God Almighty. Genesis 48:3-4 states:

And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’”

Jacob believed that he would live in the Promised Land after he was resurrected from the dead. He commanded his sons to take his body back to the land of Canaan and told them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place” (Genesis 49:29-30).

After they were taken into exile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel was given a vision of the Israelite’s resurrection from the dead. Ezekiel had his vision in a place that was called the Valley of Dry Bones. Ezekiel 37:11-14 states:

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The resurrection from the dead was originally thought to be something that only the descendants of Abraham would participate in. Jesus clarified this misconception in his teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:31-34).

Jesus’ described the people that were gathered before the Son of Man as “all the nations” (Matthew 25:32) and made it clear that all people, not just the Israelites, would be involved in what the book of Revelation refers to as the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) that takes place after Satan’s defeat. Jesus’ distinction between the sheep and the goats indicated that there would be a separation of people into two groups during the final judgment based on their actions toward him and his followers. John emphasized this distinction in his gospel message. John said:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

John indicated that we can either walk in darkness or walk in the light and if we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Walking in darkness is “spoken figuratively of persons in a state of moral darkness, wicked men under the influence of Satan” (G4655). The Greek word that is translated light in 1 John 1:7, phos (foce) is used figuratively of “moral and spiritual light and knowledge which enlightens the mind, soul or conscience; including the idea of moral goodness, purity and holiness, and of consequent reward and happiness” (G5457). John said, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, emphasis mine).

In his first epistle, John went on to say, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:1-2). Even though he distinguished between people that were walking in the light and walking in darkness, John didn’t look at the propitiation of sins from an us and them perspective. John said that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, “and not ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:2). Propitiation is “that which appeases anger and brings reconciliation with someone who has reason to be angry with one” (G2434). Jesus reconciled everyone to God when he died on the cross for the sins of the world, but it has no effect on me personally unless I accept Jesus Christ’s death as payment for my sins and I believe that I have been reconciled to God because my sins have been forgiven by him.

John identified the key to having a relationship with God. He said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “To ‘confess’ (homologeo [3670]) means to agree with God that sin has been committed. Even though Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath toward the believer’s sin (1 John 2:1, 2), the inclination to sin still remains within man (vv. 8, 10). Therefore he must realize the need to continue in a right relationship with God by confession of sin. God grants forgiveness in accordance with his ‘faithful and just’ nature” (note on John 1:9). Like Jesus, John distinguished between believers and unbelievers by the evidence of their actions. John said:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

John said that we ought to walk in the same way that Jesus walked. The Greek word that is translated ought, opheilo (of-i’-lo) is derived from the word ophelos (of’-el-os) which means “to heap up, i.e. accumulate or benefit” (G3786). The idea behind these words is that we have become indebted to Christ because of what he did for us on the cross and therefore, we are obligated to do what he tells us to. Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus provided further clarification about our relationship to him in his illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-11), and went on to say:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

John elaborated on Jesus’ commandment to love one another by including a reference to the true light. John said:

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:7-11, emphasis mine)

John’s distinction between walking in the light and walking in darkness was made even more clear-cut when he said “the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). What John meant by that was that Jesus’ commandment to love one another had already been put into effect and had become the deciding factor of whether or not a spiritual birth had actually taken place. John said, “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light…but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness” (1 John 2:10-11). John also pointed out that someone that is in the darkness doesn’t know where he is going, “because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11). In other words, the unbeliever doesn’t know that he’s not saved. It’s only after we accept Jesus as our Savior that we become aware of the fact that we have been living in sin.

The Levitical Law described being in the darkness as being unclean. The Hebrew word tame (taw-may’) means to be foul, especially in a ceremonial sense. “The main idea of the action was that of contaminating or corrupting, especially in the sight of God. The Levitical Law often spoke in terms of sexual, religious, or ceremonial uncleanness. Any object or individual who was not clean could not be acceptable to the Holy God of Israel” (H2930). The things that caused a person to become unclean were described as depravity, perversion, and abominable customs that were practiced by the people that were living in the land of Canaan before the Israelites took possession of it. Leviticus 18:1-5 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

God clarified his expectations of the Israelites by stating, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and then, he summarized his commandments with two statements that were linked to Jesus’ new commandment. God said:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD…You shall treat the stranger who sojourns among you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:18, 34).

The Hebrew word that was used to describe the way the Israelites were expected to love their neighbors was the same word that God used when he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:2 states, “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’” (emphasis mine). This seems to suggest that God wanted the Israelites to love their neighbors with the kind of deep abiding affection that would motivate them to do whatever God asked of them so that their neighbors could be blessed by God.

God indicated that he had separated the Israelites from the rest of the nations because he wanted to have a relationship with them (Leviticus 20:26). The significant distinction God made between the people of Israel and the peoples and nations around them was a reflection of the creation story in which God produced a separation between light and darkness (Genesis 1:4, [H914]). This may have been why John chose the analogy of walking in the light and walking in darkness as a mark of distinction between followers of Christ and followers of Satan. John cautioned believers to “not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15) and said, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17). Then, John warned his readers concerning the antichrists that would try to deceive them about Jesus’ teaching. John said:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)

John made it clear that the deciding factor between us (followers of Christ) and them (followers of Satan) is a belief that Jesus is the Christ. John indicated that we know the truth because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. John said, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true” (1 John 2:27). In other words, the communication and reception of the Holy Spirit is a permanent source of consecration for the believer. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of everything we need to know about God and is a reliable source of information because God specifically sent Him to us to remind us of Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26).

Godly sorrow

One of the primary reasons God communicated the Ten Commandments directly to the Israelites was so that there wouldn’t be any confusion or misunderstanding about his expectations of them. Afterwards, Exodus 20:22-23 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” The Hebrew word that is translated seen ra’ah (raw-aw’) means to see. Its basic denotation is to see with the eyes. It also has several derived meanings, all of which require the individual to see physically outside of himself or herself, such as to see so that one can learn to know, whether it be another person or God (H7200). The experience the Israelites had on Mount Sinai left them with the impression that being in a relationship with God might result in their death. Exodus 20:18-20 states, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.'” Moses explained to the people that the fear they experienced when they saw God was meant to keep them from sinning against him (Exodus 20:20). The point being that the Israelites needed to take God’s commandments seriously and do what he told them to.

Underlying God’s communication of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites was the LORD’s desire to have a relationship with his chosen people. God’s holiness prevented the people from coming near him. The only way anyone could approach God was through a process of consecration that essentially took away the reproach of sin so that the barrier between God and his people was temporarily eliminated and he could be seen or you might say experienced through means of physical eyesight (Exodus 19:10-20). The tabernacle that the Israelites erected for God to live in so that he could travel with them to the Promised Land was patterned after a model that Moses was shown while he was on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 26:30). God told Moses that he needed to make everything “exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle” (Exodus 25:9). The tabernacle was likely a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms, a place where both God and people could coexist in spite of their different natures. God said, “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:43-45).

The outcome of the union of God and mankind was that it enabled them to work together to achieve God’s divine objectives. Exodus 31:1-5 states, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘See I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood. to work in every craft.'” Bezalel’s unique position and role in constructing the tabernacle of God was similar to that of Christians today because he had the benefit of having God’s indwelling Spirit to guide him through the process of doing the work that he was called to do. Bezalel was given ability, intelligence, knowledge, and craftmanship that were not based on his human capacity to do things. The Hebrew word that is translated ability in Exodus 31:3, chokmah (khok-maw’) means wisdom or to act according to wisdom. Chokmah has to do with God’s gracious creation and is thus inherent in the created order. “God alone knows where wisdom dwells and where it originates (Job 28:12, 20); no other living being possesses this knowledge about wisdom (see Job 28:21). For humans, the beginning of wisdom and the supreme wisdom is to properly fear and reverence God (Job 28:21; Proverbs 1:7; cf. Proverbs 8:3)” (H2451).

One of the gifts that God gave Bezalel was the ability to “devise artistic designs” (Exodus 31:4). To devise something means that you are able to invent new things (H2803) and an artistic design is anything that requires thought or intention to create it. The Hebrew word machashabah (makh-ash-aw-baw’) denotes the thoughts of the mind, either belonging to people or God; the plans or intentions that arise from these thoughts and the skillful inventions that come from the mind of an artist (H4284). Machashabah appears in Genesis 6:5 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This proved to be true in the case of the Israelites because less that 40 days after they had heard the voice of God and received his command to not make any “carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath” (Exodus 20:4), we are told in Exodus 32:1-6 that:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

God wasn’t surprised by the Israelites quick abandonment of his covenant with them. He knew they were acting according to their sinful human nature. Exodus 32:7-10 states:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

God’s anger was justified because the Israelites intentionally broke his commandment shortly after they had received it. There was no way they could have forgotten or been unclear about what was expected of them. Moses intervened on behalf of the people of Israel in a similar way that Christ intervenes with God on our behalf. Exodus 32:11-14 states:

But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

The dilemma that Moses pointed out was that the Israelites had clearly broken God’s commandments and deserved to be killed, but if God did so, he would be breaking the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants to make them into a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Moses appealed to God on the basis of his integrity and God’s holy character which caused him to always do the right thing. Moses pleaded with God to “Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people” (Exodus 32:12). Moses used three key words that combined together convey the essence of what it means to repent from sin. Turn, or in Hebrew shuwb (shoob), in the simple stem is used to describe divine and human reactions, attitudes, and feelings and indicates the possibility of changing one’s mind. The Hebrew word that is translated disaster, ra’ (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 (2617), 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 relent, nacham (naw-kham’) means to be sorry. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis in on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course. Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose or action” (H5162).

Exodus 32:14 tells us that “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” In other words, God was sorry that he had considered breaking his covenant with Abraham even though he was justified in doing so. When Moses returned to the camp of the Israelites, he confronted Aaron and the people of Israel. He said:

“You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

The problem with Moses’ plan to make atonement for the people of Israel was that he wasn’t perfect and therefore didn’t qualify to be their redeemer. God indicated that whoever had sinned against him would be blotted out of his book of life. The book of Revelation tells us that after God’s final judgment of mankind, anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about forgiving Christians that have sinned against us. Paul delayed his third visit to Corinth because he didn’t want to visit them too soon after having harshly criticized them because of the damage that had been done to his reputation there. Paul said, “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained…For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4). In the King James Version of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 2:2 is stated this way: “For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?” Paul was evidently talking about having brought the people of the church in Corinth to a point of repentance and he wanted to restore his fellowship with them. The Greek word that is translated pain and sorry, lupeo (loo-peh’-o) means to be sad or sorrowful (G3076). Lupeo is used in 2 Corinthians 2:5 with the specific meaning of “to cause grief, offend.” Paul said, “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:5-7).

Paul used the words forgive and comfort to show that repentance is not meant to be a permanent state. If someone expresses godly sorrow, the next step is to forgive and then, to forget the sin that has been committed against you. The Greek word that is translated comfort in 2 Corinthians 2:7, parakaleo (par-ak-al-eh’-o) means to call near, apologize (G3870). Paul used this word four times in his opening statement to the Corinthians. He said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul pointed out that God is the source of all comfort and that we are expected to comfort others because God comforts us. Affliction is another word for all the troubles that go along with being a Christian. Paul said, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Paul indicated that comforting those that have repented of their sins is a sign of being a genuine believer in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 2:8-9).

Paul made the argument that forgiveness and comfort are necessary for us to defeat our enemy the devil in spiritual warfare. Paul said, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). The Greek word that is translated outwitted, pleonekteo (pleh-on-ek-teh’-o) means to outwit or to take advantage of from a mental standpoint (G4122). The Greek word noema (no’-ay’mah) which is translated designs, means a perception. “A thought. That which is thought out, planned, devised, in a negative sense (2 Corinthians 2:11; 10:5). By metonymy: the mind itself, the understanding (2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4; 11:3)” (G3540). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about the fact that we are not fighting against a physical enemy when we engage in warfare with the devil. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The schemes of the devil have to do with the lifestyle that we become accustomed to (G3180). The Israelites decision to make a golden calf and worship it was based on hundreds of years of influence by the Egyptians who practiced idolatry. Even though God had specifically told them not to makes gods of gold (Exodus 20:23), it was easy for the Israelites to revert to their old behavior when they thought Moses had abandoned them (Exodus 32:1).

One way of looking at spiritual warfare is that it is a battle that goes on in our minds to either think the way God thinks or to think the way the devil wants us to. We are constantly being barraged with ideas that seem to be of our own making, but most, if not all of the time, these thoughts are coming from one of two sources, God or Satan. There used to be a popular saying, “the devil made me do it.” Although it’s true that Christians are sometimes unknowingly under the influence of Satan and his demons, we have the ability to resist the devil’s suggestions and do what we know to be right. God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments so that they would be clear about what they were supposed to and not supposed to do on a daily basis. If they were able to keep the Ten Commandments, the Israelites would have inherited God’s kingdom without Christ having to enter the world and die for their sins. The fact that the people of Israel turned away from God and broke his most important commandment just days after having received it shows that apart from Christ no one can keep from offending God and we all, both believers and unbelievers alike, cause him a great deal of sorrow when we choose to resort to our own devices.

The kingdom of heaven

Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven suggests that it is not so much a place as it is a condition that is developed over a period of time. In some ways, you might say that the kingdom of heaven is an internal state that is connected to external factors such as housing, nutrition, and financial security. Jesus used a parable to explain how the kingdom of heaven works. He said:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

The example Jesus used to explain the kingdom of heaven had to do with a common experience that most people who lived in the first century could relate to, but they still didn’t understand what he was saying. “Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, he told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). The Greek word that is translated secrets, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) in the New Testement denotes, “not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13, 16-17). One of the people in the Old Testament of the Bible that was able to see the kingdom of heaven, but still did not understand how it worked was Jacob, the son of Isaac that inherited Abraham’s blessing. When Jacob left his father’s home in Beersheba and traveled toward Haran where his uncle Laban lived, he spent the night in place that he later described as “the house of God” (Genesis 28:17).

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:11-15).

The King James version of this passage indicates that Jacob “lighted upon a certain place” (Genesis 28:11). The Hebrew words paga (paw-gah’) and maqowm (maw-kome’) suggest that Jacob was being placed (H6293/H4725) in the house of God because it was God’s will for him to be there rather than any intentional effort on his part to arrive at that location. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, God sowed Jacob like a seed and he landed on a rocky spot where he had to use a stone as a pillow to fall sleep.

Jesus explained the parable of the sower to his disciples in simple terms so that they could grasp the spiritual truth he wanted to convey. He said:

“Hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what he has sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this in the one who hears, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:18-22).

When Jacob realized the LORD was in the place where he was staying, he exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Jacob was excited about his discovery, but he was unwilling to make a commitment to the LORD. Like the seed that landed on rocky ground, God’s promise didn’t take root in Jacob’s heart because Jacob didn’t believe in God. After Laban tricked him into marrying his daughter Leah and forced Jacob to stay in Haran another seven years in order for Rachel to be his wife, Jacob’s expectation of returning to his father’s house seemed to disappear altogether.

After living with his uncle Laban for 20 years, Jacob received a second message from the LORD. “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you'” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram and “set his face toward the country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:21) where his father Isaac was, but Jacob was detoured from his destination. On his way from Paddan-aram, Jacob camped before the city of Shechem and “he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he pitched his tent” (Genesis 33:19). It’s unknown how much time Jacob spent in Shechem, but while he was there, his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons destroyed the city out of revenge. This seems to reflect the situation Jesus described as seed that was sown among thorns because Jacob started out obeying the LORD’s instruction by leaving his uncle’s home and heading toward Gilead, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the word, meaning Jacob was happy living in Shechem until the tragedy of rape closed off his spiritual airway and he allowed the city to be ransacked by his angry sons.

God spoke to Jacob a third time as he dealt with the aftermath of his daughter’s rape. “God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau'” (Genesis 35:1). The Hebrew word that is translated arise, quwm (koom) is used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). The Hebrew word maqowm (maw-kome) which is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is derived from quwm and speaks of not only of a locality, but also figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). God’s command to go up to Bethel was not related to its geographical location because Bethel was located about 25 miles south of Shechem. What God was likely doing when he instructed Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel” (Genesis 31:1) was calling Jacob, inviting him to become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said in his parable of the weeds:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'” (Matthew 13:24-30).

The Greek word that is translated weeds, zizanion (dziz-an’-ee-on) “is a kind of darnel growing in the grain fields, as tall as wheat and barley, and resembling wheat in appearance, except the seeds are black. It was credited among the Jews with being degenerate wheat. The seeds are poisonous to man and herbivorous animals, producing sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death (they are harmless to poultry). The plants can be separated out, but the custom, as in the parable, is to leave the cleaning out till near the time of harvest” (G2215).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds indicated there is only one kingdom that exists in the world and Satan’s followers are usually found intermingled in it with believers. Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38-39). One of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to tell if a person is saved or not is because Satan’s sons cleverly disguise themselves as Christians. They want everyone to think they are good people and don’t intend to do anyone any harm. In the parable of the weeds, the man who sowed the good seed told his servants not to gather the weeds because “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matthew 13:29). This could mean that the lives of believers and unbelievers are so closely intertwined that separating them presents a risk of believers becoming calloused toward God.

Jacob’s love for his wife Rachel was a driving force in his decision to stay with his uncle Laban. At first, Jacob only committed himself to serving Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, but after he was tricked into marrying Leah instead, Jacob agreed to serve Laban seven more years. At the end of that time, Jacob was persuaded to stay another six years in exchange for flocks of animals to feed his family. When Jacob finally decided it was time for him to leave Paddan-aram, Rachel stole her father’s household gods, hid them in her camel’s saddle, and lied to Laban about it while he searched for them in her tent. The household gods were idols that most likely symbolized the family’s devotion to pagan deities such as Astoreth and Ishtar. After God commanded Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there” (Genesis 35:1), it says in Genesis 35:2-3, “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob’s awareness that his family was practicing idolatry was a compromise that had most likely affected his spiritual leadership. His commitment to the LORD at Bethel may have been Jacob’s way of changing the course of his family’s history and a distinct point in time when God began to work out Jacob’s destiny through the lives of his children. Genesis 35:16-19 states, “Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was the hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for you have another son.’ And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem).”

Jesus told his disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32). What happened to Jacob when he went to live with his uncle Laban seems to illustrate this spiritual truth. Jacob’s uncle admitted that he had learned by divination that the LORD had blessed him because of Jacob. The Hebrew word that is translated divination, nachash (naw-khash’) means a magic spell, but can also refer to learning by experience or diligently observing something. Like the branches of the tree in Jesus’ parable that spread wide and tall and were inviting to the birds that were looking for places to build their nests, God’s blessing on Jacob’s life was a benefit to everyone around him and some people took advantage of that. Jesus went on to say, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). This seems to suggest that faith can be contagious and that it is easier for the people around a believer to have faith in God once they see it at work in the believer’s life.

It’s not known exactly how old Jacob was when he returned to his father’s home, but it can be estimated that he was about 100-105 years of age. Jacob was approximately 90 years old when his son Joseph was born. Jacob lived in Paddam-aram another six years after that (Genesis 30:25 31:41), then he went to Shechem and lived there until Joseph was probably around 12 or 13 years old. Genesis 35:27-29 encapsulates the entire period of time from when Jacob returned to Hebron to when Isaac died at the age of 180, which would have made Jacob 120 years old (Genesis 25:26). These verses state, “And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”

After Jacob returned to Hebron, it appears that he and Esau lived peacefully with each other the rest of their lives. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talked about the reconciliation of the two people groups that are represented by the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. He said, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and had broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Paul described the peace of God as something that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). This may have been what Jesus was talking about when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Jesus went on to say, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The only way a person can have the peace of God is by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. In his final discourse, after eating the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus concluded by stating, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The wicked

Jacob’s departure from his father Isaac’s home was prompted by a threat to his life. Jacob’s mother Rebekah took the initiative to send Jacob away after he deceived Isaac into blessing him instead of his twin brother Esau (Genesis 27:19). Genesis 27:41-45 states, “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’ But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him. ‘Behold your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran and stay with him a while until your brother’s fury turns away — until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him.'”

It appears that 20 years later, Esau was still carrying a grudge against Jacob. After he had fled from his uncle Laban’s home, Jacob sent messengers to Esau to let him know he was on his way home. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:6-7). Jacob’s conclusion that Esau intended to harm him was a reasonable one considering that Esau had no reason to bring such a large number of men with him unless he intended to fight or defend himself against his brother. As a result of his distressful situation, Jacob repented of his sin and asked God to show him mercy. Jacob openly admitted, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant” (Genesis 32:10).

King David prayed a similar prayer when he was betrayed by one of his counselors. David said, “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear” (Psalm 64:1-4). The Hebrew word that is translated wicked, ra’a’ is properly translated as “to spoil (literally, by breaking to pieces)” (H7489). Figuratively, ra’a’ can mean “to make (or be) good for nothing.” David referred to his enemies as evildoers, people that make an effort to practice wickedness on a regular basis and think it is their job to make others suffer (H6466/H205). David said the evildoers whet their tongues like swords and aimed bitter words like arrows (Psalm 64:3), indicating the primary weapons of evildoers are rumors and lies.

David described the ammunition that was used against him as “bitter words” (Psalm 64:3). The Hebrew word that David used, marah (maw-raw’) likened bitterness to a trickle or the slow drop by drop collection of liquid in the distillation process (H4843/H4752) which often takes long periods of time to accumulate fluid. The Hebrew term dabar (daw-baw’) means a word and by implication “a matter (as spoken of)” (H1697), suggesting that the bitter words that were being shot at David had to to with something that had happened in the past that had never been forgotten or forgiven. Likewise, in the situation with Jacob and Esau, many years had passed since Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and yet, there was no lessening of Esau’s anger, only what seemed to be a determined effort on his part to settle the score by annihilating his brother’s family. As Esau approached, Jacob quickly divided up his family and prepared himself for the worst (Genesis 33:2-3).

One of the reasons David thought he was justified in asking for God’s help was that his enemy was “shooting from ambush at the blameless” (Psalm 64:4). The Hebrew word that is translated blameless, tam (tawm) means complete (H8535). Tam is derived from the word tamam (taw-mam’). “The basic meaning of this word is that of being complete or finished, with nothing else expected or intended” (H8552). David may have been thinking of himself as having completed the assignment that God had given him as the king of Israel which was to conquer the foreign nations that occupied the Promised Land (2 Samuel 8:14). David credited God with delivering him from all his enemies (2 Samuel 22:1) and said, “For I have kept the ways of the LORD and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his rules were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt” (2 Samuel 22:22-24).

David’s claim of being blameless wasn’t based on him never having broken any of God’s rules because we know that David committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12:9). Jesus explained that David was innocent because of God’s mercy, his free gift for the forgiveness of sins. When the Pharisees accused his disciples of breaking the law because they plucked heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus told them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” (Matthew 12:3-5). The Greek word that is translated profane, bebelos (beb’-ay-los) means to cross a threshold and by implication according to Jewish notions to be heathenish or wicked (G952).

David said that he had not wickedly departed from his God (2 Samuel 22:22). David compared himself with the wicked in order to point out that his relationship with the LORD was what had kept him from becoming a bad person, someone that was hostile toward God and deserved to be punished (H7561). In his psalm, David said of the wicked, “They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’ They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’ For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Psalm 64:5-6). To hold fast to something in the sense that David was talking about meant that the person was bracing up or strengthening himself in order to act in defiance against God (H2388). The person’s heart was hardened to the point that he would not let go of his evil purpose or “the wicked deed and its consequences” (H7451). “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.”

David’s comment that “the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Psalm 64:6) was meant to draw attention to the fact that it’s very difficult for a person’s behavior to be changed once he has made up his mind to do something. The immaterial inner self is where conscious decisions are made and the heart is often guided by long patterns of thoughts and emotions that eventually come to fruition, rather than being influenced by single events. Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 12:34-35). The Greek word that is translated treasure, thesauros (thay-sow-ros’) means a deposit and suggests Jesus was saying that the only words that come out of our mouths are those that have been stored up in our hearts for some length of time. Jesus said, “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 12:36-37).

A careless word is one that proves to be useless in the sense of accomplishing a task or you might say settling a matter (G692/G4487). When God created the world, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). If God had said, “Let there be light” and he was not able to create light, then his command would have been a useless one. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that their words had power, just like God’s and were intended to be used in a productive way. David said of the wicked, “They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’ They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search'” (Psalm 64:5-6). The Hebrew terms that are translated diligent search have to do with concealing one’s identity in order to trick someone (H2664/H2665). You might say a diligent search is a covert operation, the objective being in David’s case to damage his reputation.

When Jacob saw his brother Esau approaching him in the distance, he divided up his wives and children, “And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he come near to his brother” (Genesis 33:2-3). Jacob’s action of bowing demonstrated his submission to Esau’s authority. Jacob was sending Esau a definite message that he no longer wanted to supplant him as the eldest of Isaac’s twin sons. Genesis 33:4 states, “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Jacob realized that his brother no longer intended to kill him and said, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10). The Hebrew word that is translated accepted, ratsah (raw-tsaw’) means specifically to satisfy a debt and indicates that Jacob felt he and his brother were friends again (H7521).

In spite of their renewed affection, when Esau offered to travel with Jacob and have his men protect his family, Jacob declined Esau’s offer (Genesis 33:15). “So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock” (Genesis 33:16-17). Jacob was being disobedient when he decided to settle down in Succoth because God had instructed him to “return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred” (Genesis 31:3). It was also contrary to what Jacob had told Esau he intended to do, which was to travel at a slower pace and eventually meet him in Seir (Genesis 33:14). It is likely that Jacob lived in Succoth for at least 5 years and perhaps as many as ten years until his daughter Dinah reached the age of maturity. Genesis 34:1-2 tells us that she “went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.”

The Hebrew word that is translated humiliated in Genesis 34:2, ‘anah (aw-naw’) indicates that Shechem raped Dinah (H6031), but it says in Genesis 34:3 that Shechem’s soul was drawn to Dinah, that he loved her and spoke tenderly to her. Frequently the verb ‘anah “expresses the idea that God sends affliction for disciplinary purposes.” The situation was a very difficult one because Shechem had clearly done something wicked and yet, Shechem’s motive was honorable. Shechem’s father came to speak to Jacob (Genesis 34:6) and indicated that Shechem wanted to marry Dinah (Genesis 34:8), but Jacob’s sons wanted revenge. “The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done” (Genesis 34:7).

The way that Jacob and his sons handled the situation showed that they were more interested in settling the score with Shechem than they were finding a solution to their problem. When Jacob found out what happened to Dinah, Genesis 34:5 says that he held his peace until his sons came in from the field. The Hebrew word that is translated held his peace, charash (khaw-rash’) means to scratch and by implication to engrave or fabricate something. In a bad sense, charash is used figuratively with regard to secretly devising a plan (H2790). It could be that during the time while Jacob was waiting for his sons to return from the field, the event was being replayed and engraved in Jacob’s mind and the horror of what took place caused him to become numb with shock. The figurative use of charash implies the mistreatment of others and is used to express the plotting of evil against a friend. Perhaps, Jacob was overcome with rage and could think of nothing else, but to kill the man that had raped his daughter.

Shechem came to Jacob and his sons and offered to make things right. He suggested that the two families could live peaceably with each other. “Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife” (Genesis 34:11-12). Shechem’s plea for reconciliation fell on deaf ears. Genesis 34:13 states, “The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.” Dinah’s brothers led Shechem to believe that he could marry Dinah if every male in his city was circumcised. “On the third day, when they were sore, two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away” (Genesis 34:26).

Simeon and Levi’s murder of every male in the city of Shechem was compounded by the fact that the sons of Jacob plundered the city and “they took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All the wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered” (Genesis 34:27-29). Jacob’s expression of displeasure afterward didn’t carry much weight since he had essentially endorsed his son’s behavior by standing by and allowing them to ransack a city that was in the process of dedicating themselves to God (Genesis 17:10-13). Ultimately, the impression that Jacob’s sons gave was that they would destroy anyone that dared to cross them.

Jesus said that his disciples should “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” (Matthew 12:33). On the surface, this seems to suggest that Jesus wanted his disciples to label people according to their actions, but the Greek word Jesus used that is translated known, ginosko (ghin-oce’-ko) means “to understand completely” (G1097). “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 the relationship.” Jesus made it clear that the overall behavior of a person needed to be considered, not just a single action or an isolated event. From that standpoint, the fruit of a tree is an ongoing testament to its inner workings and a person’s actions the evidence that he has been converted or born again.

Jesus admonished the scribes and Pharisees that wanted him to perform a miracle in order to prove he was Israel’s Messiah. He told them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Johan, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:39-41). The point that Jesus wanted to make was that it didn’t take a miracle to know that he had come into the world to help people, not hurt them. The reason why the scribes and Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with Jesus was because he kept exposing their hypocrisy. In order to emphasize the wicked state of the Jewish nation, Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matthew 12:43-45).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Spiritual disclosure

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included a prayer that was meant to encourage their spiritual growth. Paul asked, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:17-18). The phrase “eyes of your hearts” refers to one’s ability to see things that are normally covered up or kept secret in order to prevent them from being disclosed to the wrong person. The Greek word that is translated enlightened, photizo (fo-tid’-zo) is used figuratively to refer to the impartation of moral and spiritual light (G5461). What Paul meant was that he wanted the Holy Spirit to illuminate the minds of the Ephesian believers so that they could understand spiritual truth. The implication being that without the help of the Holy Spirit it would be impossible for the Ephesians to understand what God was saying to them through Paul’s teaching.

The Greek word that is translated revelation in Ephesians 1:17, apokalupsis (ap-ok-al-oop’-sis) means disclosure or an uncovering (G602). Apokalupsis probably originated from the idea of discovering a crime. The reason why the knowledge of God can only be received through a revelation or spiritual disclosure is because the devil has stolen our ability to discern the truth about our creator. In a sense, we are spiritually blindfolded until God decides to reveal himself to us by way of photizo or shedding light on the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18). Paul said that it is by grace that we are saved through faith. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul went on to say that believers are God’s workmanship, something that is produced by an inward act of the mind or will (G4160). Paul said, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

The process of spiritual growth includes several stages, one of which King David described as being like a weaned child. David said about the difficult situation he was dealing with, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). David realized that his circumstances were out of his control and had decided to accept them rather than scream his head off to God like a hungry child that wanted to be fed immediately. David said, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1). The Hebrew word that is translated marvelous, pala’ (paw-law’) has to do with distinguishing the supernatural ability of God. “Pala’, as a verb, means ‘to be marvelous, be extraordinary, be beyond one’s power to do” (H6381). David said that he did not occupy himself with things too great and too marvelous from him. In other words he left things in God’s hands rather than trying to work them out himself.

After Laban departed and returned home, Genesis 32:1-2 tells us that “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” The angels of God did not accidentally cross Jacob’s path, but were there to intentionally intervene in his situation. When it says that the angels of God met him, it implies that Jacob was like a target that they were focused in on and that there was a reason why the angelic host had been sent there. The fact that Jacob was able to see the angels suggests that he had become consciously aware of the supernatural activity that was taking place around him. The reason why he said “This is God’s camp!” (Genesis 32:2) was because Jacob recognized that a spiritual war was taking place (H4264) and yet, he seemed to ignore the angels presence and went about his business as if nothing unusual was happening.

Rather than continuing on his journey, Jacob stopped for the night and sent messengers ahead of him to let his brother Esau know he was on his way home. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape'” (Genesis 32:6-8). The thought didn’t seem to occur to Jacob that God’s heavenly host was there to help him and that he had nothing to worry about with regard to engaging in a battle with the four hundred men that were headed toward him with his brother Esau. Even though Jacob could see the angels of God, the eyes of his heart had not been enlightened and he was therefore ignorant about what God was doing in his midst.

John the Baptist is an example of an Old Testament believer that saw Jesus, Israel’s Messiah with his own eyes and yet, was unable to spiritually comprehend what his ministry was all about. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” (Matthew 11:2-3). John’s question seems completely absurd given that he had already declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Savior of the World did not mean that he understood his mission of spreading the gospel. Matthew said, “And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me'” (Matthew 11:4-6). In other words, Jesus wanted John to know that he needed to be saved like everyone else.

Jesus explained to his disciples that John was no different than anyone else. Yes, John had been given the gift of prophecy, but that did not mean that the eyes of his heart had been enlightened. John had limited knowledge of God’s plan of salvation and was operating under the assumption that Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on Earth immediately. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). What Jesus was saying was that John knew more than anyone else from a human standpoint about how God’s kingdom was supposed to operate and yet, he still hadn’t received the spiritual disclosure from God that was necessary to place his trust in Christ. John was blinded to the fact that Jesus was in the process of saving the world even though he was on his way to being crucified by the very people he had come to save.

Jesus told his disciples, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The Greek word that is translated suffered violence, biazo (bee-ad’-zo) means to “force one’s way into” (G971). Biazo is derived from the root word bios (bee’-os) which means life, i.e. literally “the present state of existence” (G969). The phrase “the violent take it by force” has to do with exerting energy in order to accomplish something. What Jesus may have meant by his comment that the kingdom of heaven had suffered violence until he came into the world was that before salvation was offered to man as a gift from God, the only way people could obtain eternal life was by fighting for it or you might say to demand that God give it to them, except that it was the other way around, God was continually forcing the Israelites to let him save them.

Jacob’s struggle to do things his own way instead of following God’s instructions culminated when he spent the night at Mahanaim, a place he described as “God’s camp” (Genesis 32:2). When Jacob discovered that his brother was on his way to meet him with 400 men, he prayed this prayer:

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good.’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of Esau for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'” (Genesis 32:9-12)

In his hour of desperation, Jacob poured out his heart to God and was finally willing to ask for his help. One indication that Jacob had a genuine change of heart was that he sent his brother a present in order to make peace with him (Genesis 32:20).

Jacob indicated that he wanted to appease his brother Esau and said, “Perhaps he will accept me” (Genesis 32:20). The Hebrew word that is translated accept, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). Jacob realized that he had sinned against Esau and wanted his brother to absolve him of his spiritual debt. Unfortunately, the debt Jacob owed wasn’t to Esau, but to God. During the night, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety, “And he was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). The wrestling match that took place at Mahanaim may have had both physical and spiritual qualities. The person that wrestled with Jacob was simply identified as a man, but later was recognized by Jacob as God (Genesis 32:30). Therefore, it seems likely that God’s purpose in having hand to hand combat with Jacob was to bring him to a point of submission. It says that, “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25).

God’s use of force to disable Jacob suggests that he wasn’t going to let Jacob win their battle of the wills and yet, it says in Genesis 32:28 that God told Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” The Hebrew name Israel or Yisra’el (yes-raw-ale’) means “he will rule (as) God” (H3478). The key to understanding Jacob’s victory over God could be his demand to be blessed by his creator. After the man put Jacob’s hip out of joint, it says in Genesis 32:26, “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'” Jacob was determined to get the spiritual advantage he felt he needed in order to succeed in life. The implied benefits of God’s blessing were righteousness, prosperity, and eternal life (H1293). All of these things together could be summed up in what we think of today as being saved, “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” G4991).

It isn’t clear how much of what happened at Mahanaim was understood by Jacob. The only thing we are told is that Jacob called the place where he wrestled with God “Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered'” (Genesis 32:30). The Hebrew words that are translated “seen God face to face,” ra’ah (raw-aw’) ‘elohiym (el-o-heem’) paneh (paw-neh’) indicate that Jacob could perceive God’s attitude toward him (H7200/H430/H6440). In other words, Jacob’s personal encounter with God made it possible for him to tell by the look on God’s face how he felt about him. Paneh which is translated face to face is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) and most likely meant that God was turning towards Jacob or becoming attached to him in the sense of developing a relationship with him (H6437). It’s possible that the Lord was giving Jacob a chance to see that he was his friend, not an adversary that needed to be beaten. The Hebrew word that is translated delivered in Genesis 32:20, natsal (naw-tsal) is the same word Jacob used when he prayed that God would deliver him from the hand of his brother,” so it seems likely that Jacob thought God would kill him if he got too close to him, but discovered that it was safe for him to interact with God in an intimate manner.

Jesus thanked his Father, whom he referred to as the Lord of heaven and earth, because he had hidden the things that he was teaching the people from “the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). Jesus was comparing those who had intellectual capability with a simple minded person who had no ability to communicate spiritual truths. Jesus was pointing out that spiritual disclosure wasn’t dependent on a person’s intellectual development, but could even be received by someone that was a brand new believer. An example of this principle was the complicated doctrine that Paul delivered in his letter to the Ephesians, Gentiles that had been deeply immersed in worshipping the Greek goddess of Diana until Paul arrived on the scene. Paul talked to the Ephesians about spiritual blessings in Christ and covered such topics as predestination, redemption, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14) and then, Paul indicated that he was praying that God would give the Ephesian believers the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation of Jesus, so that they could comprehend these great truths.

Jesus told his disciples, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). This seems to suggest that Jesus was entrusted with the sole responsibility of disclosing spiritual truth to believers. Jesus said that all things had been handed over to him, meaning that everything there was to know about God’s kingdom was transmitted to him by his Father. The Greek word that is translated chooses in the phrase “whom the Son chooses,” boulomai (boo’-lom-ahee) “expresses strongly the deliberate exercise of the will” (G1014), indicating that God’s gift of salvation was distributed by means of Jesus choosing who would be saved. Paul said that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, Jesus identified the people he wanted to save and communicated it to his Father before the world was created. Jesus’ desire to have certain individuals with him throughout eternity was based on God’s love for humanity.

One of the ways we know what kind of people Jesus wanted to be with him in his Father’s eternal kingdom was who he invited to follow him. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus was looking for people that were tired of carrying the burdens of their sins around with them. Jesus said that his followers could find rest for their souls by taking his yoke upon them. The Greek word that is translated yoke, zugos (dzoo-gos’) means to join and refers to a coupling that enables two people to work together to complete a task (G2218). Jesus said that his yoke was easy, meaning that everything that was needed to get the job done was being provided (G5543); and his burden was light, it would be easy to handle (G1645). The only thing that Jesus required from those that wanted to be saved was faith and he made that possible by enlightening the eyes of the believer’s heart.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The mission

Jesus associated the salvation of souls with a harvest that required laborers to reap the crop and he told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37). The laborers that Jesus was referring to were men that were called to preach the gospel. Jesus chose twelve apostles that were given the mission of informing “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” that the kingdom of heaven was approaching (Matthew 10:6-7). According to Matthew, the names of Jesus’ apostles were, “Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Matthew 10:2-4).

Jesus gave his twelve apostles specific instructions about how they were to conduct themselves while they were out preaching (Matthew 10:7-14). The apostles were thought of as ambassadors of the Gospel and were delegated miraculous powers that they were at liberty to use as they pleased (G1849/G652). Jesus instructed his apostles to, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). The mission the apostles received was primarily concerned with the well-being of God’s chosen people. God had promised to send the Jews a Messiah that would save their nation from its spiritual destitution (G622).

Jesus’ program of discipleship was not simply learning the doctrine of Christ, but getting to know Christ Himself and applying the knowledge so as to walk differently from the rest of the world (G3129). Jesus told his disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” and said, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). Jesus made it clear that the supernatural powers that the apostles were given were not meant to be used as a means of gaining wealth. He told them, “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food” (Matthew 10:9-10).

Jesus indicated that his apostles weren’t expected to benefit materially from the work they were doing for God’s kingdom. The principle that Jesus wanted his disciples to demonstrate to the Jews was the grace of God. Jesus said, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8) in order to point out that salvation was a gift from God and should not be offered on the basis of merit or any other condition. Jesus said, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:14-15).

One of the characteristics of the covenant that God made with Abraham was that it provided a means of judging the world. God told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Before he sent his son to Paddan-aram to get a wife, Isaac blessed Jacob and gave him this benediction, “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). God confirmed his covenant with Jacob and told him, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).

God said he would bring Jacob back to the land, indicating that he would cause Jacob to return to the course that he had departed from when he left his father’s household for Paddan-aram. The Hebrew word that is translated return, shuwb (shoob) is associated with having a relationship with God. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). Jacob’s experience in Paddan-aram seems to suggest that he didn’t have a relationship with God. Three times Jacob agreed to serve his uncle Laban in exchange for possessions that he probably could have obtained much more easily if he had been willing to accept God’s help. It wasn’t until Jacob “saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before” that he took action to leave his uncle’s home (Genesis 31:2, 17-18).

Genesis 31:1-3 states: “Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.'” One way of interpreting God’s message would be that he was telling Jacob to go back where he belonged. Jacob had been away from his hometown for 20 years and his behavior and mannerisms had likely changed quite a bit as a result of living with his uncle Laban. After gathering together his wives and children and packing up all of his belongings and it says that “Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:20-21).

The Hebrew word that is translated tricked in Genesis 31:20 is leb (labe) which means the heart. 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). Jacob’s action of fleeing Laban’s home without telling him suggests that he didn’t trust his uncle or was too weak to stand up to him. It could be that Jacob lacked confidence because he was riddled with guilt about having stolen his brother’s birthright (Genesis 25:31) and deceiving his father so that he would bless him instead of his twin brother Esau (Genesis 27:19).

The LORD’s instruction to “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred” (Genesis 31:3) implies that God wanted Jacob to go back to his father’s house and deal with the conflicts that he had left unresolved. Genesis 31:21 tells us that Jacob “set his face” toward the location of Isaac’s camp, indicating that Jacob intended to obey the LORD’s command, but as he was fleeing, “Laban overtook Jacob” (Genesis 31:25) and confronted him with a crime, putting Jacob on the defensive.

And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods? (Genesis 31:26-30)

Jacob didn’t know that his wife Rachel had stolen her father’s idols and responded to Laban’s accusation by declaring, “Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live” (Genesis 31:32).

Jacob’s rash behavior was compounded by the fact that he didn’t know how to control his emotions. Jacob became angry and berated Laban for chasing him down and falsely accusing him (Genesis 31:36). In the end, the only way Laban could save face was to make a covenant with Jacob. “Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm” (Genesis 31:51-52). Even though Jacob and Laban agreed to live harmoniously with each other, the nations that they established, Israel and Syria were in constant conflict with each other throughout the Old Testament of the Bible and remain bitter enemies to this day.

When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), he told them, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mathew 10:16). The conflict that Jesus expected his disciples to encounter had to do with the deception of false prophets. Jesus had previously warned his followers to “beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). In order to discern the motives of their adversaries, Jesus told his disciples to “be as wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). In other words, the apostles needed to keep mentally alert and use their cognitive faculties to outwit the false teachers that wanted to undermine their message of hope.

Jesus’ admonition to be “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) may have been a reference to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the salvation of souls. The Greek word that is translated innocent, akeraios (ak-er’-ah-yos) means unmixed (G185) and is derived from the word kerannumi (ker-an’-noo-mee) which means to mingle (G2767). What Jesus may have meant by the phrase innocent as doves was that his disciples shouldn’t interfere with or try to take the place of the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart. The primary objective of the twelve apostles mission was to bear witness or more succinctly, to proclaim the truths of the gospel as revealed to them by Jesus Christ during his three-year ministry on Earth.

Jesus warned his disciples that men would deliver them over to courts and flog them in their synagogues, “and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:17-19). Jesus didn’t downplay the danger associated with his disciples mission, but encouraged them to stay one step ahead of their enemies. He said, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23).

Jesus’ reference to his return to Earth suggests that the mission he was sending his apostles on would not be completed in their lifetimes. It could be that Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on the bigger picture and was concerned about their willingness to stay at the task if their lives were in constant danger. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

One of the motivations Jesus gave his disciples for expending their lives for the sake of preaching the gospel was that it would result in special recognition from God. Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but who ever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The Greek word Jesus used that is translated acknowledge, homologeo (hom-ol-og-eh’-o) literally means “to speak the same thing” (G3670). What this seems to suggest is that a believer’s profession of faith needed to be validated by the things that he said to other people about God.

When the LORD told Jacob to return to the land of his fathers, God said that he would be with him (Genesis 31:3). What that meant was that Jacob would be protected from harm. God was assuring Jacob that he and his family would make it to their destination safely and he would take care of any problems they encountered along the way. God protected Jacob when spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him to “be careful not to say anything to Jacob either good or bad” (Genesis 31:24). Apparently, Laban was going to try and stop Jacob from leaving again and the LORD intervened so that he wouldn’t do that.

Jacob’s interaction with Laban seems to suggest that he didn’t believe God would protect him. Jacob told Laban that he fled without saying goodbye because he was afraid that Laban was going to take his daughters away from him by force (Genesis 31:31). Jacob referred to the LORD in an impersonal way when he said, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty handed” (Genesis 31:42). Later, Jacob affirmed a covenant with Laban by swearing “by the Fear of his father Isaac” (Genesis 31:33), indicating that it was the authority of his father’s faith in God and not his own that made their agreement binding.

Jacob didn’t go so far as to deny God, but his behavior clearly demonstrated that he wasn’t trusting in the LORD. The Greek word that is translated denies in Matthew 10:33, arneomai (ar-neh’-om-ahee) means to contradict with regard to one’s speech (G720). When Laban confronted him, Jacob denied taking his uncle’s gods. Jacob even became angry and berated Laban for making a false accusation against him, but the idols were actually hidden in his wife’s saddle (Genesis 31: 34-35). Even though Jacob was unaware of what Rachel had done, he was responsible for her actions and deserved to be punished for the crime.

Jesus told his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). The Greek word that is translated to set, dichazo (dee-khad’-zo) means to cut apart or divide in two (G1369). Figuratively, dichazo means to alienate oneself, something that Jacob seemed to do on a regular basis.

The conflict between Jacob and Laban was inevitable because these two men stood on opposite sides of God’s kingdom. Jacob was the designated heir of God’s covenant with Abraham and Laban was doing everything he could to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. Even though Laban managed to delay Jacob’s return to his father’s household for 20 years, Jacob eventually broke free from Laban’s control and seemed to be determined to make a fresh start when he set his face toward the hill country of Gilead (Genesis 31:21). The only problem was that Jacob still wasn’t ready to submit himself to God’s will and thought he needed to stay on Laban’s good side and agreed to make a covenant with him (Genesis 31:53).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!