Unresolved Conflict

The first interpersonal conflict that occurred in the Bible was between Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel. Genesis 4:1-7 tells us:

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

“The fact that God ‘had regard for Abel and his offering” raises the question, is God completely impartial? In some texts (Exodus 2:25; Leviticus 26:9; 2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 138:6), he is said to acknowledge or pay attention to a person or group of individuals. Other passages state that God is no respecter of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11: Ephesians 6:9; 1 Peter 1:17). Although no one has a higher standing in God’s eyes because of their status in life or of something they themselves have done, God does, according to his sovereign will, pay specific attention to certain individuals and situations. The fact that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s may not have been based on the fact that Abel’s involved the shedding of blood and Cain’s did not. Some of the required Old Testament offerings were bloodless, such as the grain offering (Leviticus 2:1-14; 6:14-23; 7:9-10) and the sin offering brought by the very poor (Leviticus 5:11-13). It may have been that the attitude of faith in which Abel brought his offering pleased God rather than the offering itself” (note on Genesis 4:3-7). It says in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

God asked Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). The Hebrew words that are translated well and accepted have to do with being happy and exhibiting cheerfulness (H3190/H7613). God was pointing out to Cain that he was responsible for his own happiness and said that sin had to be mastered by him. Cain’s response to God’s intervention indicated that he was not willing to take responsibility for his own actions. Genesis 4:8-9 states, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” 1 John 3:9-12 explains that the interpersonal conflict between Cain and Abel was based on their relationship to God. 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. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” John identified two categories of people, children of God and children of the devil, and said that it is evident which category people belong in. The phrase born of God is “spoken of God begetting in a spiritual sense which consists in regenerating, sanctifying, quickening anew, and ennobling the powers of the natural man by imparting to him a new life and a new spirit in Christ (1 John 5:1).

God’s selection of Jacob rather than Esau created a conflict between these two brothers that was never resolved. Genesis 25:21-23 tells us:

And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
     and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
     the older shall serve the younger.

The Hebrew word that is translated divided, parad (paw-radˊ) “often expresses separation of people from each other, sometimes with hostility” (H6504). Genesis 27:41 indicates that Esau hated his brother Jacob, “because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him” and Rebekah sent Jacob to live with her brother Laban, stating, “Behold, your brother comforts himself about you by planning to kill you” (Genesis 27:42).

Unresolved conflict continued to be a part of Jacob’s heritage. His son Joseph was hated by his brothers because of a dream he had that indicated he would rule over his family (Genesis 37:8). When his brothers “saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams’” (Genesis 37:18-20). Jacob’s family was forced to leave the land of Canaan because of a famine and remained in Egypt as slaves for 400 years until God sent Moses to deliver them from their bondage (Exodus 6:6). After they returned to the land that God had promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, each of the twelve tribes of Israel were given an inheritance that required them to occupy specific territories within the borders of the Promised Land. The territory allotted to the tribe of the people of Benjamin “fell between the people of Judah and the people of Joseph (Joshua 18:11). The inheritance for the tribe of the people of Simeon “was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah” (Joshua 19:1). “Dan’s inheritance was on the coastal plain, south of the territory given to Ephraim” (note on Joshua 19:40-48). The inheritances of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali were nestled in between the eastern and western portions of land given to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 19:10-39). The close proximity of the tribes’ inheritances to each other’s made it more likely that their unresolved conflicts would continue. “Having distributed the land to the tribes, the Lord’s next administrative regulation provided an elementary system of government; specifically a system of regional courts to deal with capital offenses having to do with manslaughter. Thus this most inflammatory of cases was removed from local jurisdiction, and a safeguard was created against the easy miscarriage of justice (with its endless blood feuds) when retribution for manslaughter was left in the hands of family members” (note on Joshua 20:1-9, KJSB).

The record we have of Jesus’ birth in the Bible indicates that he was born into an environment that was hostile to him. John’s gospel states, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Two groups of people that Jesus focused most of his attention on were neighbors and enemies. It can be assumed that both of these groups consisted of unsaved people that Jesus’ followers lived in close contact with. Neighbors might have been open to God, but enemies were not, and yet, Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies. Jesus said:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

Jesus’ message left no room for retaliation and made it clear that love was the only acceptable response to all types of harsh treatment. With regard to judging others, Jesus went on to say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).

Proverbs 27:17-19 provides important insight into how positive human interaction can change the outcome of an unresolved conflict. It states:

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.
Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
    and he who guards his master will be honored.
As in water face reflects face,
    so the heart of man reflects the man.

Iron sharpening iron depicts the effect of a harsh attitude or fierce look toward another person. It says that “one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17), indicating that the person’s response will be made more sharp or more fierce by the attitude or look that has been displayed to him (H2300). The contrast between iron sharpening iron and a person tending a fig tree (Proverbs 27:17-18) has to do with a person’s investment in a particular relationship. The Hebrew word that is translated tends in Proverbs 27:18, natsar (naw-tsarˊ) “refers to people’s maintaining things entrusted to them, especially to keeping the truths of God in both action and mind” (H5341). Whereas a harsh attitude or a fierce look can quickly sharpen the countenance of another person, tending to a relationship over time will produce spiritual fruit in the life of a believer. Likewise, protecting someone that has authority over you will benefit you in the long run.

The statement, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19) indicates that it is impossible for us to hide our attitude toward another person. When God confronted Cain, he made note of the fact that his face had fallen (Genesis 4:6). The Hebrew word that is translated face, paneh (paw-nehˊ) “represents the look on one’s face, or one’s countenance” (H6440). What God meant by Cain’s face falling was that Cain’s negative attitude toward Abel was evident in his facial expression. God could tell that Cain was very angry that his brother’s sacrifice had been accepted and not his own. The heart of man is considered to be the seat of his inner nature (H3820). Jesus explained to his disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19). Jesus also remarked to the Pharisees, “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). When God asked Cain, “’Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9). Cain’s response made it clear that he had no regard for his brother’s well-being. When Cain killed Abel, he intentionally murdered him and was not sorry for his crime.

Proverbs 27:4 states, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” In this proverb, jealousy is portrayed as an intense fervor that is greater than anger or wrath. The letter of James which is largely composed of general exhortations and admonitions, has been referred to as “The New Testament Book of Proverbs” (Introduction to The Letter of James). James offered warnings and advice on many difficult topics including conflict among believers and judging your neighbor. James wrote:

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

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:1-12)

James attributed quarrels and fights to passions that are at war within us and indicated that the fallen spirit of man is responsible for his propensity to sin (note on James 4:5). James identified grace as the solution to our sin problem (James 4:6). Grace is “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been 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).

James identified three critical steps that can restore our relationship with God and others. James said, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8). The Greek word that is translated submit, hupotasso (hoop-ot-asˊ-so) means “to subordinate; reflexive to obey” (G5293). Hupotasso is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which means “under” (G5259) and tasso (tasˊ-so) which means “to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e. assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot). Submission to God involves our acceptance of the circumstances that he has placed us in and also the destiny that he has prepared for us before the world began (Ephesians 1:4-5). The allotments of land that each of the twelve tribes of Israel received as their inheritance was determined by God (Joshua 14:1). They were instructed to take possession of the land, but it was their decision to do it or not.

Resisting the devil means that we stand against him, we oppose the thoughts and feelings that he brings into our minds (G436). Paul instructed the believers in Ephesus to stand against the schemes of the devil. He said, “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). When we draw near to God, we are approaching him with the intent of worshipping him without any ulterior motives. We’re not trying to get something from God or trying to get God to do something that we want him to. The offerings that Cain and Abel brought to God were both acceptable types of offerings. It was the way that they were offered that caused one of them to be accepted and the other rejected. The interesting thing to note about Cain’s offering was that even though his offering wasn’t accepted, God personally interacted with Cain and attempted to prevent him from making the wrong choice. “The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7). God depicted sin as something that is waiting to overtake us and said it must be mastered by us. Living with unresolved conflict is like we are leaving the door open, but don’t expect sin to come in. James advised us, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).

The turnaround

During the 40 years that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness because of their unbelief, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). There was never a moment that the people of Israel didn’t know where they were supposed to be when they were in the wandering in desert, but after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, things changed dramatically. God expected his chosen people to start walking by faith and not by sight. The fall of Jericho was followed by an unsuccessful attempt to destroy Ai with just a few thousands men. Joshua tells us, “And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:4-5). The people of Israel were overwhelmed with fear when they realized that their success in fighting against the inhabitants of Canaan was not guaranteed. Even Joshua was ready to give up and thought all was lost because of the Israelites defeat (Joshua 7:8-9). In order to set the record straight, God told Joshua that the problem was due to the camp being defiled by things that were devoted to destruction. Joshua 7:10-13 states:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”

God’s statement, “I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12) was not a threat, but was meant to help the Israelites turn their situation around. Proverbs 21:2 tells us, “Every way of a man in right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” When the LORD weighs the heart, he reveals its contents. According to Psalm 139, God knows everything about us. It states:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:1-12)

The darkness that is referred to here is associated with disorder and is distinguished and separated from light. “In subsequent uses, whether used in physical or a symbolic sense, it describes confusion and uncertainty (Job 12:25; 37:19), evil done in secret” (H2822) and “to the darkness sometimes surrounding persons that requires them to trust in God” (H2825). The people of Israel were operating in spiritual darkness when they attacked the city of Ai, but weren’t aware of it until they were overcome and forced to flee and thirty-six men were killed (Joshua 7:4-5).

God exposed Achan’s sin and required the people of Israel to destroy the things that were devoted to destruction (Joshua 7:10-12). When Joshua confronted Achan, he said to him, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (Joshua 7:19). Achan’s confession revealed that he had broken one of the Ten Commandments and had tried to conceal his sin by hiding the things he had taken from Jericho under the dirt inside his tent (Joshua 7:21). There is no indication that Achan felt any remorse for what he had done or that he was willing to repent of his sin. Therefore, Achan, his family, and all his property were destroyed along with all the things that he had taken from Jericho (Joshua 7:25). Afterward, the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king” (Joshua 8:1-2). The phrase that God used, arise, go up had to do with the people of Israel being back in fellowship with God and their spiritual power being restored. There was an immediate turnaround in the Israelites circumstances once they did what God told them to and dealt with Achan’s sin.

Psalm 33 focuses on the steadfast love of the LORD and shows us how this characteristic of God causes us to experience turnarounds in our lives because it draws us closer to him when we are in trouble. The Psalmist begins by focusing our attention on God’s faithfulness. He states:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness. (Psalm 33:1-4)

According to the psalmist, everything God does is done in faithfulness. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness, ʾemunah (em-oo-nawˊ) means “to remain in one place” and “appears to function as a technical term meaning ‘a fixed position.’” “On the other hand, the word can represent the abstract idea of ‘truth’…The essential meaning of emunah is ’established’ or ‘lasting,’ ‘continuing,’ ‘certain’” (H530).

God’s dependability and reliability are important qualities when it comes to trust. In order for us to trust or believe in God, there has to be a sense of permanence in his character and actions (H539). The song of Moses refers to Israel’s future Messiah as The Rock and says about him, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew word tsur (tsoor) “means rocky wall or cliff (Exodus 17:6; 33:21-22). It frequently means rocky hill or mountains (Isaiah 2:10, 19)…The rock (or mountain) serves as a figure of security (Psalm 61:2), firmness (Job 14:18), and something that endures (Job 19:24)…The word means boulder in the sense of a rock large enough to serve as an altar (Judges 6:21). Rock frequently pictures God’s support and defense of his people (Deuteronomy 32:15)” (H6697). Jesus was identified not only as “the spiritual Rock” that followed the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4), but also as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” because of Israel’s unbelief (Romans 9:33).

Jesus demonstrated his ability to turn the most impossible situation around when he died on the cross and then, was resurrected three days later. By paying the penalty for every sin that had been or ever would be committed, Jesus opened the door for God to erase the errors that cause believers to fall short with regards to accomplishing God’s will for their lives. Psalm 33:5 indicates that God “loves righteousness and justice” and “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.” In order for the earth to be full of the steadfast love of the LORD, there would have to be a limitless amount of it to go around. Essentially, what the psalmist was saying was that God doesn’t withhold his steadfast love from certain people. It flows freely to anyone that wants or needs it. The Hebrew word cheçed (khehˊ-sed) appears three times in Psalm 33 and each time it is translated steadfast love. “The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship…Checed implies personal involvement, and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law. Marital love is often related to cheçed. Marriage certainly is a legal matter, and there are legal sanctions for infractions. Yet the relationship, if sound, far transcends mere legalities. The prophet Hosea applies the analogy to Yahweh’s cheçed to Israel within the covenant (e.g. 2:21). Hence, ‘devotion’ is sometimes the single English word best capable of capturing the nuances of the original. Hebrew writers often underscore the element of steadfastness (or strength) by pairing cheçed with ʾemet (H571 – “truth, reliability”) and ʾemunah (H530 – “faithfulness”)…The Bible prominently uses the term cheçed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within, and in response to the covenant” (H2617).

The reciprocity that is involved in cheçed makes it clear to us that God does not show his lovingkindness to people that want nothing to do with him and yet, we know that God has made a way for everyone’s sins to be forgiven. The psalmist tells us:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Psalm 33:13-15)

The Hebrew word that is translated observes, biyn (bene) refers to God’s ability to “to separate mentally (or distinguish)” and “basically means to understand” (H995). God is not only aware of what is going on here, but also understands the implications of everything people do. The Book of Hebrews explains that Jesus’ human nature was the same as our own and it enabled him to be tempted just like us. It states, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). God’s grace and mercy are dispensed from heaven without being earned or deserved. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us is what causes us to be saved and be given a new life. Paul said:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

In the same way that Christians are created for good works that God prepares beforehand for them to walk in them, so also the nation of Israel was created by God to accomplish a specific objective. Deuteronomy 9:4-5 explains that the Israelites were brought in to possess the Promised Land because of the wickedness of the nations that were living there. It states:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

“The land of Canaan became the Promised Land the Lord gave to His people based on his oath. He brought them into the land as He had promised by oath to their fathers (Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 1:8, 35; 6:10; Joshua 1:6; Judges 2:1; Jeremiah 11:5)” (H7650). Psalm 33:16-17 reiterates this point by explaining why Israel’s military strength was useless to them when they attacked Ai at first (Joshua 7:2-5). It states:

The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

The psalmist used the words saved, delivered, salvation, and rescue to remind us that there is a spiritual dimension to warfare that takes precedence over the physical aspects in determining the outcome of a battle. Paul concluded his letter to the Ephesians with a discussion of spiritual warfare. Paul indicated that we must be strong in the Lord and fight in the strength of his might. The Greek word that is translated be strong, endunamoō (en-doo-nam-oˊ-o) is derived from the words en (en) which denotes a (fixed) position (in place, time, or state)” (G1722) and dunamoo (doo-nam-oˊ-o) which means “to make strong” (G1412). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) which specifies “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)…Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411).

Psalm 33:18-19 states:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

God’s ultimate objective for every person is to deliver their soul from death. The soul is our inner being with its thoughts and emotions. When the Hebrew word that is translated soul, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) “is applied to a person, it doesn’t refer to a specific part of a human being. The Scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)” (H5315). That’s why the salvation that God provides for us applies not only to our body, but also to our soul, and our spirit (Matthew 10:28).

Psalm 33 concludes with the reassurance that God’s steadfast love can sustain us in our time of need. Verses 20-22 state:

Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

The psalmist connected waiting with the soul, suggesting that it is a spiritual activity or you might say a spiritual exercise. The Israelites were impatient and often failed to ask God for help when they needed it. Psalm 106 recounts their journey through the wilderness and notes that they soon forgot God’s work of deliverance and “they did not wait for his counsel” (Psalm 106:13).

The Israelites’ defeat at Ai was perceived to be God’s fault because he had removed his protection (Joshua 7:8-9), but it was Achan’s sin that the people of Israel needed to deal with. God told them, “They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12). After “they burned them with fire and stoned them with stones…the LORD said to Joshua, Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting me with you, and arise go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city and his land” (Joshua 8:1). During the battle, the army of Ai “left the city open and pursued Israel” (Joshua 8:17). Joshua 8:18-20 tells us:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers.

When Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city, there was a change in their circumstances and the Israelites began to overtake Ai in the battle. Joshua’s act of faith caused a shift in the spiritual dimension of Israel’s warfare to take place. The Hebrew word that is translated turned back in Joshua 8:20, haphak (haw-fakˊ) has to do with transformational change. “In its simplest meaning, haphak expresses the turning from one side to another” and is translated converted in Isaiah 60:5. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). Likewise, the turnaround in the Israelites’ battle with Ai was a result of the Spirit of God getting involved because of Joshua’s act of faith.

The other side

The material and spiritual realms coexist in the same space and are made up of similar articles, but their characteristics are perceived by completely different means. The kingdom of heaven, in particular, had to be described by Jesus in parables so that his followers could comprehend what it was actually like. Jesus explained to his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is perceived through the heart and requires faith in order for it to appear real to individuals. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 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. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

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 13:10-17)

Jesus described the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven as secrets. The Greek word that Jesus used, musterion (moos-tayˊ-ree-on) refers to “a mystery, i.e. something into which one must be initiated or instructed before it can be known; something of itself not obvious and above human insight” (G3466). Jesus talked about hearing, but never understanding and seeing, but not perceiving. This suggests that spiritual perception is similar to physical perception in that spiritual information comes into us through our senses, but it can be blocked and therefore, does not enter the heart where it must be processed and utilized. Jesus explained how this process works in his parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9) and then told his disciples:

“Hear then 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 has been 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 is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Jesus indicated that the key to spiritual perception is understanding. The Greek word that is translated understands in Matthew 13:23, suniemi (soon-eeˊ-ay-mee) means “to put together, i.e. (mentally) to comprehend” (G4920). In order for you to comprehend what is going on in the spiritual realm, you have to be able to put together the pieces of spiritual information that you receive and see them as a complete picture. The believers in the Old Testament didn’t have a complete picture of salvation because Jesus hadn’t yet been born, but many of the things that they experienced were meant to show them and us what salvation looks like from a physical perspective. In contrast, most of the New Testament depicts salvation from a spiritual perspective. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible both depict images of salvation, but they have to be matched up in order for us to see the entire picture in a way that makes sense to us.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that the reason why unbelievers’ spiritual perception is blocked before they are born again is because they are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2), but after they experience regeneration, they can see that there is a better way for them to live and are free to choose the path of life that they want to take. Paul said:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Paul described the process of sanctification as putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of your minds. “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365).

Paul emphasized that in sanctification there must be a putting off of the old self because it belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22). One of the things that is clear about the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness is that the people of Israel were unable to give up their old ways of thinking and acting completely and struggled to obey God’s commands up until the time they crossed over the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. Moses’ account of the Israelites journey noted their continuous rebellion and concluded with the statement, “For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death!” (Deuteronomy 31:27).

Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” The Hebrew word that is translated stand, quwm (koom) in this instance means to “come about” and is being used to denote “the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Sanctification of believers is God’s responsibility and even though we must cooperate in the process, God is able to do whatever he needs to for it to be completed once the process has started. The definiteness and the completeness of the divine act guarantees the end result (G37). The Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River marked the beginning of their process of sanctification. Joshua 3:9-17 states:

And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

Joshua indicated that the way the people of Israel would know that God would without fail drive out the inhabitants of the land was that the waters of the Jordan would be cut off from flowing when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant rested in the waters. The Ark of the Covenant signified God’s presence and in particular, God said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The Ark of the Covenant usually resided in the tabernacle, behind the veil that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. “Only one man, the high priest, went beyond that curtain, and he was permitted to do so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. On that occasion, he was to sprinkle on the altar the blood of a bull as an offering for his sins and the sins of the priests, and the blood of the goat as an offering for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:1-19). The significance was clear: man was separated from God because of sin and could approach him only through the blood that was presented by a priest, who, prior to the sin offerings, had to offer incense that he might find mercy and not die (Leviticus 16:13). When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain hanging in the temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51), indicating that all believers now had access to God’s presence. Jesus went beyond the veil into the Most Holy Place, the presence of God (Hebrews 9:12, 24), as the ultimate high priest (Hebrews 7:23-28, 9:11), taking his own blood (Hebrews 9:12) and making full atonement for sins (Hebrews 10:10, 12)” (note on Exodus 26:31-45). The fact that the Ark of the Covenant was brought out into the open and everyone could see it when the people passed over the Jordan River (Joshua 3:3) suggests that Christ’s atonement was applied to the Israelites as a result of them crossing over the Jordan River to get to the other side.

The Hebrew word ʿabar (aw-barˊ) appears 23 times in Joshua’s account of the Israelites crossing over the Jordan River. ʿAbar is used widely of any transition and as a verb, occurs only when it refers to sin. “This word communicates the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of wrong…ʿAbar often carries the sense of ‘transgressing’ a covenant or commandment—i.e., the offender ‘passes beyond’ the limits set by God’s law and falls into transgression and guilt” (H5674). From this standpoint, the Israelites’ crossing over the Jordan River signified that they were entering a forbidden territory and were at risk of being punished, but the Ark of the Covenant provided the people of Israel with the sense of security that they were doing God’s will and the cutting off the water actually demonstrated that God was facilitating their endeavor. It was clear that God wanted the Israelites to get to the other side. Moses explained the reason why God wanted the Israelites to cross over the Jordan in his final message to them. Moses said:

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 9:1-7)

Moses emphasized the fact that the Israelites were not going in to possess the land because of their righteousness, but because of the wickedness of the nations that were already there. God intended to use the Israelites to accomplish his will, which was to destroy the nations that hated him (Deuteronomy 7:9-10).

The Jordan River represented the line that separated good and evil from both a physical and spiritual perspective. What took place when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River was significant because it depicted a part of salvation that most people don’t understand. In order to complete the picture, we have to look at what took place in the Jordan River in the New Testament of the Bible. Matthew 3:1-6 tells us:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. ”For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

John the Baptist’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2) was implied when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. Joshua 5:1 states, “As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.” The kings of the Amorites and the kings of the Canaanites understood that the Israelites were preparing the way of the Lord because the Ark of the Covenant that was going before signified his presence and they most likely realized that God’s kingdom was about to be established in place of their own.

John’s ministry also shows us that the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River was a type of baptism. Matthew tells us, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). The people were coming to John from everywhere in droves to be baptized by him. There were likely thousands of people congregating around John so that they could make a profession of faith and be immersed by him in the Jordan River. John’s ministry marked an important transition from the Old Covenant that God established with Abraham which only applied to the Israelites to the New Covenant that applies to everyone. When Jesus arrived on the scene, John exclaimed, “’Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, the he might be revealed to Israel’” (John 1:29-31). John’s ministry of baptism was intended to identify Israel’s Messiah. Even though John didn’t know who the Messiah was until after Jesus arrived, John was essentially baptizing people in Jesus’ name when he stated, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:30). In the same way, the Ark of the Covenant was symbolic of Israel’s Messiah who was able to save them from the power of sin and death. When the Ark of the Covenant went before the people into the Jordan River, the waters were cut off as a sign of the Israelite’s immortality.

Like the Jordan River, baptism symbolizes an imaginary line that must be crossed over in order for a believer to experience the effects of their sanctification. It has to do with living the resurrected life that Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans as opposed to the natural life that is associated with your physical birth. Paul said:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)

Closure

The Israelites’ forty-year transition from slavery in Egypt to living in the Promised Land was brought to a closure just before Moses’ death. After Joshua had been commissioned to lead Israel, God told Moses, “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19). The reason why the LORD needed a witness against the people of Israel was because he knew how things were going to turn out. God said, “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21). The Book of Hebrews talks about what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness in the context of faith and entering into God’s rest. Hebrews 3:7-19 states:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

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

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

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

The Greek word that is translated testing in Hebrews 3:8, peirasmos (pi-ras-mosˊ) refers to “a state of trial in which God brings His people through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him” (G3986). After forty years of testing in the wilderness, God determined that the Israelites were inclined to go astray in their hearts and had been so hardened by the deceitfulness of their sin that they were unable to enter into his rest.

Testing usually involves us experiencing difficult circumstances or suffering because of our trust in God. Hebrews 11:4-38 focuses on some of the Old Testament saints who passed their tests so to speak by demonstrating their faith in God. It says in Hebrews 11:29, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” The Greek words that are translated attempted, peira (piˊ-rah) lambano (lam-banˊ-o) literally mean to take a test (G3984/G2983). The Egyptians weren’t able to cross the Red Sea because they didn’t believe in God and even though the Israelites crossed the Red Sea by faith, they later rebelled against God and refused to enter the land of Canaan when they were instructed to do so (Numbers 14:1-4). The Israelites’ experience in the wilderness shows us that faith is not just an action or a one-time act that guarantees God’s blessings for the rest of our lives, but a continual demonstration of reliance upon God that gets us from one step of our journey to the next until we fulfil our destiny. Hebrews chapter eleven concludes with the statement, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:35-40). The Greek word that is translated though commended, martureo (mar-too-rehˊ-o) means “to be a witness, i.e. testify…to testify to the truth of what one has seen, heard, or knows” (G3140). The people in Hebrews chapter eleven who suffered because of their trust in God testify to the fact that sin (moral rebellion against God) can be overcome by faith (Hebrews 12:4).

God told Moses that the song he was going to teach the Israelites would “confront them as a witness” (Deuteronomy 31:21). The Hebrew words that are translated confront, ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) paniym (paw-neemˊ) convey the idea of getting in someone’s face or telling a person exactly what you think of him. The Song of Moses begins:

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,
    and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching drop as the rain,
    my speech distill as the dew,
like gentle rain upon the tender grass,
    and like showers upon the herb.
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
    ascribe greatness to our God!

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
    they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
    they are a crooked and twisted generation.” (Deuteronomy 32:1-5)

The Rock that is mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:4 is identified in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as Christ. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, “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. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrownin the wilderness.” Paul referred to Jesus as “the spiritual Rock” and said that he followed the Israelites when they were in the wilderness. The Greek word that is translated followed, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) means “to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany” (G190). Akoloutheo is used throughout the four gospels in connection with Jesus’ disciples following him. It says in Matthew 9:9, “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow (akoloutheo) me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

Paul’s reference to Jesus as “the spiritual Rock” (1 Corinthians 10:4) meant that Christ wasn’t visibly present with the Israelites in the wilderness, but his power was at work in their lives. Moses’ song stated, “The Rock, his work is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew word tamiym (taw-meemˊ) refers to something that is perfect in the sense of it being blameless (H8549). In Psalm 18, which is titled “The LORD is My Rock and My Fortress,” David said of God’s salvation, “This God—his way is perfect, the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless” (Psalm 18:30-32). David indicated that not only was God’s way perfect (tamiym), but also that God had made his way blameless (tamiym). David thought of himself as being in the same way with (akoloutheo) or a follower of God (Jesus). Unfortunately, David was one of only a handful of the kings of Israel that were faithful to God’s word. Within a few hundred years of David’s reign, the prophet Isaiah echoed the words of Moses’ song. Isaiah 1:2-4 states:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

Ah, sinful nation,
    a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
    children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
    they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    they are utterly estranged.

Jesus reiterated the point that the people of Israel had become “a crooked and twisted generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5) when he rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith. Matthew 17:14-21 states:

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus attributed his disciples’ inability to cast out the demon to their lack of confidence in him (G3640) and indicated that it only required an extremely small amount of faith for them to do miracles. Jesus referred to the people of Israel as a faithless and twisted generation, indicating that the Israelites not only had no faith in him, but they were also distorting or at the very least misrepresenting God’s word to the people around them. The problem that existed throughout the Israelites’ history was that they had a short memory when it came to the things that God had done for them and preferred to worship idols. Deuteronomy 32:15-18 states:

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.

The Rock is mentioned twice in this section of the Song of Moses. It says that the people of Israel scoffed at the Rock of their salvation and that they were unmindful of the Rock that bore them. These images seem to suggest that the Israelites wanted to distance themselves from their past. The people of Israel had likely gotten so full of themselves that they were too proud to admit that they had at one point needed God’s help.

After Israel’s rejection of her Messiah was addressed, the Song of Moses shifted its focus of attention away from Israel’s salvation to the end times. Deuteronomy 32:19-22 states:

“The Lord saw it and spurned them,
    because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.
They have made me jealous with what is no god;
    they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
    I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
For a fire is kindled by my anger,
    and it burns to the depths of Sheol,
devours the earth and its increase,
    and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.”

The LORD said he would make the people of Israel “jealous with those who are no people” and indicated he “will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21). This part of the song’s message has to do with God’s salvation being offered to the whole world. Romans 10:5-21 focuses on the message of salvation to all and restates Deuteronomy 32:21 in the context of Isaiah’s prophecy about judgment and salvation and God’s creation of new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65). Paul wrote:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.”

But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Paul refuted the argument that the people of Israel had never heard the gospel when he asked the question, “Did Israel not understand?” (Romans 10:19) and then, quoted Deuteronomy 32:21, followed by Isaiah 65:1. Paul concluded his argument with Isaiah 65:2 in which God said to the people of Israel, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” The phrase held out my hands is sometimes associated with Christ’s hands being stretched out when he was nailed to the cross, but it’s possible that it was intended to convey the open invitation that Jesus extended to the crowds around him when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus went on to say, “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 11:29-30).

Much of the judgment of God’s chosen people that is outlined in the Song of Moses is reiterated in more detail in the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In particular, Deuteronomy 32:23-27 corresponds with Ezekiel’s detailed account of Jerusalem’s destruction (Ezekiel 5:16-17), the day of the wrath of the LORD (Ezekiel 7:15), and Israel’s continuing rebellion against God (Ezekiel 20:23). Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem included a statement linked to Deuteronomy 32:29. Luke said, “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children with you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation’” (Luke 19:41-44).

The final verses of the Song of Moses speak of a future closure that Israel will experience that coincides with the events of the Great Tribulation. Deuteronomy 32:34-41 states:

“‘Is not this laid up in store with me,
    sealed up in my treasuries?
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
    and their doom comes swiftly.’
For the Lord will vindicatehis people
    and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
    and there is none remaining, bond or free…

“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
For I lift up my hand to heaven
    and swear, As I live forever,
if I sharpen my flashing sword
    and my hand takes hold on judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
    and will repay those who hate me.

Revelation 15:2-3 indicates that all those who conquer the beast and its image and the number of its name will sing the song of Moses standing beside the sea of glass just prior to the seven bowls of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth (Revelation 16:1). Afterward, is the judgment of the great prostitute and the beast (Revelation 17) and the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18), and then, rejoicing in heaven takes place (Revelation 19:1-5). At the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, the Israelites who accepted Jesus as their Messiah will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4). This will bring God’s plan of salvation to a final closure and marks the beginning of an eternal rest for all who have faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:1-11).

Reviving the soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolish confidence

Genesis 1:1-2 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” The earth started out as a barren wasteland. There was “chaos, confusion, and disorder, all things that are opposed to the organization, direction, and order that God demonstrated” in the seven creative days that followed (H8414). We know from Genesis 1:2 that darkness preceded light on earth. Darkness is associated with disorder. Whether used in a physical or a symbolic sense, darkness describes confusion and uncertainty. “Although God created darkness (Isaiah 45:7) and uses it to judge his enemies (Exodus 10:21, 22), He enlightens the darkness of His people (Isaiah 9:2[1]); bringing them out of desperate situations” (H2822). Genesis 1:3 states, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The Hebrew word that is translated light, owr (ore) means “illumination or (concrete) luminary (in every sense, including lightning, happiness, etc)” (H216). The English term luminary usually refers to a person who has attained eminence in his or her field. In a biblical sense, the term luminary may refer to an object or a celestial body that gives off light, but it means more than that because the Hebrew word owr is also associated with happiness. The Bible Dictionary defines light as, “that ethereal agent or matter which makes objects perceptible to the sense of seeing, but the particles of which are separately invisible. It is now generally believed that light is a fluid, or real matter, existing independent of other substances, with properties peculiar to itself.” The sun was not the original source of light on earth. It was created after light came into existence (Genesis 1:16). It could be that the illumination that God initially created emanated from his own being. Jesus told his followers, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Greek word that is translated light in this verse is phos (foce), which means “(to shine or make manifest, especially by rays); luminousness.” Phos speaks of light as emitted from a luminous body, but figuratively, it speaks 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. Generally, true knowledge of God and spiritual things” (G5457).

When God created the heavens and the earth, he made them out of nothing (H1254). Likewise, when God created every living creature, God brought them into being from previously nonexistent material. The distinction that God made when he created man was that he formed his body out of the loose earth on the ground. Genesis 2:7 states, “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” When God breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life, it was somewhat like performing mouth to mouth resuscitation. God transmitted his own breath of life into the man in order for him to become a living creature. The Hebrew word nᵉshamah (nesh-aw-mawˊ) means “a puff or vital breath, divine inspiration, intellect” (H5397). Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man “in his own image.” The Hebrew word that is translated image, tselem (tsehˊ-lem) “means image in the sense of essential nature: human nature in its internal and external characteristics rather than an exact duplicate…reflecting some of His perfections: perfect in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and with dominion over the creatures (Genesis 1:26)” (H6754). After Adam disobeyed God, he was told, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

Adam and Eve were similar to God, but were not like him in every way. The serpent told Eve that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she would be like God, “knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their consciences were activated. It says in Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked.” The Hebrew word that is translated knew, yada (yaw-dahˊ) means “to know by observing and reflecting (thinking), and to know by experiencing” (H3045). Before Adam and Eve sinned, the only thing they knew by experience was good (Genesis 1:31). Afterward, they knew that they had done something wrong and expected to suffer the consequences. It says in Genesis 3:8-10, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’” The fear that Adam felt had to do with his submission to God’s authority. “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372).

Fear of God is appropriate because of his great power and his ability to do supernatural things, but there is more involved in having a relationship with God than just the fear that he can punish you for doing something wrong. The thing that makes us want to be close to God is his ability to bring us out of the darkness into the light, to ransom our souls from the pit of hell, but there are many people that believe they don’t need God, that they can save themselves. Psalm 49 addresses the issue of self-sufficiency and the end result of trusting in your wealth instead of God. The psalmist begins by stating:

Hear this, all peoples!
    Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
    rich and poor together!
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. (Psalm 49:1-4)

The psalmist addresses his message to “all the inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor” (Psalm 49:1-2) and tells them that he is going to “speak wisdom” (Psalm 49:3). Wisdom or chokmah (khok-mawˊ) in Hebrew “is the knowledge and the ability to make the right choices at the opportune time…The prerequisite is a desire to follow and imitate God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ” (H2451). The psalmist indicated that he would solve his riddle. This meant that he was going to talk about one of life’s enigmas and he intended to offer an explanation for its occurrence.

The psalmist asked, “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?” (Psalm 49:5-6). The psalmist’s use of the Hebrew word yare (yaw-rayˊ), suggests that he was talking about the fear or reverence of God (H3372) when he asked, “Why should I fear?” The psalmist’s question could be restated, “Why should I fear God in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me (those who trust in the wealth and boast of their riches) surrounds me?” The enigma that the psalmist wanted to focus on had to do with God’s justice system. The point that the psalmist seemed to be making was that reverence of God didn’t have any effect, but he went on to present the other side of the coin so to speak and said, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit” (Psalm 49:7-9). The conundrum that we begin to see unfolding in the psalmist’s riddle is that a wealthy person can get away with causing trouble for those around him who are less fortunate than himself, but his wealth is insufficient to purchase eternal life.

The psalmist identified two important aspects of salvation that need to be considered when a person decides whether or not to fear God in times of trouble. He said, “Truly no man can ransom another” (Psalm 49:7). That meant that “one life could not be redeemed by the life of another” (H6299). In other words, I can’t exchange my life for yours, I can’t die in your place. The second thing that the psalmist mentioned was that a wealthy person was unable to give God a sufficient amount of money to pay for or redeem his or another’s soul from eternal destruction because of the human soul’s costly price tag. He said, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit” (Psalm 49:7-9). Jesus dealt with both of these problems when he gave his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). “Christ paid the ransom to God, to satisfy violated holiness and righteousness. He did not pay the ransom to Satan or to some impersonal power such as death, or evil. That Christ gave up His life in expiatory sacrifice under God’s judgment upon sin and thus provided a ‘ransom’ whereby those who receive Him on this ground obtain deliverance from the penalty due to sin, is what Scripture teaches” Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 involve the essential character of the Lord’s death. “In these passages the preposition is anti, which has a vicarious significance, indicating that the ‘ransom’ holds good for those who, accepting it as such, no longer remain in death since Christ suffered death in their stead. The change of preposition in 1 Timothy 2:6, where the word antilutron, a substitutionary ‘ransom,’ is used is significant. There the preposition is huper, ‘on behalf of,’ and the statement is made that He “gave Himself a ransom for all,’ indicating that the ‘ransom’ was provisionally universal, while being of a vicarious character. Thus the three passages consistently show that while the provision was universal, for Christ died for all men, yet it is actual for those only who accept  God’s conditions, and who are described in the Gospel statements as ‘the many’” (G3083).

The Apostle Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that eternal life is the end result of sanctification and is God’s free gift to all who accept Jesus’ atonement for their sins (Romans 6:22-23). Proverbs 11:4 tells us, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated righteousness, tsᵉdaqah (tsed-aw-kawˊ) is used in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham, “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 11:5 states, “The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.” The term wicked refers to someone that is guilty of hostility to God and His people (H7563). Proverbs 11:7 indicates that the wicked depend on their wealth for satisfaction in life, but it is useless to them when they die. It says, “When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of his wealth perishes too.”

“In the Old Testament, God’s people were treated as a national unit, and their sustenance and material prosperity were often affected by the sins of the minority (cf. Joshua 7:1, 4-11, 16-26). Consequently, God was just when he spoke of ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’ (Exodus 20:5)” (note on Ezekiel 18:1-32). Ezekiel 18:1-32 notes a significant turning point in the history of the nation of Israel when God changed the way he viewed his chosen people. This passage focuses on a miscellaneous law that is found in Deuteronomy 24:16 which states, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” Quoting a proverb from the book of Jeremiah, the LORD told Ezekiel, “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die…Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:2-4, 29-32). This passage “looks beyond material ramifications and considers the eternal results of sin. This is implied by the use of the term ‘soul’ (v. 4) and the command to ‘make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’ (v. 31)” (note on Ezekiel 18:1-32).

The psalmist pointed out in Psalm 49:10-12 that everyone suffers from the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin in that all will die and perish to the extent that their natural lives will cease to exist. The psalmist stated:

For he sees that even the wise die;
    the fool and the stupid alike must perish
    and leave their wealth to others.
Their graves are their homes forever,
    their dwelling places to all generations,
    though they called lands by their own names.
Man in his pomp will not remain;
    he is like the beasts that perish.

The Hebrew word that is translated graves, qereb (kehˊ-reb) “denotes the center or inner part of anything, e.g. the middle of a battle (1 Kings 20:39); middle of the streets (Isaiah 5:25); but especially the inner organs of the body” (H7130) where the heart resides. What the psalmist likely meant by their graves are their homes forever; their dwelling places to all generations was that the souls of unregenerate persons, which are separated from their bodies at death, would remain detached from their bodies forever. “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the after life [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (Psalm 49:8; H5315). The Hebrew word that is translated perish in Psalm 49:12, damah (daw-mawˊ) means “to be dumb or silent” (H1820), suggesting that when the unregenerate person dies he will lose his ability to express himself.

The psalmist clearly differentiates between those who are perishing and those who have been redeemed from the power of the grave. He indicates that the lost person has foolish confidence and is appointed for hades, the world of the dead (H7585). Psalm 49:13-15 states:

This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
    yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah
Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
    death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
    Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
    for he will receive me. Selah

Foolish confidence “is a false self-trust or stupidity” (H3689). The psalmist identifies foolish confidence as a path or pattern of life (H1870). People with foolish confidence are admired by others (Psalm 49:13) and yet, the psalmist says that they are like sheep that are appointed for Sheol. When Jesus referred to the people of Israel collectively, he called them sheep and told his disciples when he sent them out to minister, “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). Later, Jesus told a Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). The term lost sheep had to do with people’s need for a shepherd or spiritual leader to guide them in the right pattern of life. The stupidity of a person with foolish confidence is that he thinks he can evade the negative consequences of his sin.

Speaking to all the inhabitants of the world, the psalmist states:

Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
    when the glory of his house increases.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
    his glory will not go down after him.
For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
    —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
    who will never again see light.
Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish. (Psalm 49:16-20)

The psalmist says that the person with foolish confidence counts himself blessed while he lives because he receives the praise and adoration of others. The phrase do well for yourself has to do with worldly success. The thing that the psalmist wanted everyone to realize was that your soul, the immaterial part of you, is the only part of you that moves into the after life (H5315), unless you have been born again (John 3:3). The psalmist says of the person with foolish confidence, “his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:19-20). The psalmist’s declaration that the person with foolish confidence will never again see light implies that this person will spend eternity in darkness. Jesus referred to the place that unregenerate souls go after death as outer darkness and said in his parable of the wedding feast, “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 22:11-13).

Mission accomplished

Jesus was born for one specific reason, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Apostle Paul noted in his letter to the Ephesians that Jesus’ mission was launched before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Paul tells us:

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:4-10)

God’s plan was launched in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve committed the first sin. Speaking to the serpent that had enticed Eve to rebel against him, God said, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).

Jesus’ first encounter with Satan took place shortly after he was baptized and was identified as the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread'” (Matthew 4:1-3). The Greek word that is translated tempter, peirazo (pi-rad’-zo) is derived from the word peran (per’-an), which comes from the word peiro (to “pierce“); through, i.e. across:- across, away, beyond, other side (G4008). The idea that temptation is something that causes us to cross over or go to the other side was first introduced in the Old Testament and was associated with the term Hebrew or Eberite (H5680). Abraham was the first person to be referred to as a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13). Joseph was also identified as a Hebrew when he was a slave in Egypt (Genesis 39:14, 17; 41:12). The word that Hebrew is derived from, ‘abar (aw-bar’) which means “to cross over” is used figuratively to signify “going beyond, overstepping a covenant or a command of God or man. Moses uses the word when charging the people with disobeying and overstepping the Lord’s commands (Numbers 14:41; Joshua 7:11, 15).

The Israelites’ journey through the wilderness included several transitions that required them to cross over or pass through territory that was forbidden to them. The Hebrew word ‘abar (H5674) appears ten times in Deuteronomy chapter two, Moses’ account of the wilderness years. Moses said:

“Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord told me. And for many days we traveled around Mount Seir. Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, “You are about to pass through (H5674) the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir…So we went on (H5674), away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir…So we went over (H5674) the brook Zered…until we crossed (H5674) the brook Zered…‘Today you are to cross (H5674) the border of Moab at Ar’…‘Rise up, set out on your journey and go over (H5674) the Valley of the Arnon.'” (Deuteronomy 2:1-24)

When the Israelites reached the border of the Promised Land, they were prevented from passing through (H5674) the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon (Deuteronomy 2:26-30) and so the LORD gave him and his land over to the Israelites and they defeated him and devoted all of his cities to destruction (Deuteronomy 2:33-34). Moses concluded his account with with the statement:

From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, as far as Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. The Lord our God gave all into our hands. Only to the land of the sons of Ammon you did not draw near, that is, to all the banks of the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, whatever the Lord our God had forbidden us. (Deuteronomy 2:36-37)

The Hebrew word that is translated forbidden in Deuteronomy 2:37, tsavah (tsaw-vaw’) has to do with God’s sovereignty over his creation. “The word means to give an order or to command, to direct someone; it indicates commands given to people in various situations. The Lord commanded Adam and Eve to eat from certain trees but to refrain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16; 3:17)” (H6680). Therefore, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, it was considered to be a sin or you might say rebellion against God’s sovereign authority.

Jesus told his disciples that it was his duty to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die there. Matthew tells us that after Peter made his profession that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:16), “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man'” (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus’ single-minded focus on dying for the sin of the world was the result of a divine appointment that made his death on the cross unavoidable (G1163). Jesus recognized Peter’s interference as a direct assault from Satan and immediately rebuked him with the command “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). The Greek word that is translated hindrance, skandalon (skan’-dal-on) means “the trigger of a trap on which the bait is placed, and which, when touched by the animal, springs and causes it to close causing entrapment” (G4625). The Greek word skandalizo (skan-dal-id’-zo), is where the english word scandalize comes from (G4624). skandalizo is derived from the word skandalon and was used by Jesus when he warned his disciples, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'” (Matthew 26:31, emphasis mine).

In his High Priestly Prayer, shortly before his death, Jesus said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:1-5). Jesus indicated that he had already accomplished the work that he had been given to do even before he died on the cross. The work that he was referring to was reconciling man and God. Paul talked about this work in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 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 has 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 2:11-16)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated reconcile, apokatallasso (ap-ok-at-al-las’-so) means “to reconcile fully…to change from one state of feeling to another” (G604). The change that Jesus was able to accomplish through his death on the cross was a change in God’s relationship to mankind. God’s hostility toward people because of the sins they’ve committed against him was changed to a state of peace.

The brutal death that Jesus suffered would seem to have had the opposite effect. John tells us:

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” (John 19:1-7)

According to the Jews, Jesus “made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). The Greek word that is translated made, poieo (poy-eh’-o) refers to “external acts as manifested in the production of something tangible, corporeal, obvious to the senses.” Figuratively poieo is “spoken of a state or condition, or of things intangible and incorporeal, and generally of such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will” (G4160). The Jews accusation that he made himself the Son of God may have been intended to imply that Jesus was merely acting like God and that he was not who he claimed to be, but there is ample evidence to suggest that the Jews believed Jesus was the Son of God and wanted to get rid of him because of that fact. One of Jesus’ parables in particular, the parable of the wicked tenants, revealed the religious leaders’ motive for killing him. Jesus said:

Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone’?

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. (Luke 20:13-20)

In spite of the treachery that was used against him, Jesus was not a victim of his circumstances. When Pilate asked him, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you” (John 19:10), Jesus responded, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Jesus described himself as the good shepherd and said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus went on to say, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:16-18). The charge that Jesus referred to was an authoritative prescription and was equivalent to the precepts of the Mosaic Law. Jesus was not only required to lay down his life, but also to take it up again; therefore, Jesus’ resurrection was necessary for his act of redemption to be complete.

John’s account of Jesus’ death on the cross states, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28-30). Jesus’ declaration, “It is finished” just before he gave up his spirit, indicated that there was nothing more that he needed to do at that point in time. The Greek word that is translated finished, teleo (tel-eh’-o) means “to end” (G5055) and is derived from the word telos (tel’-os) which means “the point aimed at as a limit” (G5056). The point aimed at or goal that Jesus was working toward was the redemption of mankind. What had been going on up until then, was Jesus making payment for our redemption, paying the penalty for our sins. It says in Matthew 20:28, that Jesus came not to be served, “but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Greek word that is translated ransom, lutron (loo’-tron) means “a redemption price (figurative, atonement)” the “‘loosing-money,’ i.e. price paid for redeeming captives” is used “metaphorically for the ransom paid by Christ for the delivering of men from the bondage of sin and death” (G3083).

Paul’s letter to the Romans explained is detail the process of redemption that Jesus completed. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

According to Paul, believers are justified by grace (Romans 3:24). The Greek word that is translated justified, dikaioo (dik-ah-yo’-o) means “as a matter of right or justice: to absolve, acquit, clear from any charge or imputation…spoken especially of the justification bestowed by God on men through Christ, in which he is said to regard and treat them as righteous, i.e. to absolve from the consequences of sin and admit to the enjoyment of the divine favor (Romans 3:26, 30; 4:5; 8:30, 33; Galatians 3:8)” (G1344). The mechanism of our justification is God’s grace, “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude…Also spoken of the grace which God exercises toward us, the unmerited favor which he shows in saving us from sin” (G5485).

Paul described Jesus as being a propitiation by his blood (Romans 3:25). Propitiation is associated with the mercy seat, “the lid or cover of the Ark of the Covenant, where the high priest would make propitiation once a year by sprinkling blood upon the mercy seat (Exodus 25:17-22; Leviticus 16:11-15)” (G2435). Propitiation is what makes it possible for God to forgive our sins. The Greek word hilaskomai (hil-as-kom-ahee) means “to reconcile to oneself, to be propitious, gracious” (G2433). Paul explained that our belief in Jesus is what tips the scales of justice in our favor. Paul stated:

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:5-8)

Paul’s explanation of justification by faith concluded with the statement, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The Greek word that is translated peace in this verse, eirene (i-rah’-nay) is being used metaphorically to represent “peace of mind, tranquility, arising from reconciliation with God and a sense of divine favor” (G1515). From that standpoint, peace with God means that we have nothing to worry about, we are good to go.

Missing the mark

The Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was not a long one from a geographical standpoint. Deuteronomy 1:2 tells us, “It is eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.” And yet, the Israelites didn’t reach their destination until forty years later (Deuteronomy 1:3). Moses’ review of the Israelites’ journey made it clear that it was God’s will for the people to take possession of the land immediately. Moses said:

“The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’” (Deuteronomy 1:6-8)

The statement, I have set the land before you meant that God had already transferred ownership of the land to the Israelites; but the catch, so to speak, was that in order to live in the land, the people of Israel had to drive out the previous tenants and possess it in their place (H3423). Moses’ account of Israel’s refusal to enter the land is recorded in Deuteronomy 1:19-33. It states:

“Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’ Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.”

Moses encouraged the Israelites to not be afraid and to trust that God would fight for them, but ultimately he concluded that the people of Israel didn’t believe what God had told them (Deuteronomy 1:32). Moses used the Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek) three times to emphasize the fact that God was directing the Israelites’ course (Deuteronomy 1:31, 33) and was setting them up for success, not failure, but the people were determined to go back to their former lives of slavery in Egypt (Numbers 14:3-4).

Moses told the people, “And the LORD heard your words and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give your fathers…And as for your little ones, who you said would become prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.’ Then you answered me, ‘we have sinned against the LORD'” (Deuteronomy 1:34-41). The Hebrew word that is translated sinned is chata’ (khaw-taw’). Four main Hebrew words express the idea of sin in the Hebrew Bible, with this word used most often. Its central meaning is to miss the mark or fail. It is used in a nonmoral or nonreligious sense to indicate the simple idea of missing or failing in any task or endeavor. In Judges 20:16, it indicated the idea of a slinger missing the target…The word is used the most to describe human failure and sin. It indicates failure to do what is expected” (H2398).

John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world with the statement, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that John used that is translated sin, hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah) is derived from the word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which means “to miss the mark, swerve from the way.” Metaphorically, hamartano means “to err, swerve from the truth, go wrong; speaking of errors of doctrine or faith” (G264). Jesus described himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In a metaphorical sense, what Jesus meant by this statement was that following him would result in spiritual success, hitting the mark so to speak. The Greek word that is translated way, hodos (hod-os’) means “a road; (by implication) a progress (the route)” and in John 14:6 hodos is “spoken by metonymy of Jesus as the way, i.e. the author and medium of access to God and eternal life” (G3598).

Jesus’ true identity was a questioned throughout his ministry. At one point, there was a division among the people because no one was willing to openly declare their allegiance to him. John 7:40-52 states:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

The Pharisees question, “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?” implied that none of the religious leaders were followers of Christ, and yet, Nicodemus “was one of them” (John 7:48, 50). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52). The Greek word that is translated believed, pisteuo (pist-yoo’-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). When pisteuo is used of God, it means “to believe in God, to trust in Him as able and willing to help and answer prayer.”

The fact that none of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in Jesus, or at least were unwilling to admit it, indicates that for the most part the Jews no longer had a relationship with God. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Jews wanted to get rid of Jesus (John 12:9-11), but there were some who believed, and Jesus told them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). To be set free means that you are liberated or exempt from punishment. The specific kind of freedom that Jesus was talking about was freedom from “the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22)” (G1659). The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).

Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve apostles that Jesus chose to be a part of his ministry, was excused from the upper room shortly after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. John tells us:

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:21-30)

We aren’t told why Judas decided to betray Jesus. The only thing we know for sure is that Satan entered Judas before he left the upper room. The reason why Satan was able to possess Judas was because according to Jesus, he wasn’t clean (John 13:10-11). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated clean, katharos (kath-ar-os’) is associated with spiritual rebirth (G3824) and suggests that Judas wasn’t born again. Jesus told his Father, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me, I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit played a role in the judgment of sin. Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11). Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of this world, but also noted that his judgment had already taken place. Jesus went on to say, “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). Jesus was able to declare his victory over the world even before he died on the cross because he lived a sinless life. Isaiah 53:4-12 indicates that Jesus’ death was intended to pay the penalty for our sins, not his own. It states:

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

“The words ‘transgression’ (vv. 5, 8), ‘iniquity’ (vv. 6,11), ‘offering’ (v. 10), and ‘sin’ (v.12) clearly indicate that Christ died for the disease of man’s soul, not the disease of his body. Jesus’ death on the cross delivers man from sin. Deliverance from sickness is yet to come (Revelation 21:6)” (note on Isaiah 53:4-12). According to Isaiah 53:12, Jesus bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. The Hebrew word that is translated intercession, paga’ (paw-gah’) suggests that Jesus is still in the process of aggressively pursuing people that have missed the mark (H6293).

Peter’s denial of Christ is an example of how far we sometimes go to distance ourselves from the God that died in order to save us (John 18:15-18, 25-27). When Pilate asked Jesus what he had done to make the Jews want to kill him, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). Jesus wanted Pilate to be aware that another realm existed besides the physical realm. The Greek word that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) means “orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration.” When Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world, he wasn’t talking about our planet. He was talking about “the present order of things, as opposed to the kingdom of Christ…Specifically: the wealth and enjoyments of this world, this life’s goods” (G2889). Jesus also said, My kingdom is not from this world. The Greek word that is translated from, enteuthen (ent-yoo’-then) means “on both sides” (G1782). In other words, Jesus’ dominion is not limited to a single realm (G932).

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talked about success in the Christian life in the context of winning a prize. Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word Paul used that is translated mark, skeptomai is where the word skeptic comes from. It means, “to look about” (G4649). I believe the point that Paul was trying to make was that we need to be clear about the mark in order to not miss it. We can’t just wander aimlessly through life and expect to achieve God’s purpose for it. Paul said that we must present ourselves to God “as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:13-14). Paul indicated that sin has no dominion over believers, but like the Israelites who had to drive out the previous tenants of the Promised Land and possess it in their place, we have to present ourselves to God or rather, yield ourselves to God in order for him to be able to use us to accomplish his will.

Responsibility for the sins of others

After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, spiritual death occurred immediately and their need for salvation became evident. Genesis 3:22 states, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in guilt because they were conscious of their wrongdoing. The Hebrew word ʾasham (aw-shamˊ) means “to be guilty; by implication to be punished or perish. This word is most often used to describe the product of sin – that is guilt before God” (H816). The Hebrew word ʾashem (aw-shameˊ) describes one who is in a guilty state (H818) and ʾasham (aw-shawmˊ) “the offering which is presented to the Lord in order to absolve the person guilty of an offence against God or man” (H817). One of the four main words indicating sin in the Old Testament is avown (aw-voneˊ) which means “perversity.” This noun carries along with it the idea of guilt from conscious wrongdoing and the punishment that goes with this deliberate act as a consequence (H5771). When Cain killed his brother Abel, God told him, “’And now you are cursed from the ground which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood and from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear’” (Genesis 3:11-13).

The Hebrew word that is translated bear in Genesis 3:13, naçah (naw-sawˊ) means “to lift” (H5375) and suggests that there is a weight associated with the guilt of sin. “Nacah is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation (Exodus 28:12; Leviticus 16:22; Isaiah 53:12; cf. 1 Peter 2:24).” Bearing the responsibilities for the sins of others was portrayed on the Day of Atonement through the release of a scapegoat into the wilderness. Leviticus 16:20-22 states:

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”

Isaiah 53:4-12 depicts Jesus’ suffering on the cross as he accomplished the task of dying for the sin of the world. It states:

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seeand be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Hebrew word naçah appears at the beginning and end of this passage of scripture in the phrases “he has borne our griefs” (Isaiah 53:4) and “he bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12), suggesting that the burden of sin has something to do with the anxiety that we feel because of the punishment that we expect to receive from God. One of the ways that we know our sins have been forgiven is that the anxiousness that we once felt about them is gone.

The Israelites’ rebellion against God in the wilderness resulted in a plague that could have wiped out the entire population. The LORD told Moses, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:45). Moses and Aaron interceded for the people and stopped the plague (Numbers 16:48) and order was restored to their camp (Numbers 17:10-11), but a lingering feeling of guilt kept the people from being able to live peacefully with God in their midst. Numbers 17:12 states:

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”

The Hebrew word that is translated undone in Numbers 17:12, ʾabad (aw-badˊ) means “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself” or “to be lost” (H6). The Israelites’ spiritual condition had deteriorated to the point that they realized there was no hope for them to recover. There was no way for them to regain God’s favor.

When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister to the people, he instructed them, “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). Jesus referred to the Jews as lost sheep in order to illustrate their hopeless situation and indicated that his primary objective was to tell them that the kingdom of heaven was being made available to them (Matthew 10:7). Jesus later emphasized that he had come specifically “to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11, KJV). The Greek word sozo (sodeˊ-zo) is used “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). When Jesus said that he had come to save that which was lost, he was saying that he could reverse the effects of sin in a person’s life. The Greek word apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee), which is translated lost in Matthew 18:11, means “to perish. The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622).

It says in Isaiah 53:6 that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – everyone – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explained that God set a plan of redemption in motion before the foundation of the world in order to counteract the effects of sin in the human race. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God’s plan of redemption started with the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Afterward, the Mosaic Law was enacted and a system of sacrifice was put in place. Aaron and his sons were consecrated to serve as priests and made atonement for the people once a year (Leviticus 16). The LORD told Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood” (Numbers 18:1). The Hebrew word that is translated bear in this verse is naçah (naw-sawˊ) indicating that the priesthood was designated for the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others (H5375) and that Aaron and his sons were representatives of Christ, the one who would in the fullness of time complete the process of atonement through his death on the cross.

The Hebrew word that is translated priesthood in Numbers 18:1, kᵉhunnah (keh-hoon-nawˊ) is derived from the word kahan (haw-hanˊ) which means “to mediate in religious services” (H3547). In order to perform the duties of their office, priests had to keep themselves from becoming unclean. The LORD said, “They shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, which they contribute to the LORD, and so cause them to bear iniquity and guilt, by eating their holy things: for I am the LORD who sanctifies them” (Leviticus 22:15-16). This almost impossible task might be what was considered to be the burden of bearing the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy, “For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Paul’s statement that there is “one mediator between God and man” made it clear that Aaron and his sons weren’t qualified to act as mediators between God and man because they were by nature sinners like everyone else. The Greek word that is translated mediator in 1 Timothy 2:5, mesites (mes-eeˊ-tace) means a go-between. “The salvation of men necessitated that the Mediator should Himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards whom He acts, and should likewise participate in the nature of those for whom He acts (sin apart); only by being possessed both of deity and humanity could He comprehend the claims of the one and the needs of the other; further, the claims and the needs could be met only by One who, Himself being proved sinless, would offer Himself an expiatory sacrifice on behalf of men; ‘one who acts as a guarantee’ so as to secure something which otherwise would not be obtained” (G3316).

John’s gospel was written with the specific intent of proving that Jesus is the Son of God (Introduction to the gospel according to John) and began with the establishment of Jesus’ existence before the world was created (John 1:1-3). John said:

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 pointed out that Jesus’ own people, the Jews did not receive him. What John meant by that was that the Jews collectively, as a nation did not receive the free gift of salvation that was offered to them through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. John indicated that on an individual basis, all who did receive Jesus, “who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12).

Jesus described the process of salvation in a conversation he had with a man named Nicodemas. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and went on to say, “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 explained to Nicodemus that being born again involved a spiritual birth that was “not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13), through his Holy Spirit (John 3:6) and that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated lifted up, hupsoo (hoop-soˊ-o) is a derivative of the word huper (hoop-erˊ) “meaning for, in behalf of, for the sake of, in the sense of protection, care, favor, benefit” (G5228). Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was a sacrificial act that was motivated by God’s love for the world (John 3:16).

When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him for the first time, he declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God” because it was determined before the start of his ministry that Jesus would be delivered over to death as a sacrifice (G286). The point that may have startled everyone was that Jesus was going to take away the sin of the world. In other words, Jesus’ sacrificial death applied to everyone, not just the Jews. John indicated that Jesus would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Greek word hamartia (ham-ar-teeˊ-ah) is “from the Hebrew, the imputation or consequences of sin, the guilt and punishment of sin as in the phrase ‘to take away [or bear] sin,’ i.e. the imputation of it” (G266). In that sense, Jesus bore the responsibility for the sins of all others when he died on the cross.

Paul explained in his letter to the Colossians that Jesus’ death cancelled the record of our moral debt that stood against us with its legal demands. Paul told the Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Paul indicated that Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is applied to our spiritual account when we identify ourselves with his death and resurrection through baptism.

The visual image that Paul created of God nailing the record of our debt to Jesus’ cross was meant to emphasize the fact that his ability to pardon our sin was dependent on a sacrifice being made and the sole responsibility for that sacrifice belonged to Jesus. Paul said of Jesus, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The Greek word that is translated fullness, pleroma (playˊ-ro-mah) speaks generally “of grace and God’s provision (John 1:16; Romans 11:12; 15:29; Ephesians 3:19); of divine perfections (Colossians 2:9). It was Jesus’ divine perfection that enabled him to do what no one else could, to take upon himself the guilt associated with the sin of the world. John’s record of Jesus’ crucifixion included his final words, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The it that Jesus was referring to was the debt of sin and his declaration that it was finished meant that the debt against every sinner was discharged at that moment because Jesus paid the penalty of sin in full. If you think of grace as a currency with a value attached to it, then God’s grace is sufficient to cover the entire human races’ debt of sin. John said of Christ, “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Missing the mark

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be crucified. Not long before he was arrested Jesus said, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). Romans 8:31-32 tells us that God was the one that delivered Jesus up to be crucified. It states, “What then shall we we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God’s plan of salvation required that Jesus pay the penalty for all sins through his death on the cross. When Jesus said, “you know that,” he was emphasizing the predetermined course that his life must follow in order to fulfill his mission of saving the world. After Jesus acknowledged his imminent crucifixion, Matthew recorded, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4).

The chief priests and the elders of the people thought they were in control of the situation. They wanted to get rid of Jesus as quickly and quietly as possible. They agreed that it shouldn’t be done, “during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5). Matthew tells us, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matthew 26:14-16). The opportunity that Judas was looking for had to do with the timing, not the inevitability of Jesus’ death. The Greek word kairos (kahee-ros’) refers to a “set or proper time” (G2540). It might be that Judas thought he could catch Jesus off guard or would be able to surprise everyone with a midnight raid so to speak, but Jesus knew about everything that was going on and willingly surrendered himself to the Jewish authorities. Jesus instructed his disciples, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples'” (Matthew 26:18).

Jesus indicated that his death was linked to a specific time and place. One way of thinking about the prophecies that were associated with Jesus’ death would be to see them as a bullseye or a mark that he was aiming toward. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word that is translated mark, skopos (skop-os’) refers to a watcher and denotes “a mark on which to fix the eye” (G4649). The Greek word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which is translated sin in Matthew 18:21 “means literally ‘to miss the mark’ and is used of ‘sinning’ against God” (G264). Matthew 18:21 states, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?'”

The Old Testament of the Bible views sin in a similar manner. The Hebrew word chata’ (khaw-taw’) is properly translated as “to miss” and causatively refers to being lead astray. “The basic nuance of chata’ is sin conceived as missing the road or mark…From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs…It also connotes the guilt or condition of sin” (H2398). Sin and evil often appear together in the Old Testament as in the account of Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw from the children of Israel as punishment for the LORD’s demand that he let his people go from their bondage. In Exodus 5:15-19, Chata’ is translated as “fault” and the Hebrew word for evil, ra’ is translated as “trouble.” Exodus 5:15-19 states:

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”

The Hebrew word ra’, which is translated trouble in Exodus 5:19, “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing 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, 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).

Judas Iscariot’s inclination toward evil was evident in his rebuke of Mary when she anointed the feet of Jesus. John’s gospel states, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:1-6). Jesus responded to Judas’ accusation by stating, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:10-11).

Jesus’ rebuke of Judas may have been what triggered him to cross over the boundary of right and enter the forbidden land of the wrong. Luke’s record of the Passover celebration indicated that Satan entered Judas just before he consulted with the chief priests and officers about betraying Jesus. Luke said, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6). Matthew indicated that Jesus confronted Judas about what he intended to do during their Passover meal. He said:

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25

Judas’ question, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25) revealed his lack of spiritual discernment. Whereas the other disciples had asked the question, “Is it I, Lord?,” acknowledging Jesus’ supreme deity, Judas used the Hebrew word rab or rhabbi (hrab-bee’) in the Greek to address Jesus. This seems to suggest that Judas was either unaware or unconvinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Son of God.

Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper made it clear to all of his disciples what the purpose of his death was, to expiate or atone for the sins of mankind. Matthew said, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26;26-28). The Greek word that is translated sins, harmartia (har-ar-tee’-ah), “as a verb, is literally ‘a missing of the mark’ but this etymological meaning is largely lost sight of in the New Testament. It is the most comprehensive term for moral deviations. It is used of ‘sin’ as a principle source of action, or an inward element producing acts” (G266). From this standpoint, the forgiveness of sins might be viewed as an adjustment to the sinful human nature that guides our day to day behavior. Jesus was essentially saying that his blood would neutralize the effect of sin in our lives.

After sharing the good news about his death, Jesus gave his disciples the bad news. He said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31). Falling away is what happens when our faith is challenged and we renege on our commitment to the Lord. The Greek word skandalizo (skan-dal-id’-zo) is where the English word scandalize comes from. “Skandalizo means to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; metaphorically to offend; to entice to sin; to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Jesus indicated that all of his disciples would fall away that night, but he went even farther to say that Peter would flat out deny him three times. “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:33-34). The Greek word that is translated deny, aparneomai (ap-ar-neh’-om-ahee) means “to affirm that one has no connection with a person” (G533). In other words, Peter was not only going to deny being a Christian, but would also swear that he had never even met Jesus (Matthew 26:72).

Moses and Aaron’s initial encounter with Pharaoh resulted in a similar denial of the existence of God. Exodus 5:1-2 states, “Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God Israel, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”‘ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.'” Pharaoh’s argument that he was not obligated to do what Moses and Aaron asked him to because he didn’t “know the LORD” was based on the assumption that only the children of Israel had to obey God’s commands. Pharaoh retaliated against Moses and Aaron’s request by stating, “Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exodus 5:9). The phrase “pay no regard to lying words” had to do with Pharaoh’s disrespect for God’s authority. Essentially, what Pharaoh was saying was that Moses and Aaron had lied to him about God saying, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1), but Pharaoh’s resistance was actually based on him having an unrepentant attitude toward God (Exodus 4:21).

The foremen of the people of Israel blamed Moses and Aaron for the trouble they were in. They said, “‘The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’ Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all'” (Exodus 5:22-23). Moses shifted the blame off of himself and onto the LORD by asking “why have you done evil to this people?,” implying that the LORD had intentionally set him up for failure. The Hebrew word that is translated evil in this instance isn’t ra’, but ra’a’ (raw-ah’) which literally means to spoil something by breaking it to pieces (H7489). Moses seemed to be saying that the situation in Egypt had been fine until he came along and ruined everything. In actuality, the foremen of the people of Israel were the ones that were making the people miserable because they were partnering with Pharaoh’s taskmasters to get the Israelites to do what Pharaoh wanted them to, which was to make their quota of bricks each day regardless of their ability to do so (Exodus 5:10-11).

Even Jesus became discouraged on the eve of his crucifixion. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39). Jesus was experiencing an extreme amount of external pressure to give up on his mission. In a moment of frustration, after finding Peter, James, and John asleep instead of praying for him as he had asked them to, Jesus said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). Jesus was referring to Peter’s promise to not deny him when he said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” What Jesus meant was that Peter wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to abandon him if he was sleeping rather than being actively engaged in spiritual warfare.

After the chief priests and the elders of the people came to arrest Jesus, Matthew said, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The Greek word that is translated left, aphieme (af-ee’-ay-mee) means “to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned” (G863). One of the uses of aphieme is of a husband divorcing his wife. Aphieme appears in Matthew 4:20 and 4:22 where it says about Peter, Andrew, James, and John that they left their occupation as fishermen in order to follow Jesus. In seems that when these men left Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene, they no longer intended to be his disciples. Peter’s denial of his Lord and Savior was the ultimate betrayal that Jesus experienced from the standpoint of his influence and investment in his disciples being negated. After denying that he had been with Jesus (Matthew 26:70) and taking an oath that he didn’t even know the man (Matthew 26:72), it says in Matthew 26:73-75, “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Psalm 41 is considered to be a Messianic psalm because it contains statements that clearly pertain to Jesus Christ. Verse 9 states, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This passage appears to be connected to God’s condemnation of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:15 states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 depicts Christ lifting his heel against Satan and bruising his head, but Psalm 41:9 indicates a close friend would lift his heel against Jesus. It seems that Peter could be the close friend that lifted his heel against Jesus because his denial of Christ must have felt like a crushing blow to the man that was about to die for the sins of the world. The fact that Peter was fully restored in his faith and relationship with the Lord may explain why Psalm 41:9 states that his close friend lifted his heel against him, but did not bruise Jesus as Christ did Satan when he rose from the dead.