The tablets of your heart

The way that we think of our hearts as an organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies is correct from a materialistic perspective, but the Bible has a different view of the heart’s primary function. The Hebrew word leb (labe) indicates that “the heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself.” In some instances, “Leb is used of the man himself, or his personality (Genesis 17:17)” and from a spiritual perspective, “the heart could be regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom and as a synonym of ‘mind’ when ‘heart’ appears with the verb ‘to know.’” The heart encompasses some of the activities that we typically associate with the brain. “Memory is the activity of the heart (Job 22:22),” but it goes beyond that and may even be “the seat of conscience and moral character.” The Bible tells us that “God controls the heart” and he is able to give us “a new one (Ezekiel 36:26).” The heart can also be thought of as a source of expression, it “stands for the inner being of man, the man himself, and is the fountain of all he does (Proverbs 4:4). All his thoughts, desires, words, and actions flow from deep within him. Yet a man cannot understand his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9)” (H3820).

The first appearance of the word leb in the Bible is in Genesis 6:5-6 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” In these verses we are told that God also has a heart and that it is the source or you might say the motivation for his spiritual activity. The Hebrew word that is translated intention in Genesis 6:5, yetser (yayˊ-tser) has to do with creation and is figuratively thought of as conception. Yetser is derived from the word yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) which means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)” (H3335). A word that appears to be identical with yatsar means “to press (intransitive), i.e. be narrow; (figurative) be in distress” (H3334). The fact that the intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually after sin entered into the world indicates that the situation was hopeless. God wanted to give up on his creation (Genesis 6:6), but instead he started working out a way for people to be saved from the wickedness that is inherent in our fallen human nature.

The book of Job shows us that spiritual conflict is the result of Satan’s intervention in the lives of godly people. Although Job was described as “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8), God allowed Satan to afflict Job in order to prove that his devotion was sincere. During the process, Job’s friends tried to convince him that his wickedness was great and that he deserved to be punished (Job 22:1-11). Eliphaz the Temanite suggested to Job, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart” (Job 22:21-22). In his defense, Job stated:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
    and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
    he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
    What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
    and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
    when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
    nor because thick darkness covers my face.” (Job 23:8-17)

Job thought that God had made his heart faint and that the Almighty had terrified him (Job 23:16), but in actuality, it was Satan that was responsible for the tragedies that Job experienced (Job 1:13-19, 2:7). Job knew that he needed to keep God’s commandments and also said that he had stored up God’s word as if it was necessary for his continued existence (Job 23:12), but the result Job got from his effort was not what he expected (Job 24:22-25).

Psalm 37 offers advice to those of us that feel God has abandoned or rejected us even though we have been doing the right things. It states:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)

Putting our trust in the Lord is a part of the process that we go through to be saved. The Greek word peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over; to persuade,’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations” (G3982). The Greek word pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’” (G4100). “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God” (G3982).

Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates that trust is an activity of the heart. Solomon instructed us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated acknowledge, yada (yaw-dahˊ) has to do with knowing someone both relationally and experientially. One of the most important uses of the word yada is “depicting God’s knowledge of people: The Lord knows their hearts entirely (Exodus 33:12; 2 Samuel 7:20; Psalm 139:4; Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea 5:3)” (H3045). Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees hearts caused him to rebuke them on numerous occasions. In one instance, Jesus indicated that they had committed an unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). Jesus asserted that the words we speak are an indicator of the condition of our hearts and said of the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).

The book of Hebrews reveals that the Israelites never entered into the kind of relationship that God wanted to have with them because their hearts were hardened (Hebrews 3:8-9). The term that was used to describe the condition of the Israelites’ hearts was an “unbelieving” heart (Hebrews 3:12). The Greek word that is translated harden in Hebrews 3:8 is skleruno (sklay-rooˊ-no). “This word stresses that the nape of the neck stiffens and thus renders the head in an unbending position” (G4645). This condition of the heart is illustrated in the Old Testament by Pharaoh who persistently refused to obey the LORD’s command to let his people go. It says in Exodus 7:13 that Pharaoh’s “heart was hardened.” “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Moses’ summarization of the Israelites’ forty year journey included some sharp rebukes because of their unbelief. Moses said:

“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:22-24)

Moses said that the Israelites did not believe or obey the voice of God indicating that there was not only a lack of faith on their part, but also a lack of reverence toward God and yet, Moses interceded on their behalf and asked the LORD to give them a second chance. Moses prayed, “Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness’” (Deuteronomy 9:27-28).

The prophet Ezekiel’s message from the LORD indicated that the only way the problem of the Israelites’ hardened hearts could be fixed was to give them a new heart. The LORD told Ezekiel:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.(Ezekiel 36:22-27)

The LORD said that the Israelites’ heart of stone would be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The Hebrew word that is translated stone in this verse is the same word that is used in Deuteronomy 10:1 in reference to the tablets of stone that God wrote the Ten Commandments on.

Moses’ account of the Israelites’ journey shifted dramatically from a materialistic perspective to a spiritual perspective when he started talking about the second writing of the Ten Commandments. Moses stated, “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandmentsthat the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me” (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Moses emphasized the fact that everything had been done just as it had been before and that God himself wrote on the tablets, “in the same writing” (Deuteronomy 10:4), meaning that it was God’s handwriting, signifying the legality of the documents. Moses went on to specify the terms of the contract that had just been ratified. Moses said:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Moses specified five things that the LORD required. First, the people were expected to fear or reverence the LORD, “whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Second, the people of Israel were expected to walk in all the ways of God, meaning that they were to exhibit a godly lifestyle, their behavior was supposed to be consistent with the God they served. Third, the Israelites were required to love God; they were expected to have a strong emotional attachment to him and have a desire to be in his presence. Fourth, the Israelites were required to serve the LORD with all their hearts and with all their souls. This meant that the people’s attention was to always be on the LORD and that he would be their number one priority in their daily lives. The final requirement that the people of Israel keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD was a matter of the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) being evidenced in their lives. Everything that the Lord required of Israel really boiled down to whether or not the people would actually put their trust in God and believe that he was going to do what he promised to.

The stone tablets that the Ten Commandments were written on were likely meant to be representative of the Israelites’ hardened hearts. The Hebrew word that is translated tablets in Deuteronomy 10:1, luach (looˊ-akh) is used in Jeremiah 17:1 where it says, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of a diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart.” The concept of the heart being a tablet that can be engraved upon also appears in the New Testament in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Paul compared the Ten Commandments to a letter from Christ that was written with the Spirit of the living God, suggesting that it was possible to engrave the word of God on the human heart in the same way that God wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. The key to this process being successful might be what Moses described as the circumcision of the heart.

After Moses talked about the requirements of God’s relationship with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:12-13), he said, “Behold to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:14-16). When Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their heart, he meant that they were to “remove the hardness and to love God” (H4135). This willful act was necessary to change the condition of the people’s hearts. Paul talked about the new life that believers are expected to live in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “put off the old self” and to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Greek word that is translated put off, apotithemi (ap-ot-eethˊ-ay-mee) is derived from the word apo (apoˊ) which means “off” (G575) and tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) which means “to put” (G5087). Tithemi is associated with appointment to any form of service. “Christ used it of His followers.” From that standpoint circumcision of the heart or putting off the old self could mean that believers are expected to cut off any activity or relationship that interferes with their worship and/or service of God.

According to Paul, in addition to putting off the old self, it is necessary for believers to put on the new self in order for them to be able to trust in the LORD with all their hearts (Proverbs 3:5). It could be that Proverbs 3:3 is a prescription for doing just that. It states, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Steadfast love and faithfulness are two of the primary characteristics of God that are evident in his work of salvation. The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…The Bible prominently uses the term chesed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within” (H2617). The Hebrew word ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth), which is translated faithfulness, means “stability” (H571) and is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ) which means to “believe.” (H539). Writing steadfast love and faithfulness on the tablet of our heart might mean that we commit to memory specific verses of the Bible that are relevant to these characteristics of God. At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:23-26)

The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us understand God’s word and to remind us of the things that we’ve learned about Jesus, but he can only do that if we are committing scriptures to memory, i.e. writing them on the tablets of our heart.

Chosen by God

Jesus used the parable of the wedding feast to teach his disciples the difference between being saved and being sanctified. He said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come” (Matthew 22:2-3). The invitation to the wedding feast represented God’s divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption. Even though the invitation could be refused as was stated in their response “they would not come,” attendance at the wedding feast was not optional with regards to participation in the kingdom of heaven. After a second invitation was sent out, Jesus said, “But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:5-7). The similarity between what happened in Jesus’ parable and what happened to the nation of Israel when they rejected God and were sent into captivity seems to suggest that the invitation to the wedding feast was an open one that could be accepted at anytime because God brought the Israelites back to the Promised Land and gave them a second chance.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians stated that “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…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 2:4-5, 8-9). Paul explained that the reason why some people reject God’s invitation to be saved is because of their dulled spiritual perception. He 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” (Ephesians 4:17-18). The Greek word that is translated alienated, apallotrioo (ap-al-lot-ree-o’) means “to be non-participant” (G526). In other words, the reason why people are not saved is because they choose to not participate. As was stated in Jesus’ parable, “they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5).

The lives of Jacob and his twelve sons were also somewhat of a parable in that they illustrated the various ways that people become alienated from God. Jacob described his son Joseph as being “set apart from his brothers.” That meant that Joseph was consecrated, “separated from his brethren to become the savior of his father, his brethren, and their families” (H5139). Initially, Joseph’s brothers rejected his role in God’s plan of salvation, but when there was a famine in the land and they had no food to eat, “Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground” (Genesis 42:6) just as it had been revealed to them in a dream (Genesis 37:9). Joseph’s brothers accepted his invitation to come and live with him in Egypt so that their families wouldn’t starve to death and although Jacob was at first stunned by the news that his son Joseph was still alive, he too accepted Joseph’s invitation and went to live in the land of Goshen, a fertile valley where his family was able to thrive and multiply in numbers over hundreds of years so that God could make them into a great nation (Genesis 46:3).

Jacob’s twelve sons all participated in God’s provision for their physical needs, but their destinies with respect to the eternal kingdom that God planned to establish on earth were not the same. Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph resulted in him receiving the blessing that was bestowed on Abraham and Isaac, the blessing that Jacob had stolen from his brother Esau (Genesis 27:18-23). Rather than passing the blessing to Joseph, Jacob gave his blessing to Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim. He said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:15-16). Jacob’s mention of the angel who redeemed him from all evil was a reference to the man he wrestled with until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32:24), the preincarnate Jesus Christ (Genesis 32:30). Jacob had struggled all his life to prevail, first with his brother Esau and then, with his uncle Laban; but as he was about to reenter the land of Canaan, “he was shown that it was with God that he must ‘wrestle'” (note on Genesis 32:24, KJSB). It was at that time that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28), which means “he struggles with God” (note on Genesis 32:28, KJSB).

The Greek word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) which means “(spiritual) rebirth” (G3824) is translated as the new world in Matthew 19:28-30 where it states:

“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Paliggenesia is translated in the King James Version of the Bible as regeneration and refers to “that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth” (G3824).

The Greek word paliggenesia is related to the word pale (pal’-ay) which means to wrestle and “is used figuratively in Ephesians 6:12, of the spiritual conflict engaged in by believers (G3823). Paul said that “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.” It seems that the struggle that every believer engages in is first to overcome his or her own resistance to being saved by God and then, to overcome the attempts of the devil to undermine that decision. “The new birth and regeneration do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience, they refer to the same event but view it in different aspects” (G3824). Anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis) means “‘a renewal’ and is used in Romans 12:2 ‘the renewing (of your mind).’ i.e. the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342).

In his parable of the wedding feast, Jesus pointed out that there was more to the process of salvation that just accepting God’s invitation to enter his kingdom. The king who prepared the banquet for his son told his servants, “‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as your find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:8-14). The wedding garment that was required to be worn by every guest was likely symbolic of the regeneration that is expected to place when a person is born again. Regeneration is an outward manifestation of being chosen by God. Paul said that God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4) and that the purpose of salvation is to “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).

The Greek word that is translated unite in Ephesians 1:10, can also be translated as “gather together as one” (KJV), but the primary focus of this word is to identify the main point or objective God had in mind when he decided to save the world. According to Jesus’ parable, the servants of the king “went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good” (Matthew 22:10). When the king came in to look at the guests, he didn’t evaluate them based on their character, but focused his attention on a man who wasn’t wearing a wedding garment (Matthew 22:11). The wedding garments that were worn by the guests unified the bad and the good and made them appear to belong together, but the man who wasn’t wearing a wedding garment didn’t fit in, he was actually an imposter like the weeds that were sown among the wheat by the landowner’s enemy while he was sleeping in Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:25). When the king discovered the man without a wedding garment, he asked him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12). The Greek word that is translated friend, hetairos (het-ah’-ee-ros) refers to a comrade or fellow clansman (G2083). Jesus used this word when he greeted Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane after he had been betrayed by him (Matthew 26:50). Judas was one of Jesus’ disciples and yet, he was never regenerated, he never adjusted his moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God (G342).

After he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, “Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come” (Genesis 49:1). Jacob spent the last moments of his life revealing how each of his twelve sons fit into God’s plan of salvation. The Hebrew word that is translated called, qara’ (kaw-raw’) refers to God’s election of Jacob’s twelve sons to become his chosen people. Jesus correlated the twelve tribes of Israel with his twelve disciples when he said, “Truly I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Jesus may or may not have intended Judas to be included in that promise, but it seems that Judas’ initial calling entitled him to special privileges that he may have forfeited by not conforming to God’s will. Jacob’s instruction to “gather yourselves together” meant that his sons were being addressed collectively and could be considered to be a single unit as when Jesus’ followers are referred to as “one body” (Ephesians 4:4). In that sense, Jacob was addressing not only his family, but also the nation of Israel and the course it would follow for the rest of its existence.

One of the most notable aspects of Jacob’s discourse was the messianic prophecy that was associated with his son Judah. He stated:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be obedience of the peoples. Binding a foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:8-11).

The King James Version of Genesis 49:10 states, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Shiloh is an epithet of the Messiah and indicated that when Jesus was born, a gathering of God’s people became possible. Therefore, the uniting of God’s people was contingent upon Jesus coming to save the world.

Paul talked about believers being one in Christ and 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 term that is translated reconcile, apokatallasso (ap-ok-at-al-las’-so) is derived from the words apo (apo’) which signifies a reversal, “away (from something near)” (G575) and katallasso (kat-al-las’-so) which means “to change mutually” (G2644). Katallasso means “to change, exchange; hence of persons, to change from enmity to friendship, to reconcile. With regard to the relationship between God and man, reconciliation is what God accomplishes, exercising His grace toward sinful man on the ground of the death of Christ in propitiatory sacrifice under the judgment due to sin (2 Cor. 5:18-20). By reason of this men in their sinful condition and alienation from God are invited to be reconciled to Him; that is to say, to change their attitude, and accept the provision God has made, whereby their sins can be remitted and they themselves be justified in His sight in Christ.”

Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast illustrated God’s genuine desire to be reconciled to all of mankind by the king instructing his servants to “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find” (Matthew 22:9). The servants “gathered all whom they found, both bad and good” (Matthew 22:10). The designation of both bad and good being gathered together indicated that the guests were not all in the same state of regeneration when they came to the feast. Jesus pointed out that “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14), suggesting that regeneration only occurs if a lost person is both called and chosen. After many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him, Jesus asked his twelve apostles, “Do you want to go away also?” (John 6:66-67). Peter answered that they had no where else to go for salvation and then, Jesus responded, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil” (John 6:70). Like the man who refused to put on a wedding garment before he entered the feast, Judas Iscariot wasn’t interested in accepting Jesus’ righteousness in place of his own. After Judas left the upper room to betray him, Jesus told the eleven apostles that remained, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 1516).

Jesus’ statement to his disciples suggests that being chosen by God is not enough to participate in his kingdom’s activities. The Greek word that is translated appointed, tithemi (tith’-ay-mee) is used by Paul in reference to his service in the ministry of the gospel (G5087). Paul said, “I thank him who has given me strength in Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:12-13). Paul stated in his second letter to the Thessalonians, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul indicated that we are saved through sanctification and belief in the truth. The Greek word Paul used that is translated sanctification, hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mos’) is properly translated as “purification, i.e. (the state) purity” (G38). “Hagiasmos signifies separation to God and the resultant state…Sanctification is thus the state predetermined by God for believers, into which in Grace He calls them, and in which they begin their Christian course and so pursue it.” The only way this can happen is for a person to believe in the truth of the gospel “that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Spiritual conflict

James’ stark description of Christian living made it clear that a choice to follow Christ was not only a choice to swim against the tide of normal human existence, but also a conscious decision to suffer for one’s beliefs. His opening statement, “My brethren count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2) might have seemed like a slap in the face to the many Jewish Christians that were experiencing extreme persecution as a result of their decision to openly identify themselves with Jesus, the Savior of the World. It seems probable from reading James’ letter that conflict had deteriorated the spiritual health of the church located in Jerusalem. James’ harsh depiction of the ravages of an unbridled tongue may have come from real life experiences that had prompted him to address the problem in a practical way, through a reminder of the lesson Jesus taught his followers in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3, 3:10-12).

James associated spiritual conflict with a lack of humility and an imbalanced prayer life. Apparently, people were selfishly seeking God’s blessing on their own lives and neglecting to intercede for the needs of their friends and family members. James stated, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1-3). The Greek word James used that is translated lusts, hedone (hay-don-ay’) means to please. This word is linked to the ethical theory of hedonism which suggests that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life. James was probably not trying to convince Christians that the pursuit of pleasure was wrong, but that it was disruptive to the pursuit of godly living in the sense that suffering was actually good for them because it would lead to spiritual growth.

James chose to illustrate the spiritual conflict that selfishness produces by likening it to an internal battle or civil warfare. The phrase “war in your members” (James 4:1) suggests that spiritual warfare is more of an internal than external battle. It’s possible that James was referring to the voices in our heads that tell us what to do. To a certain extent, all sin is a type of temporary insanity. We know we shouldn’t do it, and are often times aware of the negative consequences that will result from our bad behavior, but we go ahead and do it anyway because we think the pleasure it will bring us is worth it. James argued against hedonism when he stated, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The Greek word translated enmity, echthra means hostility and denotes the opposite of God’s unconditional love (G2189). Another way of stating James argument would be to say that you hate God when you choose to ignore his commandments.