Spiritual sacrifices

The Apostle Peter used the metaphor of a spiritual house to describe the structure that the whole body of believers forms as a collective unit (1 Peter 2:5). Peter stated, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). The terms Peter used, living stones, spiritual house, and spiritual sacrifices all pointed to the temple that was the focal point of the Jewish religion. Paul touched on this in his letter to the Corinthians when he addressed the topic of divisions in the church. Paul stated:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you, are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:1-17)

Paul indicated that building up the body of Christ was a joint effort that no one person could take credit for and said that each person’s work will be tested to see if it was done through human or spiritual effort. Peter may have described believers as living stones because of the effect of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the active nature of God’s word in the human heart. The Greek word that is translated spiritual in 1 Peter 2:5, pneumatikos (phyoo-mat-ik-os’) is used to describe things “pertaining to or proceeding from the Holy Spirit. Of persons who are spiritual, i.e. enlightened by the Holy Spirit, enjoying the influences, graces, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (G4152).

Peter stated:

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:6-8)

The word that Peter was referring to was most likely the Ten Commandments that were communicated directly to the Israelites from God on Mount Sinai shortly after they were delivered from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 19-20). The Greek term that is translated word in 1 Peter 2:8, logos (log’-os) was used by the Apostle John to identify Jesus as an eternal being that was present at the beginning of creation. John stated, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Peter indicated that those who disobey the word of God were destined to do so and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians revealed that the destiny of every person was established before the foundation of the world. Paul stated, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Peter indicated that the spiritual house that was being built up by believers was “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). By definition, spiritual sacrifices have to do with God’s divine influence upon the heart. The Greek word “pneumatikos always connotes the ideas of invisibility and of power. It does not occur in the Old Testament or in the Gospels; it is in fact an after-Pentecost word” (G4152). Peter most likely used the term spiritual sacrifices to differentiate between the kind of sacrifices that are made according to our own will and those that are made according to God’s will. When believers offer spiritual sacrifices they are supposed to be doing things that please God. When Jesus was baptized by John, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16). Likewise, when Jesus was transfigured, “a voice from the cloud said, ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 17:5). The Greek word that is translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) means to approve of an act and stresses “the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (G2106).

Peter linked the spiritual sacrifices of believers to God’s original plan to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). After the Israelites entered the wilderness and camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses went up to God and “The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6). God’s stipulation that the people obey his voice and keep his covenant was what led to the downfall of the nation of Israel. Peter was letting believers know that they were taking the place of the Israelites that were originally called to serve God. The key to our success being obedience to God’s word.

God described the nation of Israel as his “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). The Hebrew word cegullah “signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves” (H5459). The descriptors “a kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” suggest that the kingdom of heaven centers around the spiritual sacrifices of God’s people which are dependent on faith in Jesus Christ. Peter said, “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus also quoted Psalm 118:22-23 after he told the parable of the tenants to the chief priests who wanted to know where his authority came from. Matthew 21:38-44 states:

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated people in Matthew 21:43 is ethnos (eth’-nos). Ethnos is derived from the word etho (eth’-o) which means “to be accustomed”, signifying a custom or a particular way of doing things (G1486). Ethnos has to do with human nature and in the sense of people producing fruits it refers to born again Christians who are walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Paul contrasted the works of the flesh with the works of the Spirit and said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Ten Commandments were meant to restrain the Israelites from what Paul described as the works of the flesh. Paul said, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, disensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). The goal was to make the Israelites a holy nation, but without the help of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with the people directly (Exodus 19:11, 20:1), the people were afraid of him and couldn’t process the information he was communicating to them because they were spiritually dead (Exodus 20:18-19). One of the primary issues that prevented the Israelites from connecting with God was that they couldn’t approach him unless they were consecrated, which meant that they had to be cleansed from all of their sins (H6942). In other words, they needed to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, something that was impossible on a large scale until after Jesus died and was resurrected.

Exodus 20:1-17 records the discourse that took place between God and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments were in essence a brief synopsis of the rules that God expected his chosen people to follow. They were as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet. 

After hearing these commandments, the people told Moses they didn’t want God to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:19). It says in Exodus 20:22, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.” The point the LORD was making was that he had already communicated all that was necessary for him to establish his covenant with the people of Israel. He didn’t need to say anything else to them.

The people of Israel understood that the essence of spiritual sacrifice was contained within the Ten Commandments. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus was teaching his disciples the principles of the kingdom of heaven, he was asked to identify “the great commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36). Essentially, what the lawyer wanted to know was which of the Ten Commandments was most likely to be broken by every person and would therefore cause everyone in the whole world to go to hell. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The two commandments that Jesus identified were similar in that they both focused on loving others. Jesus likely emphasized that we need to love God with all of our being because we tend to hold back certain parts of ourselves in order to keep a safe distance between us and our Creator. The fact that we are expected to love our neighbor as ourselves suggests that in the spiritual realm there are no boundaries between one soul and another. That’s why we must act like we are responsible for everyone’s happiness.

Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed that all believers would be united in the same way that he was with his Father (John 17:11). Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). The Greek words that are translated “become perfectly one,” teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) eis (ice) heis (hice) and o (o) refer to the joining together that Peter and Paul talked about when they said that believers are to be built up (1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 4:16). The Greek word oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) means to be a house-builder and oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture. Peter and Paul likely used these words to convey the process of edification because believers are joined together in a systematic way that results in an enduring structure somewhat like a home that is passed on from generation to generation which can be remodeled as needed. Peter’s depiction of a spiritual house that was built using living stones (1 Peter 2:5) was probably meant to convey the idea of a community that is in constant motion. If you look at the kingdom of heaven as a state of being as opposed to a physical space that has occupants, you might see that spiritual sacrifices are ones that go beyond the boundaries of physical life and deal with the immaterial needs of human beings.

Jesus’ attempt to convince a rich young man that he didn’t need all the possessions he was depending on was most likely hindered by the young man’s image of the kingdom of heaven as a place that was luxurious and designed to provide comfort. Matthew’s gospel states, “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Jesus indicated there is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17) and suggested that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be perfect (Matthew 19:21). His disciples realized that it would be impossible for anyone to meet God’s standard because giving away one’s possessions went against the very core of human nature. Jesus’ statement, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) was meant to point out that God doesn’t expect us to go against our nature, but provides a way for us to do what is humanly impossible. Jesus went on to tell them a parable about laborers in a vineyard in order to show them that it wasn’t a matter of giving things up that hinders people from serving God, but the expectation that God will reward our spiritual sacrifices according to how long or hard we work for him. In the parable, everyone was paid the same wages even though some worked all day and others just one hour. Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). In other words, God’s goodness isn’t controlled by our human efforts to please him. It is only when we do God’s will that we receive rewards in heaven.

A united front

Saul’s dramatic transformation was evidenced by his immediate preaching of the gospel in Damascus where he had previously planned to arrest Christians and “bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). Luke said, “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:20-22).

Saul’s conversion had two profound effects on the spread of the gospel. First, Luke said Paul’s transformation “confounded the Jews” (Acts 9:22). The Greek word translated confounded, sugcheo (soong-kheh´-o) means to commingle promiscuously (G4797). The phrase we might use today would be “sleeping with the enemy.” In a figurative sense, sugcheo can mean to throw an assembly into disorder or to perplex the mind. You might say the Jews were caught off guard;  they were unable to process the news that Saul had gone over to the other side. The second effect of Saul’s conversion was that he was able to convince people that God was really at work. Luke said Saul was “proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:22). In other words, people couldn’t dispute the fact that Saul had changed dramatically.

The Greek words Luke used that are translated confounded and proving are derived from the same root word, sun (soon) which denotes union; with or together, “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition” (4862). What was happening was that the gaps were being filled in and the gospel was no longer able to be disputed. It was evident from the miracles that were taking place and the dramatic changes people were witnessing that Jesus’ gospel message really was true.

Saul’s conversion was a significant turning point in the spread of the gospel because he was viewed as a respectable Jewish citizen. His collaboration with the Jewish council to stamp out Christianity made Saul a serious threat once he switched sides and began preaching the gospel. It says in Acts 9:23-25, “And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him. But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” The threat on Saul’s life made his conversion even more believable. As a result of the danger he faced, Saul was accepted into a close inner circle of persecuted believers. A man named Barnabas vouched for his credibility and was able to introduce Saul to Jesus’ twelve apostles in Jerusalem.

The bond that formed between Saul and Jesus’ apostles was a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit to bring unity among believers. Although the apostles were suspicious of Saul and may have resented his miraculous transformation, they didn’t question his loyalty because he was willing to risk his life in order to preach the gospel. When Barnabas took Saul into his confidence, it was just as much an act of faith for him as it was when he sold his property and gave all the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36). As a result of Saul being joined together with the apostles, Luke said, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).

Commitment

After Ezra read God’s law to the Jews, everyone that had knowledge and understanding of what they had heard, made a commitment “to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD” (Nehemiah 10:29). The seriousness of their commitment was described as entering into a curse, and into an oath, meaning a curse would be on the head of anyone who broke the agreement (423). An oath was similar to what we think of today as giving sworn testimony in a court of law. To take an oath or swear was considered a promise. In the same way that God makes promises to us, an oath was treated like a legal agreement that could not be broken.

The most important thing to note about the commitment the Jews made was that it was a voluntary action. The people realized that God’s laws were mandatory, but they made a personal commitment to follow them because they were aware of what had happened to their ancestors as a result of not keeping God’s commandments. One of the key issues Jesus had to deal with during his ministry on earth was the keeping of God’s commandments. The Jews went beyond God’s law to establish traditions that were impossible to keep, such “as the washing of pots and cups” (Mark 7:8), and even plucking ears of corn to eat was considered a violation of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

Jesus used the word hypocrite to describe the Jews’ overzealous behavior in keeping the commandments. He said, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7). In order to distinguish the true intent of God’s law, Jesus clarified the critical points that needed to be remembered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Perhaps the mistake the Jews made in making a commitment to keep God’s commandments was not that they didn’t understand the law, but that they didn’t interpret it correctly. The primary purpose of the Ten Commandments was to maintain healthy relationships so that there would be unity among God’s people. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus gave his disciples some final instructions. In order to clarify God’s expectations about keeping his commandments, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).

The nation of Israel

God’s promise to Abraham to make a great nation of his descendants was only partially fulfilled when the twelve tribes of Israel settled in the Promised Land. Abraham’s grandson Jacob was the father of the twelve men from whom the twelve tribes became established. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after he was overpowered by him in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:28). The name Israel means “he will rule (as) God” (3478). When the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria and its people sent into exile, it appeared that God’s effort to establish a nation from Abraham’s descendants had failed, but the nation of Israel was never intended to be a political institution. God wanted his spiritual kingdom to be manifested physically on earth.

A nation is similar to a body in that its individual members are considered to be a single unit that functions interdependently. The real purpose of a nation is to give its people a shared identity. When God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he was giving him a new identity, one that would remain in tact until God’s kingdom was manifested on earth. In order for the nation of Israel to look like God’s kingdom, all of the twelve tribes had to be included. Speaking of the final outcome he was working towards, God told Jeremiah, “The fierce anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it. At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 30:24-31:1).

The issue that had to be resolved in order for Israel to be restored to a single united kingdom as it had been in king David’s day was its people had to turn away from their practice of idolatry. Isaiah described the situation as a covenant with death (Isaiah 28:15). God’s remedy was Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation…And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:16,18). God’s love for his chosen people was so powerful that his grace became a way for him to turn them away from their idols. He said, “For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow… And my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:13-14).

God’s restoration of the nation of Israel was identified as a “new thing.” Isaiah declared on behalf of the LORD, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you them” (Isaiah 42:9). The voluntary return of God’s people to their homeland was considered a new thing because they had rejected him over and over again. The only way to adequately describe the difference between the former things and the new that was expected to take place was a transformation of the heart. The once proud and rebellious people of the northern kingdom of Israel would become like an adoring bride (Jeremiah 31:22). All of Israel will one day embrace with tender and unfailing love the one they crucified.

The kinsman redeemer

The Israelite community was designed in such a way that families would remain in tact for centuries and ultimately for eternity. When they entered the Promised Land, each of the twelve tribes of Israel was designated a territory that they were to occupy. Every family was to have its own piece of property that would be passed on from generation to generation through an inheritance given to the oldest son. In the event, the family got into debt and had to sell its land, the property could later be redeemed by a close relative referred to as the kinsman redeemer.

It was the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer to preserve “the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative or for executing justice upon his murderer” (1350). In the role of executor of justice, the kinsman redeemer was referred to as the avenger or revenger of blood. Isaiah portrayed the arrival of the avenger on the scene as someone waging war on Israel’s enemies. He said, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in his apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me; for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment” (Isaiah 63:1-3).

Isaiah described the day of the Lord as one in which there would be much blood shed. Revelation 19:13 indicates that that day will come at the end of the great tribulation when God’s wrath is poured out on mankind. John the apostle declared, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipt in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:11-14).

The Messiah’s role as the kinsman redeemer was unique to the Israelites because the kinsman redeemer had to be a blood relative. Although Jesus died for the sins of the world, he only came to redeem the children of Israel. Isaiah declared of Israel’s Messiah, “For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie; so he was their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:8-9). Israel’s rejection of its Messiah caused the door to be opened to the Gentiles who received their inheritance as adopted children of Christ. Eventually, the family of God will be integrated and all who are true believers will share equally in Christ’s inheritance (Isaiah 63:17).

Marriage alliance

Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa the king of Judah, reigned during the last 12 – 13 years of Ahab’s life. Sometime during that period, probably around the time when Ahab repented of taking Naboth’s vineyard away from him, “Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:44). Jehoshaphat’s motive for making peace could have been Ahab’s defeat of Ben-hadad. Jehoshaphat may have interpreted the deliverance of the Syrian army as a sign that Ahab was in God’s favor.

The peace agreement between Jehoshaphat and Ahab was in the form of a marriage alliance between their two children. Ahab’s daughter Athaliah was given to Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram as a wife in order to unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Because of this agreement, when Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to go with him to battle against Syria (1 Kings 22:4), Jehoshaphat couldn’t say no without jeopardizing their relationship.

Jehoshaphat attempted to influence Ahab into walking with the LORD (1 Kings 22:7), but Ahab’s heart was bent toward doing evil. Even after the prophet Micaiah told Ahab he would be killed in battle (1 Kings 22:17), Ahab attacked the king of Syria anyway. Ahab thought he could outwit his enemy by disguising himself. It says in 1 Kings 22:30 that Ahab “said unto Jehoshaphat, I will disguise myself, and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes.” In other words, Ahab wanted Jehoshaphat to act as a decoy and risk his life to prevent Ahab from being killed.

It is likely Jehoshaphat agreed because he believed he would be killed anyway. Micaiah’s prophecy indicated Israel’s army would be left leaderless, “he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd” (1 Kings 22:17). When the captains of Ben-hadad army saw Jehoshaphat, they thought he was the king of Israel. “And they turned aside to fight against him: and Jehoshaphat cried out. And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots perceived that is was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him” (1 Kings 22:32-33).

The word translated cried in 1 Kings 22:32, za‘aq is most frequently used for crying out for divine aid (2199). Jehoshaphat cried out to God for help and the captains of the chariots perceived that he was not the king of Israel, the man they were looking for, and left him alone. In the moment when Jehoshaphat cried out to the LORD, God could have ignored his plea for help. Jehoshaphat had no business going to battle with Syria after Micaiah prophesied they would be defeated, but God did help him, because Jehoshaphat was honoring his peace agreement with Ahab.

 

The miracle of life

“For the LORD commanded the blessing even life for evermore” (Psalm 133:3). The sustainment of life on planet earth is something I think we all take for granted. If God’s blessing were not on his creation, the human race would have become extinct a long time ago.

The miracle of life is that God’s provision is continuous, his resources are never diminished. Beyond the life we have here, God has commanded that eternal life be given to those who accept his son as savior and it is a free gift to all who want to receive it.

The manna that appeared in the desert to feed the Israelites while they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years is a picture of the free gift of eternal life. The manna came from the dew that settled on the ground. It blanketed the earth with abundant nourishment and was available for anyone that wanted to gather it.

The only restriction on gathering manna was that you could only take enough for one day at a time except the day before the Sabbath. When the day was over, the food rotted and had to be thrown away.

The restriction on the gift of eternal life is that it is only available while you are alive on earth. Everyday, the gift is there, waiting to be received. Each day of life provides another opportunity to take it. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Jesus was referred to as the bread of life because like the manna that appeared in the desert, he was able to sustain life indefinitely (John 6:21-40). Jesus explained to his disciples that unity with him meant eternal provision, all who believed would be permanently connected to his Father in heaven whose resources were unlimited and always available.

The miracle of life that Jesus offered was based on a unity that went beyond an external physical or spiritual connection. Jesus said, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). Through what we now refer to as communion, it became possible for Christ to dwell or stay in believers.

Jesus differentiated the life he could provide from that provided by the manna by stating that everyone that ate the manna was dead or separated from God (John 6:58). It did not provide a permanent connection.

The unity that David experienced in his kingdom was just a foretaste of the unity believers experience in Christ. Although David knew the LORD, he was not connected to him the same way we are. David did not go to heaven when he died. He had to wait until Jesus was crucified to receive the miracle of eternal life.

Unity of faith

In verse one of Psalm 133, David talked about brethren dwelling together in unity in order to establish a physical basis for community. In verse two of Psalm 133, David explains how unity works from a spiritual perspective. David said, “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.

When Aaron became the chief priest, his head was anointed with oil as a sign of his consecration to God (Leviticus 8:12). Aaron was the spiritual leader of Israel and was a direct representative of God that lived among the Israelites to remind them of God’s presence in their community. David’s expression of Aaron’s anointing being like brethren dwelling together in unity is intended to convey the point that God’s presence in the community was the source of its unity or what kept the people united.

The oil that was used to anoint Aaron was a combination of olive oil and sweet smelling spices that when combined formed a strong perfume that could probably be smelled from a great distance. The idea behind the anointing was the goodness of God being like a sweet smelling fragrance that affected everyone that came in contact with it.

Paul talks about the unity of the Spirit in Ephesians chapter four. Paul encouraged believers in the city of Ephesus “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…Till we all come in the unity of faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:3,13). Paul’s reference to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ appears to be tied to the anointing of the priests and could clarify why David used the anointing of Aaron as an example of unity.

If you think of the priests’ garments as a representation of God’s holiness imparted to man, the anointing oil running down onto the garments was a picture of Jesus’ death as the atonement for sin. The anointing of the priest was an act of faith that linked him to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. David used this illustration to make the point that the brethren dwelling together in unity during his reign was based on an act of faith. They all believed they were establishing the kingdom of Christ and that one day he would walk in their midst and his presence would affect everyone that came in contact with him.

A common goal

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). The best example I can think of for brethren dwelling together in unity is the United States. Although some people may think the men who designed our government were brilliant, I believe they had divine inspiration and may have even used Psalm 133:1 as a guide for our country.

Initially, the United States was intended to be a Christian nation. Our pledge of allegiance stated that we were to be one nation under God. The interesting thing about our country is that it is unique in the world. No other country has been able to replicate the way we govern ourselves as independent states with a common federal system linking them together.

The nation of Israel under David’s leadership became a type of United States in that each of the clans or tribes of Israel lived in their own territories and acted independently of each other, but under David’s reign they united and followed him with one heart (1 Chronicles 12:38).

One of the characteristics of unity that is sometimes overlooked or taken for granted is the absence of conflict. The United States’ Civil War was a bloody battle that threatened to split our country in two. Since that time, there have been no such wars within our borders. It is definitely good and pleasant to live in peace, but very difficult to maintain it when there are varying opinions about what is acceptable.

There is more to unity than living within the same borders or the absence of conflict. I believe there is an element of unity that has to do with shared or common goals. You might call it the tie that binds because it is this element that keeps things together and makes it possible for conflicts to be resolved. The common goal of the tribes of Israel was the removal of foreigners from the Promised Land. Only some areas were secure and free from warfare. David gave the people hope that if they fought together as they had when they first entered the Promised Land, they could overcome all their enemies and live in peace.

David was a valiant warrior and his mighty men were the best of the best at defeating strong enemies. His leadership was the key to success when it came to bringing together men of diverse backgrounds. David had a way of finding the common denominator and was able to communicate his vision in a way that enabled complete unity among the tribes. David’s reign lasted a short 40 years. Although he accomplished many important things during that time, the unification of the tribes was probably the most miraculous.