A foolish mistake

Saul, Israel’s first king, from a human perspective, fully satisfied the desires of the people. “He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe in all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies” (note on 1 Samuel 10:20-24), but Saul lacked spiritual discernment and was prone to making rash decisions. Only a couple of years into his reign as king of Israel, Saul started to show signs of pride and seemed to be overconfident of his ability to defeat the Philistines, Israel’s most formidable enemy. 1 Samuel 13:5-7 tells us:

And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

The Israelites were terrified of the Philistines and Saul’s leadership was little comfort to them. Samuel instructed Saul to go down to Gilgal and wait for him to come and offer sacrifices to God. 1 Samuel 13:8-10 states:

He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.

Saul’s decision to offer the burnt offering himself was a violation of the Mosaic Law and an indication that his heart was not right with God. When Samuel arrived, he asked Saul:

“What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:11-14)

Saul told Samuel that he had forced himself to offer the burnt offering. The Hebrew word that is translated forced, ʾaphaq (aw-fakˊ) means “to contain, i.e (reflexive) abstain” (H662). The name Aphek is derived from ʾaphaq. In the sense of strength, the name Aphek means “fortress” (H663).

It seems that Saul had intentionally walled himself off from the promptings of the Holy Spirit when he decided to offer the burnt offering himself. Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience affirms this viewpoint. “Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you’” (1Samuel 13:13). Samuel’s assessment that Saul had made a foolish mistake when he went against the command of the LORD was probably based on an awareness of Saul’s motives. The Hebrew word that is translated foolishly, çakal (saw-kalˊ) means “to be silly” (H5528). Silliness is an indicator of spiritual immaturity or a lack of spiritual discernment. The Hebrew word kaçal (kaw-salˊ), another form of çakal, means “to be fat, i.e. (figuratively) silly” (H3688). The connection between fatness and silliness may be a lack of discipline or in a spiritual sense, mental exercise. A word that is derived from kaçal, keçel (kehˊ-sel) is properly translated as “fatness, i.e. by implication (literally) the loin (as the seat of the leaf fat) or (generally) the viscera; also (figuratively) silliness or (in a good sense) trustKecel means ‘stupidity; imperturbability; confidence” (H3689).

Peter’s second letter contained a reference to the prophetic word about Israel’s Messiah being confirmed by Jesus’ transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-21). In this passage, Peter stated, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The phrase carried along means “impelled, by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). It seems likely that when King Saul forced himself to offer the burnt offering, he was confident that he was doing the right thing, but Saul was acting according to his own will, not God’s will, as it had already been expressed to Saul that he should wait for Samuel to arrive and that he would offer the burnt offering (1 Samuel 10:8). The book of Proverbs discusses at length the foolish behavior of a man who is void of understanding. The fool has a knowledge of God but does not properly evaluate or understand what he knows (H3683). It says in Proverbs 13:16, “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness” (NLT). Saul’s explanation of why he had offered the burnt offering himself instead of waiting as he had been told to made it seem as if Samuel was at fault and that Saul had saved the day. “Saul said, ‘When I saw the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.” So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering’” (1 Samuel 13:11-12). Samuel’s reply made it clear that Saul was acting out of ignorance, rather than a desire to please God. He said, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). The Apostle Paul referred to Samuel’s declaration in a message he shared with the Jews at Antioch. Paul said:

“Men of Israel,” he said, “and you God-fearing Gentiles, listen to me.

“The God of this nation of Israel chose our ancestors and made them multiply and grow strong during their stay in Egypt. Then with a powerful arm he led them out of their slavery. He put up with them through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Then he destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to Israel as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years.

“After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’

“And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel! (Acts 13:16-23)

Paul identified David as a man after God’s own heart, someone that would do everything that God wanted him to, and connected him with God’s plan of salvation. It was important for the king of Israel to be completely committed to God, but what was really at stake was the execution of a plan that would result in Jesus’ birth. Samuel told Saul, “You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Samuel referred to Saul’s kingdom as your kingdom, rather than the kingdom of God or heaven, and told him that it would not continue. Saul’s reign over Israel was a temporary arrangement that had to do with Israel’s request for a human leader to guide them into military success. Underlying God’s approval of their request was his intention of establishing an eternal kingdom that would be ruled by Jesus.

Jesus often talked about the kingdom of heaven and on more than one occasion associated it with God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12). Jesus used the phrase the sons of the kingdom to refer to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israelites that were not members of the kingdom of heaven. The context of Jesus’ statement was the lack of faith among the Jews. “Jesus had just commended the great faith of a Gentile, the Roman centurion who came seeking healing for his servant (v. 10). The ‘sons of the kingdom’ may refer to unbelieving Jews who thought that their ancestry automatically entitled them to the kingdom of God (see John 8:31-59). The Jews thought that they were assured of special favor by God, but the Lord reminded them that they could be ‘last’ in the kingdom of God while those who thought themselves ‘last,’ such as tax collectors and prostitutes, would be ‘first’ if they exercised faith in him (Matthew 21:31). Furthermore, unbelieving Jews would be, ‘thrown into the outer darkness’ because of their hypocritical claim that they were the children and followers of Abraham. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and although these men were his physical descendants, they were not part of the family of faith” (note on Matthew 8:11, 12).

In the same way that the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day thought that their relationship to Abraham would assure them of special favor by God, so Saul thought that his position of king of Israel exempted him from obedience to God’s word. In the heat of a battle with the Philistines, Saul “laid an oath on the people, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening, and I am avenged on my enemies’” (1 Samuel 14:24). It says in 1 Samuel 14:27-30, “But Jonathon had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, ‘Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food this day.”’ And the people were faint. Then Jonathon said, ‘My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.’” When Saul inquired of the LORD and didn’t receive an answer from him, “Saul said, ‘Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathon my son, he shall surely die…Then Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and Jonathon.’ And Jonathon was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathon, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ And Jonathon told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.’ And Saul said, ‘God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathon.’ Then the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathon die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people ransomed Jonathon, so that he did not die. Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place” (1 Samuel 14:38-46).

The quagmire of unbelief that resulted from Saul’s rash vow led to the LORD’s eventual rejection of Saul as king over Israel. During his confrontation of Saul, Samuel asked him:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

Samuel indicated that Saul had rejected the word of the LORD. “Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988).

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God explained to the people of Israel, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jeremiah 7:22-23). The book of Hebrews further clarifies God’s point by showing that it was not Christ’s sacrifice that made us holy and acceptable to God, but Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s will. Hebrews 10:5-10 states:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Sanctification is “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will.” The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and refers to “the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the heart” (G37).

Jesus told his disciples after he was gone, that his Father would give them “another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). Jesus went on to say, “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 14:25-26). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) “is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid and is used of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins (1 John 2:1); and the Holy Spirit destined to take the place Christ with the apostles (after Christ’s ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875). The Holy Spirit’s role of Helper is said to be linked with believers gaining a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth.

Paul instructed Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The concept of sound doctrine is related to nourishment, it is that which brings about health and vitality. Paul described the results of sound doctrine as being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2). Paul repeated the attribute of self-controlled several times as he continued to talk about the result of sound doctrine on women, young men, and all people (Titus 2:5, 6, 12). The Greek words sophron (soˊ-frone), sophrosune (so-fros-ooˊ-nay), sophronos (so-fronˊ-oce), sophronizo (so-fron-idˊ-zo), and sophroneo (so-fron-ehˊ-o) are all derived from the same root word, sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which means “to save” (G4982). Another word that is derived from sozo is soma (soˊ-mah) which refers to “the body (as a sound whole)” (G4983). The connection between soundness and being saved was apparent in Jesus’ healing ministry. When the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he ate with tax collectors and sinners, he responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). Later, Jesus was approached by a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. Matthew tells us that she “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well (sozo, to save).’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well (sozo, to save)” (Matthew 9:20-22).

The Greek word sophron (soˊ-frone), which is translated self-controlled in Titus 2:2, means “safe (sound) in mind” (G4998) and is derived from the base of sozo and phren (frane). Phren appears only in 1 Corinthians 14:20 where Paul told the Corinthian believers, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking (phren). Be infants in evil, but in your thinking (phren) be mature.” Paul associated phren with immature Christians and conveyed the idea of making a foolish mistake. In the King James Version of the Bible, phren is translated understanding. Proverbs chapter eight focuses on the blessings of wisdom and states in verse five, “O child-like ones, learn to use wisdom. O fools, make your mind understand” (NLV). This verse seems to suggest that being self-controlled is the result of training our minds to think wisely and therefore, eliminating foolish mistakes. After Samuel confronted him, Saul admitted, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul’s mistake was that he obeyed the voice of the people rather than the voice of God. It wasn’t that Saul didn’t know what God wanted him to do. Saul knew what God wanted him to do, but the people disagreed with it so, he chose to please the people instead of obeying God.

Like everyone else

God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt was an important turning point in the nation’s history. Numerous times, God referred back to that pivotal point to remind the Israelites of their relationship with him and of their dependence upon his mercy for their continued sustainment. Psalm 124 captures the essence of Israel’s situation from the time they were delivered from bondage in Egypt to the time when they were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Psalm 124:1-5 states:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
    let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

The imagery of being swallowed up alive and of a flood sweeping them away were meant to depict the consuming destruction that comes on people who are enemies of God. This kind of imagery was used in the book of Jeremiah in connection with God’s judgment on the Philistines. Jeremiah 47:2-4 states:

“Thus says the Lord:
Behold, waters are rising out of the north,
    and shall become an overflowing torrent;
they shall overflow the land and all that fills it,
    the city and those who dwell in it.
Men shall cry out,
    and every inhabitant of the land shall wail.
At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his stallions,
    at the rushing of his chariots, at the rumbling of their wheels,
the fathers look not back to their children,
    so feeble are their hands,
because of the day that is coming to destroy
    all the Philistines,
to cut off from Tyre and Sidon
    every helper that remains.
For the Lord is destroying the Philistines,
    the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.”

The Philistines were among the nations that the LORD left in the Promised Land to test Israel by them. “They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses” (Judges 3:4). After the household of Eli was rejected by God as Israel’s priests, Israel was defeated by the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by them. “The Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon” (1 Samuel 4:2). “Canaanite deities, such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths, remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile. Other Canaanite deities included the Asherahs (Judges 3:7) and Dagon (Judges 16:23)…Overall, the religion of the Canaanites was extremely corrupt. It was characterized by the practices of human sacrifice, ritual prostitution and homosexuality, and self-mutilation” (note on Judges 2:13). The Philistines’ placement of the Ark of the Covenant next to their god Dagon was intended to signify his dominion over the Israelites, but God caused Dagon to fall face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD (1 Samuel 5:3-4) and eventually, the Philistines voluntarily returned the ark to Israel (1 Samuel 6:1-14).

Samuel’s duel role as a judge of Israel and also a prophet was a part of the shift in leadership that occurred when Israel demanded a king to rule over them. 1 Samuel 8:1-5 tells us, “When Samuel become old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’” “Like Eli, Samuel neglected to discipline and teach his sons properly. The failure of Samuel’s sons led the people to reject their authority as judges and to reject God as well, who in his sovereignty had set the judges in place to rule over his people” (note on 1 Samuel 8:3). “God knew that the Israelites would someday desire a king. He had previously given guidelines that were to be followed by the people and by the kings that would reign over them (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). The people seemed to be motivated by the desire to avoid further military losses (1 Samuel 8:20) and to get rid of corrupt potential leaders, the sons of Eli and Samuel. Samuel saw their request as a rejection of himself, but God affirmed that they had actually rejected him. The people were no longer satisfied with the system of judges that had been established. They improperly attributed the failures during that time to the system itself, not to their sin. They rejected God because they wanted to be like the other nations, not a peculiar people, set apart as the chosen ones of God. They wanted a visible deliverer in whom they could place their trust (cf. Judges 8:22). They wanted to walk by sight, not by faith. In so doing, they sought to escape the moral demands of the law by doing away with the theocracy under which they had been living” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7).

When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, after being delivered from slavery in Egypt, God declared his intention of transforming them into a unique people. It says in Exodus 19:3 that God called to Moses out of the mountain and instructed him to 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 all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4-6)

The Hebrew word that is translated treasured possession in Exodus 19:5, çᵉgullah (seg-ool-lawˊ) “signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves. Six times this word is used of Israel as God’s personally acquired (elected, delivered from Egyptian bondage, and formed into what he wanted them to be), carefully preserved, and privately possessed people” (H5459).

Moses reminded the Israelites of their special status just before they entered the Promised Land. Moses said, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all people, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Moses used the Hebrew word bachar (baw-kharˊ), which means “to choose” (H977), to refer to Israel’s election as God’s holy nation and indicated that God’s motivation for choosing Israel was his love for them. The Hebrew word that is translated love in Deuteronomy 7:7, chashaq (khaw-shakˊ) means “to cling, i.e. join” (H2836). The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that God’s election of those who would be redeemed by the blood of Christ took place before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and that all who will receive an eternal inheritance from God will do so by “being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). The Greek word proorizo (pro-or-idˊ-zo) or predestined, “is used to declare God’s eternal decrees of both the objects and goal of his plan of salvation (Romans 8:29, 30), of the glorious benefits that will come from that salvation (1 Corinthians 2:7), and of our adoption and inheritance as sons of God (Ephesians 1:5, 11)” (G4309).

The Israelites’ desire to be like everyone else was rooted in the fact that they were worshipping the Baals and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13). Samuel challenged the people of Israel to be faithful to God. Samuel said, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:3). In spite of his faithfulness in subduing the Philistines, the people of Israel refused to accept God’s authority over them (1 Samuel 8:7). 1 Samuel 8:19-22 states, “But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, ‘No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’ And when Samuel heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and make them a king.’”

One of the epithets of Jesus was King of the Jews. During the time when Jesus was living on the earth, the nation of Israel couldn’t have a king of their own because they were under the Roman government’s authority. King Herod was the Roman Jewish client king of Judea and Matthew 2:1-2 tells us that wise men from the east came to Herod the king, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” After Herod determined the location of Christ’s birth, he sent the wise men to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8). The wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, Herod “became furious and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:12, 16). At his trial before the Roman governor, Jesus was asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11). Later, the governor’s soldiers stripped Jesus “and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisted together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:28-29). At his crucifixion, the title of King of the Jews was used to condemn Jesus to death. Matthew 27:37 states, “And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’”

Israel’s tragic mistake of asking for a human being to rule over them instead of God is evident in the final book of the Bible, Revelation which deals with end-time events. The nation of Israel isn’t mentioned in the book of Revelation, but instead its contents are addressed “to the seven churches that are in Asia” (Revelation 1:4). Both Peter and Paul elude to the fact that the holy nation that God intended for Israel to become was replaced by the church that Jesus established before his death on the cross (Matthew 16:18). 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. 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.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Peter pointed out that believers in Christ are considered to be God’s people. He said, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10). Paul echoed this thought in his letter to Titus where he spoke of Christ’s followers as “a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). The Greek word that is translated for his own possession, periousios (per-ee-ooˊ-see-os) means “being beyond usual, i.e. special (one’s own)” (G4041).

Paul talked in his letter to the Romans about the people of Israel being grafted back into the tree from which they were cut off through their unbelief. Paul explained:

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusionmean!

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:11-24)

Paul indicated that Israel’s rejection of their Messiah made it possible for the world to be reconciled to God and identified them as the firstfruits of God’s plan of salvation. The grafting back in that Paul was referring to in this passage may be the purpose behind the great tribulation that is depicted in the book of Revelation.

According to Paul, one of the key outcomes of believing in Christ is being conformed into the image of God’s Son, “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). Paul warned believers to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that Christ had made both Jew and Gentile one “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” (Ephesians 2:14-16). God’s ability to transform the minds of both Jews and Gentiles and bring people from both groups into the body of Christ has been demonstrated through the conversion of many Jews to Christianity, but God’s ultimate goal of grafting the nation of Israel back into the tree from which it was cut off seems to be a larger objective that has yet to be accomplished.

The book of Revelation, which opens with John’s greetings to the seven churches, focuses primarily on God’s judgment of the earth and his overthrow of a world system that is opposed to the kingdom of heaven. Before God’s angels are allowed to harm the earth or the sea, John tells us that 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel are set apart to serve God. Revelation 7:3 states, “’Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Later, John says:

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Revelation 14:1-5)

John indicated that the 144,000 had been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). The Greek word that is translated firstfruits, aparche (ap-ar-khayˊ) means a beginning of sacrifice, i.e. the (Jewish) first-fruit” (G5360). This seems to suggest that the 144,000 will be the first to be martyred for their faith during the great tribulation. Revelation 13:15-16 states that anyone who would not worship the image of the beast would be slain. “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” It seems that God intends for the 144,000 to not be like everyone else and to be killed because they refuse to submit to the false prophet’s demands.

An answer to prayer

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount included many practical teachings about spiritual life. One of the important topics that Jesus addressed was prayer. Jesus told his followers:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:5-15)

Jesus contrasted public prayer with private prayer and referred to those who were fond of praying in the sight of others as hypocrites. The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-taceˊ) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage-player)” (G5273). Instead, Jesus said that believers should, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The Greek term that is translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tosˊ) has to do with that which is hidden in the human heart. Jesus concluded that forgiveness, or the lack thereof, was the deciding factor when it came to God answering our prayers.

Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point about God’s attitude toward forgiveness. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus said to him:

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:22-35)

Jesus indicated that we must forgive our brother from our heart. The phrase from your heart denotes a change in attitude toward something or someone. In Jesus’ parable, mercy was the key to being able to forgive others (Matthew 18:33). The Greek word eleeo (el-eh-ehˊ-o), which is translated mercy in the English Standard Version of the Bible and compassion in the King James Version of the Bible, is “spoken of the mercy of God through Christ or salvation in Christ: to bestow salvation on…The general meaning is to have compassion or mercy on a person in unhappy circumstances. Used transitively in the passive, to be pitied, obtain mercy, implying not merely a feeling for the misfortunes of others involving sympathy (oiktirmos [3628], pity), but also an active desire to remove those miseries” (G1653).

“The book of 1 Samuel presents in detail the transitional phase between the period of the judges and the period of the kings…Samuel bridged the gap between the periods of the judges and kings in that he was the last one to serve as a judge in all Israel and that he anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David” (Introduction 1 Samuel). The book of 1 Samuel opens with the birth of Samuel which was the result of God answering his mother Hannah’s prayer. 1 Samuel 1:9-20 states:

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

Hannah’s emotional plea for a child was witnessed by Eli the priest, but 1 Samuel 1:13 tells us, “Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard.” Hannah described herself as “a woman troubled in spirit” and she told Eli, “I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:15). The Hebrew word qasheh (kaw-sheh), which is translated troubled, indicates that Hannah was in a painful situation (H7186). Hannah’s complaint was that her rival’s constant provocation had made her bitter and her misery was beyond what she could bear. It says in 1 Samuel 1:6, “And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.”

Hannah’s situation was attributed to the LORD’s sovereign control of her ability to have children. The Hebrew word that is translated closed in 1 Samuel 1:6, çagar (saw-garˊ) means “to shut up” and is used figuratively as “to surrender.” “In the books of Samuel, cagar is used in the special sense of ‘to deliver up,’ implying that all avenues of escape ‘are closed’” (H5462). It seems likely that the LORD had intentionally kept Hannah from having children so that she would surrender this aspect of her life to him. When Hannah got to the point where she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, “the LORD remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the LORD’” (1 Samuel 1:19-20). The Hebrew word that is translated remembered, zakar (zaw-karˊ) is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized), i.e. to remember; (by implication) to mention…Remembering in ancient Israel was a major aspect of proper worship, as it is today” (H2142).

First Samuel 1:11 tells us that Hannah vowed a vow and said that, if the LORD would remember her and give her a son, “then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” A vow is a “voluntary promise to give or do something as an expression of consecration or devotion to the service of God” (H5087). After Samuel was born, Hannah told her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever” (1 Samuel 1:22). Hannah’s understanding of the temple of God’s purpose was that it functioned in a similar way to what heaven does now that Jesus is seated at the right hand of his Father. In order for Samuel to appear in the presence of the LORD, he would have to have access to the holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Leviticus 16 indicates that only Aaron, the high priest, was allowed to go inside the veil, before the mercy seat that was on the ark once per year on the Day of Atonement. The book of Hebrews explains that Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf into the inner place behind the curtain, “having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). The earthly holy place was a temporary structure that provided a way for sacrifices to be made to God, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12). Thus, Samuel’s dedication to the LORD was meant to be a type of spiritual rebirth, similar to what Christians experience when they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit (G3824). Hebrews chapter 10 tells us that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all and states specifically, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14).

Samuel’s sanctification was attained through Hannah’s Nazarite vow on her son’s behalf. Hannah said, “then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God” (H5139). The Hebrew word naziyr (naw-zeerˊ) is derived from the word nezer (nehˊ-zer). “A masculine noun meaning consecration, an ordination. This could be the consecration of the high priest (Leviticus 21:12); or of a person taking a vow as a Nazarite (Numbers 6:5, 7, 9, 12)” (H5145). It says of the person who has taken the Nazarite vow, “All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD” (Numbers 6:8). The Hebrew word qadosh (kaw-dosheˊ), which is translated holy in Numbers 6:8, is also translated saint (Psalm 106:16) and is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means “to be holy, to sanctify” (H6942).

When Hannah brought Samuel to the temple to give him to the LORD, she told Eli the priest, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted my petition that I made to him” (1 Samuel 1:26-27). The fact that the LORD granted Hannah’s petition was a remarkable feat in and of itself, but the important thing to note about Hannah’s situation was that she had the kind of faith that prompted her to go to God for help. There are very few instances recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible where an individual prayed to God and only once do we see a situation like Hannah’s where a woman prayed for her individual need and received an answer from God. Jesus said that when we pray to our Father in secret, or as Hannah did, from our heart, he will reward us. The idea behind the Greek word that is translated reward is that of repayment or of giving something back (G591). Hannah’s reward is mentioned in the context of Eli’s negligence as a parent. It says in 1 Samuel 2:12, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD.” The text goes on to state, “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17). Then, 1 Samuel 2:18-21 tells us:

Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.

Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.

One way of looking at Hannah’s reward was that the LORD gave her back what she gave to him, but even more so, because she had three additional sons, as well as two daughters.

When Hannah gave Samuel to the LORD, she prayed a second prayer that is recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah’s prayer was similar to Mary’s song of praise, also known as The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Hannah’s prayer opened with the statement:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in your salvation. (1 Samuel 2:1)

The Hebrew word that is translated salvation in this verse, yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-ah) means “something saved” (H3444). Jesus is a Greek form of yeshu’ah. In the final verse Hannah’s prayer, there is a reference to Israel’s Messiah (1 Samuel 2:10), suggesting that Hannah knew about and had personally received salvation through Jesus Christ. Whether Hannah was already saved when she asked God to give her a son or her salvation was the result of her receiving an answer to prayer isn’t clear in her story, but it can be assumed that she believed God was listening when she spoke to him in her heart (1 Samuel 1:13). After a fig tree quickly withered that Jesus had cursed earlier in the day, his disciples were amazed and asked him, “’How did the fig tree wither away so soon?’ So Jesus answered and said to them,  ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive’” (Matthew 21:20-22, NKJV)

A life and death decision

At the end of his life, Joshua summoned all Israel and challenged the people to make a commitment to the LORD. The central point of Joshua’s argument was the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai which stipulated their “total consecration to the Lord as His people (His kingdom) who live by His rule and serve His purposes” (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p.16). When Moses told the people of Israel all the words of the LORD and all the rules, the covenant was confirmed by them. “All the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do’” (Exodus 24:3-4). Because God had kept his promise and had given the people of Israel all the land that he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Joshua 23:9); Joshua said, “Now, therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). Fearing and serving the LORD meant that the people worshipped God by living according to his Ten Commandments and the other laws that were recorded in Exodus 20-23. The Hebrew word that is translated serve, ʿabad (aw-badˊ) means “to work (in any sense)…When the focus of the labour is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him. Moreover, in these cases, the word does not have connotations of toilsome labour but instead of a joyful experience of liberation (Exodus 3:12; 4:23; 7:16; Joshua 24:15, 18)” (H5647). Joshua instructed the people to worship the LORD in sincerity and in faithfulness. Both of these words have to do with living by faith, or more specifically, living consistent with the truth of God’s word. “To walk in truth is to conduct oneself according to God’s holy standards (1 Kings 2:4; 3:6; Psalm 86:11; Isaiah 38:3)” (H571).

Joshua’s challenge eluded to the fact that the people were free to worship whatever gods they wanted to, but they could not serve God and others at the same time. Joshua instructed them to:

“Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

“This challenge was similar to that issued by Moses to the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Joshua summarized the options that were open to the Israelites: (1) They could return to serve the gods of their ancestors. The expression ‘beyond the River’ refers to the Euphrates. ‘The gods that your fathers served’ is a reference to the ones worshipped by Terah, Abraham’s father (Joshua 24:2). They may have been similar to the images in Laban’s home (Genesis 31:19, 30, 34). Apparently there were some Israelites who privately worshipped these false gods (Joshua 24:23). (2) They could serve the gods of the Amorites. Although the term ‘Amorites’ often refers to a specific people, it was also used in a generic sense for all the people living in Canaan. (3) They could follow the example of Joshua and his family in serving the Lord” (note on Joshua 24:14, 15).

Joshua realized that not everyone in Israel was committed to the LORD. Joshua presented three options to the people as a way of acknowledging their divided interests. The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Joshua 24:15, bachar (baw-kharˊ) “denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). Bachar is used in Deuteronomy 7:6 and 7:7 to signify God’s selection of the people of Israel as his treasured possession. Deuteronomy 7:6-11 states:

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

Moses pointed out that God’s selection of the Israelites was based on his love for them and that he was a “faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him” (Deuteronomy 7:9). The Hebrew word ʾaheb (aw-habeˊ) “means ‘to love; like.’ Basically this verb is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object” (H157). The expected extent of the Israelites’ love for God was expressed in what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment, which stated, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

When Moses presented the Israelites with the choice to serve God or not, he made it a life and death decision. Moses said:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Moses indicated that life must be chosen and equated life with “loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him.” And then, Moses told the Israelites emphatically that God is “your life and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). At the end of his ministry, Jesus encouraged his disciples by telling them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and then went on to say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”

The Apostle Peter connected followers of Christ with the covenant that God made with Israel on Mount Sinai in his letter to the exiles of the Dispersion. Echoing God’s statement to his chosen people in Exodus 19:5-6, 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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus also made it clear that his ministry was meant to bring to fruition what God had initiated on Mount Sinai when he gave the Israelites his Ten Commandments. Jesus told his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus’ interpretation of the law was often challenged. When he was confronted by a rich young man about the way to get to heaven, Jesus explained that God’s standard was beyond what could be humanly attained by him. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

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.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “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. (Matthew 19:16-30)

Jesus’ statement, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” indicated that salvation was a divine act rather than a human one. The Greek word dunatos (doo-natˊ-os), which is translated possible, is derived from the word dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee). “Dunamai means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances” (G1410). According to Jesus, no one has the power; whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources, or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances, to save himself, but God can save anyone that he chooses to.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Philippians that righteousness can only be achieved through faith in Christ. Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11)

Paul said that as to righteousness under the law he was blameless, indicating that he had done everything that was required of him according to the law; and yet, Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Paul understood that it was not his own righteousness that mattered, but the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9, Genesis 15:6).

The Israelites response to Joshua’s challenge was favorable. It showed that they were willing to abandon their false gods, but Joshua didn’t believe that their decision to serve God was sincere. Joshua 24:16-23 states:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Joshua’s cynical attitude may have been due to his experience wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites. Joshua’s statement, “You are not able to serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19) was true in the sense that the people of Israel did not have the spiritual strength within themselves to obey God’s commandments; but the key to the Israelites’ success was not their spiritual strength, it was their continual pursuit of a relationship with God (Joshua 22:5).

Jesus’ parable of the ten minas revealed that Israel had actually rejected God because they hated him and that the people didn’t want to be subject to Christ. Luke 19:11-27 states:

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas,and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

The wicked servant in Jesus’ parable characterized the Lord as a severe man that took what he had not deposited with him and reaped what he had not sown. Even though the wicked servant wasn’t faithful in his service to the Lord, he wasn’t punished, he merely lost out on his reward. Jesus’ concluding statement, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Luke 19:27) indicates that only those who have refused to serve him will be put to death when he returns. “No matter how much or how little one has, it must always be remembered that it has come from God. Each person is responsible to him for the way he uses what the Lord has given” (note on Luke 19:11-27).

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).

Good news

The birth of Jesus came suddenly and unexpectedly, at a time when there was little hope left that God would fulfill his promise to bring a Messiah to his chosen people, the Jews. Luke made a specific reference to a historical event, so that the date of Jesus’ birth would be accurately recorded. He said, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed (and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)” (Luke 2:1-2). The Roman government was at the height of its success in dominating the world and wanted to take advantage of its opportunity to collect taxes from every person that fell under its jurisdiction. God used the decree of a pagan emperor to fulfill an important prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2. It says, “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

The location of the Messiah’s birth wouldn’t have been as critical if the Jews had remained in the Promised Land and their population kept in tact. Because the Jews had been scattered throughout the world during their captivity, and their geographical footprint altered by Roman occupation, the only way to know for certain that Jesus was actually a descendent of King David was to have his birth occur during the Roman census. Luke recorded, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:4-5). Joseph’s residence in Nazareth indicated that his relationship to King David was of no benefit to him. Most likely, it was unknown to everyone around him, and perhaps even to Joseph himself, that he was of royal descent until the Roman census occurred.

The shepherds that were keeping watch over their flocks the night that Jesus was born may have been the only group of people that were collectively willing to believe the good news they were told about their Messiah’s birth. The fact that the shepherds were given a sign to assure them that what the angel said was true suggests that even they were skeptical about the message they received (Luke 2:12). After seeing and hearing “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” (Luke 2:13) it appears that the shepherds were still unconvinced. At the conclusion of this amazing worship event, Luke 2:15 tells us, “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” It wasn’t until the shepherds saw the sign promised them, the babe lying in a manger, that their belief became evident. Luke said, afterwards “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:20).

Rejoicing

After the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem was completed, there was a celebration in which the wall was dedicated. Nehemiah’s description of what took place showed that it was a very joyous occasion. He said, “And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgiving, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps” (Nehemiah 12:27). Nehemiah choreographed a sequence of steps and movements that involved dividing the Levites into two great companies. According to Nehemiah’s plan, “One went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate…with the musical instruments of David the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them…And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and half of the people upon the wall” (Nehemiah 12:31,36,38).

Nehemiah went on to say, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off” (Nehemiah 12:43). One of the songs that was likely sung at the dedication of the wall was Psalm 126. This short psalm is part of a collection of psalms known as the songs of degrees which were sung by Jews that traveled to Jerusalem for festivals. Psalm 126 focuses on the fulfillment of God’s promise that his chosen people would return to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. It says:

When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them. The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126)

A key statement in this psalm is actually a promise that reveals God’s intent in sending his people into captivity. Psalm 126:5 states, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. God dispenses his blessings based on a system of sowing and reaping. Jesus eluded to this in one of his teachings known as the beatitudes which means supreme blessedness (Matthew 5:3-11). Before they went into captivity, God’s people lacked faith and were unresponsive to his warnings about the dangers that lay ahead of them. After they returned to the Promised Land, the Jews were thankful and felt extreme joy even though they were dealing with great affliction and reproach from the nations around them (Nehemiah 1:3).

The new temple (part 6)

According to Ezekiel’s vision, in the center of the temple courtyard there stood an altar on which sacrifices were to be made. Since the period of grace began, after Jesus’s death and resurrection took place, it has seemed as if sacrifices are no longer necessary. What we can assume from the appearance of an altar in the new temple is that there will come a time when salvation by grace will no longer be available to mankind. In other words, God’s law will once again be the standard by which all men will be judged (Ezekiel 43:27). Although Jesus’ death paid the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed, our ability to claim that payment and apply it to our spiritual account has an expiration date, the day he establishes his kingdom on earth.

During Christ’s millennial reign on earth, a new world order will exist that requires submission to God’s will. Obedience to God’s laws will no longer be optional. If you can image a kingdom in which there will be no sins committed against God, you will understand that God’s sovereignty has never been forced upon man up to this time. Free will represents the ability man has to rebel against God. There will come a time when man’s free will is exempted and God’s grace will cease to exist in the sense that it can no longer be claimed in lieu of obedience to the law. Therefore, sacrifices will be made to God just as they were when the first temple was built by king Solomon. At that time, the celebration of feasts signified a right relationship between God and his people. In the future, that relationship will be restored and it will cause the people to do what was never possible before, live according to God’s commandments.

A glimpse into this future new world order is given in Hebrews 13:10-21. It says:

We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burnt without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you sooner. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The new temple (part 1)

Ezekiel was taken to the site of a new temple after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. The purpose of the visit was for Ezekiel to see and record the floor plan for a restored place of worship for God’s people. It was evident that God wanted his people to know exactly what the temple would look like because a man whose appearance was described as “like the appearance of brass” (Ezekiel 40:3) took great pains to measure every detail of the structure. Ezekiel was told to set his heart upon all that he was shown. In other words, he was told to pay close attention and not to miss any of the specifications that were pointed out to him.

The first aspect of the new temple Ezekiel was shown was the eastern entrance to a courtyard that consisted of a gate, steps, a porch, and chambers or alcoves in which guards could rest. No doubt, the eastern gate would have been where the general public entered the temple. Along with the dimensions of the chambers, Ezekiel was told “between the little chambers were five cubits” (Ezekiel 40:7) or spaces approximately nine feet wide. There is no indication why the chambers were spaced out in such a way, but it is possible the spaces in between the chambers were designed for storage or a place to hold prisoners.

One of the things known about the new temple Ezekiel was shown is that it was never built. After the Israelites returned from captivity, the temple built by Zerubbabel was built by a different specification and so was the temple built by Herod, which was the one standing at the time of Jesus’ birth. There is no reference in Ezekiel’s vision as to when the temple he saw was to be built, but it could be that it will be in use during the millennial reign of Christ. An indicator of this is the type of measure Ezekiel used in his measurements, a long or royal cubit, approximately 20.4 inches in length.

The curious nature of the new temple’s design may be due to its representation of spiritual concepts that have yet to be introduced into God’s kingdom. For instance, the integration of Jews and Gentiles into a single worship system as well as the mixture of resurrected and unresurrected persons into kingdom activities. The only way to tell the real significance of Ezekiel’s new temple may be in the timing of his vision. It says in Ezekiel 40:1, “In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither.”

All the dates in the book of Ezekiel are reckoned from the 597 exile. The Hebrew New Year festival known as Rosh Hashanah would have been taking place at the time of Ezekiel’s vision, had the people not been in captivity. More than likely, the vision was a reminder that God’s worship system remained in tact and was still active in spite of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that was built there. Perhaps, the introduction of the new temple at that time; April 28, 573 B.C. was a sign that God’s calendar of events was being set in motion and would conclude at the appointed time, the start of millennial reign of Christ.

The liar

One of the few descriptions of the devil in the Bible is found in John 8:44. Differentiating between those who are true children of Abraham and those who are not, it says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do .He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for his is a liar, and the father of it.” Satan’s reputation as the father of lies implies that all lies originate from him. In the book of 1 Kings, there is recorded an incident in which a lying spirit was sent to the king of Israel (1 Kings 22:23-24). A conversation between God and the host of heaven suggested that king Ahab could be persuaded by a lying spirit to do something that would result in his own death.

At the time of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, the people were being told lies about their safety inside the city walls. Ezekiel was told, “They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they made others to hope that they would confirm the word” (Ezekiel 13:6). “Divination was a pagan parallel to prophesying…it seems probable that the diviners conversed with demons…Divination was one of man’s attempts to know and control the world and the future, apart from the true God” (7080). Even king Zedekiah participated in the deception of God’s people. His consultation with Jeremiah revealed that surrender was the only way to avoid death, and yet, Zedekiah chose to keep the information from the people and tried to escape secretly by night (Jeremiah 39:4).

In an attempt to make the truth known to his people, Ezekiel was given advance warning of king Zedekiah’s plot (Ezekiel 12:6) and was told to warn the people against false prophets (Ezekiel 13:2). God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 12:22-24).

The connection between idolatry and lying divination was found in a sacrificial system that promised peace and prosperity at a price. In a sense, the false prophets were bribed to tell the people what they wanted to hear. Sacrifices to pagan gods were used as a front for the business of organized crime. It was illegal for the Israelites to worship other gods, and yet, idols were kept in God’s own temple (Ezekiel 8:12). God’s condemnation of the false prophets showed that his people were under their control and needed to be delivered from their dangerous practices. He said, “Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 13:22-23).