The turnaround

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 33:18-19 states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith in action

The Israelites’ miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt was followed by 40 years of wandering in the desert because they didn’t believe that God would give them the land he had promised to (Numbers 14:3-4). After the entire generation that had rebelled against God died in the wilderness, the Israelites were directed to go back to the land of Canaan and were given another opportunity to enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:7-8). Joshua who replaced Moses as Israel’s leader was told, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). Joshua 3:1-4 states:

Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”

Joshua’s statement, “You have not passed this way before,” (Joshua 1:6) had to do with the way the Israelites were going to cross over the Jordan. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) refers to “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). During the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before them” (Exodus 13:21-22), but when the people crossed the Jordan River, they were told, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it” (Joshua 3:3).

The change in the Israelites mode of action was directly related to them crossing over the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. Prior to crossing the Jordan, the Israelites’ mode of action was sight, the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire were visible at all times, leading them along the way. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they set out when they saw the ark of the covenant being carried by the priests, but had to keep a distance between them and it of more than a half a mile (2000 cubits), making it impossible for them to actually see it as they crossed the river, forcing them to walk by faith and not by sight. Joshua warned them, “Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go” (Joshua 3:4). The Apostle Paul related walking by faith and not by sight to operating in the spiritual realm. Paul said:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:1-7)

Paul talked about a house that was not made with hands being our eternal home and said that we must put it on that “we may not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:3). The Greek word that is translated to put on, ependuomai (ep-en-dooˊ-om-ahee) has to do with superimposition, where something is placed or laid over something else, typically so that both things are still evident (Oxford Languages). In that sense, the believer’s heavenly home is something that is added to our earthly home, the physical body that we now live in. Jesus’ resurrected body was similar to the physical structure he inhabited before his death, but according to Paul, something was added that was not made with hands that changed its architecture and made Jesus’ body indestructible (2 Corinthians 5:1, 4). Jesus eluded to this when he predicted his resurrection three days after he was crucified. John’s gospel tells us, “So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:18-22).

The Israelites crossed the Jordan River on foot, at a time when doing so was impossible. The Jordan River was overflowing all its banks (Joshua 3:15) and “was most likely greater than 100 feet wide and greater than ten feet deep” (neverthirsty.org). “The Lord did not stop the flow of the Jordan until the priest’ feet were actually in the water, requiring them to exercise their faith. The swollen condition of the Jordan River at that time of the year emphasized the power of God on the Israelites’ behalf” (note on Joshua 3:15-17). Afterward, Joshua 5:13-15 tells us:

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

“The ‘commander of the army of the LORD’ may have been a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. He used a phrase similar to the one spoken by the Lord when he called to Moses from within the burning bush and commanded him to take his shoes off (v. 15, cf. Exodus 3:5). The statement “Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14) suggests that Jesus’ appearance on the scene was linked to and likely dependent upon the events that had just transpired: 1) the Israelites crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 3); 2) the new generation being circumcised (Joshua 5:1-9); 3) and, the first Passover in Canaan being celebrated (Joshua 5:10-12). Jesus’ role as commander of the army of the LORD is connected with God’s judgment.

The fall of Jericho demonstrates how God’s judgment of unbelievers and believers’ acts of faith work together to accomplish God’s will. Joshua 6:1-5 states:

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”

The manner in which God instructed the Israelites to march around the city of Jericho was meant to convey a specific message to the people of Jericho. The Hebrew word that is translated manner in Joshua 6:15, mishpat (mish-pawtˊ) is properly translated at “a verdict (favourable or unfavourable) pronounced judicially, especially a sentence or formal decree (human or [participle] divine law, individual or collective), including the act, the place, the suit, the crime, and the penalty…It is used to describe a legal decision or judgment rendered” (H4941). The conquest of Jericho was more than just a military confrontation with people who were entrenched in a formidable stronghold. While God was bringing judgment upon those who had long refused him, he was also working on behalf of the people with whom he had just renewed his covenant. The fall of Jericho sent a powerful message to the Canaanites that the Israelites’ successes were not merely human victories of man against man; they were victories by the true God of Israel over the Canaanites’ false gods. This event, which closely followed the crossing of the Jordan by miraculous means, impressed upon the Israelites that the same God who had led their fathers out of Egypt and through the Red Sea was with Joshua, just as he had been with Moses. Recent archeological research at Jericho has confirmed the Bible’s account, revealing that the city was destroyed around 1400 BC.

Although we are not told what was going on in the spiritual realm while the Israelites were marching around the city of Jericho for seven days, the appearance of the commander of the LORD’s army just before Joshua received his instructions (Joshua 5:13-15) suggests that a spiritual battle was about to or perhaps, had already taken place. Paul talked about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul made it sound as if spiritual warfare involved hand to hand combat when he said, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers etc.” (Ephesians 6:12). There seem to be both spiritual and physical elements to warfare as illustrated in the battle of Jericho. What is clear from Hebrews 11:30 is that faith plays a critical role in believers’ victories. It states, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.” According to this verse, the reason why the walls of Jericho fell down was because the Israelites’ faith was working when they did what God told them to and marched around the city of Jericho for seven days in a row.

Jesus explained to his disciples that faith and unbelief are counterproductive to one another. When they were unable to heal a boy who was demon possessed, the disciples asked Jesus, “’Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:20). Jesus’ reference to the disciples’ little faith didn’t have anything to do with its size, but rather its ability to accomplish their objective. The Greek word oligopistos (ol-ig-opˊ-is-tos) is derived from the words oligos (ol-eeˊ-gos) which means “puny” (G4641) and pistis (pisˊ-tis) which means “persuasion” (G4102), the idea being that you have a weak argument or you are unconvinced of something. When Jesus indicated that it only takes faith like a grain of mustard seed in order to move a mountain, he meant that faith is a very powerful substance and it can accomplish anything even though it is usually possessed in very small amounts. Paul described faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV). The key words that Paul used, substance and evidence have to do with proving that something is the truth as opposed to fiction or just a lie. What Paul was getting at was whether or not something that was said could hold up or from a legal standpoint, be able to bring about a conviction in a court of law. The Greek word that is translated substance, hupostasis (hoop-osˊ-tas-is) refers to “what really exists under any appearance, reality, essential nature” and is spoken of God’s essence or nature in Hebrews 1:3 (G5287).

Joshua 7:1 tells us that the people of Israel broke faith with God when they disobeyed his instruction to keep themselves from the things devoted to destruction. The Hebrew word that is translated broke faith, maʿal (maw-alˊ) means “to cover up; (used only figurative) to act covertly, i.e. treacherously” (H4603). Joshua wasn’t aware that Achan the son of Carmi had taken some of the devoted things and hidden them among his own belongings and “Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and said to them, ‘Go up and spy out the land.’ And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, ‘Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.’ So about three thousand men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai,and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:2-5). Joshua moved forward with attacking Ai without receiving any instructions from the Lord and listened to the men that were sent to spy out Ai who were convinced that they could destroy Ai with only a few thousand men. The reason why Joshua made this mistake was because of the broken faith between God and his people.

Although Joshua was unaware of Achan’s sin, God wasn’t. Joshua 7:10-13 states:

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

The Israelites were instructed to stay away from everything in Jericho that was devoted to destruction because it would “make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it” (Joshua 6:18). Achan’s decision to take some of the things and hide them in his tent caused the LORD to remove his protection and the people of Israel were unable to stand before their enemies (Joshua 7:12).

The Hebrew word that is translated stand in Joshua 7:12, quwm (koom) means to “come about” and “is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Essentially, what this word has to do with is God’s will being carried out. You might even say that quwm is an indicator of whether or not God is involved in or permitting a particular thing to happen. Paul’s discussion of spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians began with the statement, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11, emphasis mine). The Greek word Paul used that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊ-tay-mee) “means ‘to make to stand,’ means ‘to appoint’” (G2476). The point that Paul wanted to make was that we are dependent on God for spiritual strength. We cannot stand against the schemes of the devil unless we are relying on the Lord to do it.

God told Joshua that he wouldn’t be with the people of Israel anymore unless they destroyed the devoted things from among them (Joshua 7:12). The next morning, through a process of elimination, Achan was identified as the guilty person (Joshua 7:16-19). “And Achan answered Joshua, ‘Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath’” (Joshua 7:20-21). When Achan was confronted, he revealed that his action was motivated by covetousness. The real problem was not so much that the devoted things had been brought into the camp, but that Achan’s heart was not right with the LORD. Jesus explained to his disciples that the condition of our hearts determines God’s ability to interact with us and to utilize our faith. Jesus said, “’Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (Mark 7:18-23).

The other side

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

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

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

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10-17)

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

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual success

The conquest of the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua began with God instructing Joshua to take the people to the other side of the Jordan River (Joshua 1:2). God told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). It appears that God commanded Joshua to “be strong and courageous” because his spiritual success was linked to these two characteristics and they were not a natural part of Joshua’s personality. The Hebrew word that is translated strong, chazaq (khaw-zakˊ) means “to fasten upon” or “take hold of.” Chazaq appears in the book of Exodus in connection with Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go so that they could worship God. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought. Pharaoh was responsible for his hard heart. Four times we read: ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:35)” (H2388). God’s command to be strong likely meant that he wanted Joshua to be strong in the sense of having the necessary hardihood to set himself against the people of Canaan. The Israelites were instructed to “save alive nothing that breathes” and to “devote them to complete destruction” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). The Hebrew word that is translated courageous in Joshua 1:6, ʾamats (aw-matsˊ) has to do with being mentally alert (H553). Both chazaq and ʾamats are connected with being obstinate, a personality trait that is associated with stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action despite attempts to persuade one to do so. God reemphasized the importance of strength and courage to spiritual success when he said to Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7).

God told Joshua that he would have good success if he did everything according to the Law of Moses. The Hebrew word that is translated good success, sakal (saw-kalʾ) means “to be (causative make or act) circumspect and hence, intelligent…It’s first use in the text, in Genesis 3:6, contributes to an interesting paradox, for while the forbidden fruit was ‘to be desired to make one wise,’ it was a very unwise thing to take it! The basic meaning of sakal seems to be ‘to look at, to give attention to,’ as illustrated in this parallelism: ‘That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand…’ (Isaiah 41:20). From this develops the connotation of insight, intellectual comprehension” (H7919). God reiterated his prescription for good success when he told Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). God said that Joshua should be careful to do according to all that was written in the Book of the Law because it would make his way prosperous. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) is used figuratively throughout the Old Testament of the Bible to refer to “a course of life or mode of action…In one passage derek signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life or his ‘destiny’” (H1870). When God said that Joshua’s way would be prosperous, he meant that Joshua would have spiritual success; that Joshua would thrive spiritually (H6743).

Psalm 1 echoes God’s message to Joshua and depicts spiritual success as a tree that yields its fruit at the appropriate or appointed time (H6256). It states:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)

The author of Psalm 1 reinforced the message that the person who wants to experience spiritual success should meditate on the law of the LORD day and night. Biblical meditation typically involves a verbalization of scripture or rather one’s emotional reaction to its message. The Hebrew word hagah (haw-gawˊ) means “to meditate, moan, growl, utter, speak” and conveys “the idea that mental exercise, planning, often is accompanied by low talking” (H1897).

Bearing fruit was a common theme in Jesus’ teaching throughout his ministry. Jesus’ parables made it clear that bearing fruit was not the norm, but that it usually required some type of special circumstance or an intervention for it to happen. In one of his conversations with his followers, Jesus connected repentance with a fig tree’s ability to bear fruit. Luke 13:1-9 states:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The Greek word that is translated repent in Luke 13:3, metanoeo (met-an-o-ehˊ-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider…to change one’s mind or purpose” (G3340). The LORD identified the change that needed to take place in Joshua’s mind when he said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Joshua may have been dreading the moment when he was going to have lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and begin conquering the people living in the land of Canaan. The Hebrew word that is translated dismayed, chathath (khaw-thathˊ) means “to be dismayed, shattered, broken, terrified” (H2865). Joshua acted according to God’s command in spite of his natural inclination to tremble in fear and be in dread of what was going to happen (Joshua 1:10-11), but in what may have been a moment of weakness, Joshua “sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho’” (Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:1-11 tells us what happened when the two spies encountered a woman referred to as “Rahab the prostitute” (Joshua 6-17). It states:

And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

Rahab’s declaration that the LORD, “he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” was a profession of faith that bolstered the spies confidence and her testimony was shared with Joshua who was then able to lead the people across the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1). In exchange for her help, Rahab was told, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the LORD gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you” (Joshua 2:14).

The two words the spies used to describe their future relationship with Rahab, deal kindly and faithfully with her, were associated with the covenant God made with Abraham. Checed (khehˊ-sed) which means kindness “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…Behind all these uses with man as the subject, however, stand the repeated references to God’s cheçed. It is one of His most central characteristics. God’s loving-kindness is offered to His people, who need redemption from sin, enemies, and troubles” (H2617). The Hebrew word that is translated faithfully in Joshua 2:14, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). “Aman means ‘to be firm, endure, be faithful, be true, stand fast, trust, have belief, believe…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what he said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship with God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

We know that Rahab believed in God because she is commended for her faith in Hebrews 11:31, which states, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” The Greek word that is translated disobedient, apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Rahab distinguished herself from the rest of the people of Canaan because she cooperated with God’s plan and did her part to make sure that is was carried out. Being mentioned by name in Hebrews 11 meant that Rahab the prostitute was a significant contributor to the spiritual success of God’s plan of salvation. Rahab was also mentioned in James’ message about faith without works and was set alongside Abraham as an example of being justified by individual acts of faith. James said:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Rahab was likely identified as a prostitute to show that her moral depravity prior to her encounter with the Jewish spies made her an unlikely candidate to risk her life in order to help them escape. “The Hebrew term zonah (H2181) is the common word for an ‘adulterer’ or ‘prostitute’ (Leviticus 21:7; Jeremiah 5:7). The New Testament affirms that such a woman can be pardoned (Luke 7:37). Rahab was not only pardoned but raised to a position of honor. She married into an Israelite family and was an ancestor of David, thus placing her in the line of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:5)” (Note on Joshua 2:1).

“It was not unusual for strangers and foreigners to go to Rahab’s house, and thus the spies would not appear suspicious there. Others who passed through the prostitute’s house would provide the spies with information on the situation in Jericho. God did not bless Rahab for lying but for her faith in the report that the spies gave” (note on Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:23-24 tells us, “Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” The two spies’ report to Joshua affirmed their belief in what Rahab had told them even though she was a prostitute and had no credibility as a woman. The reason why Rahab’s words had such a big impact on the two men who came to her for help was because she demonstrated the characteristics that the Israelites needed for spiritual success, strength and courage, when she hid the spies and lied to protect them from the king of Jericho (Joshua 2:2-3).

Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The impact of Rahab’s words is evident in the way the two spies reacted to the things she said. Jesus’ spent most of his ministry telling people things that were intended to change their lives. The power of the tongue is a way of describing the influence that a person has over another person when he says something that impacts him so much that it changes his life. The reason why the power of the tongue can lead to death or life is because hearing and believing God’s word is the only way we can be revived from spiritual death, but if we harden our hearts and rebel against God’s word we will not (Hebrews 3:16-19). The Apostle Paul explained this point in his letter to the Romans. Paul began by asking the question, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17).

Individual character

Jacob, who was later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), his sons and their families numbered seventy persons when they came into Egypt (Genesis 46:27). Exodus 12:37 tells us that 400 years later, when the people of Israel left Egypt, there were about “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” At the time of Jacob’s death, his twelve sons and their families were referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49:28 states, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” Jacob’s blessing was transferred to his sons on an individual basis. He blessed each of his sons with a blessing that was suitable to him, meaning that the blessing was appropriate for that individual son. The Hebrew word that is translated tribes in Genesis 49:28, shebet (shayˊ-bet) means “to branch off” and literally refers to “a stick” or “the ‘rod’ as a tool used by the shepherd (Leviticus 27:32) and the teacher (2 Samuel 7:14)” (H7626). Jesus told his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6).

Jesus talked about branches in the context of discipline and productivity. The example that Jesus used of a vine that was intended to bear fruit was a universal theme that he used throughout his ministry to describe the process of salvation and was consistent between both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Jesus indicated that individual branches could be pruned or might be taken away if they did not bear fruit. This seems to be the case with regards to the tribe of Simeon, Jacob’s second oldest son. Simeon was left out when Moses’ pronounced his final blessing on Israel (Deuteronomy 33).

Simeon was the second son of Jacob’s first wife Leah. Genesis 29:31-33 states, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon.” The name Simeon means “hearing” (H8095). Simeon is derived from the Hebrew word shamaʿ (shaw-mahˊ) which means “to hear intelligently” (H8085). Shama is associated with discernment and understanding and refers to hearing that is both intellectual and spiritual. Simeon and his younger brother Levi responded to the rape of their sister Dinah by killing all the men in the city of Shechem. Genesis 34:13-15 and 24-31 tells us:

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised”…On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Simeon and Levi were outraged by the rape of their sister Dinah and took vengeance by killing all the men in Shechem. Their father Jacob was upset because their method of retaliation put his family in danger. Later, Simeon was singled out by Joseph to remain in prison while the rest of his brothers returned to Canaan to get their youngest brother Benjamin to verify their identity (Genesis 42:18-20). During this incident, Joseph’s brothers acknowledged their guilt for selling him into slavery. Genesis 42:21-23 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen (shama). That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen (shama). So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood (shama) them, for there was an interpreter between them.

The Hebrew word shama (the root word of the name Simeon) appears three times in Joseph’s brothers’ brief admission of guilt. The repeated use of shama emphasizes its importance in the message that was being conveyed. It was as if Simeon’s name and his absence were providing the other brothers with a clue about the cause of the circumstances they were experiencing (no hearing).

The names of Jacob’s twelve sons were all chosen because of the circumstances of their births (Genesis 29:31-30:24, 35:16-18) and may or may not have been a reflection of their individual character. As was the case with Abram who God renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob who became Israel (Genesis 32:28), Jesus gave some of his disciples new names after they became his followers (Mark 3:16-17). The connection between a person’s name and his individual character seems to be important from the standpoint of God becoming involved in the lives of individuals. The Apostle Paul referred to individual character as your inner being and said, “For this reason I bow my knee before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). Paul indicated that God strengthens or empowers us in our inner being. The strengthening that occurs doesn’t happen as a sudden influx of power, but as a gradual increase in energy over time (G2901).

The idea that we can grow stronger and be more energetic as we get older is contrary to the way that we usually experience life. Typically, a person will slow down and accomplish less in their later years. Caleb, one of two individuals that was delivered from slavery in Egypt and survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, gave this testimony afterward:

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. (Joshua 14:6-11)

Caleb indicated that he had wholly followed the LORD and that Moses had promised him an eternal inheritance as a result of it (Joshua 14:8-9). The meaning of the name Caleb (kaw-labeˊ) isn’t completely clear, but it may have been a contraction of the Hebrew words qadesh (kaw-dasheˊ) which denotes “a (quasi) sacred person” (H6945) and leb (labe) “the heart” (H3820). Qadesh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ). “This word is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942).

The connection between the process of sanctification and the development of individual character as demonstrated in Caleb’s life may be related to what Paul described as “being joined together” and “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:21-22). Paul talked about believers being members of the household of God and identified Jesus as “the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21). Paul indicated that we are growing into a holy temple and being built together into a dwelling place for God. The original temple that was built by King Solomon, was referred to as “the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 6:1). The Hebrew word that is translated house, bayith (bahˊ-yith) “denotes a fixed, established structure made from some kind of materials. As a ‘permanent dwelling place’ it is usually distinguished from a tent (2 Samuel 16:21, cf. v. 22)” (H1004). 1 Kings 6:7 tells us, “When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” The large stones that were used to build the temple were chiseled into shape at a quarry so that they would fit together perfectly when they were placed in their designated spot. In the same way that the stones were prepared beforehand at the quarry, so are individuals prepared by God through the process of sanctification so that they can be joined together and built into a dwelling place for God.

The analogy of the potter and the clay is used throughout the Bible to describe the process of sanctification. It was first introduced through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Paul used the analogy of the potter and the clay to explain God’s sovereign choice. Paul said:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.”

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:14-33)

Paul referred to Jesus as a stone of stumbling rather than the cornerstone that orients the building in a specific direction in order to point out that faith in Jesus is what tripped up the Israelites. The people of Israel were unable to shift the focus of their attention from their own individual acts of righteousness to the sacrifice that was going to be made by Jesus so that their sins could be atoned for.

Simeon’s exclusion from Moses’ blessing (Deuteronomy 33) demonstrates how free will and God’s sovereign choice work together to produce the final outcome in an individual’s life and the legacy that is passed on to future generations. A similar example can be found in the life of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:63-71)

Jesus later linked Judas’ betrayal with the process of sanctification and what Paul described as the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). After Jesus had washed his disciples feet, he said, “’The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you’” (John 13:10-15). Jesus differentiated between the initial spiritual birth of a believer and regeneration when he said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). Paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis), by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus told his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). It seems that anakainos is not just a process that God engineers to build individual character, but a joint process that all believers participate in for the collective benefit of everyone. From that standpoint, the twelve tribes of Israel modeled the type of community that the body of Christ is expected to emulate. Just as Simeon’s absence created a noticeable gap in Israel’s family structure (Genesis 42:36; Deuteronomy 33), so does the absence of individual members of the body of Christ. Paul said, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have not need of you’…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Closure

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

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God knows me

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was addressed “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Paul used the term saints to identify “those who are purified and sanctified by the influences of the Spirit…This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40). Since Paul was also a saint, he referred to this group as us when he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4, emphasis mine). Paul indicated that saints are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and were chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him. The Greek word that is translated chosen in Ephesians 1:4, eklegomai (ek-legˊ-om-ahee) means “to select” (G1586) and is derived from the words ek (ek) which speaks “of the efficient cause or agent, that from which any action or thing proceeds, is produced or effected” and lego (legˊ-o) which means “to ‘lay’ forth, i.e. (figurative) relate (in words [usually of systematic or set discourse])” (G3004). The Greek word logos (logˊ-os) is derived from the word lego and was used in John’s gospel to identify Jesus as “the Word.’ John said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the same way that God spoke things into existence in the creation account recorded in Genesis 1:3-26, God causes those whom he has chosen to become saints to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ by relating its message to them personally.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews made it clear that faith is the means by which everyone, including Old Testament believers, are justified or grated access to God (Hebrews 10:38). Hebrews 11:1-3 states:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews went on to name specific individuals from the Old Testament that by faith had been commended as righteous before God and would be made perfect along with all the New Testaments saints at a future point in time (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Moses talked about the Israelites being chosen by God in his final discourse shortly before his death. 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 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.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-10)

God dealt with the people of Israel as a whole, but also singled out individuals who hated him and would not keep his commandments. When the covenant was renewed in Moab, Moses pointed out that a reciprocal choice had to be made by each person. Moses said, “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” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Deuteronomy 30:19, bachar (baw-kharˊ) means “to select” and can designate human choice or divine choice, “in either case, it generally has theological overtones.” Bachar’s “meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him.” An example of this in the Old Testament can be seen in the life of King David. When David was anointed king of Israel, the Prophet Samuel went to his home, but didn’t know which of his father Jesse’s sons had been selected by God to be king. It says that Samuel “looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:6-7). The Hebrew word raʾah (raw-awˊ), which is translated looks, in this instance is being used to connote “seeing only what is obvious” (H7200).

David talked about God’s ability to see what was obvious in his heart in Psalm 139. David opened this psalm with the declaration, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” (v. 1). The Hebrew word that is translated searched, chaqar (khaw-karˊ) is properly translated as “to penetrate; hence, to examine intimately” (H2713). David’s statement implied that God could penetrate the surface of his being and examine the intimate parts of his soul. Knowing David this way meant that God had a relational viewpoint of David’s character and could communicate with him about intimate matters. God talked about his relationship with the people of Israel in the context of love and unity and promised to go with them into the Promised Land. Moses told the people:

“The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:3-6)

The words leave and forsake suggest that God could physically depart from his chosen people, but the Hebrew words that are translated leave and forsake have to do with God’s divine influence upon the human heart. The Hebrew word ʿazab (aw-zabˊ), which is translated forsake, “can mean to ‘allow someone to do something,’ as in 2 Chronicles 32:31, where ‘God left [Hezekiah], to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart’; God ‘let’ Hezekiah do whatever he wanted” (H5800).

God promised not to leave or forsake his chosen people, but indicated there would come a time when he would hide his face from them because of their evil behavior (Deuteronomy 31:18). God said, “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21). A person’s inclination to do certain things is a result of the way his heart and/or mind works. The Israelites were known to be stubborn and rebellious (Deuteronomy 31:27) and God did not expect them to change even though he had given them the opportunity to do so (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:19).

The thing that distinguished David from the other Israelites that God had to choose from when he anointed David to be king over Israel was his openness to having intimacy with the LORD. David said:

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:2-4)

Just like the twelve apostles that lived with Jesus during his three-year ministry on earth, David believed that the LORD was aware of his every movement and also knew what he was thinking during every waking moment of the day. David also believed that God was in control of his circumstances. David said:

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:5-6)

David admitted that God’s knowledge of his inner workings compared to his own was incomprehensible. David didn’t even have access to or you might say have an awareness of the things that God knew about him. David concluded:

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

David realized that he couldn’t keep God from knowing things about him. Even if David wanted to escape God’s presence, there was no where he could go, including Sheol or Hell that God didn’t have access to. Proverbs 15:3 states, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

Jesus’ eminent departure from Earth after his resurrection from the dead likely caused his disciples to wonder how he was going to continue to be involved in their lives after he was gone. Jesus told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus said that he would be with his disciples always. The Greek word that is translated with, meta (met-ahˊ) denotes accompaniment and is generally used to convey an association with someone in the sense of participation or proximity (G3326). Meta appears in Matthew 1:23 where is says of Jesus, “’They shall call his name Immanuel!’ (which means, God with us)” (emphasis mine). After he died on the cross, God gave Jesus authority in heaven and on earth which means he now has the privilege of coming and going as he pleases. Jesus was given an all access pass, so to speak, to God’s kingdom. Jesus explained to the religious leaders who thought that God’s kingdom would be manifested on earth as a physical structure that God’s kingdom exists inside believers. It says in Luke 17:20-21, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven revealed the internal nature of God’s kingdom (Matthew 13). In his parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-8), Jesus taught his disciples about the effect of God’s word on the human heart. Luke’s gospel tells us, “And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:9-15). Jesus also talked about the light in you being a source of spiritual health. Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light” (Luke 11:33-36).

In Psalm 139:13-16, David depicted the intricate detail of God’s work in his invisible soul. David said:

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

David indicated that God had formed his days and wrote them in his book before his birth. The Hebrew word that is translated formed, yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) means “to press (through the squeezing into shape); to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)…By extension, the word conveys the notion of predestination and election (2 Kings 19:25; Isaiah 49:5)” (H3335).

God used analogy of the potter and the clay to describe his process of conversion to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “’Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” The Apostle Paul also used the analogy of the potter and the clay to refute the injustice of God’s sovereign choice. Paul argued, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)

Paul’s argument in favor of God’s sovereign choice points out the fact that everyone would be destined for destruction if it weren’t for God’s mercy. Proverbs 15:10-11 also indicates that God knows the hearts of people so well that he is able to determine who wants to go to heaven and who wants to go to hell. It states, “There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man!”

David concluded Psalm 139 by inviting God to search his soul and to determine if there was anything inside of him that needed to be corrected. David said:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

David indicated that he wanted to go to heaven by asking God to “lead me in the way everlasting.” The way refers to “a course of life or mode of action.” The Hebrew word derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life” (H1870).

In the New Testament book of Acts, Christianity is referred to as “the Way.” Before his conversion, Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was dedicated to persecuting Jesus’ disciples. It says in Acts 9:1-2, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” According to the Book of Hebrews, belonging to the Way meant that a person had access to God in the same way that Jesus has access to his Father (G3598) and in the same way that God has access to us. Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross opened up a new and living way that enables believers to draw near to God in the full assurance of faith and it says in Hebrews 7:25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us.” Because Jesus is making intercession for the saints, it is not only possible for God to know believers intimately, but it is also possible for them to experience intimacy with God and to have the full assurance of faith that they will be with him forever (John 14:1-4).

The choice

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included a list of spiritual blessings that every believer has as a follower of Christ. Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6). Paul told the Ephesians that spiritual blessings are distributed by God based on adoption into his family and also indicated that God’s children are predestined for adoption based on a choice that God made before the foundation of the world. “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977). The Greek word that is translated predestined, proorizo (pro-or-idˊ-zo) means “to limit in advance, i.e. (figurative) predetermine” (G4309). Paul discussed predestination in his letter to the Romans. Paul said, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30). Paul outlined the process that God established to conform believers into the image of his Son. God started with foreknowledge and predestination and then, called, justified, and glorified everyone he planned to adopt into his family. The purpose of being adopted into God’s family is to be conformed to the image of his Son or rather to be assimilated into the same kind of relationship that Jesus had as a man with God the Father.

The Book of Revelation focuses on the separation of believers from unbelievers and describes a period of time referred to as the Great Tribulation. During that time, a person known as the Antichrist will seek to be worshipped by everyone on earth. John described the Antichrist as “a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” and said, “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:7-8). John indicated that everyone who was chosen by God before the foundation of the world had their names was written in the book of life and were not subject to Antichrist’s authority. John went on to explain that Antichrist will seek to establish a kingdom on earth that is not subject to God’s sovereignty, but he will be defeated by Jesus and his followers. John said:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:1-14)

John’s vision revealed that Antichrist would “rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction” (Revelation 17:8) and that his kingdom will go to destruction with him (Revelation 17:11), but those whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will want to follow Antichrist because he imitates Jesus’s death and resurrection (Revelation 17:8). John concluded with a declaration that Jesus Christ is “Lord of lords and King of kings” and John said that those who are with him when he defeats Antichrist are “called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

The first mention in the Bible of anyone being chosen by God is in Numbers 16 which deals with Korah’s rebellion. Korah and his followers assembled themselves together against Moses and Aaron because they claimed, “all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them” (Numbers 16:3). Numbers 16:4-5 states:

When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him.”

The Hebrew word that is translated chooses, bachar (baw-kharˊ) is “a verb whose meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). Moses’ statement that the one whom God chooses he will bring near (Numbers 16:5) had to do with service in the tabernacle of the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated near, qarab (kaw-rabˊ) means to approach. “This word stresses to approach or draw near and is often used of man’s entrance into the presence of the living God; a nearness of the closest and most intimate kind (Numbers 16:9; Psalm 65:4)” (H7126).

Drawing near to God is discussed in the Book of Hebrews in the context of believers acting in the full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-39). The writer of Hebrews talked about redemption through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-28) and said that the Old Testament sacrifices could not make perfect those who draw near to God (Hebrews 10:1), but believers “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Hebrews 10:11-14 states:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 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.

The writer of Hebrews indicated that all who were chosen by God before the foundation of the world were perfected forever by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but referred to this select group of individuals as “those who are being sanctified” suggesting that the final state had not yet been achieved. The Greek word that is translated sanctified, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os). “Hagios fundamentally signifies separated, and hence, in Scripture in its moral and spiritual significance, separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God, sacred…Hagios expresses something more and higher than sacred, outwardly associated with God; something more than worthy, honorable; something more than pure, free from defilement. Hagios is more comprehensive. It is characteristically godlikeness” (G40).

Genesis 1:26 tells us that God created man in his own image, after his likeness. The Hebrew word that is translated likeness, dᵉmuwth (dem-oothˊ) “means ‘pattern,’ in the sense of the specifications from which an actual item is made” (H1823). Man is like God in that he has the same functional capabilities as was demonstrated by Jesus’ physical birth and life on earth. The image of God is his essential nature. “God made man in His own image, reflecting some of His own perfections: perfect in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and with dominion over the creatures (Genesis 1:26). Being created in God’s image meant being created male and female, in a loving unity of more than one person (Genesis 1:27)” (H6754). The argument that the serpent used to tempt Eve to disobey God’s command was that the knowledge of good and evil would make her like God (Genesis 3:5), but the part that the serpent didn’t tell her was sin, disobedience to God’s command, would separate Adam and Eve from God forever because of his holiness (Exodus 19:21-22).

The Greek word Hagios is sometimes translated as saints, a term that is used throughout the Bible to refer to God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 33:3; Psalms 16:3; Daniel 7:18; Acts 9:32; Ephesians 1:1; Revelation 5:8, KJV). Hagios is also translated as Holy and is used to refer to God as the Holy Spirit. Paul designated the work of the Holy Spirit in believers as renewal and said, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6). Regeneration and renewal refer to different aspects of a single event that Jesus referred to as being born again (John 3:3). Regeneration “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth.” Renewal, “by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

The Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt was a type of salvation in that it freed them from the bondage that was keeping them from realizing their destiny. Moses explained to the Israelites that God had chosen them and that it was because of his love for them that he had redeemed them from their slavery in Egypt. 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 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.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-11)

The covenant God made with the Israelites was “a conditional divine pledge to be Israel’s God (as her Protector and the Guarantor of her blessed destiny), the condition: Israel’s total consecration to the Lord as His people (His kingdom) who live by His rule and serve His purposes in history” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, p. 16, KJSB). The Israelites entered into this covenant with God at Mount Sinai when they were given his Ten Commandments, “And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3-4). Forty years later, the covenant was renewed in Moab (Deuteronomy 29:1-15) and Moses gave the people of Israel the choice to be blessed or cursed by God (Deuteronomy 30:19).

One of the things that Moses pointed out when he renewed the covenant in Moab was that some of the Israelites’ hearts were already in the process of turning away from God and everyone was going to suffer because of it. Moses warned the people:

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. (Deuteronomy 29:18-19)

The Hebrew word that is translated safe in Deuteronomy 29:19, shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) is usually translated as peace. Shalom expresses the root meaning of “to be whole” and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war…Shalom as a harmonious state of the soul and mind encourages the development of faculties and power. The state of being at ease is experienced both externally and internally” (H7965).

Moses set the record straight about claiming the benefits of salvation (shalom) without submitting oneself to God. Moses said about the man who walks in the stubbornness of his heart, “The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 29:20). Moses’ reference to the stubborn man’s name being blotted out from under heaven is connected to the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. Revelation 20:15 states, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Jesus talked about names being blotted out of the book of life in his message to the Church in Sardis. Jesus said, “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 3:1-6).

The Book of James focuses on the ethical aspects of the Christian life (Introduction to the Letter of James). In his letter, James argued that “true faith results in outward acts of obedience and righteousness.” James addressed his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (James 1:1) and said, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:21-25). James went on to say, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead” (James 2:14-17).

James’ admonition echoed that of Moses in his final discourse. Moses said, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). Moses pointed out that God’s laws were not based on a divine standard, but were meant to correct man’s sin nature. Moses concluded his discourse by giving the Israelites a choice between life and death, blessing and curse. Moses said, “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…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” (Deuteronomy 30:16-18). Moses made it clear that the Israelites’ disobedience was a result of their hearts turning away from God. The only way the people could keep God’s commandments was by exercising their faith, making the choice to do what God told them to. Moses said, “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” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

A spiritual pathway

The Israelites journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan had both physical and spiritual elements to it. As the people traveled through the desert, they were focused on worshipping God and were given many opportunities to experience spiritual success and failure. After they rebelled against God (Numbers 14:1-4), the people of Israel were pardoned, but none of the men who had seen God’s glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and in the wilderness were allowed to enter the land that God had promised to give them (Numbers 14:20-23). The LORD told the Israelites, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure” (Numbers 14:34). At the end of the forty years, Moses recounted the Israelites’ journey. Moses wrote, “This is the route the Israelites followed as they marched out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress. These are the stages of their march, identified by the different places where they stopped along the way.” (Numbers 33:1-2, NLT). Moses indicated that the Israelites’ route was determined by the LORD and their progress was dependent upon their stops along the way. Deuteronomy 1:2 states that “it is eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea” and yet, the Israelites arrived in Kadesh-barnea “in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month” (Deuteronomy 1:3).

Moses told the people of Israel that the LORD had carried them, “’all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe in the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go” (Deuteronomy 1:31-33). The Hebrew word that is translated place, mᵉqomah (mek-o-mahˊ) is properly translated as “a standing, i.e. a spot; but used widely of a locality (generally or specifically); also (figuratively) of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). Mᵉqomah appears in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place and stayed there that night.” Mᵉqomah is derived from the Hebrew word quwm (koom) which means “to arise, stand up, come about…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). When it says that the LORD carried the Israelites all the way that they went until they came to this place, it meant that the Israelites’ final destination was prearranged, but it also meant that the people were going to arrive at their destination at a particular time because of the way or route that they traveled. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) “represents a ‘distance’ (how far or how long) between two points.” Derek is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action.” In Jeremiah 10:23, derek “signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life, or his ‘destiny’” (H1870).

Jesus told his followers, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When Jesus said he was the way, he was speaking of himself as “the author and medium of access to God and eternal life” (G3598). In that sense, Jesus was the pathway, the route that people needed to follow in order to connect with God. When Jesus called his disciples, he commanded them to, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19, 9:9; John 1:43). Jesus talked about the pathway to heaven in the context of the Golden Rule. Jesus said:

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:12-14, NLT)

Jesus referred to the pathway to hell as a highway because that’s the route that most people choose to take. The idea that Jesus conveyed was a paved road that had lots of traffic on it. By contrast, the pathway to heaven was very narrow and difficult, likely a single lane, dirt road that required a four-legged animal or today a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to your destination.

Psalm 95 provides insight into why the people of Israel were unsuccessful in the spiritual aspect of their journey to the Promised Land. It says of God, “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’” (Psalm 95:10). The Israelites didn’t understand God’s way of doing things and also made the mistake of following the examples of other nations. Proverbs 12:26 says, “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were referred to as wicked men in Numbers 16:26. Moses said, “These men have despised the LORD” (Numbers 16:30). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rejected the LORD and were influencing other Israelites to rebel against Moses and Aaron’s leadership (Numbers 16:2-3). Numbers 16:25-33 states:

So Moses got up and rushed over to the tents of Dathan and Abiram, followed by the elders of Israel. “Quick!” he told the people. “Get away from the tents of these wicked men, and don’t touch anything that belongs to them. If you do, you will be destroyed for their sins.” So all the people stood back from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrances of their tents, together with their wives and children and little ones. And Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things that I have done—for I have not done them on my own. If these men die a natural death, or if nothing unusual happens, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord does something entirely new and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them and all their belongings, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have shown contempt for the Lord.” He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel. (NLT)

Going astray in their heart meant that these wicked men’s will and God’s will were not aligned with each other. In Proverbs 4:23 we are told to guard our “heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT). The Hebrew word that is translated heart, leb (labe) “includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man…the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820).

It says in Genesis 8:21 that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” and in Deuteronomy 29:4 that the LORD did not give the Israelites hearts that could understand what he was doing. The only way the people knew how to do what God wanted them to was to obey his commandments and follow Moses’ directions. It says in Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” The Hebrew word that is translated listens, shama (shaw-mahˊ) “means to give undivided attention” and refers to hearing in both an intellectual and spiritual context. “The most famous use of this word is to introduce the Shema, ‘Hear, O, Israel,’ followed by the content of what the Israelites are to understand about the Lord their God and how they are to respond to him” (H8085). Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The connection between loving God and listening to him had to do with the relationship that God wanted to have with his chosen people. It says in Deuteronomy 7:6 that the Israelites were chosen by God to be a people for his treasured possession. “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977).

God encouraged the Israelites to do what he commanded them to by promising to bless them if they were obedient and to curse them if they were not. Moses told the people, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated high in Deuteronomy 28:1, ʿamad (aw-madˊ) is an epithet for God and means “to stand” and “can suggest ‘immovable,’ or not being able to be moved…another nuance appears in Psalm 102:26, which teaches the indestructibility and/or eternity of God—the creation perishes but He ‘shalt endure [will ever stand].’ This is not the changelessness of doing nothing or standing physically upright, but the changelessness of ever-existing being, a quality that only God has in Himself” (H5975).

God’s promise of an eternal kingdom provided a strong incentive for the people of Israel to follow the spiritual pathway that he had prepared from them, but knowing that they were unlikely to live up to his expectations, God established a strong deterrent against disobedience as well. Moses said, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 20). The Hebrew word that is translated cursed in Deuteronomy 28:16, ʾarar (aw-rarˊ) generally denotes to inflict with a curse. “There are at least five other Hebrew words with the same general meaning. This verb, in a more specific sense, means to bind (with a spell); to hem in with obstacles; to render powerless to resist” (H779).

After Simon Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, “the Son of the living God,” Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19). Jesus told Peter that he was blessed because a spiritual truth had been revealed to him by God the Father. The Greek word that is translated revealed, apokalupto (ap-ok-al-oopˊ-to) means “to take off the cover, i.e. disclose…The subjective use of apokalupto is that in which something is presented to the mind directly as…the will of God for the conduct of his children (Philippians 3:15)” (G601). Jesus indicated that the spiritual truth that was revealed to Peter would be the rock on which his church was built “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus’ reference to the gates of hell not being able to prevail was likely intended to point out that a spiritual battle was taking place and that this particular spiritual truth could free a person from spiritual bondage. Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Greek word that is translated loosed, luo (looˊ-o) speaks “of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ” (G3089).

The fact that the Israelites who did not obey the voice of the LORD were cursed and therefore, rendered powerless to resist the temptation of sin suggests that they were forced to go down a spiritual pathway that was contrary to God’s will, but God used the Israelites’ disobedience to accomplish his ultimate purpose, the salvation of the world and unification of the Jews and Gentiles into a single body of believers. Paul discussed this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:11-18, NLT)

The Book of Hebrews explains that God has provided a better way for us to know and do his will through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It says in Hebrews 10:14-22:

For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.

And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,

“This is the new covenant I will make
    with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he says,

“I will never again remember
    their sins and lawless deeds.”

And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (NLT)

It says in Hebrews 10:20 that Jesus’ death opened up “a new and life-giving way.” In other words, Jesus created a spiritual pathway that takes us into the presence of God. The Greek word that is translated life-giving, zao (dzahˊ-o) appears in Matthew 16:16 where Peter identified Jesus as “the Son of the living God.” Jesus also used the Greek word zao when he told the woman at the well that he could give her “living water” (John 4:10). Zao is associated with the resurrection of believers, but more specifically with, “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198). The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus’ death opened the way or in Hebrew the hodos (hod-osˊ). The Greek word hodos is similar to the Hebrew word derek. It refers to the road or the route one takes on a journey, but metaphorically it represents “a course of conduct,” or “way of thinking” (G3598). Jesus’ death made the recovery of physical life from the power of death possible for us and now we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT).

Proverbs 12:28 states, “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” Basically, what this verse means is that if we travel through life on the pathway of righteousness, hell will not be a part of our route. Righteousness is the state that believers enter into when they accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the atonement for their sins. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The transaction that takes place when a person puts his or her trust in Jesus is called justification. Paul talked about Abraham’s justification in his letter to the Romans. Romans 4:18-25 states, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Reviving the soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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