He rescued me

The LORD’s relationship with the people of Israel was, for the most part, one-sided throughout the Old Testament. God wanted a relationship that would be mutually beneficial and wanted his people to love him as much as he loved them. The opening line of Psalm 18, “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Psalm 18:1) indicated that David felt love for the LORD, a kind of love that was affectionate and caring toward the other. The Hebrew word that David used for love was racham (raw-khamˊ) which means to fondle (H7355). Racham refers to the expression of love through compassion and mercy. David wanted to reciprocate the mercy that he himself had received. It was the type of mutual affection that the LORD sought from his people.

David used the term LORD to address God (Psalm 18:1). It was not only respectful, but also a sign of his devotion to him. The name Jehovah or Yahweh is derived from the Tetragrammaton YHWH. No vowels were used to form God’s personal name, so the exact pronunciation and precise meaning is unknown. “God chose it as His personal name by which He related specifically to His chosen or covenant people” (H3068). One way of looking at Psalm 18:1 would be to say that David believed the LORD’s strength was in him. Because of that, David pledged his love to the LORD, and he was committed to waiting for his deliverance.

In Psalm 18:2, David referred to the LORD as his rock, his fortress, his strength, and his deliverer. All of these things relate back to God’s ability to keep David out of harm’s way. For the most part, David was traveling in uncharted territory. Otherwise, he would have been an easy target for Saul’s experienced warriors. The images David created of God’s divine protection showed that his journey was not an easy one. Between the lofty mountain tops and craggy cliffs were deep valleys and flowing streams that were difficult to cross. David said, “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation; and my high tower” (Psalm 18:2, KJV). A high tower was basically an inaccessible place that someone could enter, but not escape from. It was used as a last resort to avoid death. David knew that the LORD had chosen him to be the next king of Israel, but would not give him the throne until Saul was dead. Therefore, David had to fight to the death and win.

            David discovered a connection between calling out to the LORD and being saved from his enemies. David said, “I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:3, KJV). David’s cry to the LORD for help was more than just a silent prayer. The Hebrew word that is translated call, qara (kaw-rawˊ) means to call out and may signify the “specification of a name” (H7121). “Basically, qara’ means ‘to call out loudly’ in order to get someone’s attention so that contact can be initiated.” More than likely, David vocalized Jehovah or Yahweh, the Jewish national name of God.

            David’s use of the verbs “will” and “shall” in Psalm 18:3 indicated that his cry to the LORD and answer from him had not yet taken place. It is important to note that David often wrote down his prayers and petitions to the LORD in advance of actually making or getting them. David had no way of knowing how things would turn out, but his faith gave him the confidence to believe it was only a matter of time until the LORD would do something on his behalf. I believe David started every day with an expectation that he would see God’s deliverance before the sun went down. One thing that is certain about David’s relationship with the LORD was that he constantly reminded himself God was in control.

            David’s emotions were always evident in his prayers to the LORD. He didn’t try to sugar coat things or make it seem as if everything was fine, when in actuality he was scared to death. The fourth verse of Psalm 18 reveals that David was fearful for his life. Clearly, David’s enemies were closing in on him and he felt a real sense of danger as he prayed, “The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me” (Psalm 18:4). The cords of death were feelings that David had of being caught in a trap that he couldn’t escape from. David knew he would be killed if Saul’s men ever got their hands on him. The only way that David could avoid death was for Saul to be killed instead of him. David spoke of being surrounded and of being overtaken by the raging waters of a flood. These images depict David’s emotions as being out of control. David’s fear was based on real circumstances, but his imagination may have gotten the better of him at this particular point in time. What may have been going on was a test of David’s resolve in which he was made to face the emotions that were constantly battling against his confidence in the LORD. David had to exercise self-control in order to experience the complete deliverance the LORD wanted him to have.

David said, “In my distress I called upon the LORD, to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Psalm 18:6). David’s distress was a result of his awareness that his enemy was about to overtake and kill him. David was so close to death that a psychological or perhaps a spiritual crisis was happening to him. Some people have said that in a near-death experience their lives have passed before them. It is possible that David was imagining himself in hades, the world of the dead, and in the shock and dismay of his experience, he audibly cried out to God, saying, help me! The Hebrew term translated cried, shava means to halloo (H7768), a command used to incite dogs to the chase during a hunt. In other words, David was saying, sick ‘em or get ‘em, LORD, with respect to the enemies that were chasing him.

            David’s acknowledgment that God had heard his voice was based on his belief in God’s faithfulness, rather than an audible response from him. When David said “my cry to him reached his ears” (Psalm 18:6), David knew that the LORD didn’t have a physical body as he did, but David was certain that God was able to, and actually did hear him. One of the things that is not known about the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ is what role he played in God’s relationship with his people prior to his birth. David may have been aware of the presence of Jesus throughout eternity and probably identified his prayers with him even though Jesus had not yet been born. David said, “From his temple he heard my voice” (Psalm 18:6). David associated God’s presence with a temple, but one had not yet been built on earth. David may have been referring to God’s heavenly temple, the place where Jesus is now.

David said in Psalm 18:7, “Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.” David may have associated God’s anger with an earthquake because of the violent nature and uncertain feeling one gets when he is in the midst of it. The Hebrew words that are translated trembled and quaked are connected to the emotion of fear. Trembled or raʿash in Hebrew means to undulate or to move with a smooth wavelike motion (H7493). On the other hand, ragaz (raw-gazˊ) means to quiver (H7264). Both of these terms represent visible expressions of emotion that are usually associated with fear. David’s experience with God was unique in that he saw the LORD as a man with emotions like everyone else. The Hebrew word that is translated angry in Psalm 18:7 is charah (khaw-rawˊ). It means to glow or grow warm (H2734). David was probably using this word figuratively to describe the physical signs of God’s anger. The idea David wanted to convey was that God does get angry and reacts to circumstances that upset him.

David created a mental image of God descending from heaven in order to communicate the idea that God was getting personally involved in his situation. David said of God, “He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet” (Psalm 18:9). The Hebrew word translated bowed, natah (naw-tawˊ) means to stretch or spread out, but it also “connotes ’extending something outward and toward’ something or someone…This is a figure of God’s active, sovereign, and mighty involvement in the affairs of men” (H5186). David indicated that God came down from heaven. David was depicting physical movement that was not actually necessary. God did not need to come down in order to see what was going on, nor did he need to leave heaven in order to get involved in David’s situation. God could have taken care of things from his throne room in heaven. What David may have been trying to convey was the departure from heaven that Jesus made in order to save David from spiritual death. David spoke earlier about the cords of Sheol and the snares of death (Psalm 18:5). What may have been on David’s mind was the ultimate death that he would experience in the form of separation from God. David pictured God bridging the gap between earth and heaven so as to rescue him from death. That is what Jesus did when he came to earth as a man.

David said that the darkness was under God’s feet (Psalm 18:9). David may have meant that God was triumphing over or defeating the darkness. In other words, God was taking the gloom away from David’s perception of the situation. Even though, nothing had really changed at this point in David’s prayer, it is evident that a shift occurred in David’s view of things. After David imagined God coming to his rescue, he felt different about his circumstances. The thought of God descending from his throne to rescue him made David feel more hopeful about the future. Once David was focused on what God was doing, instead of what his enemies were doing, he realized that his situation was completely under control and his deliverance had already been taken care of.

David expressed in Psalm 18:10 that God responded to his cry for help as if speed was of the essence. David said, “He rode upon a cherub and flew; yea, he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.” God’s speedy response demonstrated the importance of David’s request. God did not waste any time getting to David’s location. One of the things that seems evident from David’s description of God’s travel to him was that God was able to move from his position in heaven. He could leave heaven if he chose to. Although David did not mention his relationship to the LORD, or speak of the love between them in this instance, it seems likely that David’s cry for help was interpreted in such a way that God knew his presence was needed and any delay would make the situation worse.

An interesting aspect of God’s travel is contained in the phrase, “he came swiftly on the wings of the wind” (Psalm 18:10). The Hebrew word translated wind, ruwach (rooˊ-akh) “is regarded in Scripture as a fitting emblem of the mighty penetration power of the invisible God. Moreover, the breath is suppose to symbolize not only the deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (H7307). It could be that David’s prayer resulted in a type of filling of the Spirit in which his body was spiritually strengthened as a result of God’s Holy Spirit coming inside him, rather than an outer presence, such as God standing by his side. The important thing to note is that David’s emotions were transformed by his experience.

David said, “He made darkness his covering; his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water” (Psalm 18:11). The Hebrew word that is translated covering, cathar (saw-tharˊ) means to hide by covering (H5641). In other words, whatever we are looking for is out of view because there is something between it and us. Something may appear to be missing, when in reality, our view is blocked or inhibited by some other thing that has gotten in the way. The word David used in Psalm 18:11 that is translated “made” is shiyth (sheeth). “Generally speaking, this word is a term of physical action, typically expressing movement from one place to another. Often it expresses putting hands on someone or something” (7896). If you can imagine God putting his hands on the darkness and causing it to block our view of him, you might understand why David said “he made the darkness his covering.” What David was really saying was that God had placed the darkness in between the two of them so that David could no longer see his face. David was separated from God by his difficult circumstance.

It’s possible that the reason God seems to be hidden from us when the storms of life hit us hard is because we don’t imagine him to be the author of our difficult circumstances. When David prayed to God for deliverance (Psalm 18:3), David may have thought that he would be taken out of his difficult circumstances, rather than being made to stand up against them. As David waited on God, it seems likely that he was anxious to become king, but unwilling to watch Saul and his son Jonathon to be killed in battle. The dilemma David faced was his victory coming at the cost of Jonathon, his best friend’s defeat. David had to accept the fact that God could not make him king without his enemy’s family being completely destroyed.

David’s transition from feelings of hopelessness and despair to an expectation of victory over his enemies began with an awareness of God’s presence. David said, “Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds” (Psalm 18:12). David’s description of hailstones and coals of fire breaking through the dark clouds around him presented the image of God’s power breaking forth as if he had taken off a cloak or had released himself from the constraints of a hidden identity. David said God “gave his voice” (Psalm 18:13). The Hebrew word translated gave, nathan (naw-thanˊ) means to deliver, place, or set up (H5414). David depicted God using his voice to place or interject his power into the situation. David also used lightning as an emblem of conflict or military engagement. He said of God, “And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them” (Psalm 18:14). The phrase David used, he flashed forth lightnings or in Hebrew rabab (raw-babˊ) baraq (baw-rawkˊ) might be translated, he drew his sword (H7232/H1300). In this context, David would have been signifying the start of a battle or the initiation of conflict. Perhaps, this view of the fourteenth verse of David’s psalm would be more appropriate in the context of the transition David was engaged in; from seeing himself as a victim to seeing himself as the victor over his enemies. The primary shift that was occurring in this section of David’s psalm was a shift from inaction to action. David was relying on the Lord to rescue him, but a dual effort was necessary for David to be completely delivered from his enemies. Although the Lord was the primary actor, it could be said that David was also involved in the action that was taking place. David’s action, even though it was unseen, was the activation of his faith. David began to believe that God would save him.

In his struggle to overcome his enemies, David came to a point where he connected with God in a personal, intimate, and completely unique way. It might be said that David was actually saved in that moment in time. I believe David came to the realization that God was not distant and uninvolved in his life, but was actively and continuously working toward the goal he had established for him, to make David king over Israel. One way of describing what happened to David would be to say that the blinders were taken off or his blindfold was removed. It was as if David could see, for the first time in his life, the reality of who God was and what he was doing for him. David acknowledged this moment in time by stating, “At your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils” (Psalm 18:15). A rebuke is a form of correction (H1606). David may have felt he was being scolded or chided by God for his doubt and perhaps even unbelief. The blast of the breath of God’s nostrils was perhaps meant to be a depiction of an awakening in David’s mind. The Hebrew word translated blast, neshamah (nesh-aw-mawˊ) can be interpreted as divine inspiration (H5397). We might think of it today as an “aha” moment, when everything suddenly clicked and David understood God’s intention.

David used an illustration of God’s supernatural power to depict him as the omnipotent Savior of his life. He said, “Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare” (Psalm 18:15). Many people do not recognize God as the creator of the universe. Some people might even deny his existence, but David was showing us that God’s existence cannot be denied because his power to control his creation is evident in the miracles he performs. An experience that was a significant part of the Hebrew culture was the parting of the Red Sea, when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. Their experience of walking across the sea on dry land was a continual reminder to God’s people that they were able to do extraordinary things when they obeyed God and trusted in his power to deliver them. David’s own deliverance was an extraordinary feat because Saul hunted him down with an army that far surpassed his own group of men’s ability. David’s men might be described as a rag, tag bunch of misfits that had never fought a significant battle in their lives (1 Samuel 22:2). And yet, God used these men to conquer not only Saul and his army, but the entire Philistine nation, including a band of giants that had terrorized Israel for decades (2 Samuel 21:15-22). David’s final victory is recorded in 2 Samuel 21:22 where it says, “These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants” (KJV).

God’s active involvement in the lives of men is not always evident. Because we cannot see it, we may assume there is nothing going on in the spiritual realm. David described an intervention that came from heaven when he said, “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters” (Psalm 18:16). The Hebrew word translated sent, shalach (shaw-lakhˊ) means to send away, for, or out (H7971). “The most frequent use of shalach suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place.” On high refers to altitude (H4791) and indicates that David’s help was coming from a place above the earth. Heaven might be thought of as a place far away, perhaps in outer space, even beyond the reach of space travel. But, it shows in Genesis 28:12 that a ladder was able to reach to heaven. It says specifically that Jacob saw, “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” As a result of his dream, Jacob concluded that God was there with him in the place where he was sleeping. He stated, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). David believed his rescuer was being dispatched from a place above the earth, but not necessarily far away from it. One way of interpreting David’s statement he sent from on high would be, God sent his angels down a ladder from heaven to me.

David never gave up his faith. He declared, “He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:19). David felt that the reason God kept him from being killed by his enemies was because of the relationship they had. The Hebrew word translated delighted, chaphets (khaw-fatesˊ) means to incline or move in closer (H2654). David was not claiming favoritism, the overlooking of the claims of some so as to gratify the wishes of special friends, but recognized that God had answered his prayers and helped him to escape death. Therefore, David concluded that God had a favorable disposition toward him and his heart was prompting him to take a certain course of action that would result in the death of Saul rather than himself.

An aspect of David’s faith that was similar to that of Christians today was his ability to walk with the LORD. Even though he was not filled with the Holy Spirit, David communicated with God and was able to receive directions from him. David’s relationship with the LORD was not dependent on a prophet to speak for the LORD. The Psalms are examples of the types of conversations David had with his Heavenly Father. There was a two-way flow of information and David often prayed with the expectation that God would answer him. In light of David’s constant verbalization of his petitions, it is no wonder that David was aware of God’s involvement in his life. Whenever something happened, good or bad, David attributed the outcome to the LORD, Jehovah.

David’s understanding of the will of God was expressed in his statement, “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” (Psalm 18:30). David saw that God did things in such a way that it was always evident when he was at work. David’s picture of God’s will was perfection, or in the Hebrew, tamiym (taw-meem) which means to complete or accomplish something (H8549). David saw evidence of God’s work and concluded that he always finished what he started. It might have been easy for David to think that God had changed his mind about making him king when the years passed by and Saul remained on the throne, but David learned that God’s timing often required him to wait for the outcome he desired. Therefore, David knew that it was only a matter of time until Saul’s reign ended.

When David said that God’s way was perfect, he meant that over the course of his lifetime, he would see that everything God predicted or promised would happen, just as he said it would. God had a perfect track record. Together, David’s two statements, “his way is perfect” and “the word of the LORD proves true” meant that God would never disappoint him. As with some of our own experiences, David realized that God’s ways were not always easy or pleasant, but he was willing to submit to God’s plan because he had learned that God was able to decide what was best for him.

David declared, “It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect.” (Psalm 18:32, NKJV). David’s statement about having strength and his way being perfect was connected to his relationship with God. In order for God to make David’s way perfect, he had to transfer some possession of his own to him. The Hebrew word translated way, derek means a road, or figuratively a course of life (H1870). “In another emphasis this word connotes how and what one does, a ‘manner, custom, behavior, mode of life.’” David’s behavior was like God’s in that he did God’s will rather than his own. David linked his own behavior to God’s with the two statements, “This God—his way is perfect” and “makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:30, 32). Tamiym, the Hebrew word translated perfect, is derived from the word tamam which means to complete. “The basic meaning of this word is that of being complete or finished, with nothing else expected or intended” (H8552). With regards to David’s relationship with God, tamiym was probably meant to convey the idea of complete obedience. David did everything that God asked him to.

David used the image of a deer scaling a high mountain to depict the confidence he had in God’s protection. He said, “He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights” (Psalm 18:33). The Hebrew word that is translated heights, bamah (maw-mawˊ) “can be understood idiomatically for authority” (H1116). David was most likely implying that God had given him all the authority he needed to triumph over his enemies. It’s possible that David’s heights were associated with demonic forces. David did not speak directly of engaging in spiritual warfare, but often suggested that God’s deliverance was supernatural and transcended the realms of heaven and earth.

Another place where a similar passage is found is Habakkuk 3:19. He said, “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk’s declaration came at the end of his statement of faith in God’s provision. In the reference note on Habakkuk 3:18-19, it says, “Habakkuk has learned the lesson of faith (2:4)—to trust in God’s providence regardless of circumstances. He declares that even if God should send suffering and loss, he would still rejoice in his Savior-God—one of the strongest affirmations of faith in all Scripture. His book reflects the spiritual odyssey of every true believer—consternation with the injustice of life, consideration of God as sovereign and conclusion that God can and must be trusted.” It is likely that Habakkuk chose this passage from David’s psalm with the intention of connecting the two men’s circumstances. Evidently, Habakkuk expected to have his faith tried in the same way that David had. What could be the most important aspect of Habakkuk’s repetition of David’s words was his belief that God was sovereign over the difficult circumstances of life. With regards to spiritual warfare, Habakkuk reaffirmed the notion that high places represented the ultimate victory; the believer’s victory over doubt and fear.

As a servant of God, David was expected to do extraordinary things that were beyond his human capabilities. David said of God, “He trains my hands to war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (Psalm 18:34). David used a metaphor to explain the supernatural strength he received from the LORD. The Hebrew term David used for war is derived from the word lacham (law-khamˊ) which can be used to describe hand-to-hand combat (H3898). The Apostle Paul often described spiritual warfare using terms that were similar to hand-to-hand combat, such as wrestling against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12) and beating the air (1 Corinthians 9:26). The bow of bronze David referred to was most likely meant to represent the hardened heart of the unbeliever. Therefore, David’s arms, which represented the seat of his strength, could have been his verbal testimony of faith in God. In the case of the giant Goliath, David’s declaration of victory before the battle had even begun (1 Samuel 17:46) was a sign of his faith, a testimony to his belief in the God that Goliath was defying.

David’s vast experience with warfare didn’t keep him from relying on the LORD for each of his victories. David credited his skills to the enabling power of God and said, “For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me” (Psalm 18:39). To be equipped with strength meant that David was equipped with the necessary weapons to fight his enemies effectively. The Apostle Paul described weapons that believers are expected to use in spiritual battles. Paul said, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:13-14). Paul indicated that truth was similar to the belt that the LORD equipped David with for strength. The Greek word Paul used for truth, aletheuo (al-ayth-yooˊ-o) means to deal faithfully or tell the truth (G226). Aletheuo is derived from the word alethes (al-ay-thaceˊ) which means “true (as not concealing)” (G227). In that sense, you could say that David didn’t carry any concealed weapons; the entire disposition of his inner man was in full view.

David’s promotion to an exalted position in God’s kingdom required a transformation of his inner man. His dramatic leap from a shepherd boy to the king of Israel took David from a very private intimate relationship with the LORD to one that was observed by everyone, including believers today. Considering that there was probably no other person in the Old Testament that received as much attention as David did, except perhaps, Abraham, his transformation was a prominent aspect of Israel’s history. David described the end result of his transformation in Psalm 18:43, where he said, “You delivered me from strife with the people; you made me the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.” 

David worshipped God like no other man in the Bible. His intimacy with the LORD was revealed in many of the Psalms he wrote. David said, “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation” (Psalm 18:46). David’s declaration that the LORD lives implied that God was aware of what was going on in David’s life and could appropriately adjust his response to David’s circumstances in real time. God didn’t have a plan that was set in stone, but a defense that was unshakable. On two separate occasions, David was caught off guard by Saul’s sudden attack with a javelin, but God kept Saul’s spears from piercing David and both times he was able to slip away unharmed (1 Samuel 18:11; 19:10).

Satan’s primary objective is to keep us from doing God’s will. Satan influences his agents, our enemies, to do his work so that the plans and purposes of God will be interrupted. David said of God, “You exalted me about those who rose against me; you rescued me from the man of violence” (Psalm 18:48). David’s main concern was his adversary, King Saul, but the focus of his attention likely included overcoming the spiritual forces that wanted to deter him from being obedient to God’s will. The day to day struggles that David faced when he was being hunted by Saul were probably the greatest challenge of his life. The battle was just as real as, and perhaps even more dangerous than, his triumph over Goliath. The hardest part of David’s obedience was the ongoing need for him to say yes to God over and over, and over again; day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

The Hebrew word that is translated rescued, natsal (naw-tsalˊ) means to snatch away, whether in a good or a bad sense (H5337). A similar word that is used in the New Testament is harpazo (har-padˊ-zo) which means “to seize (in various applications)” (G726). This verb conveys the idea of force suddenly exercised. One of its most significant uses is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 where Paul talked about the sudden coming of the Lord. He said, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” The ultimate deliverance every believer will experience is a deliverance from life apart from God. While some people may view death as separation from their loved ones, those that have been saved know that death brings not only a reunion with our loved ones, but also unites us with our Lord, Jesus Christ. When David said, “You exalted me above those who rose against me” (Psalm 18:48), he may have been referring to his victory over sin and death. The Apostle Paul talked about the believer’s triumph over death in the context of a mystery. He said:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)

In exchange for his deliverance, David promised to be a witness to what God had done for him among unbelievers. He said, “Therefore will I give thanks to you, O LORD, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name” (Psalm 18:49). The extensive definition of the term yadah (yaw-dawˊ) indicates that David was most likely speaking on behalf of the entire nation of Israel or congregation of believers when he gave thanks to God (H3034). David seemed to be focusing on the end result of not only his own deliverance, but also God’s deliverance of all mankind. In that sense, David was saying that his life would be a continual testimony, for many generations to come, of the great work that God had done to rescue him. It is still true today that David’s story has a great impact on people that read the Bible. Without David’s testimony, it would be much harder for unbelievers to understand God’s grace and mercy.

The importance of giving him thanks and celebrating God in music is evident in David’s declaration of praise to the LORD. David was a skilled musician and wrote many heartfelt hymns as a testimony to God’s deliverance throughout his life. The Hebrew term translated thanks, yadah literally means to use the hand (H3034). This word can be interpreted to mean both playing an instrument, as well as worshipping with the hand(s) extended toward heaven. David’s example of worship was never repeated by any of the kings or other leaders of God’s people. Clearly David’s passion for God was unsurpassed and his skill in communicating with the LORD was second only to Jesus.

A foolish mistake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deliverance

God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was accomplished by means of signs and wonders that were intended to establish the LORD’s supremacy over human kings and kingdoms. God told Moses, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5). One of the primary uses of the Hebrew word yadaʿ (yaw-dahˊ), which is translated know in this verse, “means to know relationally and experientially: it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God’s desire to make himself known to the Egyptians was based on his pronouncement of judgment on them (Exodus 7:4) and his determination that Pharaoh would harden his heart against him (Exodus 7:3). “The natural inclination of man is to oppose God (Romans 3:9-23), and God sometimes allows men to follow the evil desires of their own hearts and experience the subsequent consequences (Romans 1:24-32). God allowed Pharaoh, in his pride and sinfulness, to do as he desired” (note on Exodus 7:3) because it served the purpose of his will, which was to save the Israelites from their bondage (Exodus 6:5).

After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:29), Moses declared, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31). Moses indicated that the LORD saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians. The Hebrew word that is translated saved is yashaʿ (yaw-shahˊ). “The underlying idea of this verb is bringing to a place of safety or broad pasture as opposed to narrow strait, symbolic of distress and danger.” Yashaʿ refers to “the salvation that only comes from God (Isaiah 33:32; Zephaniah 3:17)” (H3467). As a result of being saved, the people of Israel feared the LORD and believed in the LORD, which meant that they recognized God’s power and position and rendered him proper respect (H3372), as well as, experiencing a personal relationship to him (H539). Hebrews 11:29 tells us that the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea as on dry land by faith. The Greek word that is translated faith, pistis (pisˊ-tis) is “spoken by analogy of the faith of the patriarchs and pious men from the Old Testament who looked forward in faith and hope to the blessing of the gospel” (G4102). “It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ.”

The Song of Moses expressed the Israelites’ attitude toward God after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. It states:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
    your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
    pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
    trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:1-18)

In Exodus 15:2, it says, “The LORD is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.” This verse implies that something had happened that changed the Israelites’ status from unsaved to saved. The Hebrew word that is translated salvation, yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-aw) means “something saved, i.e. (abstractly) deliverance.” The name Jesus is a Greek form of yeshu’ah and it might be said that when the Israelites experienced salvation, they experienced what Jesus’ death on the cross intended to make possible for them; but at that point, it was not understood as a salvation from sin, since the word denoted broadly anything from which “deliverance” must be sought (H3444).

Jesus used the Greek word soteria (so-tay-reeˊ-ah) when he told a man named Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). “Soteria denotes ‘deliverance, preservation, salvation.’ ‘Salvation’ is used in the New Testament of material and temporal deliverance from danger and apprehension,” as well as, “of the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is to be obtained, Acts 4:12” (G4991). Soteria is derived from the word soter (so-tareˊ) which means “a deliverer, i.e. God or Christ” (G4990). Jesus went on to tell Zacchaeus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus used the word sozo (sodeˊ-zo) to describe the act of being saved and made it clear to Zacchaeus that it was his mission to save people who were identified as the lost. The Greek word that is translated lost, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) “signifies ‘to destroy utterly’; in the middle voice, ‘to perish.’ The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622). Apollumi is used in Matthew 10:28, where it says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy (apollumi) both soul and body in hell.”

Jesus used the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate his point that it is not God’s will for believers to experience apollumi. Jesus said:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (apollumi).” (Matthew 18:10-14, NKJV)

Jesus associated being lost with going astray. The Greek word that is translated goes astray and straying, planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is derived from the word plane (planˊ-ay). “Literally, plane means a wandering whereby those who are led astray roam hither and thither and is always used of mental straying, wrong opinion, error in morals or religion, 2 Thessalonians 2:11, ‘delusion.’ It is akin to planao, ‘a wandering, a forsaking of the right path’” (G4106). James used planao and plane in the concluding paragraph of his letter that was addressed to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. James said:

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 5:19-20).

The phrase brings back has to do with a reversal in thinking or you might say, unlearning something that is incorrect. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). It says in Matthew 18:2-3, “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In order to become like children, Jesus may have been expecting his disciples to unlearn some of the traditions of the elders that the prophet Isaiah referred to as the commandments of men (Matthew 15:1-6). Isaiah’s prophecy dealt with the upside down religion that had permeated Israel’s culture before they were sent into exile. Isaiah 29:13-16 states:

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

The Hebrew word that is translated turn things upside down is similar to the Greek word that is translated brings back in James 5:20, both are associated with the process of conversion and suggest that there are two sides, or if you will, states of salvation. A person may be saved and sanctified, that is an active adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God is taking place (G342); or one may be saved and unsanctified, meaning that the sinner has been removed from the kingdom of darkness, but is not living according to the truth of God’s word (James 5:19-20).

The Israelites’ experience after they entered the Promised Land is an example of what it looks like to be saved, but not living according to the truth of God’s word. It says in Joshua 2:11-13, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and Ashtaroth.” “Canaanite deities, such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths, remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile…It took seventy years in captivity to finally cure the Israelites of their idolatrous ways” (note on Judges 2:13). The LORD warned the people of Israel about disobedience before they entered the Promised Land and told them that curses would come upon them and overtake them (Deuteronomy 28:15). Moses said, “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 28:20). Judges 2:15 tells us, “Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.”

The terrible distress that the Israelites felt was indicative of them being out of the will of God, but it didn’t mean that the LORD had abandoned them. On the contrary, God was using their circumstances to develop their faith. Judges 2:16-19 states:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.

The Israelites’ salvation wasn’t dependent on their behavior, but their behavior did determine the measure to which they experienced the positive effects of being saved. When it says that the judges saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them, it means that the Israelites experienced a military victory that bolstered their faith and gave them the confidence they needed to put their trust in God. The problem was that the judges were only providing temporary fixes because when that person died, the Israelites turned back to their idolatry (Judges 2:19).

Judges 3:1-2 tells us that the foreign nations that were left in the Promised Land were left, “to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.” Warfare played an important part in the development of the Israelites faith because their dependence upon God for victory was evident to them. James opened his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion with the statement, “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). The key words James used: trials, testing, faith, steadfastness, and complete; all reflect aspects of the process of sanctification that believers must go through in order to be delivered from their practices or their stubborn ways, what we might refer to today as business as usual. James went on to say:

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 encouraged believers to receive with meekness “the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). James’ reference to the implanted word was likely related to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-8). Jesus likened the word of God to seed that is sown in a person’s heart. Jesus said, “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 8:12-15). Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in our hearts and not be choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life in order to bear fruit. The Greek word that is translated hold fast, katecho (kat-ekhˊ-o) “stresses holding fast in order to hinder the course or progress of something or someone” (2722). In the instance of the Israelites, they were expected to hold fast to the commandments of the LORD in order to hinder the course or progress of the nations around them that were practicing idolatry. Instead of doing that, the people of Israel “abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13).

It says in Judges 3:9, “But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them.” The Hebrew word that is translated cried out, zaʿaq (zaw-akˊ) means “to shriek (from anguish or danger). Zaʿaq is perhaps most frequently used to indicate the ‘crying out’ for aid in time of emergency, especially ‘crying out’ for divine aid. God often heard this ‘cry’ for help in the times of the judges, as Israel found itself in trouble because of its backsliding (Judges 3:9, 15; 6:7; 10:10)” (H2199). The deliverance that the LORD gave the Israelites was based on their anguished cries for help. It was similar during Jesus’ ministry in that many of the people that Jesus healed cried out to him for help (Matthew 15:23; 20:30; Mark 10:47; Luke 18:39). On one occasion, when Jesus came to his disciples walking on the sea, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ’Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:27-31). The fact that Peter cried out, “Lord, save me” indicates that he still viewed salvation as temporal deliverance from danger, but in his first letter, Peter used the same Greek word, sozo to refer to “the present experiences of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin (1 Peter 3:21)” and “the future deliverance of believers at the second coming of Christ for His saints, being deliverance from the wrath of God to be executed upon the ungodly at the close of this age and from eternal doom” (1 Peter 4:18-19). It is clear from Peter’s statement that he considered Jesus to be the source of his deliverance, the person who could save him. Later, when Jesus asked his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “’You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:15-17).

Spiritual blindness

Jesus’ miracle of healing a man that was born blind (John 9:1-7) portrayed in practical terms the spiritual condition of the Jews that Jesus was ministering to. “The Jews took pride in their ancestry as God’s chosen people and totally disregarded their own spiritual need” (note on John 9:39). Their spiritual blindness caused the Jews to cling to the false hope of their Mosaic legal system (John 9:28-29) and reject Christ’s message of salvation by grace. Paul wrote about the Jews spiritual dilemma in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Paul talked about the world not being able to know God through wisdom, but only through the foolishness of preaching. God saves those who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:21). The Greek word that is translated wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) means “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense” and speaks “specifically of the learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age intended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, and which stood in contrast to the simplicity of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17, 19-22; 2:1, 4-6, 13; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12)” (G4678). Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 29:14 set the context of his statement as dealing with an intentional effort on God’s part to keep certain spiritual truths hidden from the unsaved. The broader context of spiritual blindness can be seen in Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and God’s judgment of his chosen people. Isaiah 29:9-16 states:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah’s declaration, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” focuses on the lack of spiritual perception that was evident among the Jews during Christ’s ministry on earth. Isaiah may have been using the phrases wisdom of the wise and discernment of the discerning to signify a lack of spiritual or divine gifts among the Jews. The Greek words sophia and sunesis cover a broad range of mental capabilities that have to do with comprehension. A derivative of sunesis is the Greek word sunetos (soon-etˊ-os) which means to reason out and hence to be intelligent (G4908). In a bad sense, sunetos means conceited (G5429) and therefore, suggests that intelligence or perhaps even an understanding of God’s word without the faith that is required to interpret it correctly may be the root cause of spiritual blindness. Jesus told the man that was born blind, “For judgement I came into the world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). The Greek word that is translated blind, tuphlos (toof-losˊ) means “opaque (as if smoky)” (G5185) and is derived from the word tuphoo (toof-oˊ) which means “to envelop with smoke, i.e. (figurative) to inflate with self-conceit” (G5187).

A conversation between the Pharisees and the man who was born blind after Jesus healed him exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ conceit. The man who had been blind told the Pharisees:

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:25-34)

The point that the man who was born blind was trying to make was that his eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ divine intervention and yet the Pharisees didn’t accept what happened as a miracle. The man who was born blind stated, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The phrase “he could do nothing” consists of four Greek words that convey the absence of power, but also suggests that Jesus’ ability to do miracles did not come from within himself, but from his spiritual connection to God the Father. The man’s statement, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31) implied that the power Jesus displayed in opening the blind man’s eyes was a direct result of him doing God’s will. On the contrary, the Pharisees looked at the situation from a legalistic perspective and determined, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

The Pharisees argument, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29) was unfounded because on more than one occasion God declared Jesus to be his Son. Matthew’s gospel states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). Mark’s gospel contains a similar account of Jesus’ baptism and also states about his transfiguration, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7). Rather than arguing with the Pharisees about his deity, Jesus approached the man who was born blind after he was excommunicated and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (John 9:35). The man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). Jesus told the man who was born blind, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated seen, horasis (horˊ-as-is) has to do with both physical and mental perception and refers specifically to “an inspired appearance” (G3706). With regards to seeing God, horasis means “to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know his character” (G3708). Moses’ role in delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was particularly important because he was God’s designated representative, but Moses was human and therefore, couldn’t replicate God’s divine character. At the end of his life, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin)” (Numbers 27:12-14). Moses’ disobedience at the waters of Meribah is recorded in Numbers 20:2-13 where it states:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Paul explained the significance of Moses and Aaron’s mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “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 overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Paul indicated that the Rock that Moses struck was Christ, the source of the Israelites’ salvation, and that the waters at Meribah were meant to quench the Israelites’ spiritual thirst. Jesus eluded to this in a conversation he had with a woman of Samaria whom he met at a well. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus went on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus referred to the spiritual drink that he wanted to give the woman at the well as living water (John 4:10) and indicated that quenching “one’s spiritual thirst was synonymous with eternal life (v. 14)” (note on John 4:10-14).

The Israelites associated eternal life with living in the Promised Land because God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession (Genesis 13:15). The problem with the Israelites’ expectation was that they didn’t realize they needed faith in order to enter the land. God told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t bring the Israelites into the Promised Land because they didn’t believe in Him (Numbers 20:12). The Hebrew word that is translated believe, ʾaman (aw-manˊ) “signifies the element of being ‘firm’ or ‘trustworthy’…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 as 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 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 to God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

The Pharisees that criticized Jesus for opening the eyes of the man who was born blind on the Sabbath (John 9:16) claimed to be disciples of Moses. They said about Jesus, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Israelites’ Messiah stemmed from a belief that the Jews were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41). Jesus rebuked their unbelief by stating:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing)” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the primary verb peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince (by argument, true or false)” (G3982). Jesus told some of the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness made them think they were members of God’s kingdom, but in actuality, they were going to spend eternity in “the lake of fire” because their sins had not been forgiven (Revelation 20:15).