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)

The crossroads of life

Our journey through life often includes many twists and turns, detours, and roadblocks, but the most important aspect of our travels are the decisions we make when we come to the crossroads of life. The crossroads are typically turning points and may determine whether or not we will continue or stop making progress toward our final destination. One of the ways we know we are at a crossroad is that we experience spiritual warfare and in extreme situations, may be confronted by God or the devil directly. The first crossroad of mankind occurred in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:1-7 tells us:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. 

The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden changed the course of mankind. The issue that was presented to Eve was the truthfulness of God’s word and whether or not she was willing to obey God’s commandment even though she didn’t understand the reasoning behind it.

The Hebrew word massah (mas-sawˊ) is translated as both temptation and trial in the King James Version of the Bible. Massah appears in Deuteronomy 4:32-36 where Moses talked about the LORD being personally involved in the Israelites’ lives. It states:

“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials (massah), by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.”

Moses listed trials along with signs and wonders, as well as war and great deeds of terror as acts of God that were meant to show the people of Israel that there was no other God besides the LORD. The Hebrew word massah “is actually two homographs – words that are spelled the same yet have distinct origins and meanings. The first homograph is derived from the verb masas (H4549), meaning to dissolve or melt, and it means despair. This word occurs in Job 9:23. The second homograph is derived from the verb nasah (H5254), meaning to test or try, and denotes a test, a trial, or proving. It is used in reference to the manifestations of God’s power and handiwork before the Egyptians at the Exodus (Deuteronomy 4:34; 7:19; 29:3[2])” (H4531). Massah also appears in Psalm 95 in reference to the Israelites’ disobedience in the wilderness. It states:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. (Psalm 95:6-9)

Psalm 95:7-11 is quoted in the book of Hebrews as a warning against unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-11). Paul said, “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” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Paul indicated that an evil, unbelieving heart could lead you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). The heart is mentioned in all but four of the thirty one chapters in the Book of Proverbs and the heart’s condition is central to its theme of wise living. In the Hebrew language, “the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages believers to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated ways, derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life, suggesting the pattern of life (Proverbs 3:6)” (H1870). In Proverbs 8:1-2, wisdom is depicted as a woman that is standing beside the way trying to get our attention when we pass through the crossroads of life. It states:

Does not wisdom call?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand.

The Hebrew word that is translated stand, natsab (naw-tsabˊ) means “to station” (H5324) and suggests that wisdom’s role might be to direct traffic or to act as a crossing guard. It could be that wisdom’s job is to protect believers from the trickery of the devil and to make sure that we do not veer off course at critical points in our journey through life.

Proverbs chapter nine compares and contrasts The Way of Wisdom with The Way of Folly. It begins with a description of Wisdom’s attempt to invite those who are open to her influence to come and eat with her. Proverbs 9:1-6 states:

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
    from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

Wisdom’s target audience is “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:4). The Hebrew words that are translated lacks sense literally mean without heart (H2638/H3820). A person without heart could be someone that has no will of his own or perhaps, someone that is completely open to the influence of others. It seems likely that Wisdom’s plea to whoever is simple means that she is trying to reach those who have not yet made a commitment to follow the Lord. The woman Folly makes a similar plea in Proverbs 9:13-18. It states:

The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
    who are going straight on their way,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.

Folly’s plea is the same as Wisdom’s, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” and her target audience is the same, “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:16), but Folly’s objective is very different. She says to him who lacks sense, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” Folly is appealing to the evil desires of naïve people in order to cause them to disobey God’s commandments (H3687/H3474). One of the characteristics of Folly that is mentioned is that she is seductive and it says that she knows nothing. The tactic that Folly uses to cause people to sin is to appeal to their sin nature or what the Bible refers to as the flesh. Jesus told his disciples to, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Paul addressed the issue of the flesh’s weakness in the context of spiritual warfare in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). The Greek word that is translated warfare, strateia (strat-iˊ-ah) is used figuratively to refer to “the apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752) as well as “to contend with carnal inclinations” (G4754). Paul indicated that the weapons of the believer’s warfare have “divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Paul was speaking metaphorically of strongholds as “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794) and indicated that these strongholds consisted of “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We know that Paul was talking about the believer’s mind or heart because he said we need to take every thought captive to obey Christ. The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mosˊ) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Paul’s instruction to take every thought captive meant that we need to cancel out or at the very least refuse to pay attention to thoughts that violate our conscience or clearly contradict God’s word.

Paul concluded his statement about destroying spiritual strongholds with a warning that we need to be ready to punish every disobedience when our obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:6). Paul was likely speaking figuratively of the filling of the Holy Spirit (G4137) and meant that believers should allow God to correct their thinking processes by submitting themselves to the Holy Spirit’s influence in their hearts and minds. Paul used the example of something he referred to as his thorn in the flesh to make the point that God’s power is able to overcome the strongholds that Satan establishes in our minds. Paul said:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

The Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient for him. The Greek word that is translated grace, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers to “divine influence upon the heart” and indicates “favor” on the part of God by removing the guilt associated with our sin (G5485).

Paul referred to his thorn in the flesh as “a messenger of Satan” that had the ability to harass him (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Greek word that is translated messenger, aggello (angˊ-el-os) “most frequently refers to an order of created beings superior to man (Hebrews 2:7; Psalm 8:5)” (G32). Paul described this angelic order of beings in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do 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 6:11-12). Paul indicated that the spiritual forces of evil reside in heavenly places. Therefore, it can be assumed that our minds are accessible to beings in the spiritual realm.

Moses’ repetition of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy included several references to purging “the evil from their midst” (Deuteronomy 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7. The Hebrew word that is translated midst, qereb (kehˊ-reb) “denotes the center or inner part of anything…but especially the inner organs of the body…This place was regarded as the home of the heart from which the emotions spring” (H7130). Typically, the phrase purge the evil from your midst was associated with the death penalty and most often had to do with stoning a person to death. You might think that killing people who committed serious crimes would eliminate evil, but it seems that the punishment was actually intended to deal with evil that was affecting the people who were left behind. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

The Hebrew word that is translated purge, baʾar (baw-arˊ) means “to kindle, i.e. consume (by fire or by eating)” (H1197). A word that is derived from baʾar is baʾar (bahˊ-ar) which is properly translated as “food (as consumed); i.e. (by extension) of cattle brutishness; (concrete) stupid” (G1198). It seems that purging the evil from our midst is related to taking down strongholds that exist in our minds in that actions and memories cannot be erased, but they can be consumed or you might say sacrificed by submitting them to God.

The Old Testament sacrifices depicted submission to God through their purifying effect and atonement for sin. James encouraged believers to submit themselves to God in order to purify their hearts. James exclaimed:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James referred to people that are stuck at the crossroads of their lives as being double-minded. The Greek word that is translated double-minded, dipsuchos (dipˊ-soo-khos) means “two-spirited, i.e. vacillating (in opinion or purpose)…This person lives one life for himself and lives another for God” (G1374). The double-minded person is vulnerable to the pleas of Folly because they appear to be the same pleas as those of Wisdom’s. It says about Folly’s house in Proverbs 9:18, “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” It is only through submission to God that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:5-11, 29-31) and be able to resist temptation by God’s grace (James 4:6-7).

Jesus modeled submission to his Father at the crossroads of his life. During his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus used God’s word to resist the devil. It says in Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’” Jesus didn’t do what the devil told him to even though he was hungry and could have turned the stones into loaves of bread if he wanted to. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to go to cross, but left the outcome in God’s hands. It says in Matthew 26:39, “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus made it clear that it wasn’t his will to die for the sins of the world. When Jesus fell on his face, he placed himself in a posture of submission and in essence was giving up on the situation. It wasn’t that Jesus was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Jesus knew what he needed to do and didn’t want to do it, but he allowed God to decide for him and prayed the second time, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

Repentance (Step 2)

Godly sorrow, the first step in the process of repentance, is marked by an attitude of humility that recognizes the damage that one’s sin has caused. A description of godly sorrow can be found in Lamentations 2:10. It says, “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads:  they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.”

Perhaps, the most obvious sign that a person has repented of his sins is the absence of pride. Typically, guilt subsides when true repentance begins to take place. A lack of guilt enables the sinner to see that what has happened is a matter of cause and effect. God is not responsible for our bad fortune, he is the one that tries to prevent us from doing harm. Lamentations 2:17 declares, “The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in days of old.”

If God were not in control, there would be no reason to obey him. The fact that he does what he says he’s going to, proves to us that God is able to make things happen according to his plan and purpose for our lives. When we sin, we are trying to control or alter our own destiny. When we realize that we cannot alter the course of our lives in a positive way, we see that it is foolish to ignore God’s warnings and try to succeed without his help.

We reach the second step of repentance when we are willing to talk to God about what has gone wrong in our lives. We are instructed in Lamentations 2:19 to, “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches, pour out thine heart like water before the face of the LORD: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of the young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” The Hebrew word translated arise, quwm (koom) is sometimes used to signify empowering or strengthening (6965). In this instance, it is most likely suggesting a restoration of relationship and communication.

It is clear from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that the desired outcome of repentance is a restored relationship with God and our fellow man (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). The key to a right relationship with God is an understanding that his commandments are not optional. It is easy to believe that we are free to choose whether or not we want to live according to God’s word, but the fact of the matter is that there will always be negative consequences if we choose to disobey him.

Having a relationship with God is a prerequisite for forgiveness. God does not forgive strangers. The type of relationship that is necessary is not only personal, but also intimate. The phrase in Lamentations 2:19, “pour out thine heart like water before the LORD” is similar to a phrase used by king David in Psalm 62. David said, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him” (Psalm 62:8). The idea being we are to express sincere and intense conviction when we communicate with God.

Disobedience

The disobedience of God’s people involved more than just breaking his commandments. At the heart of the Mosaic Law was an intent to establish a relationship between God and his people that involved ongoing communication. Many times, God’s people were encouraged to listen to the voice of the LORD and to pay attention to his instructions, but the people chose to ignore the God that had delivered them from bondage.

The final act of disobedience by the remnant of people left in Judah was leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt, the place that they had been delivered from. It says in Jeremiah 43:7, “So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.” The residence of Pharaoh was in Tahpanhes, so most likely this was a city that catered to his needs, a place where jobs as household servants were abundant.

After the last remnant of people left Jerusalem, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. He said, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein” (Jeremiah 44:2). The lack of life in Jerusalem was a testament to the complete desolation that God had brought on his people. No one remained because there were none that had been faithful to his commandments.

In a final act of retaliation, God swore to destroy the remnant that had departed to Egypt (Jeremiah 44:14). If this weren’t bad enough, God’s people made it clear that their relationship with the LORD was over. They would worship the queen of heaven, Ishtar, instead. They said to Jeremiah, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil” (Jeremiah 44:16-17).

Trouble makers

After the fall of Jerusalem, it says in Jeremiah 39:9-10, “Then Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan governor over the cities of Judah and had Jeremiah released from prison. “Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6).

Everything was fine until the captain of the forces which were in the fields, that had escaped with king Zedekiah when he tried to run away from Nebuchadnezzar, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor in the land (Jeremiah 40:7). The leader of the men, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, wanted to kill Gedaliah and take back control of Judah. Even though the captains of the forces tried to warn Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13-14), it says in Jeremiah 41:2, “Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.”

A power struggle between Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and Johanan the son of Kareah resulted in Ishmael escaping to the Ammonites and Johanan and all the military men that were with him looking to Jeremiah for advice about what to do next. Jeremiah was asked to pray to the LORD and was told that whatever God said, the men would obey his instructions (Jeremiah 42:6). Jeremiah received this message:

If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you  to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God, Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: and now therefore here the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your face to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt;  and there ye shall die.

Afterwards, Johanan accused Jeremiah of lying to him (Jeremiah 43:2). In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, it says in Jeremiah 43:5-7, “But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations, whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah: even men, and women, and children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.”

A coward

The kings of Israel and Judah had a responsibility as the earthly representative of God to defend and protect his people. In some instances, the king was considered a savior because God used him to deliver his people from their enemies (2 Kings 13:4-5). Like their Messiah, the king of Judah was endowed with special capabilities that enabled him to intercede for the people, and yet, many of Judah’s kings neglected their responsibilities and sought help from foreign kings (2 Kings 23:35).

King Zedekiah, the last king to rule over God’s people, had access to God  through the prophet Jeremiah. After Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and his people that Babylon was going to attack and destroy Judah, king Zedekiah began to seek counsel from Jeremiah secretly (Jeremiah 37:17). Although the king knew Jeremiah was telling him the truth, he had already made up his mind to disregard Jeremiah’s advice.

The reason king Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly was so that no one would know he planned to use the information Jeremiah provided to save himself from going into captivity. While the rest of the nation was deceived into thinking the king of Babylon was going to retreat as he had when the Egyptians came to assist Judah, king Zedekiah knew the end of his nation was nearing, and so, he distanced himself from Jeremiah to make it seem as though he wasn’t paying any attention to his message.

Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:9), but king Zedekiah rescued him and arranged a meeting. It says in Jeremiah 38:14, “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD, and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.” Zedekiah used his position as king to gain an advantage over the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to reveal the future to him and Zedekiah intended to use the information for his own benefit.

Jeremiah told the king exactly what he needed to do to avoid Jerusalem being burned to the ground. The kings response showed his true motive for disobedience to God’s command was a lack of concern for anyone but himself. It says in Jeremiah 38:19, “And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.” Jeremiah assured Zedekiah he would be safe if he obeyed the LORD and encouraged him to listen to the voice of the LORD (Jeremiah 38:20).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah chose to keep the truth hidden and threatened Jeremiah with death if he told anyone else what he revealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:24). In the end, Judah’s army believed they could withstand Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and many of the people waited inside the walls of the city until it was too late for them to surrender and save their own lives (2 Chronicles 36:17).

Recompense

God intended his children to be different than everyone else. He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land so they could prosper and live there for ever. When the Mosaic Law was implemented, God made a way for his people to be forgiven of their sins and again to prosper even though they had made mistakes. As a result of their special treatment, the Israelites became wicked, and selfish, and took advantage of God’s mercy toward them (Jeremiah 5:27-28). In some ways, God’s people acted as if the LORD was their servant, instead of the other way around. God asked Jeremiah, “Do they provoke me to anger? do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? (Jeremiah 7:19). In other words, God was saying that the people had lost sight of who they were and why he had delivered them from slavery.

The main thing the people of Judah had forgotten was their responsibility to do the will of God. The LORD reminded Jeremiah, “But this thing commanded I them saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jeremiah 7:23). Just because their sins were forgiven didn’t mean God’s children were exempt from suffering the consequences of their wrong behavior. In effect, God had told the Israelites from the beginning that it would go well for them if they obeyed his commandments, but if they didn’t, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28:15). In condemnation of their wrong choices, the LORD stated, “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsel and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:24).

Jeremiah warned the people  of Judah of terrible days to come. He described the scene of a great slaughter that would take place at a sight known as the “valley of the son of Hinnom” where children were burned in a fire pit as a sacrifice to pagan gods (note on Jeremiah 7:31). As if he was paying a recompense to the unfortunate children that had been killed there, the LORD said he would turn the valley of Hinnom into a cemetery when the people of Judah were slaughtered there by the Babylonian invaders. He said, “Therefore, behold, the days will come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Himmom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place. And the carcasses of the people shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away” (Jeremiah 7:32-33).

The curse

It’s hard to imagine that God knew Israel would end up going into captivity even before they entered the Promised Land, but along side the blessings of obedience listed in Deuteronomy 28 are the curses of disobedience which state:

And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you dood, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone…Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant  of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt: for they went and served other gods, and worshipped them , gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them; and the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book: and the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them unto another land, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64; 29:25-28)

Hoshea, the last king of Israel, reigned from 732-722 B.C. Shalmanezer, the successor to Tiglath-pilneser king of Assyria, conducted a three-year protracted siege against Israel that ended in 722 B.C. “At that time, according to Assyrian annuls written on clay ‘I (Sargon) besieged and conquered Samaria, led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants…I installed over (those remaining) an officer of mine and imposed upon them the tribute of the former king” (Campaign of Shalmanezer V).

The explanation of Israel’s captivity was that they did not believe in the LORD their God. “And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them” (2 Kings 17:15).

God did not force the Israelites to obey him. He gave them a choice (Deuteronomy 30:19) and clearly stated the consequences they could expect (Deuteronomy 28). Israel’s disobedience resulted in God rejecting them and turning them over to their enemies to be punished (2 Kings 17:20). After the king of Assyria removed them from the land, he “brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of God” (2 Kings 17:24).

The resettlement of Samaria with a mixture of cultures and nationalities led to diverse religious practices and idolatry. It says in 2 Kings 17:29 that even though the people were taught God’s divine law, “Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.” In a very hypocritical manner, these people practiced syncretistic religion. “They feared the LORD, and served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33).

Out of control

The story of Jonah reveals to us that God’s purpose in choosing the Israelites to be his people was not to exclude the rest of the world from having a relationship with him, but to demonstrate his sovereignty and control over his creation. Jonah’s view of the world was that boundaries existed around God’s kingdom. There were certain areas outside of God’s control. God showed Jonah that he controlled everything and could accomplish his will in spite of Israel’s disobedience.

When Jonah received instructions to go to Nineveh, he chose to go to Tarshish instead because he thought it was outside the boundary of God’s control. It says in Jonah 1:3, “Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” One way to think of fleeing from the presence of the LORD is that you are hiding from him. He can’t see you and is therefore, unaware of what you are doing. Jonah thought if he got far enough away from Israel, he would be outside the boundary of God’s awareness and control.

Jonah’s trip to Tarshish was interrupted by a hurricane (Jonah 1:4). As the ship was beginning to be broken into pieces, the men on board searched for a cause for their misfortune. “And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah” (Jonah 1:7). Jonah’s attempt to conceal his identity was another way he thought he could escape God’s control. When he was exposed through the casting of lots, Jonah realized God was with him on the ship.

The men on the ship did not know the LORD, and yet, they believed he was in control of the storm that had overtaken them. “Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee” (Jonah 1:14). The phrase “hast done as it pleased thee” conveys the idea of, you know what is best, we will leave this in your hands. The men had placed their  trust in God.

Jonah expected to die when the men threw him off the ship. Rather than submit himself to God’s will, Jonah preferred death. But, even when Jonah tried to escape God through death, he was not successful. “Now the LORD prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

 

 

A fatal mistake

Ahab’s insistence  on going his own way is evident in his decision to attack Syria after entering into a peace treaty with king Ben-hadad (1 Kings 22:3). Ahab didn’t seem to understand that he was not free to do as he pleased. As God’s representative to the nation of Israel, Ahab was required to do God’s will, even if that meant staying at home and minding his own business.

The role of the  prophets was to inform the king of God’s will, but the prophets in Ahab’s kingdom were telling him what he wanted to hear rather than speaking God’s word to him. At the request of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, Ahab agreed to consult a prophet that was faithful to God, Micaiah, before attacking Syria.

And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. (1 Kings 22:13-14)

At first, Micaiah told Ahab what he wanted to hear, that he should attack the Syrians and the LORD would deliver them into his hand, but Ahab knew he was lying. “And Ahab said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD?” (1 Kings 22:16).

Ahab knew it was a mistake to attack the Syrians, but he did it anyway. Ahab believed he could beat the Syrian army in his own strength, without the LORD’s help. Under normal circumstances, Ahab’s army might have been able to beat the Syrians, but the covenant between Ahab and Ben-hadad prevented Ahab from attacking Syria. Therefore, “the king of Syria commanded his thirty and two captains that had rule over his chariots, saying, Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:31).

With Ben-hadad’s entire army coming after him, king Ahab didn’t stand a chance. Ultimately, it was the LORD’s divine judgment that sealed Ahab’s fate, but Ahab’s foolishness put him in harm’s way unnecessarily. If Ahab had listened to Micaiah, his life would have been spared.