Spiritual growth

Peter’s first letter was written to converted Israelites who were living in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)” (Introduction to the First Letter of Peter). Peter focused his attention on two key aspects of these Christians’ lives, submission and suffering. Peter began by stating that God the Father “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). The phrase caused to be born again is “used metaphorically for a change of carnal nature to a Christian life; to regenerate…It is equivalent to being a child of God” (G313). Peter used the pronoun us to indicate that he was a member of God’s family too and as such, was speaking to himself as well as his audience when he said, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Peter connected the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you with being grieved by various trials in order to show that there is a reason why Christians suffer. Peter indicated that “the salvation of your souls” is the outcome of trusting in God (1 Peter 1:9).

The Greek word that is translated outcome, telos (telˊ-os) means “to set out for a definite point or goal” and is properly translated as “the point aimed at as a limit, i.e. (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state” (G5056). The thought that telos conveys is that there is a purpose for things that happen and that the processes we go through as Christians have an end to them. Telos is often translated as the end in reference to Jesus’ ministry and his purpose for coming into the world. Peter talked about the end in the context of being stewards of God’s grace and suffering as a Christian. Peter said, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:7-8) Peter went on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Peter’s final statement, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19) suggests that doing good is a part of suffering and that it has an effect on our souls. In order to rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed, it seems that Peter expected believers to go through a process of suffering that would change their souls and result in Christ’s resurrection being realized in their own lives.

The Apostle Paul talked about being transformed by the renewal of your mind and said that Christians are to be a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1-2 states:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The renewal that Paul was talking about was a qualitative change. “Therefore, a renewing or a renovation which makes a person different that in the past” (G342). The Greek word nous (nooce) defines the mind “as the seat of emotions and affections, mode of thinking and feeling, disposition, moral inclination, equivalent to the heart (Romans 1:28; 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:17, 23; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:15)” (G3563). Paul expanded his teaching on the renewal of the mind in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

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

Paul said that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). Darkness was being used metaphorically to describe a mind that is void of spiritual truth. Jesus told his followers, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Luke’s gospel tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples and told them, “’These are my words that I have spoken to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The Greek word that is translated opened, dianoigo (dee-an-oyˊ-go) means “to open thoroughly, literally (as a first-born)” (G1272). Jesus’ opening of the minds of his followers was likely considered to be a part of the process of being born again. They received directly from Jesus an initial understanding of the Scriptures that had to do with his death and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46-49) so that his disciples could proclaim the gospel and start bringing others to a saving knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Peter indicated that new Christians need to be fed, just like newborn babies. Peter said that having purified our souls by obedience to the truth, we should love one another earnestly from a pure heart, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23). And then, Peter went on to say, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2). The Greek word that Peter used for spiritual milk, logikos (log-ik-osˊ) is derived from the word logos (logˊ-os) which has to do with “the expression of thought…in this respect it is the message from the Lord, delivered with His authority and made effective by His power…’The Personal Word,’ a title of the Son of God” (G3056). “Logikos pertains to the reasoning faculty, reasonable, rational and is used of the service rendered by believers in presenting their bodies a living sacrifice. The sacrifice is to be in accordance with the spiritual intelligence of those who are new creatures in Christ and are mindful of the mercies of God; in contrast to those offered by ritual and compulsion (Romans 12:1)…It is found also in 1 Peter 2:2, ‘(milk) of the word’ and so here the nourishment may be understood as of that spiritually rational nature which, acting through the regenerate mind, develops spiritual growth. God’s word is not given so that it is impossible to understand it, or that it requires a special class of men to interpret it; its character is such that the Holy Spirit who gave it can unfold its truths even to the young convert” (G3050).

In his second letter, Peter talked about spiritual growth in the context of believers becoming partakers of the divine nature. Peter said:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)

Peter indicated that believers must supplement their faith, which meant that something needed to be added to faith in order for it to be effective. The Greek word epichoregeo (ep-ee-khor-ayg-ehˊ-o), which is translated supplement, comes from the root words epi (ep-eeˊ) and choregeo (khor-ayg-ehˊ-o). Choregeo is where the English word choreography comes from. Choreography is the sequence of steps and movements in dance. I believe Peter was laying out for believers the sequence of steps that need to be followed in order for them to produce spiritual fruit. Peter said, “supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7), suggesting there might be a progressive flow from one spiritual attribute to the next.

Paul talked about the way of love in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-13)

Paul said, “The greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). The Greek word meizon (mideˊ-zone) associates greatness with age (G3187). Paul may have been thinking of the greatness of love in terms of spiritual maturity or as indicator of spiritual growth. Paul said that when he was a child, he spoke like a child, but “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Peter indicated that pure spiritual milk would help believers to grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

Peter referred to the qualities that produce spiritual growth as things that need to be practiced. He said, “If you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). In this instance, fall has to do with committing sin (G4417). Peter’s assertion that you will never fall if you practice the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love make it seem as if it is possible for a believer to live a perfect life. The point that I believe Peter was trying to make was not that practice makes perfect, but that a continual effort toward spiritual growth will keep you from experiencing moral failure. Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that Israel’s rejection of their Messiah made it possible for the entire world to be reconciled to God (Romans 11:15) and indicated that Israel would at some point in the future be grafted back into the family of God (Romans 11:24). Paul said, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). The irrevocableness of God’s gifts and calling is based on the impossibility of us changing God’s will for our lives. In particular, God’s plan of salvation was instituted before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and our predestination for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who seals us until we acquire possession of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). Peter may have intended the qualities he identified in 2 Peter 1:5-7 to be a gauge of our spiritual progress, rather than a prescription for our spiritual success.

The life of Samson is an Old Testament example of stunted spiritual growth. We know that Samson had faith because he is listed in Hebrews 11:32 as one of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33-34). Samson’s marriage to one of the daughters of the Philistines was used by God as an opportunity against the Philistines, but it resulted in Samson returning to his parents’ home “in hot anger” (Judges 14:19). God gave Samson superhuman strength in order to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (note on Judges 13:24) and the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him on multiple occasions (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14), but Samson didn’t seem to make much spiritual progress during the twenty years that he judged Israel. Samson’s lack of wisdom is evident in the decisions he made about getting involved with foreign women. After Samson’s Philistine wife “was given to his companion, who had been his best man” (Judges 14:20), it says in Judges 16:1, “Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.” During the night, the Gazites set an ambush for Samson, “But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron” (Judges 16:3). Samson’s ability to escape the ambush may have caused him to become reckless or perhaps selfish with the gift that God had given him. “The true source of Samson’s great strength was not in his long hair or in abstaining from strong drink. His might came from the Spirit of the LORD (Judges 15:14) and was provided by God to accomplish his will” (note on Judges 15:14, 15).

After Samson’s escape from the ambush in Gaza, Judges 16:4-6 tells us:

He loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.”

The Philistines objective of overpowering Samson would not have been possible if Samson had refused to reveal the source of his superhuman strength to Delilah. “Samson’s admission to Delilah resulted in the breaking of his covenant, the Nazirite vow, and God left him as a result (Judges 16:20). His strength returned one more time, however, allowing him to decimate the Philistine leaders (Judges 16:30). This came about only after he humbly acknowledged that God was the true source of his strength (Judges 16:28)” (note on Judges 16:17).

Samson demonstrated virtue, the manifestation of God’s divine power, but that seems to be where his spiritual growth stopped. Peter said that believers should “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and your virtue with knowledge, and your knowledge with self-control” (2 Peter 1:5-6). The Greek word gnosis (gnoˊ-sis), which is translated knowledge, “means primarily ‘a seeking to know, an enquiry, investigation’” (G1108). Gnosis is derived from the word ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko). In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship” (G1097). Self-control “is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites…In 2 Peter 1:6, it follows ‘knowledge,’ suggesting that what is learned requires to be put into practice” (G1466). Samson’s failure to learn from his experience with his first wife (Judges 14:17) resulted in him revealing information to Delilah that could be used against him. It says in Judges 16:16-17, “And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his heart.” The Hebrew word that is translated vexed, qatsar (kaw-tsarˊ) means “to harvest” (H7114) and is usually translated reap. Paul said in his letter to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to the flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Samson’s humble acknowledgement that God was the true source of his strength showed that his knowledge of God had been expanded through his experience of being betrayed by Delilah (Judges 16:18) and the suffering that followed (Judges 16:21). It says in Judges 16:28 that Samson called to the LORD. The Hebrew word qara (kaw-rawˊ) refers to “an encounter through the idea of accosting a person met” and is properly translated “address by name…To ‘call’ on God’s name is to summon his aid” (H7121). Judges 16:28 states, “Then Samson called to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson called the LORD, Lord. The Hebrew word Adonay (ad-o-noyˊ) means “’Lord’ par excellence or ‘Lord over all,’ even as it sometimes does in the form adon (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17, where God is called the ‘God of gods, and Lord of lords’; Joshua 3:11, where He is called the ‘Lord of all the earth’). The word adonay appears in Genesis 15:2: ‘And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless….’” (H138). According to Revelation 19:16, the name “King of kings and Lord of lords will be written on Jesus’ robe and on his thigh at the time of his second coming. It seems that before he gained the victory over his enemies (Judges 16:29-30), Samson had to recognize and acknowledge Jesus in this way.

Human sacrifice

Moses warned the people of Israel against idolatry before they entered the Promised Land. Moses said, “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31). “The religion of the Canaanites was extremely corrupt. It was characterized by the practices of human sacrifice, ritual prostitution and homosexuality, and self-mutilation. These religions taught that these practices were prevalent among their gods, so it is not surprising that the people became equally debased” (note on Judges 2:13). Israel’s disobedience and unfaithfulness to God began around the time of Joshua’s death. It says in Judges 2:7-13:

And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. 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 the Ashtaroth.

Israel’s abandonment of God meant that they were making sacrifices to other gods. The Hebrew word that is translated abandoned in Judges 2:13, ʿazab (aw-zabˊ) “carries a technical sense of ‘completely and permanently abandoned’ or ‘divorced’” (H5800). It says in Judges 8:33, “As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.”

Israel’s further disobedience and oppression led to an acknowledgment of their sin (Judges 10:10) and a temporary reprieve from the misery of their circumstances. It says in Judges 10:15-16, “And the people of Israel said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel.” In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase his soul was grieved is used instead of the words became impatient. The Hebrew words nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) qatsar (kaw-tsarˊ) have to do with the condition of one’s soul and suggest that God’s vitality was diminished because of the trouble his people were getting into. God was becoming impatient in the sense that he wanted to change the Israelites’ situation because of the effect it was having on him. It was literally breaking his heart (H5315/H7114).

God’s decision to use Jephthah to deliver the people of Israel from the Ammonites may have been a result of his lack of better choices. It says in Judges 11:1, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute.” One thing that is clear about Jephthah’s character is that he wanted to be admired by others. Judges 11:1-11 states:

Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him. After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.” But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

The terms of Jephthah and the Gileadites agreement were spoken before the LORD at Mizpah. Mizpah is the location where Jacob and his uncle Laban made a covenant with each other and said that God would be a witness between them when they were out of each other’s sight (Genesis 31:49). The Hebrew word from which Mizpah originated, tsaphah (tsaw-fawˊ) “occurs for the first time in the Old Testament in the so-called Mizpah Benediction: ‘The Lord watch between me and thee…’ (Genesis 31:49). The meaning in this context is ’to watch’ with a purpose, that of seeing that the covenant between Laban and Jacob was kept. Thus, the statement by Laban is more of a threat than a benediction. Similarly, when God’s ‘eyes behold the nations’ (Psalm 66:7), it is much more than a casual look. Perhaps in most uses, the connotation of ‘to spy’ would be the most accurate” (H6822). The lack of trust between Jephthah and the elders of Gilead was probably rooted in the harsh treatment that Jephthah received from his brothers (Judges 11:2) and the fact that he had been living in Tob with what is described as “worthless fellows” (Judges 11:3), for likely many years.

We know that Jephthah was a man of faith because he is mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-34, which states, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” It says that Jephthah was made strong out of weakness and became mighty in war. The Greek words that are translated were made strong and became mighty indicate that Jephthah was transformed from a weak and ineffective leader to a strong and mighty warrior. Jephthah initially sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites trying to avoid a war, but the king of the Ammonites didn’t listen to Jephthah (Judges 11:28) and it says in Judges 11:29, “then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah.” The Spirit of the LORD made it possible for Jephthah to do what he needed to. The Greek word that is translated were made strong in Hebrews 11:34, endunamoō (en-doo-nam-oˊ-o) means “to empower” (G1743) and is derived from the words en (en) “denoting (fixed) position (in place, time, or state)” (G1722) and dunamoo (doo-nam-oˊ-o) which means “to enable” (G1412). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) which means “force (literal or figurative); specifically miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)…Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours” (G1411).

Jephthah may or may not have been aware that the Spirit of the LORD had come upon him. As Jephthah crossed over into the territory of the Ammonites, it says in Judges 11:30-31, “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” After Jephthah subdued the Ammonites, Judges 11:34-40 tells us:

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

“Jephthah’s vow has caused much concern for Bible scholars. He may have understood the possibility of human sacrifice when he originally made the vow and may have performed such an act. A vow was not to be broken (Judges 11:35, cf. Numbers 30:2), and Jephthah kept his (Judges 11:39). The precise nature of the vow, however is debated. Jephthah certainly must have been familiar with God’s prohibitions regarding human sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10), and it seems inconceivable that one who was empowered by the Spirit of the Lord in a unique way (Judges 11:29) would make such a diabolical vow that directly contradicted God’s explicit command, especially in the context of seeking God’s help (Judges 11:30). It was customary for women to greet returning warriors (Exodus 15:20; 1 Samuel 18:6), and therefore it is suggested that if Jephthah had originally intended a human sacrifice, he would not have been surprised and distraught when his only child (Judges 11:34) came out to meet him and became the object of his vow (Judges 11:35). Jephthah may have intended something other than a literal burnt sacrifice, or his apprehension concerning the battle with the Ammonites may have caused him to word his vow hastily. Even if the vow had included the possibility of human sacrifice, Jephthah may have dedicated his daughter to the service of the Lord instead, equating that with fulfilling his vow. Literal burnt offerings symbolized complete dedication to the Lord in that the sacrifice was entirely consumed (Leviticus 1:9, 13; 6:22, 23). It seems unlikely that Jephthah would have been commended for his faith (see Hebrews 11:32) if he had taken his daughter’s life and broken God’s law in such a serious matter. The statement that ‘she had never known a man’ follows Jephthah’s fulfilling the vow (Judges 11:39) and would be meaningless if he had taken her life. It may refer instead to the fact that, as one who was wholly given to the service of the Lord, she would have to continue in her virginity. That would explain why she spent two months bemoaning her virginity (Judges 11:37) rather than her abruptly shortened life” (note on Judges 11:29-40).

Jephthah tore his clothes, a sign of mourning, and told his daughter, “You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me” (Judges 11:35) when she came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. The Hebrew word that is translated trouble, akar (aw-karˊ) means figuratively “to disturb or afflict” (H5916). Jacob used the word akar after his two sons killed all the males in the city of Shechem because of the rape of their sister Dinah. Genesis 34:30 states, “Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” Like Jacob, Jephthah blamed his daughter for the outcome of his mistake. Jephthah didn’t seem to regret that he had promised God that he would offer up for a burnt offering “whatever comes out from the doors of my house” (Judges 11:31), but rather that his daughter happened to be the one that came through the doors to greet him and to celebrate his victory.

The commendable thing to note about Jephthah’s agonizing situation was that he kept his vow (Judges 11:39). It says in Numbers 30:1-2, “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath, to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” A vow was “an oral, voluntary promise to give or do something as an expression of consecration or devotion to the service of God” (H5087). According to the Mosaic Law, once a man’s vow was made, it could not be revoked under any circumstances. When Abraham’s faith was tested, God told him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). Genesis 22:9-10 tells us, “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” Abraham intended to go through with sacrificing his son. “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (Genesis 22:11-12). God spared Isaac’s life because Abraham demonstrated his willingness to do whatever God told him to. The common theme between Abraham and Jephthah’s situations was obedience to the word of God.

After the angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, Genesis 22:13-14 tells us, “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’; and it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.’” The intended substitutionary nature of sacrifices was made evident in the Mosaic Law through the Day of Atonement. A bull for a sin offering, a ram for a burnt offering, and two make goats were required to make atonement for the priest and the people of Israel. Leviticus 16:6-10 states:

“Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.”

The name Azazel means “the scapegoat” (H5799). After the sin offerings had been made, Aaron was instructed to lay both of his hands on the head of the scapegoat, “and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself in a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21-22).

The Day of Atonement was the only time the priest could enter the Holy Place and come before the mercy seat where God would appear to him (Leviticus 16:2). The book of Hebrews explains that Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter could have been avoided if he had understood what Abraham did, that Jesus would established a better covenant through his substitutionary death on the cross that would be able to “purify the conscience from dead works” (Hebrews 9:14). One of the flaws of the Mosaic Law was that it offered the people of Israel a temporary solution to the problem of sin. It says in Hebrews 9:9-10 that “according to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” Reformation is a reference to the dispensation of Christianity. The Greek word diorthosis (dee-orˊ-tho-sis) means “to straighten thoroughly, rectification” (G1357). The correction that Jesus made was to eliminate the need for perpetual sacrifices. Hebrews 10:10-14 tells us that we have been sanctified, made holy, “through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he had perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”

A Supernatural Victory

Judges 2:12 tells us that the people of Israel “abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. As a result of their idolatry, “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies 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” (Judges 2:14-15). The Hebrew word that is translated distress, yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) means “to press” (H3334) and suggests that pressure was being applied in order to bring about some type of change. An identical word refers to pressure “through the squeezing into shape” and means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter” (H3335). Yatsar is used primarily in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah to refer to God’s active involvement in the formation and subsequent destruction of the nation of Israel. The prophet Jeremiah was taken to the potter’s house so that he could see what God was going to do and to deliver the message to God’s people. Jeremiah 18:1-11 states:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping (yatsar) disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

God compared his shaping of disaster to the pressure that the potter used to mold his clay into the form that he wanted it to take. God explained that it was necessary for him to do that because the Israelites had crossed over the boundary of right and entered the forbidden land of wrong. He said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did or not” (Judges 2:20-22).

Testing was the method God used to prove that Abraham’s faith was genuine and that he would obey him, even if what he was being asked to do didn’t make any sense or was contrary to his human nature (Genesis 22:1-19). The Greek word peirazo (pi-radˊ-zo) means “to test” and is sometimes translated as tempted as when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). “Testing will cause its recipients to appear as what they always have been. This is predominantly, though not exclusively, the sense of peirazo. Nothing in the word requires it to refer to a trial given with the intention of entangling the person in sins. Peirazo properly means to make an experience of, to pierce or search into, or to attempt (Acts 16:7, 24:6). It also signifies testing whose intention was to discover whether a person or thing was good or evil or strong or weak (Matthew 16:1; 19:3; 22:18); or if the outcome is already known to the tester, to reveal the same to the one being tested (2 Corinthians 13:5). Sinners are said to test God, when they put Him to the test by refusing to believe His word until He manifests His power. God tempts people only in the sense of self-knowledge and so that they may and often do emerge from testing holier, humbler, and stronger than they were before” (G3985). James, the oldest half-brother of the Lord Jesus, said in his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:12-15)

The Greek word that is translated steadfast, hupomeno (hoop-om-enˊ-o) means “to stay under (behind), i.e. remain; figuratively to undergo, i.e. bear (trials), have fortitude, persevere” (G5278). Jesus used the word hupomeno on two different occasions to describe what was going to happen to his disciples after his death and during the great tribulation. Jesus said, “Brother will deliver brother over to death and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures (hupomeno) to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22). Later he added, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures (hupomeno) to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13).

Jesus associated steadfastness or endurance during times of trials and testing with being saved in the sense of a person receiving material and temporal deliverance from danger, suffering, etc from God (G4982). When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said:

“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the Lordturned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16)

The LORD’s statement, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14), indicated that the LORD intended to give Gideon a supernatural victory. Gideon’s response showed that he was aware of his human limitations and that he didn’t believe he could accomplish what God expected him to do, but God assured Gideon that he would be with him and therefore, his predicted outcome was certain.

Gideon is included among the examples of outstanding faith in Hebrews 11:32, so we know that God was stretching Gideon spiritually when he said, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into your hand” (Judges 7:2). God explained to Gideon that the people might think that they had saved themselves if a normal sized army was used to fight the battle. God told Gideon to send home everyone that was fearful and trembling, “Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained” (Judges 7:3), but the LORD told Gideon:

“The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” (Judges 7:4-7)

God said that he was going to test the people for Gideon. In this instance, testing meant that God was going to refine or purify Gideon’s army by letting each person’s the state of mind determine whether or not he would be a hindrance to Gideon’s intended victory. One who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps might have been the sign of a person who was calm and relaxed, a person that had the peace of God, a kind of supernatural peace that passes all understanding. Only 300 of the 10,000 people who had already indicated that they were not afraid demonstrated the characteristic that God was looking for.

After his army was reduced to 300 men, God reinforced Gideon’s faith by letting him listen in on a conversation that took place in the Midianite camp. It says in Judges 7:9-15:

That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.” As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand.”

The fact that Gideon saw the people of the East spread out along the valley like locusts in abundance and yet, believed that the LORD was going to give them into his hand with the aid of only 300 soldiers is evidence that his faith was at work and that he was expecting a supernatural victory.

Jesus told his disciples multiple times before his death that he was going to be crucified, but he also indicated that he was expecting a supernatural victory, his resurrection three days later. Matthew’s gospel tells us that after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus rebuked Peter because he wasn’t setting his mind on the things of God. The Greek word that is translated setting your mind, phroneo (fron-ehˊ-o) means “’to think, to be minded in a certain way’; implying moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion” (G5426). This suggests that Peter was thinking like Satan and was a hindrance to Jesus’ mission of saving the world at that point in time. Similar to the way the LORD bolstered Gideon’s faith before he went into battle, Matthew tells us that six days later, “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-2). Afterward, “Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead’” (Matthew 17:9). Jesus referred to his transfiguration as a vision, a supernatural spectacle (G3705) that was intended to help Peter, James, and John to discern more clearly his true identity (G3708). The reason why Jesus commanded them to tell no one the vision until he was raised from the dead may have been because the knowledge that Jesus was going to be glorified through his death on the cross might have changed the religious leaders’ minds about crucifying him.

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)

The Hebrew word that is translated higher, gabahh (gaw-bahˊ) means “to soar” (H1361). The idea behind the use of this word is that God’s thoughts and ways are beyond our grasp, but there is also a sense that knowing things the way God does causes us to operate on a higher plane, to do things that are above or beyond the normal capabilities of humans.

God told Gideon that he couldn’t give the Midianites into his hand with the 32,000 people he started off with “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). The attitude that we can save ourselves or that we can thwart God’s effort to bring about a particular outcome is rooted in pride and self-sufficiency. The nations that surrounded Israel promoted this kind of thinking and were determined to disrupt the establishment of a godly nation. Psalm 83 reveals the extent to which this negative mindset was driving the Midianites to interfere in the lives of God’s people. It states:

O God, do not keep silence;
    do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
    those who hate you have raised their heads.
They lay crafty plans against your people;
    they consult together against your treasured ones.
They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
    let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
For they conspire with one accord;
    against you they make a covenant—
the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
    Moab and the Hagrites,
Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
    Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
Asshur also has joined them;
    they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. Selah (Psalm 83:1-8)

The enemies’ attempt to wipe out the nation of Israel was met with a plan that was so beyond their wildest imagination that no one had a clue what was going on when Gideon and his three hundred men came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch and blew their trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands (Judges 7:19). Panic set in, “And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath” (Judges 7:22).

Judges 7:22 tells us that when Gideon’s 300 soldiers blew their trumpets, “the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army.” In other words, the LORD caused the enemies’ army to start fighting each other. Gideon and his men didn’t have to do anything until the size of their army had been reduced significantly. Judges 8:10-12 states, “Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.” Gideon was able to turn the tables on his enemies’ army by capturing the two kings that had instigated the war against him. The Hebrew word that is translated into a panic, charad (khaw-radˊ) means “to shudder with terror” (H2729). Charad is used in Exodus 19:16-17 to describe the Israelites reaction to meeting God. Likewise, the women that went to Jesus’ tomb on the morning of his resurrection “went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them” (Mark 16:8). The Greek word that is translated astonishment, ekstasis (ek’-stas-is) refers to “the state of being out of one’s usual mind” (G1611). Supernatural events can cause a type of temporary insanity in that we aren’t able to think like we usually do. From that standpoint, they are disruptive and may be used by God to change people’s minds and attitudes about their circumstances, as was demonstrated by Gideon’s victory over the Midianites and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

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).

Eternal life

Psalm 119:89 states, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” “The ‘word’ of God indicates God’s thoughts and will” (H1697). Therefore, it may be concluded that God’s thoughts and will do not change based on temporal activities on earth. We know from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that God decided who would be adopted into his family through Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). What that means is that before God had even conceived the idea of creating the planet that we live on, he had already thought out his plan of salvation and predetermined who would be saved. God’s ability to think and choose things that are linked to temporal activities is possible because his existence is not limited by time. In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John records his visit to God’s throne in heaven. John said:

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:6-8)

The four living creatures describe the Lord God Almighty as someone “who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). The words was, is, and is to come refer to “the Eternal, as a divine epithet of Christ” (G3801). John’s gospel begins with a discussion of the eternal existence of Jesus Christ. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Jesus “is called the logos (G3056), ‘word,’ the term used by the Greeks in reference to the governing power behind all things. The Jews used the term to refer to God. Jesus created everything that is (v.3) and later came to dwell among his creation (John 1:14). There are two main verbs that contrast what Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation. There is ēn, the imperfect of eimi (G1510), ‘to be,’ which could be translated as ‘had been.’ This verb is found in every instance in this passage where Jesus is referred to in his eternal state of being (vv. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 15)…The second verb is egeneto (the aorist form of ginomai [G1096], ‘to become’). It refers to becoming something that one was not before. The Lord Jesus became that which he was not before, a physical being (v. 14)” (note on John 1:1-17). What Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation correspond with the was and is of his divine epithet, but the is to come was still in the future at the time of John’s visit to God’s throne room in heaven.

The Hebrew word that is translated forever in Psalm 119:89, ʿowlam (o-lawmˊ) is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; (generally) time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practical) eternity” (H5769). ʿOwlam is derived from the word ʿalam (aw-lamˊ) which means “to veil from sight” (H5956). Eternity is veiled from our sight in that we cannot think or imagine what it will be like in the present. Jesus used parables to teach his followers about the kingdom of heaven. After he had told them the parable of the sower, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand’” (Matthew 13:10-13). “Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand” (note on Matthew 13:10-17). Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that the man who is “governed only by his fallen nature is unable to fully understand and apply spiritual truths because he does not possess the indwelling of the Spirit of God” (note on 1 Corinthians 2:14). Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Greek word that is translated spiritually, pneumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-oceˊ) means “non-physical” (G4153) and is derived from the word pheumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-osˊ). “Pneumatikos always connotes the idea of invisibility and of power. It does not occur in the Old Testament or in the Gospels; it is in fact an after-Pentecost word. In the New Testament it is used as follows: men in Christ who walk so as to please God are ‘spiritual,’ Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 2:13b, 15; 3:1; 14:37…the resurrection body of the dead in Christ is ‘spiritual,’ i.e. such as is suited to the heavenly environment, 1 Corinthians 15:44; all that is produced and maintained among men by the operations of the Spirit of God is ‘spiritual,’ 1 Corinthians 15:46…The spiritual man is one who walks by the Spirit both in the sense of Galatians 5:16 and in that of 5:25, and who himself manifests the fruit of the Spirit in his own ways. According to the Scriptures, the ‘spiritual’ state of the soul is normal for the believer, but to this state all believers do not attain, nor when it is attained is it always maintained…The spiritual state is reached by diligence in the Word of God and in prayer; it is maintained by obedience and self-judgment” (G4152).

Jesus’ conversation with a rich young ruler began with a question about how he could obtain eternal life. Matthew’s gospel states:

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)

Jesus’ question, “Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matthew 19:17) was meant to point out that salvation from eternal death is not the result of something we do, but “it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Jesus told the young man that he could only enter life by keeping the commandments. Basically, what Jesus was saying was that keeping the commandments can get you through the door of eternal life, but in order to get past the judgment seat of Christ you must be perfect or what the Apostle Paul referred to as being “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10, 16-19).

Psalm 119:93 states, “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” The Hebrew word that is translated given me life, chayah (khaw-yawˊ) speaks of reviving or preserving life (H2421). The King James Version of the Bible translates chayah as quickened in Psalm 119:93. Paul used the word quicken in Romans 8:11 where he talked about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul said, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (KJV). The Greek word that is translated quicken, zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-ehˊ-o) is used “of resurrection life” and “of the ‘changing,’ or ‘fashioning anew,’ of the bodies of the living, which corresponds with, and takes place at the same time as, the resurrection of the dead in Christ” and “means to enable to respond to His voice immediately. Once born again and indwelt by the Holy Ghost, one does not have to wait to be able to respond. Response comes fully and instantaneously.” God’s precepts are things that have been divinely appointed or you might say things that God has issued a mandate that they must occur, “divine intervention in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfill a divine intent” (H6490/H6485). In that sense, never forgetting God’s precepts give us life because the process of remembering what God has done in the past to intervene in our lives involves the quickening of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples shortly before his death and resurrection, “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). An example of the Spirit’s quickening is recorded in John’s gospel. John 2:13-22 states:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The disciples weren’t able to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words until after he was resurrected. John said that they remembered what Jesus said, and as a result, “they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). Believing is a necessary element of eternal life. The Greek word that is translated believed, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). In his letter to the Romans, Paul said that Israel did not succeed in reaching a law that would lead them to righteousness, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:31-32) and then, went on to say:

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

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:5-17)

Paul acknowledged that there was a type of righteousness that was based on the law that could revive a person’s life, the implication being that it was merely an extension of physical life (Romans 10:5; Leviticus 18:5; H2425), but Paul made it clear that the type of righteousness that is based on faith is necessary for a person to be saved. “In the Christian sense, soteria (which is translated saved in Romans 10:10) is deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul said that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.

The eternal nature and power of God’s word was demonstrated in his creation of the heavens and the earth out of nothing (Genesis 1:1). It says in Genesis 1:2-3, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God’s ability to change the condition of his creation by speaking or commanding something to happen was at the heart of his decision to free the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Exodus 3:7-8 states, “Then the LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” God’s personal involvement in the Israelites’ situation was based on his covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21). God’s promise to rescue Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 15:14) was the reason why he went to such great lengths to preserve the Israelites’ lives (Deuteronomy 7:8) even though all the people rebelled against God after hearing the voice of the LORD speak the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Exodus 32:1-6).

Psalm 119:67 states, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” The Hebrew word that is translated afflicted, ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) has to do with being responsive (H6030) and suggests that we are more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s influence after God has disciplined us for committing a sin. This seems to be true in the case of Peter, who denied that he knew the Lord three times (Matthew 26:69-74), but was the first apostle to preach the gospel after the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-41). Peter’s sermon resulted in about three thousand people being saved (Acts 2:41). At the conclusion of his sermon, Peter stated, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Luke went on to say:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41)

The phrase cut to the heart meant that the people were under the Divine influence of God’s word (G2588). Speaking of salvation as entering God’s rest, Hebrews 4:11-13 states, “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 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 word of God’s pierces our heart by bringing to our minds the things that we’ve done that need to be forgiven. It says that the word of God can discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). In other words, our way of thinking is evident to God by our response to his word.

When he was asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), Peter told the people that were under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). The three steps of repentance are: 1) new knowledge, 2) regret for the previous course, displeasure with self, and 3) a change of action (G3340). When Jesus described himself as the true bread from heaven (John 6:32), the Jews grumbled because they didn’t see Jesus as the Son of God, but as the son of Joseph (John 6:41-42). Jesus tried to explain to them the concept of communion, but it went right over the Jews heads (John 6:52-59). Afterward, John tells us, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60-69). The Greek word rhema (hrayˊ-mah), which is translated words in John 6:68, refers to an oral narrative. “The significance of rhema, (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ Ephesians 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need” (G4487). Peter said that Jesus had the rhema of eternal life; indicating that, in order to be saved and have eternal life, the Holy Spirit must bring to your mind the individual scripture that makes you want to repent and have your sins forgiven.

God’s word

When he was asked the question, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36), Jesus summarized the Mosaic Law by stating, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The key ingredient in both of these commandments is love. 1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Love is a part of God’s essential nature and can be known only from the actions it prompts. “God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9, 10)…Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6). Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God. Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren , or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered” (G26). Christian love is depicted in the book of Ruth by Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17), Boaz’s generosity and kindness toward Ruth who was a foreigner from the land of Moab (Ruth 1:22; 2:8-9, 20), and Ruth’s selection of Boaz as her kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 3:10).

Abraham’s covenant with God was based on him having a personal relationship with the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated kindness in Ruth 2:20, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “means ‘loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; devotion.’ The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement the promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617). Chesed appears in Deuteronomy 7:7-12 where Moses explained God’s choice of the people of Israel and his expectations for them. It states:

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

Moses indicated that the people of Israel had to not only understand the rules that God had given them, but also to keep and do them (Deuteronomy 7:12). The three verbs: listen, keep, and do; suggest a progressive type of obedience that results in one’s behavior being completely conformed to the rules that have been established.

The Apostle Paul talked about believers being conformed to the image of Christ in his letter to the Romans. Paul said of God, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). Paul went on to talk about spiritual worship and said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The Greek words that Paul used in Romans 8:29 and 12:2 are both translated conformed, but have different meanings. Summorphos (soom-mor-fosˊ) and suschematizo (soos-khay-mat-idˊ-zo) are both derived from the root word sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together” (G4862). Each of these words shows us that being conformed is a joint effort, but the important thing to note is that our human tendency is to be conformed to the world, rather than to the image of God’s Son. Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2 emphasis mine). The Greek word that is translated transformed, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) is “spoken literally of Christ’s transfiguration on the mount (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2)” and is “spoken figuratively of our being transformed in mind and heart (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18)” (G3339). Paul indicated the way that believers are transformed is “by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine). “Anakainosis means ‘a renewal’ and is used in Romans 12:2 ‘the renewing (of your mind),’ i.e. the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer.” A synonym of anakainosis is palingenesis (G3824). “Palingenesis stresses the new birth; whereas anakainosis stresses the process of sanctification” (G342). “Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is the act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainosis, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Sanctification is mentioned throughout the book of Exodus in connection with worshipping God. When something was sanctified or consecrated, it was considered to be holy (H6942). A sacred anointing oil was used to “anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand” (Exodus 30:26-28) And Moses said, “You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy” (Exodus 30:29). The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to be made holy, be sanctified” (G37). In his high priestly prayer, shortly before his death, Jesus asked his Father to keep his followers from the evil one through the process of sanctification. Jesus prayed:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:14-17)

Jesus asked that God would sanctify us in truth and said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated word is logos (logˊ-os), which refers to “something said (including the thought)…also reasoning (the mental faculty or motive)…the reasoning faculty as that power of the soul which is the basis of speech” (G3056). John described Jesus as the Word or the Logos. John said, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). When he was tempted by Satan, Jesus quoted Old Testament scripture in order to defeat his opponent. In response to the tempter’s suggestion that he turn stones into bread, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Greek word that is translated word in this instance is rhema (hrayˊ-mah). “The significance of rhema, (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ Ephesians 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture” (G4487).

Psalm 119:11 states, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The Hebrew word that is translated stored up, tsaphan (tsaw-fanˊ) means “to hide (by covering over); by implication to hoard or reserve” (H6845). The idea that the psalmist was trying to convey was creating a surplus of truth that he could draw on in the future. One of the illustrations that Jesus used to describe the process of taking in and processing God’s word was seed that is sown on different kinds of soil. Jesus told the parable of the sower to a great crowd that was gathering as he and his disciples traveled from town to town. Afterward, Jesus explained the meaning of the parable to his disciples in private. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:4-15)

Jesus indicated the way that God’s word is stored up or to hold it fast is by having an honest and good heart. The Greek word kalos (kal-osˊ), which is translated honest, speaks of that which is good because it “is well adapted to its circumstances or ends” (G2570). In other words, it is suitable for its use. With respect to a person’s heart, honest means that your heart is used to speaking the truth.

The book of Deuteronomy teaches us that the condition of a person’s heart is partly dependent on the bad things that it is exposed to and partly dependent on how much effort one makes to keep their heart in good condition. Moses told the people of Israel:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Moses’ instructions included multiple ways for the people of Israel to keep themselves immersed in God’s word. The key seemed to be for the people to integrate their study of God’s word into their normal daily activities.

Psalm 119:1 states, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) means “a road” and is used figuratively as “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). From the standpoint of a road, a person’s way being blameless could mean that he has already or will eventually reach his desired destination. With regard to the course of your life, blameless might mean that you are saved and going to heaven when you die. Walking in the law is a way of saying that you have put God’s commandments into practice. When Jesus was asked by a rich young man what good deed he must do to have eternal life, Jesus responded:

“Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:17-26)

On the surface, the rich young ruler’s lifestyle seemed to be perfect, but Jesus’ command to sell his possessions and give to the poor revealed that there was selfishness in the young man’s heart. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that God’s word isn’t able to transform a person’s heart by itself. God has to be involved in the process.

Psalm 119:9-16 shows us that God’s involvement is the process of sanctification is typically behind the scenes and will likely go unnoticed unless we understand the way he operates. The psalmist asks:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:9-16)

The psalmist requests of God, “Let me not wander from your commandments” (Psalm 119:10) and “teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:12). The Hebrew word that is translated wander, shagah (shaw-gawˊ) means “to stray” (H7686). Jesus often portrayed sinners as lost sheep that had gone astray and indicated that they needed a shepherd to bring them back home (Matthew 18:12). Jesus taught his disciples that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11) and told them, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all of his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

The picture that Jesus gave his disciples of sheep following a shepherd was meant to show them that God didn’t intend for them to find their own way through life or to try and figure things out on their own. Jesus said of the shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice” (John 10:3). This was most likely a reference to the rhema, “the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need” (G4487). Paul connected rhema with faith and said, “But what does it say? ‘The word (rhema) is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word [rhema] of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For in the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word (rhema) of Christ” (Romans 10:8-10, 17). Paul emphasized the importance of confessing with your mouth what you believe in your heart. The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) is a compound of the words homou (hom-ooˊ) which means “at the same place or time” (G3674) and logos (logˊ-os) “something said” or “a word” (G3056). The derived meaning of homologeo is “to speak or say the same with another, e.g. to say the same things, i.e. to assent, accord, to agree with” (G3670). Paul indicated that agreeing with God’s word is what saves us. It’s not enough for us to just believe that the Bible is true, we must talk to others about what we believe in order for the process of sanctification to work.

The kinsman-redeemer

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicates that everyone who is born again was predestined for adoption into God’s family through Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). Paul said that in Christ, “we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). The Greek word that is translated inheritance, kleroo (klay-roˊ-o) means “a lot. In the passive, to obtain an inheritance, as through the casting of lots” (G2820). After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Joshua cast lots to determine which portion of land each of the tribes of Israel would receive as their inheritance (Joshua 18:2, 10). The portion of land that each man received was expected to be passed on to his oldest son or nearest living relative at the time of his death so that possession of the land would be uninterrupted. In the story of Ruth, Elimelech left his inheritance behind when he moved to the country of Moab. “But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons…and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband” (Ruth 1:3-5). When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, she needed someone to redeem the piece of land that had belonged to her husband “so that it could stay in the family (see Leviticus 25:25)” (note on Ruth 4:1-8).

The laws concerning marriage stated that, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-7). Naomi was referring to this law when she said to Orpah and Ruth, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD had gone out against me” (Ruth 1:11-13). Naomi saw her situation as impossible and it seems very likely that when Ruth made her decision to go back to Bethlehem with Naomi that she had resigned herself to being a widow the rest of her life.

The legal ramification of marriage laws were still being discussed in Jesus’ day. On one occasion Jesus was asked to explain the marriage law that applied to Ruth in the context of eternal life. Matthew 22:23-33 states:

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

The important thing to note about the question that the Sadducees asked Jesus was that they didn’t believe in the resurrection. Their question, “whose wife will she be?” (Matthew 22:28) was meant to disprove the resurrection rather than for them to understand how the marriage law was intended to work. Jesus’ answer was directed at the problem that the Sadducees had with the resurrection; they didn’t believe that continuity of life after death was possible. Jesus pointed out to them that the resurrection was a fixed state that was associated with both the living and the dead. The terms living and dead refer to a person’s spiritual state. The spiritually dead are those who are “dead to Christ and his gospel” (G3498). The spiritually living are those who exist “in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter” (G2198). Jesus’ specific mention of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob indicated that faith was a necessary component of the living and also it showed that predestination, God’s selection of certain individuals in advance (G4309), guarantees that the inheritance will be distributed according to God’s purpose for his creation and mankind (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11-14).

The reason why the crowd was astonished when they heard Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection was because they realized that not all of the Jews were going to inherit eternal life. Some of them were and would remain spiritually dead. Shortly before he was crucified, Jesus talked about the final judgment that was going to occur when he returned to the earth. Jesus said:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’”

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus made note of the fact that the cursed and the righteous had done the same things. Both groups had fed the hungry, given the thirsty a drink, clothed the naked and visited the sick, but the motives of the righteous and the cursed were very different. Jesus acknowledged the righteous by stating, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40), but to the cursed Jesus said, “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45). The emphasis that Jesus placed on who the good deeds had been done to showed that acts of kindness were meant for a specific group, people he referred to as the least of these. In this instance, least probably has to do with a person’s dignity. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1), Matthew’s gospel tells us:

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. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:2-6)

The Greek word that is translated humbles, tapeinoo (tap-i-noˊ-o) means “to depress; figuratively to humiliate (in condition or heart)” (G5013). The Apostle Paul referred to himself as the least of the apostles and made reference to the grace that was responsible for his calling. Speaking of the Lord, Jesus, Paul said, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:7-10). Grace or graciousness is “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485).

Boaz’s treatment of Ruth was characterized by her as favor. In his first encounter with her, Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:8-10). In the King James Version of the Bible, Ruth’s statement is translated, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes” (Ruth 2:10). The Hebrew word that is translated grace is derived from the word chânan (khaw-nanˊ) which means, “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior…Generally, this word implies the extending of ‘favor,’ often when it is neither expected or deserved” (G2603). Ruth associated Boaz’s favor with being comforted by him and also said that he had spoken kindly to her (Ruth 2:13). The Hebrew word that is translated kindly, leb (labe) means “the heart” (H3820). Ruth could tell that Boaz’s compassion toward her came from his heart and she was deeply affected by his acts of kindness.

When Ruth returned home after gleaning in Boaz’s field, “her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.’ So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (Ruth 2:19-20). Naomi identified Boaz as one of her husband’s kinsman-redeemers; “the kinsman-redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative” (H1350). “The three requirements for a kinsman-redeemer were that he must be the closest living relative, possess the necessary financial resources, and be willing to carry out the redemption of his relative (cf. Leviticus 25:25, 48, 49)” (note on Ruth 2:20). Naomi instructed Ruth to go to Boaz’s threshing floor at night and while he was sleeping, make a marriage proposal to him by uncovering his feet and lying down next to him (Ruth 3:1-5). Ruth 3:6-13 records the encounter.

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”

Ruth’s statement, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9) made it clear to Boaz that she wanted him to marry her. Boaz’s response revealed that there was probably a significant difference in his and Ruth’s ages. Boaz told Ruth, “You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10). Boaz wanted to marry Ruth, but he told her, “Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I” (Ruth 3:12). “This closer relative, however, did not want to marry Ruth because that would threaten his own children’s inheritance (Ruth 4:5, 6). Therefore he deferred to Boaz, who willingly married Ruth” (note on Ruth 4:1-8). It should be noted that Ruth did not shame the relative who refused to perform his duty. According to Deuteronomy 25:8-9, she was supposed to take off his sandal and spit in his face, yet it appears that she was not even present during the discussion between Boaz and the other relative. Some have suggested that Ruth was not able to carry out the legal stipulations because she was a Moabitess. Others believe that she did not want to marry the person who was the closest relative because of her love for Boaz” (note on Ruth 4:1-8).

Boaz’s depiction of the kinsman-redeemer was a foreshadowing of the role that Jesus played in God’s redemption of mankind. Paul explained Jesus’ role as the kinsman-redeemer in his letter to the Galatians. Paul said:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 3:23-4:7)

Paul specifically stated that Jesus was sent by God “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The phrase under the law refers to both Old and New Testament commandments. “The ostensible aim of the law is to restrain the evil tendencies natural to man in his fallen estate, yet in experience law finds itself not merely ineffective, it actually provokes those tendencies to greater activity” (G3551).

The book of Hebrews provides an in depth look at Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s covenants. The author portrayed Jesus as the High Priest of a better covenant and explained that the sacrificial system that was put into place when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt was “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5), and went on to say, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). The better promises that are mentioned here have to do with our eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12) and an eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15) that followers of Christ will receive when he returns (Hebrews 9:28). Hebrews 10:12-13 indicates “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” Paul referred to that time as “the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Job’s extreme suffering caused him to experience internal conflict about his faith in God. When Job’s internal conflict had reached its highest point, “Job sought for someone who would defend him from the false accusations made against him and acknowledged that God alone was this ‘Redeemer’” (note on Job 19:25-27). Job said about his kinsman-redeemer:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
    My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

The Hebrew word that is translated faints, kalah (kaw-lawˊ) “describes the transitory reality of fallen human nature” (H3615). Job’s circumstances brought him to a point of despair, but he held on to his faith and was certain that his day of redemption would eventually come.

Unresolved Conflict

The first interpersonal conflict that occurred in the Bible was between Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel. Genesis 4:1-7 tells us:

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

“The fact that God ‘had regard for Abel and his offering” raises the question, is God completely impartial? In some texts (Exodus 2:25; Leviticus 26:9; 2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 138:6), he is said to acknowledge or pay attention to a person or group of individuals. Other passages state that God is no respecter of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11: Ephesians 6:9; 1 Peter 1:17). Although no one has a higher standing in God’s eyes because of their status in life or of something they themselves have done, God does, according to his sovereign will, pay specific attention to certain individuals and situations. The fact that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s may not have been based on the fact that Abel’s involved the shedding of blood and Cain’s did not. Some of the required Old Testament offerings were bloodless, such as the grain offering (Leviticus 2:1-14; 6:14-23; 7:9-10) and the sin offering brought by the very poor (Leviticus 5:11-13). It may have been that the attitude of faith in which Abel brought his offering pleased God rather than the offering itself” (note on Genesis 4:3-7). It says in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

God asked Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). The Hebrew words that are translated well and accepted have to do with being happy and exhibiting cheerfulness (H3190/H7613). God was pointing out to Cain that he was responsible for his own happiness and said that sin had to be mastered by him. Cain’s response to God’s intervention indicated that he was not willing to take responsibility for his own actions. Genesis 4:8-9 states, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” 1 John 3:9-12 explains that the interpersonal conflict between Cain and Abel was based on their relationship to God. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” John identified two categories of people, children of God and children of the devil, and said that it is evident which category people belong in. The phrase born of God is “spoken of God begetting in a spiritual sense which consists in regenerating, sanctifying, quickening anew, and ennobling the powers of the natural man by imparting to him a new life and a new spirit in Christ (1 John 5:1).

God’s selection of Jacob rather than Esau created a conflict between these two brothers that was never resolved. Genesis 25:21-23 tells us:

And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
     and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
     the older shall serve the younger.

The Hebrew word that is translated divided, parad (paw-radˊ) “often expresses separation of people from each other, sometimes with hostility” (H6504). Genesis 27:41 indicates that Esau hated his brother Jacob, “because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him” and Rebekah sent Jacob to live with her brother Laban, stating, “Behold, your brother comforts himself about you by planning to kill you” (Genesis 27:42).

Unresolved conflict continued to be a part of Jacob’s heritage. His son Joseph was hated by his brothers because of a dream he had that indicated he would rule over his family (Genesis 37:8). When his brothers “saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams’” (Genesis 37:18-20). Jacob’s family was forced to leave the land of Canaan because of a famine and remained in Egypt as slaves for 400 years until God sent Moses to deliver them from their bondage (Exodus 6:6). After they returned to the land that God had promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, each of the twelve tribes of Israel were given an inheritance that required them to occupy specific territories within the borders of the Promised Land. The territory allotted to the tribe of the people of Benjamin “fell between the people of Judah and the people of Joseph (Joshua 18:11). The inheritance for the tribe of the people of Simeon “was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah” (Joshua 19:1). “Dan’s inheritance was on the coastal plain, south of the territory given to Ephraim” (note on Joshua 19:40-48). The inheritances of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali were nestled in between the eastern and western portions of land given to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 19:10-39). The close proximity of the tribes’ inheritances to each other’s made it more likely that their unresolved conflicts would continue. “Having distributed the land to the tribes, the Lord’s next administrative regulation provided an elementary system of government; specifically a system of regional courts to deal with capital offenses having to do with manslaughter. Thus this most inflammatory of cases was removed from local jurisdiction, and a safeguard was created against the easy miscarriage of justice (with its endless blood feuds) when retribution for manslaughter was left in the hands of family members” (note on Joshua 20:1-9, KJSB).

The record we have of Jesus’ birth in the Bible indicates that he was born into an environment that was hostile to him. John’s gospel states, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Two groups of people that Jesus focused most of his attention on were neighbors and enemies. It can be assumed that both of these groups consisted of unsaved people that Jesus’ followers lived in close contact with. Neighbors might have been open to God, but enemies were not, and yet, Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies. Jesus said:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

Jesus’ message left no room for retaliation and made it clear that love was the only acceptable response to all types of harsh treatment. With regard to judging others, Jesus went on to say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).

Proverbs 27:17-19 provides important insight into how positive human interaction can change the outcome of an unresolved conflict. It states:

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.
Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
    and he who guards his master will be honored.
As in water face reflects face,
    so the heart of man reflects the man.

Iron sharpening iron depicts the effect of a harsh attitude or fierce look toward another person. It says that “one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17), indicating that the person’s response will be made more sharp or more fierce by the attitude or look that has been displayed to him (H2300). The contrast between iron sharpening iron and a person tending a fig tree (Proverbs 27:17-18) has to do with a person’s investment in a particular relationship. The Hebrew word that is translated tends in Proverbs 27:18, natsar (naw-tsarˊ) “refers to people’s maintaining things entrusted to them, especially to keeping the truths of God in both action and mind” (H5341). Whereas a harsh attitude or a fierce look can quickly sharpen the countenance of another person, tending to a relationship over time will produce spiritual fruit in the life of a believer. Likewise, protecting someone that has authority over you will benefit you in the long run.

The statement, “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19) indicates that it is impossible for us to hide our attitude toward another person. When God confronted Cain, he made note of the fact that his face had fallen (Genesis 4:6). The Hebrew word that is translated face, paneh (paw-nehˊ) “represents the look on one’s face, or one’s countenance” (H6440). What God meant by Cain’s face falling was that Cain’s negative attitude toward Abel was evident in his facial expression. God could tell that Cain was very angry that his brother’s sacrifice had been accepted and not his own. The heart of man is considered to be the seat of his inner nature (H3820). Jesus explained to his disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19). Jesus also remarked to the Pharisees, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35). When God asked Cain, “’Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9). Cain’s response made it clear that he had no regard for his brother’s well-being. When Cain killed Abel, he intentionally murdered him and was not sorry for his crime.

Proverbs 27:4 states, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” In this proverb, jealousy is portrayed as an intense fervor that is greater than anger or wrath. The letter of James which is largely composed of general exhortations and admonitions, has been referred to as “The New Testament Book of Proverbs” (Introduction to The Letter of James). James offered warnings and advice on many difficult topics including conflict among believers and judging your neighbor. James wrote:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:1-12)

James attributed quarrels and fights to passions that are at war within us and indicated that the fallen spirit of man is responsible for his propensity to sin (note on James 4:5). James identified grace as the solution to our sin problem (James 4:6). Grace is “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

James identified three critical steps that can restore our relationship with God and others. James said, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8). The Greek word that is translated submit, hupotasso (hoop-ot-asˊ-so) means “to subordinate; reflexive to obey” (G5293). Hupotasso is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which means “under” (G5259) and tasso (tasˊ-so) which means “to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e. assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot). Submission to God involves our acceptance of the circumstances that he has placed us in and also the destiny that he has prepared for us before the world began (Ephesians 1:4-5). The allotments of land that each of the twelve tribes of Israel received as their inheritance was determined by God (Joshua 14:1). They were instructed to take possession of the land, but it was their decision to do it or not.

Resisting the devil means that we stand against him, we oppose the thoughts and feelings that he brings into our minds (G436). Paul instructed the believers in Ephesus to stand against the schemes of the devil. He said, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). When we draw near to God, we are approaching him with the intent of worshipping him without any ulterior motives. We’re not trying to get something from God or trying to get God to do something that we want him to. The offerings that Cain and Abel brought to God were both acceptable types of offerings. It was the way that they were offered that caused one of them to be accepted and the other rejected. The interesting thing to note about Cain’s offering was that even though his offering wasn’t accepted, God personally interacted with Cain and attempted to prevent him from making the wrong choice. “The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7). God depicted sin as something that is waiting to overtake us and said it must be mastered by us. Living with unresolved conflict is like we are leaving the door open, but don’t expect sin to come in. James advised us, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).

Faith in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closure

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

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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