Spiritual sacrifices

The Apostle Peter used the metaphor of a spiritual house to describe the structure that the whole body of believers forms as a collective unit (1 Peter 2:5). Peter stated, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). The terms Peter used, living stones, spiritual house, and spiritual sacrifices all pointed to the temple that was the focal point of the Jewish religion. Paul touched on this in his letter to the Corinthians when he addressed the topic of divisions in the church. Paul stated:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you, are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:1-17)

Paul indicated that building up the body of Christ was a joint effort that no one person could take credit for and said that each person’s work will be tested to see if it was done through human or spiritual effort. Peter may have described believers as living stones because of the effect of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the active nature of God’s word in the human heart. The Greek word that is translated spiritual in 1 Peter 2:5, pneumatikos (phyoo-mat-ik-os’) is used to describe things “pertaining to or proceeding from the Holy Spirit. Of persons who are spiritual, i.e. enlightened by the Holy Spirit, enjoying the influences, graces, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (G4152).

Peter stated:

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:6-8)

The word that Peter was referring to was most likely the Ten Commandments that were communicated directly to the Israelites from God on Mount Sinai shortly after they were delivered from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 19-20). The Greek term that is translated word in 1 Peter 2:8, logos (log’-os) was used by the Apostle John to identify Jesus as an eternal being that was present at the beginning of creation. John stated, “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). Peter indicated that those who disobey the word of God were destined to do so and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians revealed that the destiny of every person was established before the foundation of the world. Paul stated, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Peter indicated that the spiritual house that was being built up by believers was “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). By definition, spiritual sacrifices have to do with God’s divine influence upon the heart. The Greek word “pneumatikos always connotes the ideas 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” (G4152). Peter most likely used the term spiritual sacrifices to differentiate between the kind of sacrifices that are made according to our own will and those that are made according to God’s will. When believers offer spiritual sacrifices they are supposed to be doing things that please God. When Jesus was baptized by John, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16). Likewise, when Jesus was transfigured, “a voice from the cloud said, ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 17:5). The Greek word that is translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) means to approve of an act and stresses “the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (G2106).

Peter linked the spiritual sacrifices of believers to God’s original plan to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). After the Israelites entered the wilderness and camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses went up to God and “The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6). God’s stipulation that the people obey his voice and keep his covenant was what led to the downfall of the nation of Israel. Peter was letting believers know that they were taking the place of the Israelites that were originally called to serve God. The key to our success being obedience to God’s word.

God described the nation of Israel as his “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). The Hebrew word cegullah “signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves” (H5459). The descriptors “a kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” suggest that the kingdom of heaven centers around the spiritual sacrifices of God’s people which are dependent on faith in Jesus Christ. Peter said, “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus also quoted Psalm 118:22-23 after he told the parable of the tenants to the chief priests who wanted to know where his authority came from. Matthew 21:38-44 states:

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated people in Matthew 21:43 is ethnos (eth’-nos). Ethnos is derived from the word etho (eth’-o) which means “to be accustomed”, signifying a custom or a particular way of doing things (G1486). Ethnos has to do with human nature and in the sense of people producing fruits it refers to born again Christians who are walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Paul contrasted the works of the flesh with the works of the Spirit and said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Ten Commandments were meant to restrain the Israelites from what Paul described as the works of the flesh. Paul said, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, disensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). The goal was to make the Israelites a holy nation, but without the help of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with the people directly (Exodus 19:11, 20:1), the people were afraid of him and couldn’t process the information he was communicating to them because they were spiritually dead (Exodus 20:18-19). One of the primary issues that prevented the Israelites from connecting with God was that they couldn’t approach him unless they were consecrated, which meant that they had to be cleansed from all of their sins (H6942). In other words, they needed to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, something that was impossible on a large scale until after Jesus died and was resurrected.

Exodus 20:1-17 records the discourse that took place between God and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments were in essence a brief synopsis of the rules that God expected his chosen people to follow. They were as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet. 

After hearing these commandments, the people told Moses they didn’t want God to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:19). It says in Exodus 20:22, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.” The point the LORD was making was that he had already communicated all that was necessary for him to establish his covenant with the people of Israel. He didn’t need to say anything else to them.

The people of Israel understood that the essence of spiritual sacrifice was contained within the Ten Commandments. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus was teaching his disciples the principles of the kingdom of heaven, he was asked to identify “the great commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36). Essentially, what the lawyer wanted to know was which of the Ten Commandments was most likely to be broken by every person and would therefore cause everyone in the whole world to go to hell. Jesus answered, “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 two commandments that Jesus identified were similar in that they both focused on loving others. Jesus likely emphasized that we need to love God with all of our being because we tend to hold back certain parts of ourselves in order to keep a safe distance between us and our Creator. The fact that we are expected to love our neighbor as ourselves suggests that in the spiritual realm there are no boundaries between one soul and another. That’s why we must act like we are responsible for everyone’s happiness.

Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed that all believers would be united in the same way that he was with his Father (John 17:11). Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). The Greek words that are translated “become perfectly one,” teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) eis (ice) heis (hice) and o (o) refer to the joining together that Peter and Paul talked about when they said that believers are to be built up (1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 4:16). The Greek word oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) means to be a house-builder and oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture. Peter and Paul likely used these words to convey the process of edification because believers are joined together in a systematic way that results in an enduring structure somewhat like a home that is passed on from generation to generation which can be remodeled as needed. Peter’s depiction of a spiritual house that was built using living stones (1 Peter 2:5) was probably meant to convey the idea of a community that is in constant motion. If you look at the kingdom of heaven as a state of being as opposed to a physical space that has occupants, you might see that spiritual sacrifices are ones that go beyond the boundaries of physical life and deal with the immaterial needs of human beings.

Jesus’ attempt to convince a rich young man that he didn’t need all the possessions he was depending on was most likely hindered by the young man’s image of the kingdom of heaven as a place that was luxurious and designed to provide comfort. 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. 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 19:16-26).

Jesus indicated there is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17) and suggested that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be perfect (Matthew 19:21). His disciples realized that it would be impossible for anyone to meet God’s standard because giving away one’s possessions went against the very core of human nature. Jesus’ statement, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) was meant to point out that God doesn’t expect us to go against our nature, but provides a way for us to do what is humanly impossible. Jesus went on to tell them a parable about laborers in a vineyard in order to show them that it wasn’t a matter of giving things up that hinders people from serving God, but the expectation that God will reward our spiritual sacrifices according to how long or hard we work for him. In the parable, everyone was paid the same wages even though some worked all day and others just one hour. Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). In other words, God’s goodness isn’t controlled by our human efforts to please him. It is only when we do God’s will that we receive rewards in heaven.

God’s deliverance

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians pointed out that all unsaved people live according to the covenant that God made with Noah after he destroyed every living thing on the earth (Genesis 9:8-13). Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The phrase Paul used, “the course of this world” and the person he referred to, “the prince of the power of the air” have to do with Satan’s attempt to undermine God’s plan of salvation by imitating the work of Jesus Christ. The Greek words that are translated “sons of disobedience” uihos (hwee-os’) which means “the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207) and apeitheia (ap-i’-thi-ah) which denotes “obstinacy, obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). suggest that anyone that does not do the will of God is a follower of Satan.

One of the important aspects of God’s covenant with Noah was that one of Noah’s sons was cursed because he disgraced his father. Genesis 9:20-25 states:

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

Genesis 10:6 indicates that Ham had four sons; Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. There’s no explanation as to why Canaan was the only one of Ham’s sons to be cursed, but it can be assumed that Canaan followed in the footsteps of his father Ham and was committed to being a son of disobedience rather than a worshipper of God.

The nation of Egypt is associated with the descendants of Ham in Psalm 105 where it says, “Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham” (Psalm 105:23) and “He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham’ (Psalm 105:26-27). Psalm 105 focuses on the purpose of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Psalm 105:1-6 states:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

The psalmist’s instruction to “tell of all his wondrous works!” was meant to encourage believers to remind ourselves that God is able to do things that are beyond human capability. The Hebrew word that is translated tell, siyach (see’-akh) means “to ponder, i.e. (by implication) converse (with oneself, and hence, aloud)” (H7878). The Hebrew word pala’ (paw-law’) which is translated “all his wondrous works” means to separate, i.e. distinguish and “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381). In other words, believers need to talk to themselves about God’s ability to do things that we don’t expect him to, things that we can’t do for ourselves.

Moses was instructed to deliver a series of messages to Pharaoh that were designed to make him think about what God was capable of compared to his own strength and ability. Exodus 9:13-15 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants, and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.'”‘” God wanted Pharaoh to understand that he could annihilate him and his people if he chose to, but he had a different objective in mind. God said, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go” (Exodus 9:16-17).

God described Pharaoh’s behavior as exalting himself against his people. What that meant was that Pharaoh was putting himself in the place of God with the people of Israel. The Israelites were doing what Pharaoh told them to rather than listening to and obeying God’s instructions (Exodus 6:9). One of the problems that the LORD had to deal with when he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt was that they were willing to submit themselves to Pharaoh, but they weren’t willing to submit themselves to God. The foremen that were responsible for making the Israelites deliver a daily quota of bricks accused Moses of bringing evil on God’s people. They said, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21). Essentially, what Moses and Aaron had to do was to get Pharaoh to drive the Israelites away, to expel them from Egypt (Exodus 11:1). Otherwise, the people of Israel wouldn’t have been willing to leave.

God said that he had raised Pharaoh up in order to show him his power so that his name would be “proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). One of the ways that the Hebrew verb ‘amad (aw-mad’) can be used is to signify something that is immovable or unchanging (H5975). ‘Amad was most likely being used in reference to Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go. God exercised force against Pharaoh by destroying everything that was connected to his creation. Exodus 9:23-25 states, “And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.” God’s dominion over the land of Egypt was clearly demonstrated by his ability to kill everything that lived there including man and beast. The hail’s violent crushing of plants and trees was likely symbolic of the devastation that occurred during the flood of Noah’s day when the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of heaven were opened and God blotted out all life that was on the ground (Genesis 7:11, 23).

Pharaoh’s attitude toward God began to change when he saw that there was no hail in the land of Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Exodus 9:27-29 states, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned, the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.’ Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD, the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.'” The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata’ (khaw-taw’) is sin conceived as missing the road or mark. “From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs” (H2398). Pharaoh’s admission of guilt indicated he understood that he had done something wrong, but it didn’t go so far as to affect a change in his behavior. Exodus 9:34-35 indicates that Pharaoh had not actually repented of his sin. It states, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”

The battle of the wills between God and Pharaoh was similar to the battle that all unbelievers go through when they are forced to admit that they don’t have the power to control their own circumstances. The essential element that was missing in Pharaoh’s situation was the gift of God’s grace. After describing the spiritual condition of unsaved men (Ephesians 2:1-3), Paul went on to tell the Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9). Paul emphasized the hopelessness of those that are opposed to God’s will when he said, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).

The Greek word that is translated hope in Ephesians 2:12, elpis (el-pece’) has to do with the unseen and the future. As a noun in the New Testament, it means a “favorable and confident expectation, a forward look with assurance” (G1680). To be without God in the world means that one is an atheist. “In Ephesians 2:12 the phrase indicates, not only that the Gentiles were void of any true recognition of God, and hence became morally godless (Romans 1:19-32); but, being given up by God they were excluded from communion with God and from the privileges granted to Israel (cf. Galatians 4:8)” (G112). Paul explained that the reason why Pharaoh was unable to have faith was because he had no knowledge of God and was alienated from him because of the hardness of his heart (Ephesians 4:17-18). Paul used the words futility and ignorance to describe the mental barriers that can inhibit faith. One of the benefits of the miracles that Moses performed was that they revealed God’s existence and displayed his magnificent power to Pharaoh and his people. Each time the plagues were removed, Pharaoh was given the opportunity to repent and do God’s will.

One of the reasons the LORD eventually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, meaning God dulled his spiritual senses and made it impossible for him to believe, was because the LORD was strengthening the Israelites faith at the expense of the Egyptians unbelief. Exodus 10:1-2 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.'” The Hebrew word that is translated know, yada’ (yaw-dah’) means to have an intimate experiential knowledge and primarily has to do with relational knowledge, “it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God was in the process of developing a relationship with his people when he delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. An important aspect of yada’ is the involvement of the senses, especially eyesight. In other words, you are only able to ascertain who someone really is by seeing them in action.

Pharaoh’s servants seemed to be able to grasp the situation better than he did because they knew there was no hope for them apart from God. Exodus 10:7 states, “Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?'” Pharaoh’s servants expected Egypt to cease to exist as a result of the plagues that they were experiencing. Rather than completely destroying Egypt, God’s intention was to bring Pharaoh to his knees (Exodus 10:3). God’s discipline of Pharaoh was likely a result of his attempt to make things right in spite of the hardened state of his heart. After a plague of locusts wiped out all the vegetation that survived the hail, Exodus 10:16-17 states, “Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me.'” The natural disasters that God used to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt were perceived to be instruments of death and each of the ten plagues became more intense as they progressed. The actual result of the plagues was not so much meant to be the death of the Egyptians as it was an awareness of their lost or unregenerate spiritual state (Exodus 10:7).

The ninth plague that the Egyptians experienced may have been designed to make them feel like they were living in hell. Exodus 10:21 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'” The pitch darkness that lasted for three days made it impossible for anyone to move about or even to recognize each another (Exodus 10:22-23). The Hebrew word that is translated darkness, choshek (kho-shek’) is derived from the word chashak (khaw-shak’) which means “to be dark (as withholding light)” (H2821). In other words, there was a concealment or blocking out of all the light in the land of Egypt for three whole days. God said that the darkness was to be felt. What he may have meant by that was that the Egyptians would experience the effects of not having the sun, moon or stars as resources. After the light was restored, some of the Egyptians no doubt realized the extreme depths of their depravity and may have felt like they had been resurrected from the dead. Paul used the analogy of things that were once hidden being exposed by the light to describe the experience of being born again and encouraged unbelievers to let the light of Christ shine on them. Referring to a hymn that was used by early Christians, Paul stated:

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

Paul went on to warn believers that they should be careful about how they use the freedom that Christ has purchased for them. Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). The Greek word that is translated “making the best use of,” is exagorazo (ex-ag-or-ad’-zo). “Exagorazo, as a verb, is a strengthened form of agorazo (59 – “to buy”), and denotes “to buy out,” especially of purchasing a slave with a view of his freedom” (G1805). Christ paid the ransom to God for the life of every believer in order to satisfy the demands of His holy character. Paul’s admonition to walk not as unwise but as wise was meant to point out that like God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, there is a purpose for each believer’s salvation; to do God’s will and we must be pay attention to that because the devil is actively engaged in a war against us (Ephesians 6:10-11).

God’s will

There are two components of God will that work together to accomplish the things that God wants to do, the part that God does and the part that we do. We usually know what God is doing or has already done because he tells us. Prophecy is when God tells us what he is going to do before he does it. God also tells us what he wants us to do through commands or instructions. An example of how this works can be found in Genesis 12:1-3 which records God’s promise to Abraham. It states:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:4 tells us that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Abraham’s obedience instigated the work that God intended to do in his and his descendants lives for hundreds of years and paved the way for a covenant that secured their participation in his eternal kingdom.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was not as cooperative as he was and made it more difficult for God to continue working in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. After Jacob increased greatly in the land of Paddan-aram, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:17), but stopped before he reached his father’s house. Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, but after his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons killed all the men of the city in retaliation, Jacob said to his sons 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” (Genesis 34:30).

Jacob’s doubts and fears seemed to continue the rest of his life. When his son Joseph told him and his brothers about a dream that he had, Jacob “rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?'” (Genesis 37:10). Jacob’s lack of faith seemed to reach its pinnacle when he was presented with his son Joseph’s coat after his brothers had dipped in the blood of a goat. Jacob “identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:33). The Hebrew word that is translated “without doubt,” taraph (taw-raf’) refers to the evidence that was presented to Jacob. It appeared that Jacob had been eaten by a wild animal, but “the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:38).

God continued to work in Joseph’s life in spite of Jacob and his other son’s resistance and even outright rebellion against God’s will for them. Joseph’s position as the governor of Egypt made it possible for Jacob’s family to receive food and remain alive during a severe famine. After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, “They went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them” (Genesis 45:25-26). When Jacob finally learned the truth about Joseph’s disappearance, he was unable to believe it. The King James Version of Genesis 45:26 states that “Jacob’s heart fainted.” The Hebrew word that is used, puwg (poog) means to be sluggish (H6313). A word that is derived from puwg, puwgah (poo-gaw’) means intermission (H6314), suggesting that Jacob had a heart attack or went into shock because the good news that Joseph was still alive was not at all what he had expected to hear when his sons got back from Egypt.

Before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him, and told them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”‘” (Matthew 21:2-5). It was God’s will for Jesus to enter the city at that exact moment in time and in the exact way that he did, riding on the colt of a donkey. Jesus, the two disciples that obeyed his instruction and the owner of the donkey and its colt all played a part in making it happen just as it had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. And yet, “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee'” (Matthew 21:10-11). The crowds witnessed what happened, but interpreted it incorrectly. Jesus was not just a prophet, but the “Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9), Israel’s Messiah.

After he recovered from the shock of hearing that Joseph was still alive, Jacob went to Beersheba, “and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1). The fact that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father, rather than his own God seems to suggest that Jacob had still not done his part of God’s will, which was to accept the Lord as his Savior. Jacob had many years earlier left Beersheba and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10) to live with his uncle Laban and promised, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob’s stipulation that God keep him in the way he was going suggests that he wanted God to do his will instead of the other way around. It seemed that Jacob never got to a place where he was willing to submit himself completely to God’s will. And yet, God continued to do what he said he would. He told Jacob, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4).

God’s description of Jacob’s travels as going down to Egypt and coming back up again, may have been his way of assuring Jacob that he still planned to establish his family in the Promised Land, God’s will for Abraham’s descendants had not changed. God also said that he would go with Jacob to Egypt. In other words, God would continue to work in Jacob’s life even while he was living in a foreign land. After Jacob arrived in Goshen, “Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:29). When Joseph presented himself to his father, he was essentially proving that his father was wrong about the future. Jacob didn’t believe Joseph was alive until he saw him face to face (Genesis 46:30). The Hebrew word ra’ah (raw-aw’), which is translated presented himself, “can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Matthew said, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). The Greek word that is translated took place, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means to cause to be or “to become (come into being)” (G1096), the context being physical existence. When prophecy is fulfilled, it means that God’s will has been completed. Therefore, seeing Joseph’s face changed Jacob’s mind about God’s intention for his life.

Jesus gave his disciples a visual lesson in accomplishing God’s will. Matthew tells us, “In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once” (Matthew 21:18-19). When Jesus’ disciples observed the fig tree withering up as a result of what Jesus said, they marveled because of the immediate response he got (Matthew 21:20). Jesus explained to them that what happened was an outcome of having complete confidence in God. Jesus told them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what had been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). Jesus stipulated that you must have faith and not doubt because these two aspects of our human nature contradict each other. Doubt is not the absence of faith, but an opposing viewpoint. The Greek word that is translated doubt, diakrino (dee-ak-ree’-no) means “to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose” (G1252). Figuratively, diakrino means to discriminate or decide. The two words that diakrino are derived from, dia (dee-ah’) which denotes that channel of an act (G1223), and krino (kree’-no) which means to be of opinion as in deciding if something is right or wrong (G2919), suggests that doubt is a determination that God’s will is wrong and should not be acted on.

It might be easy to think that Jesus cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit on it was unfair of him or perhaps, even a cruel act of revenge, but the purpose of the fig tree was to provide fruit for its master and it had failed to do that. Jesus had the authority to determine its fate and the fig tree was unable to oppose him. Jesus’ authority was the key that unlocked God’s ability to do things for him. The chief priests and elders of the people asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) refers to the liberty of doing as one pleases (G1849). Exousia is derived from the word existi (ex’-es-tee) which essentially means “it is right” or lawful (G1832). Jesus didn’t answer the priest’s question about his authority, but went on to tell a parable about two sons that were expected to work in their father’s vineyard.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Jesus focused on the connection between obedience and believing what one has been told to do. Jesus said that the son that refused to work in his father’s vineyard changed his mind and did what his father told him to. The Greek word that is translated changed his mind, metamellomai (met-am-el’-lom-ahee) means to care afterward, i.e. regret and “stresses a change of the will which results in change in single individual actions and is translated ‘to repent'” (G3338). John the Baptist’s primary message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The problem that Jesus pointed out was that the religious leaders didn’t think they needed to repent. They thought they were doing what was right, but the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners.

Jacob’s departure from the Promised Land may have felt like a demoralizing defeat to him, but God assured him that he would be blessed no matter where he went. God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 46:3). In the same way that God had made Joseph the lord of all Egypt, he intended to transform Jacob’s family into a great nation through difficult circumstances and suffering. Jacob’s life was somewhat of a precursor to the bondage that all of his family would eventually have to endure. When Pharaoh asked him how many years he had lived, Jacob told him, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob’s description of his years as being few and evil probably had to do with his realization that God’s will for his life was not what he thought it was. It was almost as if Jacob thought he had been cursed by God rather than having received his blessing. The Hebrew word that is translated evil, ra’ (rah) “Combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury to both himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

In his parable of the vineyard, Jesus associated the contradiction of God’s will with a desire to usurp his authority. Jesus likened the Jewish religious leaders to tenants of a vineyard that refused to pay their rent and asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” His disciples responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:40-41). Jesus concluded by stating, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:43-44). Jesus’ differentiation between being broken to pieces and crushed by God’s authority might likely have to do with a person’s willingness to change his mind. To a certain extent, repentance is just admitting that you have been wrong. It seems that Jacob was broken to pieces by his disobedience, but he and his family were not abandoned by God. In fact, God made a way for them to move into the land of Goshen and thrive for hundreds of years so that his prophecy that they would become a great nation could be fulfilled.

Destiny

Jacob wasn’t satisfied with his circumstance of being the youngest of Isaac’s twin sons. Therefore, when his brother was in a vulnerable position, Jacob took advantage of the situation and forced Esau to give him his birthright (Genesis 25:31). Afterward, Jacob tricked his father into blessing him instead Esau so that he could obtain the benefit of being his father’s favored son (Genesis 27:19). Even though Jacob used deceptive tactics, he did exactly what God expected him to and as a result became the next in line to inherit his grandfather Abraham’s eternal estate.

Isaac spoke these words to Jacob before he sent him to Padan-aram to get a wife. “God almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated take possession, yaresh (yaw-raysh’) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place); by implication to seize, to rob, to inherit; also to expel, to impoverish, to ruin” (H3423).

One of the things that differentiated Jacob from his brother Esau was that he was willing to do anything that was necessary to advance his position. Jacob’s dissatisfaction with his circumstances is what caused him to act in a way that changed his destiny. Isaac instructed his son Jacob to “Arise, go” (Genesis 28:2). The Hebrew words he used, quwm (koom) yalak (yaw-lak’) suggest that Isaac was kicking his son out of his house, but it is likely that there was a mutual understanding and agreement that Jacob needed to establish his own household in order to be independent of his parents’ influence.

The Hebrew word quwm can be used “in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Yalak is derived from the Hebrew word halak (haw-lak’) which can be used to describe one’s behavior or the way one “walks in life” (H1980). Isaac’s use of these two words together in his command to Jacob could mean that he was sending his son on a spiritual journey in order to establish a relationship with God. Genesis 28:5 indicates Isaac “sent away Jacob.” The most frequent use of the Hebrew word shalach “suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place…Other special meanings of this verb include letting something go freely or without control” (H7971).

Genesis 28:10-17 states:

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth,, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

The Hebrew word that is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is maqowm (maw-kome’) which is properly translated as “a standing.” Maqowm is also used figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). Maqowm may signify “a sanctuary – i.e. a ‘place’ of worship” and in this instance suggests that Jacob had discovered a portal to a spiritual realm that he identified as heaven.

In Jacob’s dream, there was a ladder “and the top of it reached to heaven” (Genesis 28:12). The ladder or stair case probably represented the pathway that Jacob had to travel in order to connect with God. It seems likely that Jacob viewed God as being distant, perhaps unreachable from his standpoint. Jacob saw the LORD standing above the stair case (Genesis 28:13) suggesting that he was in a position of authority and could grant or deny access into his kingdom. The fact that the LORD spoke to Jacob and confirmed his covenant with him suggests that the LORD was the one initiating a relationship and was trying to bridge the gap between himself and Jacob.

The LORD told Jacob that he would bring him back to the land and would not leave him until he had done all that he had promised (Genesis 28:15). The Hebrew word that is translated leave, ‘azab (aw-zab’) has to do with the severance of a relationship. “This word carries a technical sense of ‘completely and permanently abandoned’ or ‘divorced'” (H5800). Jacob had just abandoned his family and was determined to make his way in the world without the help of anyone else and yet, the LORD appeared to him in a dream and told Jacob that God was in control of his destiny and was determined to bring him back to the place that Jacob thought he was leaving behind.

Jacob’s reaction to his dream was that he was afraid (Genesis 28:17). The Hebrew word that is translated afraid in Genesis 28:17 is yare’ (yaw-ray’). “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). In spite of the huge impact his dream had on him, Jacob did not commit himself to the LORD immediately. It says in Genesis 28:20-21, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.'”

The Hebrew word that is translated “come again” in Genesis 28:21 is the same word that is translated “bring you back” in Genesis 28:15. Basically, what Jacob was saying was that if God proved to him that he could do what he said he was going to, then Jacob would accept God’s divine authority over his life. In other words, Jacob would only submit himself to God’s will if he was forced to do so. Jacob’s promise to God was somewhat of a dare in that he didn’t believe the LORD could bring him back to a place that he didn’t want to go to. Jacob thought his free will trumped God’s sovereignty over him.

The Hebrew word translated “bring you back” in Genesis 28:15, shuwb (shoob) generally means to retreat. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure (unless there is evidence to the contrary)” (H7725). “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption.” The LORD’s message to Jacob indicated that he was taking responsibility for his conversion and would not give up until he had accomplished what he had promised Jacob he would do (Genesis 28:15).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount focused on what happens after a person is converted. In other words, what a Christian’s life should look like. Jesus himself was the ultimate example of the life of a believer. When Jesus came down from the mountain, Matthew 8:1 tells us, “great crowds followed him.” The Greek word that is translated followed, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-theh’-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). Essentially, the idea of becoming a follower of Jesus was to become like him, to be converted to his way of thinking and behaving. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

One of the first people that approached Jesus after he finished his teaching about the life of a Christian was a leper who was forbidden to make contact with anyone to prevent the possibility of transmitting his disease. Matthew 8:2 states, “And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.'” The leper’s act of kneeling was a form of worship that indicated his submission to Jesus’ authority. “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying I will; be clean” (Matthew 8:3). Jesus’ response showed not only his compassion for the man’s vulnerable state, but also his ability to change the leper’s circumstances.

Jesus told the leper to “go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded as a proof to them” (Matthew 8:4). The Greek word that is translated proof is also translated as testimony and refers to the evidence necessary to regain entrance into the temple that the leper had previously been banished from (G3142). The issue of course was whether or not Jesus had the power to overturn the decisions of the high priest. What Jesus did was demonstrate God’s ability to alter the destiny of a human being. Rather than being subject to the ravages of his disease and continuing to suffer, the leper was restored to health and was able to live a normal life.

One of the things that was revealed in Jesus’ interaction with the leper was that his will and the leper’s will were in agreement. The leper didn’t ask to be healed, he said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). The Greek word the leper used that is translated clean, katharizo (kath-ar-id’-zo) refers to the effects of sin and in particular the guilt that one feels as a result of having offended God. It’s possible that the leper had been listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and realized that he was far from the standard of living that Jesus expected from his disciples. This man wanted to make things right and knew the only way he could do that was to ask for Jesus’ help.

Genesis 29:1 tells us that “Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east.” The Hebrew words that are translated journey in this verse indicated that Jacob was not being guided by God as he traveled. You might say that Jacob was walking blindly into the future. Jacob’s experience started out in a similar way to Abraham’s servant when he went to Padam-aram to get a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24), but very quickly the situation turned into a fiasco that left Jacob at the mercy of his uncle Laban. Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s youngest daughter Rachel, so he agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to obtain his wife, but on the night of his wedding, Jacob was tricked and given Rachel’s sister Leah instead.

Jacob was determined to have Rachel for his wife, so he agreed to work for Laban for another seven years (Genesis 29:26-28) and “when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). God’s control over Jacob’s destiny was demonstrated by his ability to keep Jacob’s wife Rachel from producing his first born son and by determining which of Jacob’s sons would carry on his eternal legacy. Leah called her fourth son Judah because she said, “This time I will praise” (Genesis 29:36), meaning that she had made a profession of faith and was thanking God for her salvation (H3034).

The Hebrew word that is translated praise, yadah (yaw-daw’) is derived from the word yad (yawd) which signifies “a hand (the open one [indicating power, means, direction, etc.])” (3027). When a Roman soldier, who was the captain of one hundred men, approached Jesus, he admitted, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9). The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) implies the liberty of doing as one pleases and the right to exercise power (G1849). The centurion was acknowledging Jesus’ freedom to handle the situation as he saw fit.

Jesus responded to the centurion’s request by stating, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith…And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed'” (Matthew 8:10-13). Jesus indicated that faith was the motivating factor behind the centurion’s request. He believed that Jesus was in control of the situation and was able to change the centurion’s circumstances if he wanted to. Matthew 8:13 states, “And the servant was healed at that very moment,” which indicated there was an immediate result from the centurion putting his faith in Christ.

One of the ways of looking at our destiny is to see it as a place that both we and God wants us to get to. It’s a destination that we haven’t reached yet that has obstacles along the way and only God can remove them effectively. When Jesus saw that his disciples were being overtaken by a mob, “he gave orders to go over to the other side” (Matthew 8:18). The disciples may have seen the storm that was approaching them and knew it would overtake them before they reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but Matthew 8:23 tells us, “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.”

The Greek term that is translated “the other side” in Matthew 8:18, peran (per’-an) is sometimes translated beyond (G4008) and could mean a place that is beyond our reach or a place that we don’t think we can get to. When Jesus’ disciples were overtaken by a hurricane as they crossed the sea, they panicked and thought they were going to die. Matthew 8:24-27 states:

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew 8:26) revealed that his disciples didn’t handle the situation the way they should have because they were afraid. What the disciples needed to do in order to get to their destination safely was to exercise their faith.

Jesus’ remark, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 8:26) most likely meant that his disciples didn’t believe in or trust him at this point in his ministry. In other words, they didn’t recognize that Jesus was God and could do the impossible. The disciples question, “What sort of man is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27) indicated that they only saw Jesus as a man, not the creator of the universe. The Greek word that is translated sort of, pas (pas) means all or the whole (H3956) with regard to the human race. The disciples knew that Jesus was no ordinary man, but still couldn’t figure out why he was able to accomplish everything that he set out to do.

Matthew 8:26 tells us that Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea. The Greek word that is translated rebuked, epitamao (ep-ee-tee-mah’-o) indicates that Jesus had the authority to stop the storm because it was interfering with his desire to cross the sea (G2008). What this suggests is that it was God’s will for Jesus to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and therefore, nothing, not even a hurricane, could stop him from getting there.

God’s will

Abraham had the benefit of knowing exactly what God wanted him to do. It says in Genesis 12:1, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abraham went where the LORD told him to and afterward the LORD said, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:14-15). Later, the LORD tested Abraham by asking him to do something that he could only do if he believed that God would keep his promise to him. It says in Genesis 22:1-3:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” and he said, “Here I am.” He said, “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 on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

Just as Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son, the angel of the LORD stopped him and Abraham sacrificed a ram instead of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:10-13).

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22-15-18)

The Hebrew word that is translated obeyed, shama (shaw-mah’) means to hear intelligently (H8085). Abraham’s ability to comprehend what the LORD wanted him to do was based on his experience with hearing the voice of God. It was not only that Abraham could hear what the LORD was saying, but also that he was familiar with God’s plan of salvation and could fit his own circumstances into its framework.

Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” The Greek word that is translated considered, logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) means “to reason out, to think out, to find out by thinking” (G3049). Paul used the word logizomai when he said, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, emphasis mine). The words counted and consider both have to do with thinking about what someone has asked us to do and deciding whether or not we will do it.

After Abraham died, it says in Genesis 26:1-5:

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring, I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

God’s conversation with Isaac was similar to his conversation with Abraham with the exception that his promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Isaac’s offspring was not based on Isaac’s obedience, but that of his father Abraham’s. God said, “And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:4-5).

Abraham obeyed God’s voice, but it says that he “kept” God’s charge, commandments, statutes, and laws (Genesis 26:5). The Hebrew word that is translated kept, shamar (shaw-mar’) means to watch or to be on one’s guard. “The word naturally means to watch over some physical object, to keep an eye on it. In its participial form, the word means human guards, those who watch for people or over designated objects (Jgs 1:24; Ne 12:25). The Lord, as the moral Governor of the world, watches over the moral and spiritual behavior of people (Job 10:14)” (H8104). It could be that Abraham’s presence in the land of Canaan was meant to be a mechanism by which God was able to keep tabs on or be aware of what was going on in an area of the world where his sovereignty was not acknowledged or respected.

When Abraham was confronted by Abimelech king of Gerar regarding his lie about Sarah being his wife, he told Abimelech, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife'” (Genesis 20:11). The Hebrew word translated fear, yir’ah (yir-aw’) refers to moral reverence. “This fear is produced by God’s Word (Ps119:38; Pr 2:5) and makes a person receptive to wisdom and knowledge” (H3374). In spite of the fact that Abimelech never harmed Abraham and they later formed a treaty in which they swore to not deal falsely with each other (Genesis 21:22-24), when God instructed him to go back to Gerar and settle down there because of a famine in Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 26:6-7), Isaac lied about Rebekah being his wife.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). The Greek word that is translated judge, krino (kree’-no) means “to judge in one’s own mind as to what is right, proper, expedient; to deem, decide, determine” (G2919). Isaac’s reason for lying about Rebekah being his wife didn’t have anything to do with Abimelech’s track record of behavior, but his own determination that it wasn’t safe for him to reveal his marital status. When Isaac’s lie was discovered, it says in Genesis 26:9-11:

So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.'” Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

Abimelech’s assessment of the situation was accurate and his determination that Isaac would have brought guilt upon his people was based on his previous experience with Abraham (Genesis 20:18). Therefore, it seems that Abimelech was actually receptive to the wisdom and knowledge of God (Genesis 20:3-7).

One of the ways that Isaac could have handled the situation in Gerar would have been to ask God to protect him and to prevent the Philistines from taking Rebekah away from him by force. Jesus told his disciples to, “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11). Another way of expressing what Jesus meant by his instruction for believers to ask, seek, and knock when they need God’s assistance might be that they should pursue God’s will and then, they will be assured of getting his help.

The Greek word that is translated good things in Matthew 7:11, agathos (ag-ath-os’) refers to that which is good for you or you could say the things that God wants you to have because they are beneficial to you (G18). One of the meanings of the word agathos is suitable or adapted to. Paul used the word agathos when he instructed believers to follow the example of Christ. He said, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me'” (Romans 15:1-3, emphasis mine).

Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This simple statement is often referred to as The Golden Rule and Jesus indicated that it encapsulates the essence of the entire Old Testament of the Bible. Following this statement, Jesus instructed believers to “enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus’ reference to gates and the way to destruction and the way to life indicated that he was talking about God’s will for mankind to be saved from their sins. The Apostle Peter said that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). This is evident in the LORD’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s offspring because he obeyed God’s instruction to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:15-18).

Jesus said that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). We know from Abraham’s example that the way to life is found through believing. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” The reason why it was hard for Abraham to believe in the LORD was because God told him he was going to do something for him that was impossible. God said, “‘Your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be'” (Genesis 15:4-5).

Immediately after he was instructed to go to Gerar, God told Isaac he would be with him and would bless him (Genesis 26:3), and yet, Isaac felt the need to lie about Rebekah being his wife in order to protect himself from being killed (Genesis 26:7). This decision not only resulted in Abimelech asking Isaac to leave his territory (Genesis 26:16), but also to a persistent problem with obtaining water while Isaac was dwelling in the land of the Philistines (Genesis 26:15). Ultimately, Isaac was deceived by his own son Jacob and in spite of God’s blessing, there was conflict in his family for the rest of his life.

Jesus used the example of trees bearing fruit to explain how a person’s behavior reveals the condition of his heart. He said, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased trees bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Isaac’s twin sons were at odds with each other even before they were born (Genesis 25:22), so it’s no wonder they competed with each other for their father’s attention, but the marked difference between these two men was that Jacob wanted to please his father, whereas Esau took for granted his favored position. It says in Genesis 26:34-35, “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” Even so, Esau remained his father’s favorite and “when Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Behold, I am old’ I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die'” (Genesis 27:1-4).

Isaac’s wife Rebekah knew that it wasn’t God’s will for Esau to receive his father’s blessing because the LORD had told her, “the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall server the younger,” (Genesis 25:23), so she intervened and helped Jacob trick his father into blessing him instead (Genesis 27:8-13). Although this was the wrong way for Jacob to obtain his father’s blessing, Jacob was doing God’s will when he followed his mother’s instructions (Genesis 27:8). It also says in Hebrews 11:20 that it was, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.” This seems to suggest that Isaac knew he was being tricked and went along with his son’s charade because he believed God wanted him to bless Jacob rather than Esau.

Jesus told his followers, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus made it clear that God’s will is not evidenced by miraculous power, but by its consistency with his commandments. The Greek word that is translated does in the phrase “does the will of my father” is poieo (poy-eh’-o). This is the same word Jesus used when he said every healthy tree “bears” or produces good fruit (G4160). A word that is derived from poieo is poiema (poy’-ay’mah) which means a product, a thing that is made (G4161). The Apostle Paul used the word poiema when he said we are God’s “workmanship,” created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10, KJV).

One of the ways we can look at God’s will is to see that it’s not about what we do, but about who we are. Of course, it matters what we do because sin can keep us from hearing God’s voice and understanding how our circumstances fit in with his plan of salvation. The ultimate goal is for believers to be in constant communication with the Lord and to follow his instructions daily. Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus’ reference to a house that was founded on the rock was meant to convey the idea of sound doctrine, in other words, the Bible itself, not what you might hear from an unreliable second hand source of information. The best way to learn about God’s will and how it applies to you specifically is to read the Bible for yourself. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7, is a comprehensive explanation of how God’s kingdom works in the world that we currently live in. If you are a Christian, your spiritual health and success can be greatly improved by reading it and applying its principles to your life.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Blessed

When God commanded Abraham to leave his country and family behind to go to a land that he had never seen before, God promised him “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). The Hebrew word translated blessed, barak (baw-rak’) has to do with the world’s dependence on God for its continued existence and function (H1288). God’s blessing meant that he would provide for Abraham’s needs and protect him from harm. Because of his relationship with God, “Abraham’s family became a divinely appointed channel through which blessing would come to all men” (Note on Genesis 12:1-3).

Paul referred to the message Abraham received from God as the gospel. He stated, “And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith” (Galatians 3:8-9). Paul connected God’s blessing to faith and indicated that believers are blessed in the same way that Abraham was. Paul explained the gospel in more detail in Galatians 3:15-16 where he stated, “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

The Greek word that is translated Christ in Galatians 3:16, Christos {khris-tos’) means “anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus” (G5547). Paul explained that, “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” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Jesus talked about the believer’s inheritance in his Sermon on the Mount. He began by stating, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Greek word translated blessed in Matthew 5:3 is makarioi (mak-ar’-ee-os), which means to be “fully satisfied” (G3107). “In classical Greek, the word referred to a state of blessedness in the hereafter. In the New Testament, however, the term is used of the joy that comes from salvation. This satisfying joy is not the result of favorable circumstances in life but comes only from being indwelt by Christ. Therefore makarioi denotes far more than ‘happy,’ which is derived from the English word ‘hap’ and connected with luck or favorable circumstances” (Note on Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus pointed out that the poor in spirit will receive the benefits of the kingdom of heaven before they die (Matthew 5:3). In other words, if a believer realizes that he is spiritually destitute and he is willing to beg for God’s help, he will get his prayers answered.

An example of this kind of faith in action can be seen in the situation of Abraham sending his servant to the land of his relatives to get a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham instructed his servant to go to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor and said, “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there” (Genesis 24:7).

When Abraham’s servant arrived at his destination, the first thing he did was pray this prayer:

“O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ — let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14)

Abraham’s servant asked God to do something that only he could do, identify the woman that Isaac was supposed to marry.

The Hebrew word that is translated appointed in Genesis 24:14, yakach (haw-kahh’) means to be right (H3198) and implies that Abraham’s servant was allowing God to decide who the right woman was. One of the reasons the servant wanted God to decide was so that he could be assured of success. He said, “By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master” (Genesis 24:14). God’s steadfast love or chesed (kheh’-sed) in Hebrew “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship” (H2617). Chesed encompasses every aspect of God’s favor: love, grace, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, and devotion.

When Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit being blessed (Matthew 5:3), he indicated that God’s favor was not linked to individual circumstances, but was shown through his sovereign rule over believers’ lives. The kingdom of heaven refers to God’s presence in the hearts of believers. When a person is born again, the Holy Spirit enters and remains in the believer’s heart permanently. This is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which happens as soon as an individual accepts Jesus as his or her Savior.

God didn’t say anything to Abraham’s servant, but Genesis 24:15-21 indicates that his prayer produced immediate results.

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. When the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey

Rebekah’s actions might have been perceived as coincidental if she had not been acting so extremely kind and thoughtful toward a complete stranger. It was as if Rebekah was trying to impress Abraham’s servant for no apparent reason.

The phrase “gazed at her in silence” indicates that Abraham’s servant was stunned by Rebekah’s behavior. The fact that Rebekah arrived before he had even finished praying and did everything exactly as the man had prescribed made the incident not only astounding, but almost too good to be true. That may have been why the servant waited to see whether or not the LORD had “prospered his journey” (Genesis 24:21). In other words, Abraham’s servant started looking for confirmation that it was God’s will for Rebekah to marry Isaac.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount may have been intended to explain why believers often mistake God’s will for being cursed. The traits Jesus identified; poor, meek, and merciful were not desirable attributes and yet, they were promised to bring God’s blessing. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:4-10) and then, concluded with the statement, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The phrase “Rejoice and be glad” suggests that Jesus expected his disciples to do the opposite of what their normal response would be to adverse circumstances. What Jesus was probably getting at was that he wanted his followers to look at things from an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one. Believers should rejoice and be glad not because they are being persecuted, but because their reward in heaven will be great if they do so (Matthew 5:12). Jesus went on to say that believers should not be foolish or deceived by appearances (Matthew 5:13-16), but should strive to be examples of God’s high moral standards (Matthew 5:19-20). It is clear that Abraham’s servant was looking for a hard-working, but also kind and generous woman for Isaac to marry because he asked that the woman God had appointed would offer to water his camels even though they had just traveled hundreds of miles and would likely need more than 100 gallons of water to quench their thirst.

Abraham’s servant waited until his camels were finished drinking before he approached Rebekah and asked her about her family. When she told him she was “the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor” (Genesis 24:24), Abraham’s servant “bowed his head and worshipped the LORD, and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen” (Genesis 24:26-27). The phrase “led me in the way” indicates that Abraham’s servant was being guided in the right direction as he attempted to do God’s will. Because he found the person he was looking for right away, Abraham’s servant concluded that God had blessed his effort and was responsible for his success.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount pointed out that certain sins could keep believers from being blessed by God. Jesus talked about anger, lust, divorce and retaliation in the context of the standard that had been set forth in the Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:21-48). He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:21-24).

The Greek word that is translated liable, enochos (en’-okh-os) can also be translated as “in danger of” (G1777). Enochos is derived from the word enecho (en-ekh’-o) which means “to hold in or upon, i.e. ensnare; by implication to keep a grudge” (G1758). What Jesus was most likely referring to when he said a person would be liable for his anger against his brother was that the person’s internal state or spiritual well-being would be affected by his feelings. In other words, God couldn’t have led Abraham’s servant in the right way if he was still upset about something that had happened to him previously. Jesus said if you want God to help you, you must first be reconciled to your brother (Matthew 5:24).

The Greek word that is translated reconciled in Matthew 5:24, diallasso (dee-al-las’-so) means “to change thoroughly” (G1259). What this may suggest is that Jesus wanted believers to have a completely different attitude about the wrongs that were being done to them. Instead of getting upset about every little thing that was done to offend them, believers were to focus on improving their relationships. Regarding retaliation, Jesus said that we should not resist the one who is evil. “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloke as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41).

Jesus’ final example of believers acting in a way that was contrary to human nature was to love one’s enemies. He stated, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). The Greek word ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) suggests that Jesus was referring to spiritual development and that he wanted believers to do things that would cause God to bless them. The phrase “so that you may be sons” could also be translated as make yourself into a son, in the same way that you might make yourself into a husband by getting married. In other words, if you love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, God has to recognize you as his child and will bless you accordingly.

When Abraham’s servant told Rebekah’s family about his prayer and what happened afterward, it says in Genesis 24:50-51, “Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, ‘The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.” Laban and Bethuel recognized God’s involvement in the circumstances that brought Abraham’s servant to their doorstep. They didn’t resist letting Rebekah go because they knew that she had been selected by God to be Isaac’s wife. The final confirmation came when Rebekah was asked to leave immediately with a man that she had just met and go with him to a land she had never been to before in order to marry a man she had never even seen. Rebekah confidently responded, “I will go” (Genesis 24:56-58).

Jesus told his disciples, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word that is translated perfect, teleios (tel’-i-os) means complete and has to do with growth in mental and moral character (G5046). Another way of looking at teleios would be spiritual maturity, one who has attained the moral end for which he was intended, namely to be a man or woman in Christ. Rebekah’s decision to go with Abraham’s servant indicated that she was willing to submit herself to God’s will and she was blessed because of it (Genesis 24:60).

Jesus said that that our heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). By that he meant that God completes or finishes everything that he does for his children. In the instance of Abraham’s servant seeking a wife for Isaac, everything worked out perfectly because he asked God to be involved in what he was doing. When Isaac and Rebekah finally met, it says in Genesis 24:67, “Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her,” indicating that Isaac was fully satisfied with the woman that God had appointed to be his wife.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Unchangeable

An important characteristic of God when it comes to salvation is what is referred to as his immutability. It says in Hebrews 6:17-18, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” The Greek word translated immutability, amethatetos (am-et-ath’-et-os) means unchangeable (G276). Amethatetos has to do with decision making and at a deeper level deals with loyalty to a particular person or viewpoint. The immutability of God’s counsel refers specifically to his will, the things that he intends to accomplish and uses his power to control.

The Old Covenant which dealt with Abraham’s descendants being brought into an eternal relationship with God was the primary reason Jesus came to Earth and died for the sins of the world, but even before Jesus was born, God said that he was going to establish a New Covenant that would finish the work of salvation that began with Abraham (Jeremiah 31:33). Whereas the Old Covenant was a conditional covenant, meaning there were conditions that had to be met in order for it to be fulfilled, the New Covenant was enacted by God as “an unconditional divine promise to unfaithful Israel to forgive her sins and establish His relationship with her on a new basis by writing His law ‘in their hearts’ — a covenant of pure grace” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, p. 16).

The writer of the book of Hebrews explained God’s New Covenant in the context of the Mosaic Law. The Jews had been living according to God’s commandments for hundreds of years, but were told, “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change of the law also” (Hebrews 7:11-12). God’s standard of perfection was never meant to be attained by humans. The Mosaic law had to do with physical requirements that could extend one’s physical life; keeping the commandments was not expected to result in eternal life (Hebrews 7:16).

The writer of Hebrews determined that the Mosaic Law merely paved the way for something better that would accomplish what God originally intended, the restoration of his relationship with mankind (Hebrews 7:18-19). He said, “by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood” (Hebrews 7:22-24, NKJV). Basically, what this means is that Jesus has made it possible for the God’s work of salvation to continue uninterrupted. It is an eternal ministry that will never come to an end. The reason this is important is because sin can only be eliminated if it is permanently deleted from God’s record. The temporary covering that was originally accomplished through the sacrifice of animals was replaced with a perpetual, unchangeable atonement by the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:27).

Obedience

Paul’s letter to the Philippians focused on the result of being born again. Aside from the hope that every Christian has of going to heaven when we die, there is a practical side to having put our faith in Christ. Paul told the Philippians that he was “confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Paul didn’t explain what the good work was that God was doing in the lives of the believers at Philippi, but the context of his letter showed that the Philippians were being obedient to God’s word. Paul was writing to the Philippians to thank them for a gift they had sent him upon learning of his detention in Rome (Introduction to The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, p. 1705). Rather than abandoning him in his time of need, the Philippians stood by Paul and encouraged him to keep preaching the gospel and fighting the good fight of faith.

Paul used the example of Christ to explain why suffering was necessary and told the Philippians, “You are not only to put your trust in Him, but you are to suffer for Him also. You know what the fight is like. Now it is time for you to have a part in it as I have” (Philippians 1:29-30, NLV). Paul pointed out that obedience was necessary for Christ to win the battle against Satan and instructed the Philippians to:

Let this mind be in you, which as also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of a men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:4-8)

The Greek word Paul used that is translated obedient, hupekoos (hoop-ay’-ko-os) means to listen attentively and by implication submission (G5255). Hupekoos is derived from the word hupakouo which comes from the words hupo indicating an inferior position or condition (G5259) and akouo (ak-oo’-o), a verb that denotes both the sound and meaning of what is spoken (G191). Akouo is used in John 1:40 where it says, “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.” Akouo in this verse means literally “‘heard from beside John,’ suggesting that he stood beside him.” In other words, Andrew’s obedience (he followed John) was the result of an intimate conversation he had with him.

Paul’s explanation of obedience suggested that it was a dual or combined effort between God and believers. He said, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, NKJV). The Greek words that are translated work and works, have to do with the results or effect of an intentional effort to accomplish a supernatural task (G2716/G1754). One way to look at our obedience to God’s will is to see that the Holy Spirit (God’s supernatural power in us) is activated when we do what God’s wants us to and the result is the accomplishment of a supernatural task that we could not have accomplished on our own.

God’s will

God’s plan of salvation was designed to ensure that everyone that wants to go to heaven will, but at the same time, no one can be saved unless he or she is predestined to be saved according to God’s will. It says in Ephesians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (NKJV).

The Greek word translated predestined, proorizo (pro-or-id’-zo) means to determine beforehand (G4309). In other words, God knew ahead of time who would want to be saved and made provision for every person’s salvation when Jesus died on the cross. Even though we weren’t saved until the moment we accepted Christ and put our trust in him, the transaction that covered the payment for our sins occurred 2000 years ago. Paul described this transaction as a mystery and said, “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he had purposed in himself” (Ephesians 1:9).

If you think of your salvation as a secret that wasn’t revealed until the day you were born again, you might wonder why God waits for us to make a choice to be saved rather than imposing his will on us and forcing everyone to go to heaven. It says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (NKJV). If God had his way, everyone would go to heaven, but he allows us to make up our own minds about where we will spend eternity and unfortunately, some people don’t want to have their sins forgiven, but would rather go to hell than ask God to save them.

Paul explained that God’s grace is what makes people want to repent (Ephesians 2:5). The Greek word charis (khar’-ece) has to do with the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life; including gratitude (G5485). Some people are able see God’s goodness and want to have a relationship with him. Others are bitter toward God and blame him for everything that has gone wrong in their lives. The fact that some people choose to be saved is evidence that God is making an effort to bring us to repentance. Paul described salvation as a gift from God and said, “For by grace you have been saved faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Submission

Jesus’ commitment to doing his Father’s will meant that he had to fight against his human desire to live a normal life. On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane with eleven of his twelve apostles. When he took Peter, James, and John to a private spot to pray, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed saying, ‘My Father, If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:37-39, ESV). Jesus’ human nature was no different than anyone else’. He didn’t want to die on the cross, but his divine nature made it possible for him to submit to his Father and do what no other human was capable of, voluntarily dying for the sins of all humanity.

After praying a second, and then a third time that his Father’s will would be accomplished, Jesus went to meet his betrayer, Judas Iscariot who had arranged for him to be arrested while he was away from the crowd of followers that typically surrounded him. It says in Matthew 26:47-50:

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. (ESV)

Jesus’ reference to Judas as his friend was not a sarcastic remark, but his way of communicating that Judas wasn’t doing him any harm by turning him over to the religious authorities. Jesus knew that it was his Father’s will for him to be taken into custody that night and crucified the next morning. Everything was happening according to a predestined plan for Israel’s Messiah to be killed like the lamb that was eaten during their Passover celebration. The irony was that Jesus’ death would actually do what the annual animal sacrifice could not. John the Baptist declared about him the first time he saw Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus made it perfectly clear that he was acting according to his Father’s will when he told Peter to put away his sword because “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). In other words, Peter could not defeat Satan with physical force. Jesus then asked Peter two rhetorical questions to ignite his spiritual insight into the situation. He said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, And he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54, ESV). Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy was the ultimate goal of his ministry on Earth. Were it not for his submission to his Father’s will, Jesus would have accomplished nothing more than a short period of communion with his human counterparts and then spent eternity in Heaven alone.