The adulteress

A character that appears throughout the Bible and is key in understanding the struggle between good and evil is the adulteress. The seventh of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Although adultery was typically associated with women that broke wedlock (H5003), the Mosaic Law indicated that both the man and the woman were to be punished for the sin of adultery. Leviticus 20:10 states, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” King Solomon warned the people of Israel about the dangers of committing adultery. Solomon said, “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32, NKJV). The Hebrew word that is translated understanding, leb (labe) means “the heart.” In the Hebrew language, “The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). From that standpoint, a man that lacks understanding might be described as someone that doesn’t know God or a person that is not open to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Solomon said whoever commits adultery “destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32, NKJV). The soul like the heart is associated with the inner person. “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the after life [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). The destruction of the soul doesn’t mean that committing adultery will cause your soul to be dissolved by death or that your soul will be extinguished by some other means. The soul is immortal and was designed for everlasting life (G5590), but it can be ruined or you might say completely corrupted to the point that it is no longer useful to God and Solomon said committing adultery is one of the ways that can happen.

Solomon’s warning against the adulteress began with some advice about how to avoid being taken in by her flattery. Solomon said:

My son, keep my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
    keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
    and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words. (Proverbs 7:1-5)

Solomon suggested binding the commandments on your fingers as well as writing them on the tablet of your heart. What Solomon was talking about was using memory devices to keep the Ten Commandments at the forefront of your mind. It’s probably not a coincidence that God gave the Israelites Ten Commandments and ten fingers that they could use to remember them.

Solomon also referred to the adulteress as “the forbidden woman” (Proverbs 7:5). The Hebrew word Solomon used, zuwr (zoor) means “to turn aside (especially for lodging)” (H2114). Solomon later described the forbidden woman as being, “dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart” (Proverbs 7:10). In this instance, Solomon used a word for committing adultery that is associated with idolatry (H2181). The Hebrew word zanah (zaw-nawˊ) “means ‘to go a whoring, commit fornication, be a harlot, serve other gods.’ This is the regular term denoting prostitution throughout the history of Hebrew, with special nuances coming out of the religious experience of ancient Israel. It is used for the first time in the text at the conclusion of the story of the rape of Dinah by Shechem, as her brothers excuse their revenge by asking: ‘Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?’ While the term means ‘to commit fornication,’ whether by male or by female, it is to be noted that it is almost never used to describe sexual misconduct on the part of a male in the Old Testament. Part of the reason lies in the differing attitude in ancient Israel concerning sexual activity by men and women. The main reason, however, is the fact that this term is used most frequently to describe ‘spiritual prostitution’ in which Israel turned from God to strange gods” (H2181).

When God renewed his covenant with Israel, after they had made a golden calf and worshipped it (Exodus 32:1-6), he warned the people about spiritual prostitution. God said:

“Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.” (Exodus 34:10-16)

God identifies himself in this passage with the name Jealous and tells Moses that he “is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). The word jealous has a somewhat negative connotation, but “God is not tainted with the negative connotation of the verb. His holiness does not tolerate competitors or those who sin against him” (H7065). God’s jealousy is associated with a consuming fire that destroys whatever is opposed to his holiness (Deuteronomy 4:23-24), but the driving force behind God’s jealousy is the perfect love that caused him to sacrifice his only begotten Son in order to pay the penalty for our sins (John 3:16). The Song of Solomon 8:6-7 depicts the zealousness of God’s love and his desire for it to be reciprocated by others. It states:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire,
    the brightest kind of flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
    nor can rivers drown it.
If a man tried to buy love
    with all his wealth,
    his offer would be utterly scorned. (NLT)

Solomon’s description of love as something that flashes like a fire, the brightest kind of flame (Song of Solomon 8:6) makes it clear that God’s passion for his people is not just the result of a strong emotional attachment, but also an enduring devotion that cannot be quenched.

Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s love for them when he instructed them to obey his commandments and to remain faithful to his covenant. Moses said:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-13)

The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love in Deuteronomy 7:9 and 7:12, chesed (khehˊ-sed) is one of the most important terms in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. “In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel)…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617).

The seriousness of worshipping other gods is demonstrated in the sin’s punishment of stoning the person to death. Deuteronomy 17:2-6 states:

“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”

Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites demonstrated their unwillingness to be faithful to God. Even Solomon, who was in many ways the most successful king over Israel, was involved in idolatry (1 Kings 11:4-8). The prophet Hosea, whose ministry extended from about 770 to 725 BC, was called to exemplify the relationship between God and Israel through his marriage to a harlot (Introduction to the book of Hosea). Hosea 3:1 states, “And the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”

Solomon’s depiction of the adulteress indicated that she was making an intention effort to lead others astray. Solomon said:

For at the window of my house
    I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
    I have perceived among the youths,
    a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
    taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
    at the time of night and darkness.

And behold, the woman meets him,
    dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward;
    her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the market,
    and at every corner she lies in wait. (Proverbs 7:6-12)

Solomon used several words in this passage that are associated with spiritual activity. The young man that went to meet the adulteress was lacking sense; his heart was not open to the influence of the Holy Spirit (H3820). The young man was passing along the street near her corner; he had crossed over the boundary of right and entered the forbidden land of the wrong (H5674). The young man was taking the road to her house; he participated in the adulteress’ life-style (H1870) and the young man went “in the evening, at the time of night and darkness” (Proverbs 7:9); he intended to relinquish his spiritual protection and keep what he was doing a secret (H3915/H653).

Solomon portrayed the young man’s decision to commit adultery as being trapped in a life or death situation and cautioned him against taking that first step. Solomon said:

With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.
All at once he follows her,
    as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
    till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
    he does not know that it will cost him his life.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
    do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low,
    and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
    going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:21-27)

Solomon referred to the words the adulteress used to convince the young man to do what she wanted him to as seductive speech and smooth talk. The essence of these types of communication is that they are easy to listen to, what you might call ticking your fancy or making you feel good about yourself, but it is clear that Solomon was concerned about the effect of adulteress’ words on the young man’s spiritual perception.

The underlying message of Solomon’s warning against committing adultery was the spiritual prostitution that believers become susceptible to when they listen to false teaching about God’s word. The Hebrew word that is translated seductive speech in Proverbs 7:21, leqach (lehˊ-kakh) “means teaching; instruction; persuasiveness; understanding, in the sense of something taken in” (H3948). An issue that came up at the time of Moses death was how the people would know if they were being lied to. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 states, “’But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” “The existence of prophets during the period of the monarchy necessitated a means by which to distinguish between a true prophet and a false one. Turbulent times, during which the people wanted to hear words of hope and security, produced outbreaks of prophets for hire and seers with optimistic lies. Shortly after Judah started going into exile in Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had to contend with a rash of charlatans, upon whom they issued stern denunciations (Jeremiah 23:9-40; Ezekiel 13:1-23)” (note on Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

Moses told the people of Israel that God would raise up a prophet to take his place, someone that they could trust who would assure them of spiritual success. Moses told the Israelites, “And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:17-19). “The identity of this unnamed prophet is not revealed anywhere in the Old Testament. By Jesus’ day, the Jews had developed a clear expectation of a figure that would fulfill Moses’ words. Priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked John the Baptist if he was ‘the prophet,’ and he denied it (John 1:21). Peter identified ‘the prophet’ as a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22, 23)” (note on Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Jesus fulfilled the test of a true prophet in that he predicted his own death and resurrection and it happened exactly as he said it would.

Jesus’ compassion toward a woman that was caught in the act of adultery showed that God was not so much interested in punishing the sinner as he was revealing the hardened condition of the religious experts’ hearts. John’s gospel tells us:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

The scribes and Pharisees wanted Jesus to condemn the woman who had been caught in adultery, but he wouldn’t do it. Instead, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (John 8:6). The King James Version of the Bible states in John 8:9, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” No one knows what Jesus wrote on the ground, but whatever it was, it caused everyone in the crowd to be convicted by their own conscience. Although it seemed at first that the adulteress was a wicked sinner that deserved to be put to death, it turned out that no one was able to condemn her and so, Jesus liberated her from the power and punishment of her sin (G1659).

God’s presence

God was personally involved in the children of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God instructed Moses to tell the people, “About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle” (Exodus 11:4-5). God protected the Israelites by means of a sacrificial lamb that served as a substitute for the firstborn of each of the children of Israel’s families. The blood of the lamb was put on the doorposts and the lintel of their houses and God said, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). Moses described the Israelites departure from Egypt as a night of watching and said, “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt, so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:40-42).

The night of watching that took place when the Israelites left Egypt was a night vigil in which the LORD went through the land of Goshen looking for the blood of the lamb on each individual doorpost and lintel of the children of Israel’s houses. Extreme care was taken to make sure that the destroyer didn’t enter any of the houses that were displaying the lamb’s blood (Exodus 12:23). In the same way that the LORD had carefully watched over the children of Israel the night they left Egypt and protected them from the destroyer, Moses said the Israelites were to observe “a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:42). In other words, the annual Passover celebration was intended to be a night vigil in which the Israelites looked for their Savior, the Lamb of God’s arrival. John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) should have triggered the Jews awareness that their Messiah had arrived on the scene, but the Passover celebration that took place the night of Jesus’ death seemed to go unnoticed by those who were supposed to be watching for God’s fulfillment of the Old Testament Covenants (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16).

Psalm 114 focuses on God’s presence among his people. The psalmist stated, “When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion” (Psalm 114:1-2). A dominion is a territory over which one rules or governs. The Hebrew term memshalah (mem-shaw-law’) often “denotes the ruling power which one in authority exercises over his domain or kingdom” (H4475). Another way of looking at a king’s dominion is that it signifies the area over which he can exercise his sovereign authority (H4474). The reason why Israel was the Lord’s dominion was because God redeemed the children of Israel from slavery, making them his personal possession (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Judah was thought of as the Lord’s sanctuary because Jesus was a direct descendant of Judah and was later referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) when he “took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” in heaven (Revelation 5:7). Revelation 5:9-10 states:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Ultimately, Jesus’ dominion will be over the entire earth, but initially, the blood of the lamb only covered the Israelites who were delivered from slavery in Egypt and were specifically chosen by God to be his treasured possession because of the covenant he made with Abraham (Genesis 15:9-21, Deuteronomy 7:8).

It was through his deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt that God’s presence on the earth first began to be felt. Psalm 114:7 states, “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” The Hebrew word that is translated Lord in this verse, ‘adon (aw-done’) when applied to God, signifies His position as the “one who has authority (like a master) over His people to reward the obedient and punish the disobedient…In such contexts God is conceived as a Being who is sovereign ruler and almighty master” (H113). The Hebrew word chuwl (khool), which is translated tremble, conveys two basic ideas: to whirl in motion or writhe in pain. This word is often used to describe the labor pains of giving birth (H2342). The children of Israel’s supernatural deliverance from slavery in Egypt may have been likened to the labor pains of childbirth because in the process of birthing the nation of Israel God overthrew Pharaoh by means of a long agonizing process that included ten plagues and ended with “a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30). Afterwards, the children of Israel were thrust out and “the Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead'” (Exodus 12:33).

Like an annual birthday celebration, Moses told the children of Israel, “Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place” (Exodus 13:3). The strong hand of the LORD was not only a symbol of his personal involvement in a situation but also the exercise of his power to accomplish a specific task. Israel’s deliverance from slavery had to do with their loyalty and devotion to God. The Passover celebration required the children of Israel to follow God’s instructions exactly in order to preserve their lives. What they were asked to do may not have made sense to them, but because the Israelites lives depended on it, it says in Exodus 12:28, “Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” This was an important turning point in God’s relationship with his chosen people, and therefore, it needed to be remembered. On a national level, it was like being born again. God saved the children of Israel collectively, as a group they became the children of God.

Psalm 114:7 describes the world’s reaction to God’s presence as trembling because there is always an emotional element to God’s involvement in our lives. The Hebrew word that is translated presence, paneh (paw-neh’) means the face. “In a more specific application, the word represents the look on one’s face, or one’s countenance” (H6440). The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spiritual being, but Jesus’ birth changed the way we interact with God and made it possible for us to see God in a physical form. Jesus’ presence in the world evoked different reactions from people depending on their relationship with God. Some people like Zacchaeus, a man described as a chief tax collector, were anxious to meet Jesus in person (Luke 19:3), but others like the ones who witnessed Jesus casting a legion of demons into a herd of pigs, “began to beg him to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17). Jesus’ strength was physically demonstrated when he calmed a storm that threatened his disciples lives (Mark 4:39) and made a fig tree wither (Matthew 21:19) because it failed to provide him with the nourishment he needed. After Jesus’ resurrection, “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God'” (Matthew 27:54).

When the children of Israel departed from Egypt, God went with them and his presence was manifested to them in the form of two pillars that were visible at all times. Exodus 13:21-22 states:

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

The Hebrew word paneh is translated “before” in Exodus 13:21-22 to convey the fact the God was physically present with the Israelites as they traveled. The tall pillars made it possible for everyone to see God’s presence no matter where they were in the camp.

Exodus 13:17-18 tells us, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.” God’s decision to lead the people by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea had to do with their lack of experience with warfare. The people of Israel had been trained to submit to Pharaoh’s authority and to fear his soldiers. When it says that they went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle, it most likely meant that the people of Israel were physically capable of fighting, but were being defended by God’s army. Exodus 14:13-14 states, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The phrase “you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14) is translated “ye shall hold your peace” in the King James Version of the Bible. The Hebrew word charash (khaw-rash’) means “to scratch, i.e. (by implication) to engrave” (H2790). What this seems to suggest is something being etched in one’s memory. The salvation of the LORD was intended to be a memorable event in which the Israelites played no active part. Moses said they would “see the salvation of the LORD” (Exodus 14:13). The Hebrew word that is translated see, ra’ah (raw-aw’) basically connotes seeing with one’s eyes. “This verb can also mean ‘to observe’…The second primary meaning is ‘to perceive,’ or to be ‘consciously aware of’…It can also mean ‘to realize’ or ‘to get acquainted with’…It can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). The Hebrew word that is translated salvation, yeshuw’ah (yesh-oo’-aw) means deliverance. “Many personal names contain a form of the root, such as Joshua (“the Lord is help”), Isaiah (“the Lord is help”), and Jesus (a Greek form of yeshu’ah)” (H3444).

As the people of Israel approached the Red Sea, it says in Exodus 14:19-20, “Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.” Traditional Christian interpretation has held that the angel of God “was a preincarnate manifestation of Christ as God’s Messenger-Servant” (note on Genesis 16:7) and is here associated with the cloud, a visible symbol of God’s presence among his people (notes on Exodus 13:21 and 14:19). The purpose of the angel of God moving behind the host of Israel was likely to separate and to protect them from the Egyptians, but he also may have moved and went behind them to keep the Israelites from running away. During the night, “the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).The strong east wind that divided the waters of the Red Sea might have had similar characteristics to a hurricane. Hurricane Irma, which was described as having unfathomable power and was estimated to have winds of approximately 200 mph, caused an estimated $50 billion in damage. In order to separate the waters of the Red Sea and make the sea dry land, there would have had to have been a supernatural force at work.

The Hebrew word that is translated wind in Exodus 14:21, ruwach (roo’-akh) is more often than not translated as Spirit or spirit. “It is clear that the wind is regarded in Scripture as a fitting emblem of the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God. Moreover, the breath is suppose to symbolize not only the deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (H7307). By resemblance breath is associated with the wind , “i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation” and it could be imagined that the parting of the Red Sea was somewhat like God take a deep breath and blowing the waters aside so that his people could cross the land on dry ground. One of the key characteristics of this supernatural feat was that God made the sea dry land. In other words, it was as if the water had completely evaporated. The ground became parched like the desert (H2724). Exodus 14:22-25 states:

And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

Moses described the LORD’s deliverance of the people of Israel this way:

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters. (Exodus 15:8-10)

Moses’ tribute to the LORD focused on the visible evidence of God’s overthrow of the Egyptians. He said:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:1-2)

Moses indicated that the LORD had become his salvation when he triumphed gloriously over the Egyptian army. The Hebrew word that is translated triumphed gloriously, ga’ah (gaw-aw’) generally means to rise (H1342). This seems to connect the Israelites’ deliverance with Jesus’ resurrection. It could be said that the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea was similar to being baptized in that it portrayed the death, burial and resurrection that believers are identified with through baptism. Exodus 14:30-31 states, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” The Israelites’ belief was a direct result of their personal experience and was based on what the LORD did to save them. Much like the disciples that witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, Israel saw the great power that the LORD used to defeat their enemy and “came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (H539).

The elect lady

John wrote his second epistle to “the elect lady and her children.” This unusual greeting may have been John’s way of singling out an individual that preferred to remain anonymous or code words for a group of people that John knew would understand who they were without mentioning any names. John’s second letter was written around 85-95 A.D., a time period when the persecution of first century Christians was at a peak. John may have wanted to let his audience know that they were highly regarded by him and yet were being protected from unnecessary exposure.

The Greek word translated lady, Kuria (koo-ree’-ah) is the feminine of the word kurios (koo’-ree-os) which means supreme in authority (G2962). Kurios is most often translated as Lord and was used primarily to address Jesus during his ministry on Earth. John may have used the female version of the word kurios intentionally to signify the church or the entire body of believers that was later identified as “the bride” in his book of Revelation. The Greek word translated elect, eklektos (ek-lek-tos’) means select or chosen out. Eklektos also appears in Revelation 17:14 where it says, “These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (italics mine)”

John’s message to the elect lady was prefaced with a declaration of authenticity, something that would make it clear to the readers of his letter that it was indeed John that was writing to them. He stated, “The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; for the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us forever” (2 John 1:1-2). The Greek word translated truth, aletheia (al-ay’-thi-a) was somewhat of a signature word for John. He used it 20 times in his gospel to communicate the message of Jesus to unbelievers that were skeptical about his deity. John was most likely referring to Jesus when he said, “all they that have known the truth; for the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us forever” because Jesus referred to himself as the truth when he told his disciple Thomas “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

John took great care to open his letter to the elect lady and her children in a way that was unmistakable even though the letter itself was very brief, only 13 verses from beginning to end. It hardly seems worth it to go to such great lengths to formulate an elaborate greeting for a letter with so little content. It seems as if John’s primary objective was to acknowledge his reader rather than to convey an important message. Perhaps, John was sending what we would refer to today as a quick note or an instant message, just to let them know he was alive and well. John’s closing comment suggests that he intended to make a personal visit and preferred to speak to the elect lady, whoever she was, face to face. He told her, “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (2 John 1:12).

A different form

Perhaps, the most remarkable thing that happened during Jesus’ three-year ministry was his transfiguration. Only three of Jesus’ disciples were allowed to witness this amazing event. Following his disclosure to his disciples that he would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21), Matthew tells us Jesus took Peter, James and John “and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart” (Matthew 17:1). The private place he took these men to may have been somewhere Jesus went to on a regular basis. After Jesus had fed the five thousand and sent his disciples away in a ship, Matthew tells us, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was alone there” (Matthew 14:23). It could be that on this particular occasion Jesus didn’t want to leave Peter, James and John alone. They were most likely disheartened by the reminder that Jesus would soon be killed and needed this beneficial experience of seeing the end result of Jesus’ death and resurrection to get them over their discouragement.

Matthew’s description of his transfiguration indicated that Jesus became like a shining star, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Since Matthew wasn’t present at the time, it is likely his description of the transfiguration was based on his interpretation of what he heard Jesus looked like. Luke said of Jesus’ transfiguration that “the fashion of his countenance was altered” (Luke 9:29), meaning literally, Jesus became a different person. A deeper understanding of the words used by Matthew and Luke to describe what happened to Jesus show that the change that took place was an inward and real change of Jesus’ character and likely had nothing to do with his physical appearance. The root word morphe (mor-fay’) has to do with the nature or essence of a person, “not in the abstract, but as actually subsisting in the individual, and retained as long as the individual itself exists (3444). From this standpoint, it appears that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different identity.

An interesting aspect of Jesus’ transfiguration is recorded in Matthew 17:5 where it says, “a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” As if there might have been some confusion as to who he was at this point, his Father made it clear that Jesus was still the same person he was when he was baptized (Matthew 3:17), the Son of God. In other words, Jesus didn’t or wouldn’t become God at some point in time. Jesus was and always would be God’s son. From this standpoint, you could say that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different nature, not identity, meaning he changed from who he was in the form of a man into who he was in the form of God. An example of this is water turning into steam or ice. It still has the same chemical makeup, but looks completely different. Another way of looking at it would be a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. They are one and the same creature, but look nothing like each other.

Walking on water (part 2)

Mark’s account of Jesus walking on water showed that he did not intend for his disciples to know what he was doing. Mark said, “about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them” (Mark 6:48). It appears that Jesus’ intention was only to get to the other side of the sea ahead of his disciples. “But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: for they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:49-50). Apparently, Jesus had transformed himself into a form that may have been somewhat ghostlike or transparent. A clue as to what this form was like can be found in John 6:19 where it states the disciples saw Jesus “walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.” The Greek term translated drawing, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means “to cause to be (generate) that is (reflexively) to become (come into being)” (1096). What may have happened was that Jesus transformed himself back into a physical state because his disciples were fearful he was dead when they saw him walking across the sea as a spirit.

Whether or not Jesus walked across the sea of Galilee in a spiritual or physical state is not completely clear, but it is evident that at the time when Jesus arrived at the boat in which his disciples were traveling, he appeared to be normal as he stood upon the water talking to them. His salutation, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50) suggested that Jesus was calming the disciples and making them aware that everything was fine. It was at this point that Peter spoke up and said, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Essentially, Peter’s remark was a confession of faith. Another way of stating what Peter said would be, “because it is you, bid me come unto thee on the water.” In other words, Peter wanted to do what he saw Jesus was able to. Perhaps, Peter thought it would be cool to walk on the water, or he may have been trying to impress Jesus with his exuberant act of faith, but Matthew said, when Peter “saw the wind boysterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). The difference between Jesus walking on water and Peter walking on water was that Peter didn’t have authority over the wind as Jesus did. Peter’s disadvantage was that he couldn’t keep the wind from knocking him around; and he was most likely fearful because once he was out of the boat, he realized the wind’s powerful force could cause him to crash into the water like a tomato on a hardwood floor. Matthew tells us that Peter began to sink and cried out to Jesus, saying, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30), meaning, he acknowledged Jesus’ deity and his ability to do more than Peter was able to.

Forgiveness of sins

The link between sin and disease in the minds of the Jews made it necessary for Jesus to deal with the topic of sin while he was in the process of healing those that came to him for restoration of their health and well-being. One of these instances was when a man described as “sick of the palsy” (Mark 2:3) was brought to Jesus as he was teaching in a home in Capernaum. Mark said of this event, “And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:4-5).

Nothing is know about the condition of the man with the palsy except that he was unable to walk. The Greek word translated palsy, paralutikos means to loosen beside that is relax and is a term associated with being paralyzed or enfeebled (3885). Mark’s reference to the man being sick suggests that this man had an illness that caused his paralysis, perhaps something like what we know today as Lou Gehrig’s disease where the body’s muscles cease to function properly. An interesting aspect of Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is that in around 90-95% of the cases, the cause for ALS in not known. In about 5-10% of the cases, the condition was passed on from parents. If the man sick of the palsy had ALS, the mysterious aspect of the onset of his disease might explain why it was associated with sinful behavior and assumed that he was being punished by God.

It says in Mark 2:5, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” The faith that Jesus saw was probably that of the four men that broke open the roof and let the man down on his bed so Jesus could heal him. The Greek word used here for faith, pistis refers to reliance upon Christ for salvation (4102). Most likely, the four men were known by Jesus and their belief in him is what caused him to deal with the issue of the sick man’s sins before or rather than just healing him. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus guaranteed that when he died, the man sick with the palsy would go to heaven and one day be reunited with his believing friends. Afterward, when he commanded the man to, “Arise, and take up thy bed and walk, and go thy way into thy house” (Mark 2:11), Jesus demonstrated his willingness to give this man a second chance at living his life according to God’s laws.

The Greek word translated sins, hamartia literally means “a missing of the mark” (266). Sin should be viewed as a principle or source of action. From God’s perspective, sin is seen as a governing principle or the power behind our actions. When we choose to go our own way rather than the way that God directs us to, we are sinning against God and will be punished for our disobedience. Forgiveness of sins is when God removes or takes away the effect of the wrong things we have done. An illustration that is used to explain forgiveness is that of a husband divorcing his wife. In that situation, there is no longer a legal claim to assets or an inheritance. The divorced person is freed from all legal obligations. Behind the concept of forgiveness is the idea of abandonment. Whereas sin once had a claim to our life and our possessions, forgiveness allows us to abandon sin and also takes away sin’s ability to claim anything from us in the future.

Living water

Jesus used an everyday experience to teach an important lesson to a woman that no one else would have dared to interact with. She is identified only as “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7). Samaria became the capital of Israel after the nation was split into two separate kingdoms (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) following the death of king Solomon (1 Kings 16:29). Samaria was later destroyed when Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated Israel and took its people into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-11). It says in 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was evident in the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

Jesus’ open discussion with the woman of Samaria showed that he was willing to invite into his kingdom anyone that recognized him as Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. Pointing out her ignorance of God’s plan of salvation, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have have given thee living water” (John 4:10). The Greek words translated living water, zao (dzah´ – o) and hudor hudatos (hoo´ – dor hoo´ – dat – os) literally mean to live (2198) and water (as if rainy) (5204). What Jesus was referring to was the spiritual birth or eternal life that he associated with water baptism. In essence, Jesus saw God’s gift of salvation as an opportunity for everyone to experience a spiritual birth or as he explained it to Nicodemus, to be born again. In the same way that Jesus clarified the difference between a physical and spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The concept of eternal or everlasting life was not new to the Israelites, but Jesus’ description of this kind of life as a well of water springing up inside the person was meant to convey eternal life as something that was a continual, ongoing gift from God that never ran out or dissipated. Rather than seeing salvation as a one-time transaction that merely entitled the recipient to entrance into heaven, Jesus wanted the woman of Samaria to understand that the gift that God wanted to give her was something that was available to her immediately and it could be replenished without limit. Jesus also revealed that the key that unlocked this everlasting fountain of life was worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus’ reference to spiritual activity in the physical realm linked together the gift of eternal life and its source, the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was preparing the way for his arrival and also letting his followers know that there was another person (Holy Spirit) involved in God’s plan of salvation.

Follow me

At the start of his ministry, Jesus chose several men to accompany him as he traveled preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. It seems likely that the first two men that followed Jesus were Andrew and John. It is recorded in John 1:35-37 that these men were originally disciples of John the Baptist, but began to follow Jesus after John declared him to be the Messiah. After spending only one night with Jesus, Andrew was convinced that he was who he claimed to be and invited his brother to become Jesus’ disciple also. John 1:40-42 states, “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found Messias, which is being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.”

Matthew’s account of Andrew and Peter’s calling focused on the forsaking of their work as fisherman. He said, “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20). The Greek word translated followed, akoloutheo is used as a particle of union and refers to a road. Akoloutheo is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” or to accompany on a road. In other words, Andrew and Peter went with Jesus on his road trip. Matthew went on to say that Jesus also called James and his brother John, “And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him” (Matthew 4:22). Matthew, who was a tax collector, later recorded his own calling by Jesus, and said of himself, “he arose, and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).

Jesus’ calling of Philip and Nathanael didn’t focus on the forsaking of their occupations, but merely showed that they were available and interested in God’s kingdom. The only thing John told us about Phillip was that he was from Bethsaida, the same city where Andrew and Peter lived (John 1:44). After Jesus said to him “Follow me” (John 1:43), it says in John 1:45-47, “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jesus comment was intended to show that Nathanael’s skepticism was appropriate and that his followers needed spiritual discernment in order to identify him as their Messiah. After this revelation, Nathanael proclaimed, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Mixed Reactions

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, it became evident that there were some people among the Jews that did not welcome the good news that their Messiah had finally arrived. In particular, those who knew Jesus as a child questioned whether or not someone like him could actually be the savior God had promised to bring to his people. In Luke 4:16 it says of Jesus, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 to the people and then stated “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). After declaring himself to be their long awaited Messiah, Jesus foretold of his rejection and eventual ministry to the Gentiles. It says in Luke 4:28-29, “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill where on their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”

Following this incident, Jesus went to a seaside fishing village called Capernaum which became a sort of home base for his ministry. It was there that Jesus called four fishermen; Simon, whom he renamed Peter, his brother Andrew, and their business partners, James and John to be his disciples. The story of Peter’s conversion showed that Jesus understood this man’s reluctance to give up his independent way of life.

Now when he had left off speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Luke 5:4-8)

Peter’s awareness of his need for a savior was a result of the conviction he felt about his lack of faith when Jesus told him to let down his nets for a draught (Luke 5:4). Peter thought there were no fish in the sea, but in reality there were so many fish, his ship couldn’t hold them all. After Peter’s perception of the situation had changed, Jesus said to him and his fishing partners, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (Luke 5:10-11).

Temptation

Before he began his public ministry, Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1). The phrase led up of the Spirit tells us that it was God’s will for Jesus to go through this 40 day temptation experience which began in the desert region of the lower Jordan Valley. Jesus’ personal encounter with Satan involved three temptations or tests that proved his ability to defeat his enemy in the most extreme type of spiritual warfare. Jesus had no inward desire or inclination to sin. “Because he was God He did not sin in any way, whether by actions or word or inner desire (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Yet Jesus’ temptation was real, not merely symbolic. He was ‘in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb 4:15)” (note on Matthew 4:1-11).

Through his encounter with the devil in the wilderness, Jesus gave us an example of how to successfully deal with temptation and overcome the spiritual forces that entice us to sin against God. Each time Jesus was confronted by Satan, he used “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). One of the key tactics Satan used to tempt Jesus was to question his identity. He said, “If Thou be the Son of God, command these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3). Jesus was declared the Son of God when he was baptized by John in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:17) and he was capable of transforming the stones into bread, but Jesus didn’t do what Satan asked him to, instead he responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Jesus’ declaration of spiritual truth showed that he was able to defeat his enemy, Satan without using any of his supernatural powers. The weapon Jesus used, the word of God, is available to everyone and the scriptures he quoted were taken from a single book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, so an extensive knowledge of the Bible wasn’t necessary. In his temptation, Jesus demonstrated to us that his human nature wasn’t subject to the devil, but was transformed by the word of God into a weapon more powerful than the strongest of all evil forces. After passing his spiritual test in the wilderness, Jesus immediately began his public ministry and continuously used his spiritual authority to cast out demons and to heal people of all kinds of diseases (Mark 1:34).