God’s representative

The Old Testament prophets were considered to be inspired spokesmen for God. “Moses was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 34:10) and the example for all later prophets. He displayed every aspect of a true prophet, both in his call, his work, his faithfulness, and, at times, his doubts. Only Abraham is called a prophet before Moses (Genesis 20:7)” (H5030). A prophet was someone “who was raised up by God and, as such, could only proclaim that which the Lord gave him to say. A prophet could not contradict the Law of the Lord or speak from his own mind or heart.” When Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam and asked him to curse the people of Israel, Balaam refused to do it (Numbers 22:14). “Balaam lived a long distance away from Moab, yet he must have been quite famous for Balak to have known of him and have sent for him. Archeological evidence from Deir Alla indicates that Balaam was highly regarded by pagans five hundred years after his death. His activity is described as divination and sorcery (Numbers 22:7, cf. Numbers 23:23; 24:1)” (note on Numbers 22:5). The fact that Balaam was known as a false prophet, a sorcerer if you will, didn’t stop him from being under God’s authority and control. After Balaam refused to go with the elders of Moab, Numbers 22:15-21 states:

Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

God allowed Balaam to go with the princes of Moab, but he also made it clear that Balaam had to obey his instructions. Balaam referred to the LORD as “my God” (Numbers 22:18) even though he was not an Israelite and had not been called to be a prophet. Balaam told Balak the king of Moab, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38).

Balak’s attempt to get Balaam to curse the people of Israel was driven by fear (Numbers 22:3) and the hope that he could stop God’s chosen people from overtaking the land of Moab (Numbers 22:6). After Balaam delivered his first discourse, Balak realized his plan wasn’t working. “And Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.’ And he answered and said, ‘Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth’” (Numbers 23:11-12). Balaam’s second discourse made it even clearer that Balak’s attempts to curse the Israelites were futile. Balaam stated:

Rise, Balak, and hear;
    give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Behold, I received a command to bless:
    he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
    nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
    and the shout of a king is among them.
God brings them out of Egypt
    and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
    no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
    ‘What has God wrought!’
Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up
    and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
    and drunk the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:18-24)

Balaam indicated that there was no enchantment or magic spell that would work against the descendants of Jacob and Balak’s attempts to use divination against them were useless (Numbers 23:23). The reason Balaam gave for Israel’s special treatment was that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). Balaam also specified that God’s word was linked to his covenant with Jacob and he could not revoke it (Numbers 23:20).

The Hebrew word qesem (kehˊ-sem), which is translated divination in Numbers 23:23 describes the cultic practice of foreign nations that was prohibited in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:10) and was considered a great sin. “False prophets used divination to prophecy in God’s name, but God identified them as false (Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:6); and pledged to remove such practices from Israel (Ezekiel 13:23)” (H7081). One of the last mentions of divination in the Old Testament appears in Zechariah 10 which deals with the restoration of Judah and Israel and makes mention of God’s concern for his people. Zechariah 10:2-5 states:

For the household gods utter nonsense,
    and the diviners see lies;
they tell false dreams
    and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
    they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.

“My anger is hot against the shepherds,
    and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,
    and will make them like his majestic steed in battle.
From him shall come the cornerstone,
    from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
    from him every ruler—all of them together.
They shall be like mighty men in battle,
    trampling the foe in the mud of the streets;
they shall fight because the Lord is with them,
    and they shall put to shame the riders on horses.

In this passage, Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone. After he told the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33-40), in which the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that Jesus was talking about them (Matthew 21:45), Jesus asked the Jews in the temple that had gathered to listen to him:

“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” (Matthew 21:42-44).

John’s gospel opens with a description of Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1). John said, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). John went on to say, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). John connected the Word of God to God’s creative acts and said, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). The Greek word that is translated known, exogeomai (ex-ayg-ehˊ-om-ahee) means “to consider out (aloud)” and also “to bring out or lead out, to take the lead, be the leader” (G1834). One of the primary reasons Jesus came into the world was to make God known and he did it in a way that had never been done before. Hebrews 1:1-4 states:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The phrase “exact imprint” (Hebrews 1:3) refers to the representation of God’s nature being stamped on Jesus as if it was being permanently engraved on a stone. With respect to the Ten Commandments which were written on stone tablets with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), you might say that Jesus was the embodiment of the Ten Commandments in that through Jesus, the words that God wrote were being brought to life, enacted by way of Jesus’ sinless human nature.

Jesus’ encounter with an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda illustrates the effect that God’s word has on sinners. Jesus began by posing the question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The King James Version of the Bible translates Jesus’ question “Wilt thou be made whole?” This suggests that one of the effects of sin is that it makes us to feel like there is something missing in our lives. Jesus wanted to know if the man had a desire for his life to get better. That might seem like a stupid question except that the man’s response showed that he didn’t believe it was possible for him to do what was necessary for his healing to take place (John 5:7). Jesus then commanded the man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). The Greek words that are translated get up, egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro); take up, airo (ahˊ-ee-ro); and walk, peripateo (per-ee-pat-ehˊ-o) all have a spiritual connotation that indicate Jesus was expecting the man to acknowledge his divine authority. John 5:9 states, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Later, when Jesus encountered the man a second time, he told him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ statement made it clear that doing what God tells us to can restore us to health, but we must change our behavior if we want to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.

When the Jews criticized Jesus for healing the invalid man on the Sabbath, Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working. This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). Jesus’ equality with God was evident in both his actions and the things that he said. In the Old Testament, when a prophet spoke on behalf of God, he would typically preface his statement with “thus says the Lord” (Isaiah 7:7), but Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus talked as if he was God, as when he commanded the man he healed, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ comment about the ongoing work of God (John 5:17) had to do with God’s plan of salvation, which had yet to be completed. Jesus indicated that his ministry was a part of God’s plan of salvation and that the things he was doing, like healing the invalid man, were connected to what God wanted to accomplish. Jesus went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Even though Jesus was equal with God, he said that he couldn’t do anything of his own accord, meaning that he could not act independently and decide on his own what he should do in any given situation. In that sense, Jesus was merely God’s representative on earth. The Greek word poieo (poy-ehˊ-o) is used four times in John 5:19 to emphasize the importance of action in the spiritual realm. Poieo is “spoken of any external act as manifested in the production of something tangible, corporeal, obvious to the senses, i.e. completed action” (G4160). Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). The word sees in this verse refers to spiritual perception and suggests that Jesus had to rely on spiritual discernment in order to carry out his assignment of dying for the sins of the world. The phrase can do nothing means that Jesus in an absolute sense had no power of his own to rely on. Jesus could only do that which he was able to discern through spiritual perception was the will of his Father. Jesus spoke of himself as being sent by his Father (John 5:23). The Greek word that is translated sent, pempo (pemˊ-po) means to dispatch “especially on a temporary errand” (G3992) and does not necessarily denote any official capacity or authoritative sending. Jesus came into the world as a servant (Matthew 20:28) and as a human was limited in his ability to do things, just as we are.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:25-27)

Jesus indicated that he had been given authority to execute judgment. An example of Jesus exercising this authority is given in Matthew 9:1-8 where it states:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Jesus used the authority that he had been given to execute judgment to forgive the sins of people that were suffering from various illnesses and physical defects. Also, Jesus gave his disciples the ability to do the same. Matthew 10:1 states, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus explained to the Jews that he was been given the power to release people from the penalty of their sins because he wasn’t doing it for his own benefit. Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). And then, Jesus went on to say, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jews understood that it wasn’t because he was a nice guy that he was going around forgiving peoples’ sins. God wanted his people to be healthy and happy. The Apostle Peter wrote in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The problem that the Jews had with God’s plan of salvation was not that his grace was sufficient to remove their sins, but that God’s grace was capable of getting rid of the sins of everyone. Peter said that God is not willing that any should perish and that all would repent of their sins. Jesus made God’s will perfectly clear to the Jews during his ministry by associating with the outcasts of society and by becoming the friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Forgiveness

Jesus warned his disciples of a future day of judgment and said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek word that is translated give account, logos (log’-os) refers to something said including the thought, “also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension a computation” (G3056). What this seems to suggest is that everything we say is somehow being recorded and when we stand before God to be judged he will use our own statements to determine our innocence or guilt in the things we have done during our lifetimes.

Jesus indicated that people who are bound in sin are loosed by the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 16:16-19) and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). The Greek word that is translated save, sozo (sode’-zo) speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). The point Jesus was making was that it is impossible for someone to save himself. Our sins must be forgiven or we will be separated from God for eternity.

Jesus taught his followers to ask God for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12) and promised them, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ response was meant to indicate that there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness that we can give or receive because God’s grace is sufficient to cover all sins. Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point. He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus explained that forgiveness was not based on the amount of debt one owed, but the creditor’s willingness to show compassion to another human being. Jesus said that we must forgive our brother from the heart. In other words, we need to be a compassionate person in order to express compassion to others.

Joseph’s encounter with his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food during the famine showed that he was initially hard hearted toward them and treated them cruelly (Genesis 42:7-17), but his attitude changed when he saw their remorse. Genesis 21-22 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has some upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”

Reuben and the others realized they were guilty of a sin against their brother and they believed God was holding them accountable for it, but they didn’t know that Joseph was the Egyptian governor they were talking to and that he understood everything they were saying because he was using an interpreter to speak to them (Genesis 42:23). After hearing their confession of guilt, it says in Genesis 42:24 that Joseph “turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph’s lamentation for his brothers demonstrated that he felt compassion for them. Instead of making them all stay in prison until their brother Benjamin was brought to Egypt, Joseph only took one of the brothers. “And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey” (Genesis 42:25). Joseph’s change of heart was a result of him seeing and hearing the misery of his brothers’ guilt. In his parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus said, “out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The Greek word that is translated pity, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy (G4697). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of tender affections” (G4698).

The Greek word that is translated mercy in Matthew 18:33, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) “means to feel sympathy with the misery of another, especially such sympathy as manifests itself in act (G1653). Eleeo is derived from the word eleos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it…It is used of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another” (G1656). After the servant who owed ten thousand talents refused to forgive his fellow servant, Jesus said, “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailors, until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:32-34).

Jesus talked about forgiveness in the context of salvation. The Greek word eleos “is used of God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4, and who has provided salvation for all men” (G1656). The act of salvation is sometimes described as being converted. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word that is translated turn, strepho (stref’-o) means to turn quite around or reverse (G4762) and is similar to the Hebrew word shuwb (shoob). The basic meaning of the verb shuwb is movement back to the point of departure. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725).

The Hebrew word shuwb is used in Genesis 42:24 where it says of Joseph, “Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them.” It seems likely that when Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept he was converted; his heart was changed and he was able to forgive his brothers. After that, Joseph showed his brothers mercy by letting them go back home, returning the money they paid for their grain, and giving them provisions for their journey (Genesis 42:25-26). Joseph’s merciful actions prompted his brothers to fear that God’s involvement in their situation would lead to their undoing. When one of the brothers saw that his money was in the mouth of his sack, “He said to his brothers, ‘My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!’ At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?'”

Joseph’s brothers were fearful because they knew they were not being treated the way they should have been. The unusual circumstances of their attempt to buy food in Egypt caused these men’s hearts to fail them. In other words, Joseph’s brothers were caught off guard or you might say tripped up by what was happening to them. Joseph’s course treatment and then his reversal by sending them back home with their money hidden in their bags was not only confusing, but also detrimental to his brothers’ spiritual well-being because they were unaware of what was going on and didn’t know why the Egyptian governor (Joseph) was treating them the way he did.

Jesus warned his disciples about causing others to sin. He said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). One of the definitions of the Greek word that is translated sin in this verse is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Joseph’s brothers and their families were suffering because of the famine in the land of Canaan and needed food to sustain their lives. Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers and his demand that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt to prove they weren’t lying to him made it more difficult for them to return to Egypt when their food ran out a second time (Genesis 42:38).

Jesus’ reference to little ones who believe in him in Matthew 18:6 was meant to point out that any person who has faith in God is considered to be just as important and valuable to God as Jesus is. Even though Jesus used the example of a child when he talked about little ones who believe in him (Matthew 18:2, 5), it’s possible he was talking about new or immature believers. He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10-11) and then he went on to say:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18_12-14)

Jesus instructed his disciples to not go among the Gentiles, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6) and told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Therefore, it seems likely that the little ones Jesus was talking about when he warned his disciples not to cause them to sin were the Jews that were supposed to inherit God’s kingdom.

In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asked, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them had gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). The Greek word that is translated gone astray, planao (plan-ah’-o) has to do with deception and is used in Revelation 12:9 with a definite article “as a title of the Devil” (G4105). One of the reasons believers go astray is because the devil deceives them and makes them believe a lie (Ephesians 4:14). Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers may have been warranted, but it wasn’t helpful and caused a situation that was already difficult to become even worse. Joseph could have revealed his identity to his brothers when he first saw them and let them know that he was put in his position to take care of their physical needs, but instead Joseph took advantage of his brother’s guilty consciences and tortured them into thinking they were unworthy of God’s mercy. Jesus told his disciples, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Gaining your brother meant that you had won him to Christ or that he had been saved (G2770). Jesus went on to say, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Spiritual bondage seems to be associated with a lack of forgiveness, except that the person that suffers is not the one who has committed the sin, but the one who was sinned against. Like the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable, Joseph was unwilling to forgive his brothers after God delivered him from prison and placed him a powerful position in Egypt. Instead of forgiving them, Joseph used the position God gave him to torment his brothers and to capitalize on their guilty consciences. Even though he didn’t change his behavior immediately, Joseph did begin to show signs of tenderheartedness when he “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24) after he overheard his brothers admitting, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother” (Genesis 42:21).

Hypocrites

Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they pretended to be servants of God, but were actually agents of Satan. Jesus used the word hypocrites eight times in Matthew 23 to describe their behavior. He said, “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13). When Jesus said, “ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” he was basically saying that the scribes and Pharisees were closing the door to salvation. Because of them, no one was getting saved. Jesus went on to say, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). In other words, the scribes and Pharisees were winning souls for the devil and his kingdom rather than for God.

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated hypocrite, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace´) refers to a stage player, “an actor under an assumed character” (G5973). The word hypokrites is derived from the word hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin´-om-ahee) which means to decide (speak or act) under a false part (G5971). You could say that a hypocrite is a false believer, someone that calls himself a Christian, but is actually not saved. One of the characteristics of the scribes and Pharisees was that their behavior appeared to be consistent with the Mosaic Law. They seemed to be doing everything the law said they were supposed to. Jesus said of these men, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye ar full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27-28). The implication being that the scribes and Pharisees were intentionally deceiving people into thinking they were model citizens.

On a previous occasion, the scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman to Jesus that they said was “taken in adultery” (John 8:3). John’s account of this incident suggests that the woman’s accusers had caught her in the act (John 8:4). After hearing their accusation, John said, “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lift up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:6-7). The problem with the situation Jesus was dealing with was that only the woman was brought to him for judgment. According to the reference note on John 8:3, “The incident was staged to trap Jesus (v.6), and provision had been made for the man to escape. The woman’s accusers must have been especially eager to humiliate her, since they could have kept her in private custody while they spoke to Jesus.” The scribes and Pharisees apparently thought Jesus would be willing to condemn the woman based only on their testimony.

When Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” he knew these men were guilty of breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments. His strategy was to get them to see that they were no better than the woman they were asking him to punish. John said, “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” (John 8:9). No one knows for sure what Jesus wrote on the ground, but I’ve heard it suggested that Jesus wrote the Ten Commandments or perhaps, the specific commandments that each of the scribes and Pharisees had broken. Of course, they were all guilty of some crime and may have even committed adultery themselves. Therefore, Jesus’ strategy was effective in exposing their hypocrisy and getting them to realize that they also deserved to be stoned.

Too late

On August 14, 591 B.C., “certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:1). At that time, the fall of Jerusalem was inevitable and king Zedekiah’s plan to escape into the desert was most likely already in place. The elders of Israel may have been hoping that Ezekiel would give them an alternative to what they had already heard from the prophet Jeremiah. The fact that they went to see Ezekiel while he was being held captive in Babylon suggests that the elders of Israel were expecting Ezekiel to be aware of the current situation in Jerusalem and was able to tell them what to do even though he had been in captivity for more that seven years. Otherwise, there would have been no point for the elders to travel such a long distance to get his advice.

Unfortunately, the elders of Israel were disappointed when they arrived. Instead of receiving the latest news from God’s appointed messenger, the elders of Israel were told it was too late for them to seek God’s counsel, their judgment was already sealed and God would not reconsider his sentence against them (Ezekiel 20:31). Ezekiel was instructed to pronounce sentence against them and was told exactly what to say so that the elders of Israel would realize time had run out and Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.

The seriousness of Israel’s wrongdoing was such that God had Ezekiel recite the history of their idolatry from its beginning in the desert outside of Egypt before the people ever entered the Promised Land. Several times, God wanted to pour out his fury, but spared the people for his own name’s sake. Eventually, God gave up on his effort to change the Israelites’ behavior and let them have their own way. He explained to Ezekiel, “Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Wherefore, I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:24-26). In other words, God let them do what they wanted to so that they would become aware of their own sinful way of life.

The missing book

King Josiah, the grandson of Hezekiah, began to reign in Judah when he was only eight years old (2 Kings 22:1). His reign began in 640 B.C. and it says in 2 Kings 22:3 that in the eighteenth year of his reign, approximately 622 B.C., he launched a building project to restore the temple of God. A hundred years had passed since the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and the Assyrian empire was on the verge of collapse. While the temple construction was going on, Hilkiah the high priest “found the book of the law in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:8).

There is no mention in scripture of the book of the law being lost, nor any indication of when it had last been used in temple worship services. The last reference to the temple was at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign. It says in 2 Chronicles 29:3, “He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.” That was in 715 B.C. It is possible the book was hidden during the reign of Queen Athaliah, along with Joash her grandson, in order to prevent the queen from destroying them around 840 B.C. (2 Chronicles 22:11-12).

Hilkiah the high priest gave the book to king Josiah’s scribe Shaphan. “And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes” (2 Kings 22:10-11). We don’t know whether Shaphan read the entire book of the law known as the Pentateuch or just the sections dealing with God’s commandments, but it is likely Shaphan concluded with the book of Deuteronomy which specifies the blessings and curses associated with keeping the law.

Josiah’s reaction to hearing the law indicated he was aware Judah was in trouble. Typically, a person rent his clothes as a sign of mourning, such as when Job received the news that all his children were dead (Job 1:20). Josiah sent several men to inquire of the LORD and he received a message through the prophetess Huldah. She said, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah read” (2 Kins 22:15-16).

The place God was referring to was Jerusalem. The holy city had been corrupted by idolatry and had reached the point where no one cared about the law anymore as evidenced by the high priest’s ignorance of the book of the law’s whereabouts. The good news for Josiah was God would spare him from going into captivity. God told him, “Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place” (2 Kings 22:20).

Burdens

God was not only  interested in the sins of Israel, but also the sins of the entire world, when he put together his plan of salvation. What differentiated God’s children from everyone else was his mercy toward the nation of Israel. As God had promised Abraham that he would make of him a great nation, so also he said he would “bless them that bless thee and curse them that curseth thee” (Genesis 12:2-3).

The Assyrian empire was a key enemy of the nation of Israel because it wanted to create a single world system that its king would rule over. Within the Assyrian empire was a city known as Babylon that would one day rise to the top of God’s most evil list. Babylon symbolized the world powers arrayed against God’s kingdom and its role in the downfall of Judah and Jerusalem made it a target of God’s judgment.

In his burden of Babylon recital, Isaiah stated, “the day of the LORD cometh cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners  thereof out of it” (Isaiah 13:9). Isaiah spoke of a purging of sinners that would be cruel, meaning it would be violent and deadly (393). God intended to punish the world for its mistreatment of his people. In particular, Isaiah said of Babylon, “the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19).

In his discourse, Isaiah spoke of the king of Babylon as if he were Satan himself. Isaiah said, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit” (Isaiah 14:12-15). The king of Babylon was a type of antichrist, perhaps the first leader that attempted to exterminate the Jews.

God’s overthrow of the Assyrian empire was intended to set in motion the collapse of Satan’s kingdom on earth. The link between Jewish captivity and the destruction of Babylon was necessary to establish the true source of Israel’s spiritual weakness, idolatry. God said he would break the Assyrian and tread him under foot, “then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders” (Isaiah 14:25).

 

Judgment

God’s government system operates in such a way that once a verdict has been rendered it cannot be appealed or pardoned. The sentence must be carried out. There were two situations in king Ahab’s life where judgments were pronounced against him. The first was when he made a covenant with Ben-hadad, king of Syria (1 Kings 20:34) and the second was when he stole Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:16).

The second message of judgment was delivered to Ahab by Elijah. “And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD, behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel…And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (1 Kings 21:20-21, 23).

After hearing God’s judgment against him, Ahab repented (1 Kings 21:27), so God delayed his punishment until after Ahab was dead (1 Kings 21:29). It wasn’t until 15 years later, during the reign of Joram the son of Ahab, that Jehu was anointed to be king of Israel and God’s judgment was carried out (2 Kings 9:8). As Jehu road in a chariot toward Joram’s castle, a watchman saw him and told Joram he was coming. “And Joram said, Take a horseman and send to meet him, and let him say, Is it peace?” (2 Kings 9:17).

Joram was unaware of the purpose of Jehu’s visit. As soon as Jehu was anointed to be king, he rode in a chariot 45 miles to Jezreel where Joram was (2 Kings 9:16) in order to surprise him. If Joram knew what Jehu intended to do, he could have protected himself and foiled Jehu’s plan. As it was, Joram ended up right where Jehu wanted him. “And Joram said, Make ready. And his chariot was made ready. And Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went out each in his chariot, and they went against Jehu, and met him in the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite” (2 Kings 9:21).

With one shot, Jehu killed Joram and his body was thrown into the field that Ahab had stolen from Naboth. Then, Jehu went to the apartment where Jezebel was staying. “And as Jehu entered in at the gate, she said, Had Zimri peace, who slew his master? And he lift  up his face to the window, and said, who is on my side? who? And there looked out to him two or three eunuchs. And he said, Throw her down. So they threw her down: and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trode her under foot” (2 Kings 9:33).

Judgment

Israel’s miraculous defeat of the Syrian army (1 Kings 20:29) made it clear that God intended to eliminate the threat of a future attack from Ben-hadad. Ahab’s decision to form an alliance with the king of Syria may have been an attempt to accomplish God’s will in a different manner, but it did not guarantee that Ben-hadad would leave Israel alone.

While it is true that God is merciful, he judges those who choose to follow Satan. King Ahab was determined to maintain his secular lifestyle and was willing to align himself with one of Satan’s chief agents in order to do so. Ahab was more concerned with accumulating wealth than he was worshipping and serving God, so God punished him for his disobedience.

Even though he may not have been specifically instructed to kill Ben-hadad, it was obvious that God had delivered the king of Syria over to Ahab so that he could kill him. It was because Ben-hadad acknowledged his inferiority and subordination to Ahab by designating himself Ahab’s servant (1 Kings 20:32) that Ahab wanted to keep him alive. Ahab went so far as to refer to Ben-hadad as his brother, a sign that he intended to develop a close relationship with him.

After making a covenant with Ben-hadad, Ahab was visited by an unnamed prophet. “And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people” (1 Kings 20:42).  The Hebrew word translated appointed, cherem is derived from the word charam. “Charam is a religious word of great importance representing the devotion of some object to destruction or to a sacred use, not for the gratification of any selfish purpose” (2763).

Israel’s defeat of the Syrian army was meant to bring glory to God. Ahab could have sent a strong message to the surrounding nations by killing Ben-hadad. Instead, the covenant he formed with Ben-hadad let everyone know that Ahab’s relationship with Ben-hadad was more important to him than his relationship with God.

God is in control

It is a mistake to believe that pagan worship is pointless. Satan has much power and can make a difference in the life of a person that will worship him. There are things Satan does not have power over, the most important of which is death. Satan cannot give life, neither can he take life without God’s permission (Job 2:6), so when Jeroboam’s son fell sick, he tried to bribe God into sparing his life (1 Kings 14:3).

The problem with Jeroboam’s plan was that he thought he could trick God into doing what he wanted him to. Jeroboam did not know God, nor did he respect God’s power. Jeroboam was only concerned with getting his own way. Through the prophet Ahijah, God let Jeroboam and his wife know that he was in control.

Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over my people Israel, and rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it thee: and yet thou hast not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in my eyes; but has done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back; therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

After receiving the bad news of God’s judgment, “Jeroboam’s wife arose, and departed, and came to Tirzah: and when she came to the threshold of the door, the child died” (1 Kings 14:17).

The nameless prophet

King Jeroboam’s pagan practices did not go unnoticed by God, in fact, God sent a prophet to deliver a personal message of judgment (1 Kings 13:1). Strangely though, the judgment would not come for another three hundred years (2 Kings 23:15-20). Instead, God wanted to get Jeroboam’s attention  and see if he would repent.

God’s messenger remains nameless and is referred to only as “a man of God” (1 Kings 13:1). The term “man of God” is a common way of referring to a prophet, but I think it is interesting that in this particular situation the prophet’s name is withheld. After delivering his message to Jeroboam, the man reveals that he is not allowed to go home with Jeroboam. “So he went another way, and returned not by the way he came to Beth-el” (1 Kings 13:10).

The Hebrew word translated returned is shûwb (shoob). “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure” (7725), so it is clear that God did not want the prophet to go back to anyone’s home after delivering his message to king Jeroboam. It is possible that the prophet’s life might have been in danger, but more than likely, God was trying to prevent him from compromising his integrity with the people of Israel.

It says in 1 Kings 13:11 that an old prophet dwelt in Beth-el. The reason God did not use this man to deliver his message to Jeroboam was that he had become untrustworthy. The old prophet intercepted the man of God on his way out of Beth-el and invited him back to his home. “He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him” (1 Kings 13:18).

False prophets had probably become common place in Israel due to their pagan worship. The man of God’s message might have been ignored because of his disobedience, so God punished him for going to the old prophet’s house.  “And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way and slew him: and his carcass was cast in the way” (1 Kings 13:24).