God’s protection

King David revealed some of his most intimate moments with the LORD in the psalms that he wrote which were both songs and prayers. Psalm 61 in particular contained a heartfelt plea for God’s protection and blessing on David’s life. David wrote:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalm 61:1-3)

The Hebrew word that David used that is translated hear in Psalm 61:1, shamahʿ (shaw-mahˊ) means to hear intelligently and conveys the idea of discernment or a comprehension of the spiritual meaning of a message. David said that he called to God from the end of the earth, suggesting that there was a long distance between them or perhaps that they were spiritually separated from each other. The Hebrew word that is translated end, qatseh (kaw-tsehˊ) means an extremity (H7097) and is derived from the word qatsah (kaw-tsawˊ) which means “to cut off; (figurative) to destroy” (H7096). David may have thought that the end of the earth was a place where God wasn’t present with him or at least that God’s presence couldn’t be felt by him and so David needed to call out to the LORD to make him aware of his situation.

David described his heart as being faint. In the Hebrew context, the heart was not an organ that pumped blood through one’s body, but referred to “some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart was considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components. 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). When David said that his heart was faint, he meant that it was disconnected from the spiritual source of its strength. David may have been experiencing spiritual warfare and was seeking God’s protection from his spiritual enemy, the devil.

David’s statement, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2) was likely connected to the Israelites’ experience in the desert when Moses brought water out of a rock for them (Exodus 17:6).  The Apostle Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that this rock spiritually represented Christ. Paul said:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

David indicated that the rock was higher than he was. The Hebrew word ruwm (room) means to be high in the context of being exalted or to be brought to a position of honor (H7311). The Hebrew word that is translated lead in Psalm 61:2, nachah (naw-khawˊ) means “to lead, to guide, usually in the right direction or on the proper path…This term is also used metaphorically to represent spiritual guidance in righteousness (Psalm 5:8[9]; 27:11; 139:24)” (H5148).

David’s petition went beyond physical protection and dealt with an eternal state of well-being that he knew only God could provide. David said:

For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Prolong the life of the king;
    may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
    appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! (Psalm 61:5-7)

A vow is a voluntary promise that is made to God which cannot be annulled (H5088). Numbers 30:2 states, “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” To a certain extent, a vow is the equivalent of a covenant except that it is initiated by a human being instead of by God. A vow is like a legal contract in that it cannot be broken without some penalty. David said that God had heard his vows. In other words, David’s vows had been executed and were considered to be in effect. As a result, David had been “given the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psalm 61:5).

The heritage that David was referring to was most likely connected to the birth of Israel’s Messiah. David seemed to be talking about an eternal kingdom that he would be the leader of. David asked the LORD to “prolong the life of the king” and David wanted his life to “endure to all generations” (Psalm 61:6). His request that “he be enthroned forever before God” suggests that David was talking about an eternal kingdom that does not yet exist.

Jesus was referred to as “the Son of David” on numerous occasions (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9) and Matthew’s genealogical record of Jesus birth showed that he was a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1). Surprisingly, Jesus never talked about his royal heritage and he seemed reluctant to take on the role of a king. Jesus’ title of “King of kings and Lord of lords” is only mentioned in the book of Revelation in connection with his second coming (Revelation 19:11-16) and it marks an important shift in the power structure on earth. After Jesus returns to earth, there will be a world war that will end in the destruction of Satan’s armies and “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan” will be bound in a bottomless pit for one thousand years (Revelation 19:19-20:2). During that thousand years, there will be a kingdom on earth that will be ruled by Jesus and his followers (Revelation 20:4), but it doesn’t seem to be associated with the nation of Israel. Therefore, it seems likely that David’s petition to be enthroned forever before God had something to do with the New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven after the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-21:2).

David concluded his prayer to God with this statement:

So will I ever sing praises to your name,
    as I perform my vows day after day. (Psalm 61:8)

David connected never ending worship of God with the daily performance of his vows. This seems to suggest that vows had an eternal significance in the Hebrew culture and that David saw his worship of God continuing after his death.

A religious group called the Sadducees expected Jesus to clarify the eternal nature of marriage vows when they asked him a hypothetical question about a woman that had married seven brothers, but had no children from any of them. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33)

Jesus made it clear in his response to the Sadducees that it is not our relationship to others that matters after the resurrection, but our relationship to God. Jesus’ comment that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, pointed out that the resurrection of the dead does not result in everyone receiving eternal life. The reason why the crowd was astonished when Jesus said this was because they believed that all of Abraham’s physical descendants would receive an eternal inheritance from God. The fact of the matter was that the Jews would be judged along with everyone else and some would experience a second and final death after the resurrection (Revelation 20:11-15).

Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples before he sent them out to preach the gospel contained an admonition that focused their attention on the kind of personal protection that was necessary for their work and who it was that could provide it. Jesus said:

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:26-33)

The Greek word that is translated acknowledges in Matthew 10:32, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) means “to ascent, i.e. covenant” and “to speak the same with another, e.g. to say the same things” (G3670). Jesus said that everyone that acknowledges him here on earth will be acknowledged by his Father who is in heaven and whoever denies him will likewise be denied by his Father. Therefore, there is a type of covenant that is initiated by us while we are still alive that involves God and that covenant will have an eternal effect.

David’s final statement in Psalm 61, “So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day” (vs. 8), seems to suggest that the performance of David’s vow was a continuous action that transcended time, meaning that David’s covenant with God began at a specific point in time while David was still alive and then continued throughout eternity. The Hebrew word that David used that is translated perform in Psalm 61:8 is shalam (shaw-lamˊ). Shalam means “to be safe, to be completed. The primary meaning is to be safe or uninjured in mind or body (Job 8:6; 9:4). This word is normally used when God is keeping his people safe. In its simple form, this verb also means to be completed or to be finished” (H7999). Given this context, it seems unusual that David would say that he would perform his vows, but one aspect of the meaning of Shalam is that of reciprocity. David may have actually been saying that he would reciprocate God’s vow to him on a continual basis until it reached a point of completion;  perhaps when David received eternal life or was resurrected from the dead.

God’s personal protection of David’s mind and body was linked to two of God’s characteristics that were also associated with Jesus’ ministry. David said of himself, “May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him” (Psalm 61:7). The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (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 a 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). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Chesed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617).

The characteristic of faithfulness crosses over the boundary between human and divine capability. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness in Psalm 61:7, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) which means stability (H571) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). Aman means to trust or believe and also signifies the element of being “trustworthy.” “Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting and believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what he said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (H539).

The connection between God’s personal protection and our belief in him was often the focus of Jesus’ attention in the miracles that he performed. On one occasion, Jesus asked two blind men that wanted to be healed, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” After they answered, “Yes, Lord,” Matthew tells us, “Then he touched their eyes, saying. ‘According to your faith be it done to you’” (Matthew 9:28-29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ahˊ) expresses the relation in which one thing stands toward another and speaks of a standard of comparison or something that is conformable to something else (G2596). From that perspective, Jesus was saying that his ability to heal the blind men was dependent on their faith. In other words, the blind men’s faith was dictating what Jesus could or couldn’t do for them.

Numbers 5:5-8 deals with the issue of breaking faith with the LORD. It states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him.

According to this passage, breaking faith with the LORD occurs when a person commits any sin against God or another person. When this happens, the sin has to be atoned for so that the relationship can be restored.

The Hebrew word that is translated restitution in Numbers 5:7-8, shuwb (shoob) means to return or go back. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). Numbers 5:6-7 indicates that when a person breaks faith with the Lord, “and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong.” The requirement of making full restitution was likely intended to signify a complete change of heart, something similar to being born again in that the sinner was expected to demonstrate a different type of behavior than what that person had previously displayed.

Aaron and his sons were instructed to say a blessing to the people of Israel that reflected the ideal state that God wanted his people to experience as a result of having a relationship with him. Moses told Aaron, “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:23-26).

The Hebrew word that is translated peace in Numbers 6:26, shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) means safe and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war” (H7965). Peace is a key characteristic of the New Covenant that Jesus established shortly before he died on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus linked the peace that he was giving his disciples to the condition of their hearts. He told them not to be troubled or afraid because he knew their hearts were prone to that type of condition and the only way that it could be prevented was by having a harmonized relationship with God (G1515).

Eternity

The apostle John’s revelation of what is going to take place in a time period referred to as the last days concludes with a vision of an eternal world that is yet to come into existence. John said, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1). The Greek word translated passed away, parerchomai (par-er’-khom-ahee) has to do with a change in physical state. John was not saying that the first earth would cease to exist, but that the planet we live on would no longer have the same characteristics or properties that it once had. For example, when water changes to ice, it is no longer a liquid, but a solid mass. John noted that the new earth would not have any seas.

The primary difference between the first earth and the new earth that John’s vision revealed was that God would be living among his people. John said, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). John also saw that there was no temple in the new Jerusalem because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:22-23). John also stated, “the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there” (Revelation 21:25).

One of the most intriguing aspects of John’s description of the new Jerusalem was that it was “coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The imagery of a city being the bride of Christ makes it seem as if Christ’s church has been transformed into a physical structure. The Greek word translated church, ekklesia (ek-klay-see’-ah) refers to a religious congregation, the group of people that inhabit a building. Ekklesia “designated the new society of which Jesus was the founder, being as it was a society knit together by the closest spiritual bonds and altogether independent of space” (G1577). The Greek word translated bride, numphe (noom-fay’) means “to veil as a bride” (G3565) indicating that the wedding ceremony was in progress when the new Jerusalem descended from heaven.

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of a family to describe the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul instructed husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Paul went on to say, “For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Ephesians 5:29-30). And concluded, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

The joining together of Christ and his church appears to be a physical union that takes place in heaven, but manifests itself on Earth. The Greek word translated joined, proskollao (pros-kol-lah’-o) means to cleave or be glued together. “Inherent within this word are two aspects with the second aspect being stressed. In order to cleave, one must first make a clean break; hence, cleave as in to cut. Then, once cleanly separated a joining is easy” (G4347). What this suggests is that Christ’s church will be taken out of the world through the rapture in order to make a clean break from the world’s sinful practices. At the end the millennium, the church will return to earth and be permanently joined with Jesus in the form of the new Jerusalem, a physical structure that the people of his church will inhabit.

An angel took John to see “the bride, the lamb’s wife.” John said, “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10). John’s description of the new Jerusalem is similar to what many people think heaven will be like. He said, “the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it was transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21). John went on to say, “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and of either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).

It could be that the new Jerusalem is where believers live in heaven until the city is brought down to Earth and is integrated into Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Jesus told his disciples before his death, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus’ prayer for the church was “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:21-23). The Greek word translated in, en denotes a fixed position and suggests that Jesus was referring to a permanent relationship rather than a place or location where everyone would be together.

The reason Paul indicated the joining together of Jesus and his church was a great mystery (Ephesians 5:32) could be because it is incomprehensible from a physical standpoint. It can only be understood from a spiritual perspective. What we know about the spiritual realm is that it has physical properties but it is invisible. We cannot see God or his angels and yet, they exist and are active in the physical world in which we live. When the church is raptured, it will become invisible to the physical world, but it may continue to be involved in the activities of the physical world in some way. At the conclusion of the millennium, the church will likely have a new role and will return to Earth as the new Jerusalem where all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be free to come and go (Revelation 21:27). In its eternal state, the church might become like Adam and Eve who originally had the privilege of communicating with God directly on a regular basis (Genesis 3:8). Once Satan’s presence is eliminated from Earth, God’s relationship with mankind will continue uninterrupted for eternity.

Unshakable faith

Paul’s appeal for endurance in his letter to the Hebrews pointed to the ultimate goal of God’s plan of salvation, that believers inherit the kingdom of heaven. Comparing the Israelite’s interaction with God on Mount Sinai with the believer’s entrance into heaven, Paul stated:

But instead, you have come to the mountain of Jerusalem. It is the city of the living God. It is the Jerusalem of heaven with its thousands of angels. You have gathered there with God’s children who were born long ago. They are citizens of heaven. God is there. He will judge all men. The spirits of all those right with God are there. They have been made perfect. Jesus is there. He has made a way for man to go to God. He gave His blood that men might worship God the New Way. The blood of Jesus tells of better things than that which Abel used…On Mount Sinai, God’s voice shook the earth. But now He has promised, saying, “Once more I will shake the earth and the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:22-24, 26 NLV)

The Greek word translated shake in Hebrews 12:26, seio (si’-o) means to rock or vibrate sideways moving to and fro like an earthquake. Seio is used figuratively “to throw into a tremor (of fear or concern)” (G4579). Paul’s mention of God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens probably had to do with the universal battle that will take place at the end of the great tribulation that results in Satan being cast into the bottomless pit and shut up for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3).

Paul went on to say that God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens signified the establishment of his kingdom on earth. He explained, “When God says, ‘Once more,’ He means He will take away everything of this world that can be shaken so the things that cannot be shaken will be left” (Hebrews 12:27, NLV). The Greek word translated shaken, saleuo (sal-yoo’-o) means to waver or to be insecure about what we believe in (G4531). Paul’s reference to things that cannot be shaken related back to the acts of faith that he mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven. What Paul was getting at had to do with his definition of faith. Paul said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

Paul’s understanding of faith was that it causes God’s kingdom to be made visible on earth. Jesus eluded to this in his parable of the sower. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus told his disciples:

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:10-15, NKJV)

Jesus indicated that God’s word becomes fruitful in our lives when we keep it or translate it into action (G2722). In other words, we have to do what God’s word tells us to in order to reap the benefits of it.

Paul described the results of Abraham’s faith in terms of dwelling in the Promised Land. He said, “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NKJV). In Hebrews 13:14, Paul linked all believers to Abraham’s inheritance by stating, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

The city Paul was referring to was depicted by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation. John stated, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'” (Revelation 21:1-3, NKJV).

The interesting thing about John’s description of the New Jerusalem was that he likened it to a bride adorned for her husband and John said, “the tabernacle of God is with men” (Revelation 21:3). Revelation 19 portrays the union of believers with Jesus as a marriage ceremony and it states specifically in Revelation 19:7-8 that, “‘ the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (NKJV), the phrase “the righteous acts of the saints” means an equitable deed or a demonstration of faith (G1345). According to John, the visible manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth will involve the body (bride i.e. church) of Christ being transformed into a unified physical structure that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27), coming down from heaven and becoming the eternal dwelling place of God (Revelation 21:3).