Justified by grace

Paul tackled one of the most difficult topics for Christians to understand in the final section of his short letter to Titus: justification by grace. Paul wrote:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Looking at his statement from a mathematical perspective, Paul was saying that: regeneration + renewal = justification. Regeneration or (spiritual) rebirth “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth” (G3824). Renewal, “by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God.” Paul indicated that the outcome of this life-long process was “being justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7). The Greek word that is translated justified, dikaioo (dik-ah-yoˊ-o) means “to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent” (G1344).

Paul talked at length about justification in his letter to the Romans. He stated in Romans 2:6-13:

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Paul’s declaration that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) was intended to focus his readers attention on the mercy of God which made salvation possible for all who have sinned. Repentance “involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). Therefore, God’s kindness was an important factor in what causes a person to want to repent. Paul went on to explain that we are justified by grace, but the redemption that is in Christ Jesus has to be received by faith in order for God to be able to render a verdict of innocent in each individual’s case. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Paul noted that there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and then, stated that we are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24). What Paul meant by a gift was that God’s grace was given to believers without a cause (G1432). The Greek word doron (doˊ-ron) means “a present; specifically a sacrifice” (G1435).

Paul’s discussion of justification included the motive behind it: God’s love. Paul said, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:6-9). Paul reasoned that because Christ died for us while we were still sinners, his propitiation for our sins would be sufficient to save us from the wrath of God. The wrath of God is a reference to the judgment that awaits those who have not put their trust in Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation gives us a preview of God’s judgment and reveals when it will take place. The beginning of God’s judgment is recorded in Revelation 6:1-17. Verses 12-17 state, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by the gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and powerful, and everyone slave and free, hid themselves in the caves among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Paul made it clear that God did not save us “because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Mercy “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—efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656). Paul’s statement that we are “justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7) tells us that grace is necessary for justification to occur. The Greek word that is translated grace in Titus 3:7, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers specifically to “the divine influence upon the heart” (G5485). 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).

When Saul was anointed King of Israel, 1 Samuel 10:9 tells us that “God gave him another heart.” God didn’t physically replace the organ in Saul’s chest. The Hebrew word haphak (haw-fakˊ), which is translated gave, was being used to convey “transformation” or “change” (H2015). As a result of him receiving a new heart, Saul was “turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6). Saul was not the same person on the inside as he was before, but we aren’t told exactly how he was different. The only thing we know for sure is that afterward, the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul, “and he prophesied” (1 Samuel 10:10). Prophecy is speaking or singing by inspiration. The function of the true prophet in the Old Testament was to speak God’s message to the people “under the influence of the divine spirit (1 Kings 22:8; Jeremiah 29:27; Ezekiel 37:10)” (H5012). In Saul’s case, the gift of prophecy was intended to be an outward sign of his anointing and only lasted a short while. After Saul returned home, it says in 1 Samuel 10:14-16, “Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, ‘Where did you go?’ And he said, ‘To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.’ And Saul’s uncle said, ‘Please tell me what Samuel said to you.’ And Saul said to his uncle, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.” When it was time for him to be proclaimed king before the people, Saul could not be found. 1 Samuel 10:22 states, “So they inquired again of the LORD, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the LORD said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’”

Saul’s unusual behavior after he was anointed King of Israel suggests that he was reluctant to become Israel’s king. “Saul showed himself to be a man who had no regard for God’s will. Though Samuel had already affirmed that the kingdom would pass from him to another (1 Samuel 13:13, 14), Saul did not repent. He continued to disobey according to his own whims, especially in regard to the battle with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3, 9). When Samuel discovered that Saul had kept the sheep alive following the Amalekites victory, claiming that he wanted to sacrifice them to the Lord (1 Samuel 15:21), the prophet declared, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice’ (note on 1 Samuel 15:1-9). Saul admitted to Samuel that he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” rather than doing what God told him to (1 Samuel 15:24). The Hebrew concept of obedience was closely linked to hearing the voice of God. In his final message to the people of Israel, Moses focused heavily on hearing and obeying the voice of the LORD. Moses asked the Israelites, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:33-36).

The Hebrew word that is translated heard in Deuteronomy 4:36, shama (shaw-mahˊ) means “to hear intelligently…Hearing can be both intellectual and spiritual…In the case of hearing and hearkening to a higher authority, shama can mean to obey (Genesis 22:18)” (H8085). Shama is translated obeyed in 1 Samuel 15:24. When Saul said that he feared the people and obeyed their voice, he meant that he regarded their will to be more important than God’s. Saul said to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the LORD.’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Samuel 15:25-28). The neighbor that Samuel was referring to was David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Earlier, Samuel referred to David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The primary difference between David and Saul was that David wanted to do God’s will.

1 Samuel 16:1-7 indicates that God was looking for a man with a certain kind of disposition to rule over Israel. It says in 1 Samuel 16:1, “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” God said that he had rejected Saul and provided for himself a king. “God will not force man to do His will, so He sometimes must ‘reject’ him…Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…As a creature of free choice, man may ‘reject’ God…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988). When Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought he was the one that God intended to make king, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is able to see the motives, feelings, affections, and desires of our hearts. As well as, “the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of every man” (H3820), not only of those that God accepts, but also of those that he rejects. God knew that Eliab, who was likely Jesse’s oldest son and the one who would naturally have been assigned a position of leadership, was not the kind of person that could take Saul’s place. Instead, God selected David, Jesse’s youngest son who was responsible for “keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11).

David and Saul began their reigns as King of Israel with the same advantage, they were both anointed by Samuel. “The Old Testament most commonly uses mashach to indicate ‘anointing’ in the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function” (H4886). “If the verb is used in association with a religious ceremony, it connotes the sanctification of things or people for divine service…The most common usage of this verb is the ritual of divine installation of individuals into positions of leadership by pouring oil on their heads. Most frequently, people were anointed for kingship: Saul (1 Samuel 10:1); David (1 Samuel 16:13; and Solomon (1 Kings 1:34).” In both instances, after they were anointed, it is also noted that “the Spirit of God rushed upon” Saul and David, but in David’s case it says in 1 Samuel 16:13, “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated rushed, tsaleach (tsaw-layˊ-akh) means “to push forward…This word generally expresses the idea of a successful venture, as contrasted with failure. The source of such success is God: ‘…as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper’ (2 Chronicles 26:5)” (H6743). This might seem to suggest that David never sinned or did anything to displease the LORD after he was anointed King of Israel, but we know that David didn’t live a perfect life. The Spirit of the LORD was there to keep David on track with his responsibilities as the King of Israel and to make him successful in accomplishing God’s will for the nation of Israel.

David’s personal relationship with the LORD was what set him apart from Saul, as well as, all the other Kings of Israel that followed him. The Apostle Paul’s formula for successful Christian living: regeneration + renewal = justified by grace: shows us that regeneration in and of itself does not produce the effect of justification. Renewal, the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he lives and the restoration of the divine image, requires the person to be a fellow worker with God in the process of sanctification (G3824/G342). Jesus told his followers that a tree is known by its fruit in order to express to them the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart. Jesus said:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 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 12:33-37)

In this instance, the word justified refers to acquittal from guilt (G1344). When Jesus said that we will be justified by our words or condemned by them, he meant that our own words will be used as evidence for or against us in the final judgment of mankind. Jesus went on to explain that repentance is necessary for the heart of a person to be changed (Matthew 12:39-42). In his parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that fruit is produced by the cultivation or development of God’s word and then, explained to his disciples, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).

Jesus’ discussion with a lawyer who wanted to test his understanding of the scriptures resulted in the Lord using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to teach the lawyer that it is impossible for us to be justified without God’s divine influence upon our heart. After the lawyer cited the law that stated we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Luke tells us:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)

Jesus said that the Samaritan had compassion on the man who was robbed and left half dead. Jesus continually showed compassion to the people that came to him for help. It is likely that Jesus used this characteristic to describe the Samaritan’s actions so that the lawyer would realize that the Samaritan was not acting of his own accord, but was responding to the divine influence upon his heart.

Human sacrifice

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

And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The inheritance

God’s covenant with Abraham focused on the inheritance he would receive as a result of his obedience. God told Abraham, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Genesis 15:7). The Hebrew word that is translated possess, yarash (yaw-rashˊ) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place)…This term is sometimes used in the generic sense of inheriting possessions (Genesis 15:3, 4). But the word is used usually in connection with the idea of conquering a land. This verb is a theme of Deuteronomy in particular where God’s promise of covenantal relationship is directly related to Israelite possession (and thereby foreign dispossession) of the land of Israel. This theme is continued throughout Israel’s history and prophetic message. Possession of the land was directly connected to a person’s relationship with the Lord; breaking the covenantal relationship led to dispossession” (H3423). The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians contained an explanation of the covenantal relationship and made it clear that the inheritance promised to Abraham was received through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said:

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:15-29)

Paul referred to the Mosaic Law as a guardian that was necessary until Christ died for the sins of the world. Paul used the phrase justified by faith to indicate that salvation changes our status with God, we are no longer considered guilty sinners, but righteous saints and heirs according to the promise that God made to Abraham.

God told Abraham, “’This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:4-6). “This is one of the key verses of the entire Old Testament. It is an important witness to the doctrine of justification by faith and to the doctrine of the unity of believers in both the Old and New Testaments. Abraham’s faith was credited to him for righteousness before he was circumcised and more than four hundred years before the law was given to his descendants. Therefore neither circumcision nor the law had a part of Abraham’s righteousness. Abraham’s faith was not merely a general confidence in God nor simple obedience to God’s command; Paul stressed that it was indeed faith in the promise of redemption through Christ (Romans 3:21, 22; 4:18-25; Galatians 3:14-18)” (note on Genesis 15:6). “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abraham, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites’” (Genesis 15:18-21).

The central point of God’s covenant with Abraham was possession of a specific tract of land (Genesis 15:7, 18-21). After the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they conquered many of the kingdoms in the north and south (Joshua 10:29-11:22) and it says in Joshua 11:23, “The land had rest from war,” but afterward, Joshua was told, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess” (Joshua 13:2). Even though the Israelites were living within the borders of the Promised Land, they had not driven out all of its previous tenants. God told Joshua, “I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh” (Joshua 13:6-7). The land was to be divided among the people and, “Their inheritance was by lot” (Joshua 14:2). The Hebrew word that is translated lot, goral (go-ralˊ) is properly translated as “a pebble, i.e. a lot (small stones being used for that purpose); (figurative) a portion or destiny (as if determined by lot)” (H1486). The idea behind the lot was that individuals didn’t choose which portion of land they would possess, it was determined by casting the lot or what we might think of today as rolling dice. According to Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” The decisions that God makes about peoples’ destinies are not based on haphazard guesses or random verdicts, but are based on legal decisions, judgments rendered by him (H4941).

God’s covenant with Abraham was not a one-sided attempt to accomplish a specific goal. The relationship between God and Abraham was based on God’s kindness or mercy toward him, but the Hebrew word cheçed (khehˊsed) “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…Biblical usage frequently speaks of someone ‘doing,’ ‘showing,’ or ‘keeping’ checed” (H2617). When God told Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering, “Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him…When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” (Genesis 22:3, 9-12). “Abraham proved that his faith in God was genuine, for he believed that God could bring Isaac back to life if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19)” (note on Genesis 22:12). God rewarded Abraham for his obedience. It says in Genesis 22:15-18:

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

God specifically stated that he was going to bless Abraham because he had obeyed his voice. When Isaac sent his son Jacob to Paddan-aram to get a wife, he said to him, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated sojournings, magur (maw-goorˊ) is derived from the word guwr (goor) which means “to turn aside from the road (for a lodging or any other purpose), i.e. sojourn (as a guest); also to shrink, fear (as in a strange place); also to gather for hostility (as afraid). A word that is related to magur that is also derived from guwr is magowr (maw-goreˊ). “A masculine noun meaning fear, terror. The fundamental concept underlying this word is a sense of impending doom. It is used to signify the fear that surrounds one whose life is being plotted against (Psalm 31:13[14]); the fear that causes a soldier to retreat in the face of an invincible foe (Isaiah 31:9; Jeremiah 6:25); and the horrors that befall those facing God’s judgment (Lamentations 2:22)” (H4032).

Taking possession of the land of his sojournings meant that Jacob had to not only conquer his enemies, but he also had to overcome his fear. The reason why the Israelites didn’t enter the Promised Land when they were first given the opportunity was because they were afraid. The men that went up to spy out the land told the people, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are…The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:31-33). When Joshua was instructed to lead the people over the Jordan River, he was commanded to “Be strong and courageous” and the LORD said, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The words frightened and dismayed have to do with the focus of our attention. God wanted Joshua to pay attention to him rather than his enemies. In Moses’ final instructions to the people of Israel, Joshua was told, “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I, How can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt, the great trials your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid” (Deuteronomy 7:17-19).

Jesus told his disciples numerous times not to be afraid. On one particular occasion, Jesus connected Peter’s fear with his lack of confidence in him as well as doubt. Matthew 14:22-33 tells us:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

The disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the sea. What they saw affected the disciples’ minds and caused them to be disturbed or troubled about their situation. Jesus said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27), something similar to what God told Joshua shortly before the battle of Jericho (Joshua 1:9). In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase take heart is translated be of good cheer. The Greek word that Jesus used, tharseo (thar-sehˊ-o) means “to have courage” (G2293).

Peter demonstrated courage when he got out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus, but when he saw the wind, he was afraid again (Matthew 14:30). The problem that Jesus identified was that Peter’s faith was too small (G3640). The Greek word that is translated doubt in Matthew 14:31, distazo (dis-tadˊ-zo) “means to stand in two ways implying uncertainty which way to take (Matthew 14:31; 28:17)” (G1365). Peter intended to keep his eyes on Jesus when he began walking on the water, but the wind got his attention and afterward, Peter couldn’t get the thought out of his mind that the wind was stronger than he was. Jesus rebuked Peter for this and later explained to his disciples that it only takes a very small amount of faith to do impossible things. Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Just as Joshua was instructed to “remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:18), so believers today must think about and meditate on the things that God has done for them. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:29-32). Paul referred to his teaching and preaching of the gospel as the word of God’s grace and said that it could build you up and give you the inheritance. The Greek word that is translated inheritance, kleronomia (klay-ron-om-eeˊ-ah) means “’a lot’, properly ‘an inherited property.” Paul used kleronomia in Galatians 3:18 to stand for “the title to the inheritance,” but in his speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul was referring to, “The prospective condition of possessions of the believer in the new order of things to be ushered in at the return of Christ, Acts 20:32; Ephesians 1:14; 5:5; Colossians 3:24; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4” (G2817).

Paul indicated that sanctification is connected with receiving the inheritance. The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) “means to make holy and signifies to set apart for God, to sanctify, to make a person or thing the opposite of koinos (G2389-common)” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os). “Hagios expresses something more and higher than sacred, outwardly associated with God; something more than worthy, honorable; something more than pure, free from defilement. Hagios is more comprehensive. It is characteristically godlikeness” (G40). Paul used the word hagios in many of his letters to refer to believers. Hagios is also translated as holy and is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians about the Holy Spirit being the guarantee of our inheritance. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul said, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). Paul said that when we heard the gospel and believed in Jesus we were sealed with the Holy Spirit. To be sealed with the Holy Spirit means that we have received a secret mark that identifies us as God’s children. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is considered a pledge or you might say a down-payment on the inheritance that we will receive when we are resurrected like Christ. In his first letter, Peter indicated that our inheritance is being kept for us in heaven until the last time. Peter said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Peter describe the inheritance as imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, suggesting that it may have something to do with our glorified bodies and our eternal union with Christ. The book of Revelation provides further insight by identifying the context in which the inheritance will be received, the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2). John wrote:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:1-7, NLT)

A state of bliss

It’s easy to overlook the fact that after God created the heavens and the earth, “The earth was without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word that is translated without form, tohuw (toˊ-hoo) means “to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively a worthless thing” (H8414). The phrase without form and void appears in Jeremiah 4:19-31 which describes Judah’s desolation after being overtaken by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah 4:23-26 states:

I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

Genesis 1:2 goes on to say that “darkness was over the face of the deep” before God intervened in the situation. Darkness is used figuratively throughout the Bible to represent death, misery, and destruction. It’s hard to imagine that the earth came into existence in such a terrible state, but what is clear from the creation account in Genesis 1-2 is that God had to do something in order to change the state of the earth from one of destruction and waste to one of extreme pleasure.

Genesis 1:31 states, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” God was able to make everything good by speaking into existence things that had a positive impact on the world. It says in Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Proverbs 8:22-31 indicates that God created a state of bliss on earth using wisdom. Wisdom tells us:

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.”

Wisdom refers to himself as a master workman that assisted God in developing the specifications for the sky, the sea, and the foundations of the earth (Proverbs 8:28-29). Instead of master workman, the King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word ʾamown (aw-moneˊ) “as one brought up with him” (Proverbs 8:30). With regard to training and skill, you might say that God and Wisdom had the same experience. ʾAmown is similar to the Hebrew word ʾaman (aw-mawnˊ) which is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). ˊAman has to do with faith and is translated believed in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

The Hebrew word chokmah (khok-mawˊ), which is translated wisdom in Proverbs 8:1, 11 and 12, ‘is the knowledge and ability to make right choices at the opportune time. The consistency of making the right choice is an indication of maturity and development…The prerequisite is a desire to follow and imitate God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, without self-reliance and especially not a spirit of pride…The fruits of chokmah are many, and the Book of Proverbs describes the characters of chakam and chokmah. In the New Testament terms the fruits of ‘wisdom’ are the same as the fruits of the Holy Spirit; cf. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law’ (Galatians 5:22-23); ‘But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.’ (James 3:17-18)” (H2451).

Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was filled with wisdom. Luke 2:40 states, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” The Greek word sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) refers to both human and divine wisdom. “Sophia denotes a mental excellence of the highest sense, to details with wisdom as exhibited in action, and adding the power of reasoning about wisdom’s details by tracing their relationships.” (G4678). The Greek word sophia appears in Romans 11:33-36 where Paul talks about the mystery of Israel’s salvation. Paul exclaimed:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Paul described God’s judgments as being unsearchable and his ways as inscrutable or not able to be tracked out (G421). It’s sometimes difficult for us to do what God wants us to because it doesn’t make sense to us. We want to know the logic behind God’s actions.

An example of God’s ways being inscrutable was his command that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:1-2 tells us, “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’” When it says that God tested Abraham, it means that God told Abraham to do something that required faith (H5254). The only way that Abraham could do what God wanted was to act by faith; Abraham had to believe that even though it didn’t make sense to him, sacrificing his son Isaac was the right thing for him to do. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

The Israelites’ obedience to God’s commandments required faith in that God’s rules and regulations were based on things in the spiritual realm rather than things in the physical realm (Hebrews 9:23). Moses told the Israelites that their faith might be tested in the same way that Abraham’s was. Moses said, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God…So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Moses’ instruction to purge the evil from their midst had to do with the interference of evil with the Israelites’ faith or you might say the fruit of their wisdom.

Wisdom tells us in Proverbs 8:12-19:

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
    and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
    and perverted speech I hate….
Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
    and my yield than choice silver.

Wisdom identified four things that were set against him; pride, arrogance, the way of evil, and perverted speech (Proverbs 8:13) and said, “My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver” (Proverbs 8:19).

Proverbs 2:6-7 indicates that the LORD gives us wisdom and that “he stores up sound wisdom for the upright.” Proverbs 2:10-12 goes on to say that wisdom comes into our heart and as a result we have knowledge and understanding that delivers us from the way of evil. In addition to receiving personal wisdom from the Lord, Proverbs 8:1-11 tells us that wisdom is constantly trying to get our attention. It states:

Does not wisdom call?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
    at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
    and my cry is to the children of man…
Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

The Hebrew word that is translated instruction in Proverbs 8:10, muwçar (moo-sawrˊ) is properly translated as “chastisement” (H4148). Muwçar is translated discipline in Deuteronomy 11:1-7 where the Israelites were instructed to love and serve the LORD. It states:

“You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the LORD your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as the pursued after you, and how the LORD has destroyed them to this day, and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, so of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. For your eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD that he did” (emphasis mine)

Moses’ reminder of the LORD’s harsh punishment of Pharaoh, as well as, Dathan and Abiram was meant to warn the people that God’s discipline was not something that they wanted to experience. With regard to false witnesses, Moses told the Israelites, “The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:18-21).

Job, who suffered numerous tragedies as a result of being targeted by Satan, was rebuked by his friends because they thought he was being disciplined by God. Eliphaz the Temanite told Job, “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal” (Job 5:17-18). Eliphaz’s comment may have sounded good and might even have encouraged Job if he had actually been suffering because of a sin that he committed, but according to Wisdom, the ones who are blessed are those who keep my ways. Wisdom tells us:

“And now, O sons, listen to me:
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
    and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
    watching daily at my gates,
    waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
    and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
    all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36)

The Hebrew word that is translated blessed in Job 5:17 and Proverbs 8:32 and 34 is ʾesher (ehˊ-sher). ʾEsher “is a masculine noun meaning a person’s state of bliss. This Hebrew word is always used to refer to people and is never used of God. It is almost exclusively poetic and usually exclamatory, ‘O the bliss of…’ In Proverbs, this blissfulness is frequently connected with wisdom (Proverbs 3:13; 8:32, 34). This term is also used to describe a person or nation who enjoys a relationship with God (Deuteronomy 33:29; Job 5:17)” (H835). At the end of the book of Job, we find out that Job was right and his friends were wrong about the circumstances of his suffering. The LORD rebuked Job’s friends and restored his fortunes. Job 42:7-8 states:

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Job’s experience brought him to the conclusion that he didn’t really understand how things worked in the spiritual realm (Job 42:2-4). Job concluded his conversation with the LORD by stating, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

The LORD’s command to destroy all the people that were living in the land of Canaan may have been perceived to be too harsh or too difficult for the Israelites to carry out, but none the less, they needed to obey the LORD. Moses reiterated this command near the end of his enumeration of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses said:

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)

“This is the final statement of God’s judgment on the six peoples listed in this passage…Archeological evidence reveals how incredibly depraved these tribes were. They practiced human sacrifice and every sort of sexual perversion. It is said that the land ‘vomited out its inhabitants’ (Leviticus 18:21-25) because of the grievous nature of their sins. The sinfulness of these pagans would present a strong temptation to the Israelites; therefore these tribes were to be destroyed. As the incident with the Moabites revealed (Numbers 25:1-3), the Israelites were all too prone to adopt the idolatrous and inhuman practices of her neighbors. Those forms of Canaanite worship that the Israelites did not destroy according to God’s command are described as being a ‘snare’ to them (Exodus 23:33; 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16; 12:30)” (note on Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

Psalm 128 makes it clear that the personal state of bliss associated with wisdom is connected to the worship of God. It states:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
    who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
    you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
    within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
    who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion!
    May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
    all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
    Peace be upon Israel!

Even though Psalm 128 is directed toward the people of Israel, it indicates in verse one of this psalm that everyone who fears the LORD and walks in his ways will be blessed, or more specifically, will experience a state of bliss (H835).

Jesus eluded to believers experiencing a state of bliss in his Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). The Greek word that is translated rejoice, chairo (khahʾ-ee-ro) means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off” (G5463). Two Greek words that are derived from chairo, chara (khar-ahˊ) and charis (kharˊ-ece) link together God’s grace and the state of bliss that Jesus associated with Christian persecution. The epistle of James takes it one step further by connecting bliss with the testing of our faith. James said, “Count it all joy (bliss) my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). James concluded his discussion of suffering by stating, “We think of those who stayed true to Him as happy even though they suffered. You have heard how long Job waited. You have seen what the Lord did for him in the end. The Lord is full of loving-kindness and pity” (James 5:11, NLV).

Walking with the Lord

The Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho (Numbers 33:1-49) from a physical standpoint should have taken them about eleven days (Deuteronomy 1:2), but it took the people of Israel forty years to get there because of their rebellion against the LORD. As they prepared to cross over the Jordan and enter the land that God had promised to give them, Moses instructed the Israelites to take care lest they forget the LORD, who had brought them out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 6:12). Using a spiritual metaphor to illustrate his point, Moses said, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Moses wanted the people to remove the hardness from their heart so that they could love God the way they needed to in order to follow his commands (H4135). The Hebrew words that are translated stubborn, qashah (kaw-shawˊ) ʿaraph (aw-rafʿ) have to do with the people’s resistance to worship God wholeheartedly (7185/6203). Because the LORD had gone to great lengths to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses said, “You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always” (Deuteronomy 11:1).

Moses associated keeping God’s commandments with spiritual strength. He said:

“For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did. You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 11:7-9)

The Hebrew word chazaq (khaw-zakˊ) is used to describe both obstinate and courageous behavior. It represents moral strength combined with physical in the context of spiritual warfare (H2388) and is used in conjunction with the word ʾamats (aw-matsˊ) to convey the attributes that were necessary for the Israelites’ to obtain victory over their enemies (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Moses went on to spell out the specifics of the blessing that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed God’s commandments and the result of turning away from him. He said:

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-17)

Moses cautioned the people about their hearts being deceived. He used the word shamar (shaw-marˊ), which means “’to keep’ in the sense of ‘tending’ and taking care of” (H8104), to indicate that the people had to make an intentional effort to keep their hearts from being deceived. Shamar also means “’to keep’ in the sense of saving or retaining.” From that standpoint, taking care of our heart might mean that we keep our relationship with the Lord in the forefront of our minds at all times so that we don’t do something that might compromise our walk with the Lord. The Hebrew word that is translated deceived, pathah (paw-thawˊ) means “to be open, i.e be (causative make) roomy; used figuratively (in a mental or moral sense) to be (causative make) simple or (in a sinister way) delude (H6601). The idea that our hearts can be open or roomy may have something to do with outside influences wanting to make themselves at home in our thought processes. In addition to deceived (Deuteronomy 11:16), pathah is also translated as entice (Judges 14:15, 16:5). Pathah appears in Exodus 22:16 where it states, “If a man seduces (pathah) a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.”

Moses used the phrase turn aside to describe what happens when our hearts are deceived. He said, “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (Deuteronomy 11:16). The Hebrew word that is translated turn aside, suwr (soor) means “to turn off’ both literally and figuratively (H5493). Suwr is translated depart in Hosea 9:12 where the LORD says, “Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them!” In this context, to turn aside means that the relationship is broken or you might say communication has been turned off. Moses encouraged the people of Israel to not let this happen in their relationship with the LORD. Moses stated:

For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea. No one shall be able to stand against you. The Lord your God will lay the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land that you shall tread, as he promised you. (Deuteronomy 11:22-25)

Moses made it clear that obedience to God’s commandments was a condition of his blessing. In addition to that particular requirement, Moses said that the Israelites must also love the LORD their God, walk in all his ways, and hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 11:22). Loving the LORD and holding fast to him are similar in that there is an attachment that is being maintained, love representing an emotional attachment (H157), and holding fast a physical attachment (H1692). In Genesis 2:24, dabaq (daw-bakˊ) is translated cleave (KJV) in connection with Adam and Eve being husband and wife and becoming “one flesh.”

Jesus talked about him and his followers becoming one with each other and with his Father shortly before his death. Jesus said to God, the Father, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:9-11). Jesus went on to say, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe they you have sent me. The glory that you have given to me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23). Jesus asked that his followers be one, even as he was one with his Father, and described the resulting relationship as, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:23). The spiritual unity that Jesus was asking his Father for had to do with the way that God’s kingdom operates in the world. The Apostle Paul talked about spiritual unity in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Paul indicated that spiritual unity is maintained “in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Greek word that is translated bond, sundesmos (soonˊ-des-mos) is derived from the words sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, etc.” (G4862) and desmon (des-monˊ) which means “a band, i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner); figurative an impediment or disability” (G1199). Paul used the word desmon four times in the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians where he talked about being thankful for the opportunity he had been given to preach the gospel while imprisoned in Rome. Paul wrote:

But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds (desmon) in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds (desmon), are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds (desmon): but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:12-18, KJV)

Paul said that his bonds in Christ were manifest in all the palace. What Paul meant by that was that everyone knew about his relationship with the Lord and that Paul had been imprisoned because he wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul went on to say, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2). The Greek word that is translated participation is koinonia (koy-nohn-eeˊ-ah), which speaks of participation in what is derived from the Holy Spirit and of having “fellowship with the Father and Son” (G4862). Paul also used the Greek word sumpsuchos (soomˊ-psoo-khos) which is translated in full accord and means “co-spirited” (G4861). The underlying message in Paul’s letter to the Philippians was that Paul believed he had achieved the oneness that was eluded to in Jesus’ high priestly prayer through his imprisonment in Rome and he was encouraging the Philippians to join him in his reckless abandonment to Christ in order that as Jesus had prayed to his Father, “they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23)

Moses’ instruction to the Israelites to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 11:22), was intended to be a uniting principle that would keep the people of Israel bound together throughout their conquest of the Promised Land. Walking in all the ways of the LORD meant that the people would go God’s way instead of their own. Moses said, “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 12:8-9). Moses indicated that up to that point, everyone had been doing whatever was right in their own eyes, meaning that the people were not following the Ten Commandments. The rest that Moses was referring to had to do with the people of Israel peacefully occupying the land that God had given them. The Hebrew word shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, completely comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war…Shalom also signifies ‘peace’ indicative of a prosperous relationship between two or more parties” (H7965).

The people of Israel never came to a state of rest because they were always at odds with God’s way of doing things. The prophet Amos exposed the Israelites’ guilt when he said to them:

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt:

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.”

Can two people walk together
    without agreeing on the direction? (Amos 3:1-3, NLT)

The Hebrew word that is translated together, yachad (yakhˊ-ad) is properly translated as “a unit” (H3162). Yachad is derived from the word yachad (yaw-khadˊ) which means “to be (or become) one” (H3161).

Moses let the people of Israel know that they had a choice. They could choose to walk with the Lord and receive his blessing or they could choose to walk in the ways of the world. Moses said, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). The way that Moses was referring to when he said, “Turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today” can be thought of as a road or a pathway that has been prepared for you. The Hebrew word derek (dehˊ-rek) is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action…This noun represents a ‘distance’ (how far or how long) between two points” (H1870). In the book of Jeremiah, derek is used to signify the overall course and fixed path of one’s life, or his “destiny.” Jeremiah said, “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course” (Jeremiah 10:23, NLT).

Proverbs 3 tells us that we should trust in the LORD with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) and it goes on to say, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). A straight path is what you might think of as a direct route, there are no detours or roadblocks on it (H3474). On the other hand, a crooked path is one that is distorted. The road might seem like it will get you to your destination, but you may actually be headed down a dead end street. Proverbs 4:19 states, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” The Hebrew word that is translate stumble, kashal (kaw-shalˊ) “is often used figuratively to describe the consequences of divine judgment on sin” (H3782). The fact that the wicked do not know what has caused them to stumble suggests that they are unaware of God’s commandments, but the Hebrew word that is translated darkness, aphelah (af-ay-lawˊ) is associated with dusk, the period of time that is in between day and night. Jesus contrasted darkness with light and said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus later added, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:9-10). According to the Lord, the key to not stumbling is walking in the light or more specifically, to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 4 instructs believers to “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23) and tells us to “ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure” (Proverbs 4:26). Pondering the path of our feet might also be expressed as, consider which road you’re traveling on or determine which direction you’re headed. The important thing for you to know is whether or not you are walking in the ways of the LORD (Deuteronomy 11:22) or you are doing whatever is right in your own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8). In his letter to the Romans, Paul talked about walking with the Lord in the context of being dead to sin and alive to God. Paul asked, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4).

The greatest commandment

Jesus’ controversial teaching enraged the religious leaders who wanted the people to see them as the authorities on Jewish religious matters. On one occasion, the chief priests and the elders directly challenged Jesus’ authority and asked him the question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus’ response may have seemed like a clever sidestep, but it showed these men that he was not intimidated by their positions of power (Matthew 21:24-27). When he was later tested on his interpretation of the scriptures, Jesus clearly demonstrated his superior exegesis of God’s word. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34-46)

Jesus’ summation of the entire written word of God into two simple commandments likely astounded his audience, but it was his understanding of the Messiah’s identity that silenced the crowd that was trying to publicly discredit him. In other words, Jesus blew them away with his incredible insight into God’s word, so much so, that the Pharisees realized they were no match for Jesus’ keen intellect.

Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6:5 as the great and first commandment. What Jesus meant by that was that this verse of scripture takes precedence over everything else. The Greek word that is translated great, megas (megˊ-as) means “big” and is sometimes translated as higher, larger, older, profound, severe, strong, too much (G3173). The Greek word that is translated first, protos (proˊ-tos) means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Today we might refer to this verse as a heavy hitter and might think of it in terms of getting the most bang for your buck when you’re trying to understand the Bible and want to live according to its principles. Jesus said that we are supposed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). I think the point that Jesus was trying to make was not that we are to love God with our heart, our soul, and our mind, but that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. The Greek word that is translated all, holos (holˊ-os) means “whole” or “’all,’i.e. complete (in extent, amount, time or degree)” (G3650). In that sense, you could say that we are expected to love the Lord with every bit of our heart, with every bit of our soul, and with every bit of our mind.

The heart, the soul, and the mind are likely similar to the three parts of the Godhead: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God the Holy Spirit; in that we have a triune nature like God that is meant to function in an integrated fashion. We can’t love God with just our heart because we wouldn’t be able to understand who God is and have a relationship with him, nor can we love Him with just our mind because we wouldn’t feel close to Him or have a desire to be in His presence. The soul is what makes it possible for us to identify with God as an eternal being that is connected to everything around us. The issue for us is being able to focus our minds completely on God or being able to give our hearts to him without any reservations. Jesus said that we must love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds (Matthew 22:37). The only way that we can do that is by becoming one with God. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:120-21).

The unity that Jesus has with his Father is clearly expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Here, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The Hebrew word that is translated one, ʾechad (ekh-awdˊ) means “united” (H259) and is derived from the word ʾachad (aw-khadˊ) which means “to unify, i.e. (figurative) collect (one’s thoughts)” (H258). ʾAchad is translated “go one way or other” in Ezekiel 21:16. From that standpoint, you might say that God is the unifier of all things and that His word is a unified thought that makes us go one way or the other. The fact that all believers read the same Bible and seek to live according to the same principles is what makes us look, act, and talk like each other and how we essentially become one with Jesus and the Father. Jesus,’ through the example of his relationship with his Father, took it one step further by stating that we should “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). I believe what Jesus meant by become perfectly one was that we would not just understand God’s word, but that we all would understand what it means in the context of our own lives. In other words, for each and every person to understand and seek to attain God’s perfect will for their lives. Paul talked about this in his letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

Paul indicated that there was a three-fold effort involved in becoming perfectly one. First of all, our thinking must be aligned with God’s word. Paul said, “If in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). Paul is talking here about our minds being submitted to God and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phroneo (fron-ehˊ-o) means “to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensive to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience)” (G5426). Secondly, Paul instructed believers to imitate him and to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase followers together to describe the process of imitating other believers. The Greek word that is translated example, tupos (tooˊ-pos) refers to a prototype and is “spoken figuratively of a person as bearing the form and figure of another, a type, as having a certain resemblance in relations and circumstances (Romans 5:14)” (G5179). The point that Paul was trying to make was that we shouldn’t just mimic the behaviors of other Christians, but we need to pay attention to what mature believers are doing and follow their examples. Keeping our eyes on someone means that we watch them closely and therefore, regard them in our heart. It is important that we don’t regard the wrong people, such as the ones that Paul identified as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Finally, Paul indicated that Jesus will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body and said that he will do this by “the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). The involuntary transformation of our bodies suggests that the physical change that is necessary for us to become perfectly one with other believers is not something that we are able or would want to do on our own. Obviously, no one would want to follow Christ if it involved crucifixion, but according to Paul, the believers’ old man was crucified with Christ and we will all one day be united with him in a resurrection similar to his. Paul said, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:5-6).

Moses’ recitation of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:7-21 was followed by the statement, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). The Hebrew word that is translated careful in Deuteronomy 5:32, shamar (shaw-marˊ) appears 16 times in Deuteronomy 4-6 where Moses talks about obedience to God’s commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses elaborated on his instruction to be careful and stated, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” The idea that we can forget the things that our eyes have seen and that they can depart from our heart has to do with us becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment.

The book of Proverbs, which was primarily written by King Solomon who is thought by some Bible scholars to be the wisest man that ever lived, contains numerous analogies between spiritual and material things (Proverbs, Introduction, p. 714). It says in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Solomon indicated that fools have no regard for wisdom or instruction. “The fool’s only authority is himself.” He “twists God’s ways into his own” and “is insensitive to godly prodding” (H191). On the contrary, Solomon said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). The kind of fear that Solomon was referring to was the fear that is “produced by God’s word and makes a person receptive to knowledge and wisdom” (H3374). God employed wisdom as his master craftsman to create all things and thus, it is inherent in the created order (H2451). Knowledge has to do with knowing how to please God. These two qualities are the theme of the book of Proverbs as a whole. “The acquisition and application of wisdom are paramount concerns throughout the book” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7).

Solomon took great care to illustrate for us the results of becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment. Solomon began with the enticement of sinners. He said:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:8-19)

Solomon emphasized the foolishness of committing a crime by stating, “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” (Proverbs 1:17) and then, drove home his point about the punishment that sinners will ultimately receive in his statement, “but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). The Hebrew word that is translated lives is nephesh (nehˊ-fesh). The best Biblical definition of this word is found in Psalm 103:1 where nephesh is defined as “all that is within” a person. Nephesh is usually translated as “soul” which “makes sense in most passages. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the opposition of the terms ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ which are really Greek and Latin in origin. The Hebrew compares/contrasts ‘the inner self’ and ‘the outer appearance’ or, as viewed in a different context, ‘what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers.’ The goal of Scripture is to make the inner and the outer consistent” (H5315).

The reason that Moses gave for the Israelites being careful to do as the LORD had commanded them was “that you may live, and that is may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). In this instance, to live meant more than physical existence, it meant to revive the spirit or to revive the heart (H2421). The Hebrew word that is translated well in Deuteronomy 5:33, towb (tobe) means “to be happy, to please, to be loved…the word naturally expresses the idea of being loved or enjoying the favour of someone” (H2895). Moses repeated the statement that it may go well with you for emphasis and linked it with the blessing that was promised to Abraham in order to drive home his point that God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was conditional and was dependent upon their obedience to his commandments (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Moses said:

“Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 6:3)

Afterward, Moses summarized the law by stating the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

And then, Moses concluded his summarization with some personal advice:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6).

The King James Version of the Bible indicates that the words that Moses spoke should be “in” the Israelites’ hearts rather than on their hearts. The difference between something being on our heart and something being in our heart may have to do with the memorization of scripture as opposed to the external viewing of it on a scroll or in a book. Moses’ warning to not forget it or let it depart from your heart (Deuteronomy 4:9) would make more sense in that context.

One of the words that Solomon used to describe the person that ignores God’s word was simple. He asked, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Proverbs 1:22). The Hebrew word that is translated simple, pᵉtha˒iy (peth-aw-eeˊ) is derived from the word pathah (paw-thawˊ) which means “to open, i.e. be (causatively make) roomy” (H6601). In that sense, someone that is simple might be thought of as being empty headed or lacking in education. Solomon may have been thinking about a person that had never studied the scriptures or committed a single verse to memory. Solomon reproved the simple ones, encouraging them to repent before it was too late and said of wisdom:

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:24-33)

Solomon stated that “the simple are killed by their turning away” (Proverbs 1:32). The Hebrew word that is translated turning away, mᵉshubah (mesh-oo-bawˊ) means apostasy and is usually translated backsliding (H4878). What Solomon likely meant by the simple are killed by their turning away was that since the simple have turned their backs on God and have no protection from him, they will become victims of the violence that is going on in the world around them and will die as a result of it.

God’s will

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

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

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

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was not as cooperative as he was and made it more difficult for God to continue working in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. After Jacob increased greatly in the land of Paddan-aram, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:17), but stopped before he reached his father’s house. Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, but after his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons killed all the men of the city in retaliation, Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obedience

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

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

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

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

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

Abiding in Christ

Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe his relationship with his followers. The main point Jesus was trying to communicate was the importance of sticking together. Jesus used the words abide and remain to convey his message, as well as the term husbandman to describe God’s role in the process. In the second and third verses of John 15, Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

The word translated purgeth in John 15:2 is representative of the pruning process, but it actually means to cleanse and metaphorically, Jesus spoke of purging his worshippers of guilt (G2508). To be clean means that we are free from guilt. Jesus said in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” In other words, reading our Bibles and hearing its content preached to us takes away our guilt. We grow closer to Jesus and show visible signs of spiritual health when we spend time studying the Bible.

Jesus linked our ability to abide in him with love and obeying his commandments. He said in John 15:10, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” The word translated love in this verse is agape (ag-ah´-pay), which is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God” (G26).

If you think of agape love as doing what God wants us to do rather than what we ourselves want to do, then abiding in Jesus’ love means that we are always doing the will of God. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Jesus did God’s will by dying on the cross for us, so we should show our love for others by doing God’s will for them. This could be as simple as praying for a friend that is sick or giving away our time by serving in a church ministry.

One of the keys to abiding in Christ and bearing fruit is the realization that we have been chosen by God and appointed to serve him (John 15:16). We are knit together by close spiritual bonds that form us into the family of God and separate us from the world (John 15:19). The separation we experience is actually evidence that we belong to God. The farther we get from the world, the adornment and decoration of temporal possessions, the closer we get to Jesus and the will of God.