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.

Faith in action

Jesus’ departure from the world presented a problem for his ministry to be carried on because his followers were used to him doing most of the work. As his death approached, Jesus began to prepare his disciples to continue on without  him. One of the significant issues was performing miracles. Jesus taught that faith in him was the key to receiving God’s power. In addition to that, Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus taught his disciples that unbelief was the opposite of faith (Matthew 17:17) and warned them that their exposure to false teaching had damaged their ability to trust him and would therefore, hinder their spiritual growth (Matthew 17:20). Jesus used the limited time he had on Earth to correct doctrinal errors in the Jews’ belief system and taught his disciples the truth about God’s kingdom. On at least one occasion, Jesus gave his disciples an opportunity to exercise their faith by sending them out to minister on their own (Luke 10:17).

When Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was sick, he intentionally waited two days to go to his home in Bethany (John 11:6), “Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again” (John 11:7). Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead (John 11:14), so there was no need for him to go right away, but there was also no need for him to wait two days if his plan was to raise Lazarus from the dead. The delay in Jesus’ departure was probably due to everyone’s expectation that he would fix things for Martha and Mary, rather than them doing something about it on their own.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21). Essentially, what Martha was saying was that it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus had died. She was blaming him for not being there. Jesus’ response was meant to ignite Martha’s faith. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Martha knew Lazarus was saved and was a believer herself, but she wasn’t using her faith to deal with her difficult circumstance.

Jesus refreshed Martha’s faith by giving her a quick lesson on the topic of life after death:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (ESV)

What Jesus wanted Martha to understand was that her brother Lazarus was still alive, he just wasn’t living in his body. Apparently, Martha didn’t fully grasp the concept of life after death, but she did believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, Israel’s Messiah.

When they arrived at Lazarus’ grave, which was a cave with a stone blocking the entrance, “Jesus said, Take away the stone” (John 11:39, ESV). Martha’s reaction revealed the barrier to her belief. “Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?'” (John 11:39-40, ESV). Jesus’ statement showed there was an element of Martha’s faith that was missing. She was not willing to do what he told her to. In order to be truly committed to Christ, Martha had to act, she had to demonstrate her faith through obedience.

After the stone was removed, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43). Another way of saying this would be, Lazarus, get out here! When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, he was not calling him back from the dead. It is likely that Lazarus had already been revived by God at the time the stone was rolled away from his grave. The reason why Jesus cried out with a loud voice was so that everyone would know he wasn’t calling Lazarus out of the grave; he wanted him to come out of the cave. The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection was not the result of Jesus’ supernatural ability to bring him back to life. It was the result of Martha’s faith filled obedience to roll away the stone.

Why did this happen?

As Jesus was leaving the temple in Jerusalem, “he saw a man which was blind from birth” (John 9:1). Most likely, this man was begging by the roadside. Because he had been blind since birth, his condition would have been considered to be the result of a sin his parents had committed or perhaps, punishment for a sin that he had committed while he was in his mother’s womb or even while he was in a preexistent state (note on John 9:1). Most people would have shunned this man and treated him as if he were a nuisance to society. As they passed by, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). In other words, the disciples wanted to know, why did this happen to him?

Jesus’  response to his disciples question revealed that the man’s blindness was not some sort of punishment, but an opportunity for God to work in his life. Jesus said, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in his life” (John 9:3). The Greek term translated manifest, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) is derived from the word phaneros (fan-er-os’) which means “shining that is apparent” (5318). Jesus went on to say, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5). The Greek term translated light, phos (foce) means “to shine or make manifest especially by rays” (5457). A similar term, phemi (fay-mee’) means “to show or make known one’s thoughts that is speak or say” (5346).

A primary objective of Jesus’ ministry was to make the truth known about God’s character and his attitude toward sinners. The Jewish religious leaders tried to convince people that a sinless life was possible and that their behavior was the perfect example of how to live a godly life. In reality, Jesus was the only sinless person ever to exist and he was continually harassed by the Pharisees and scribes because he wouldn’t do things the way they wanted him to. When Jesus healed the man that was born blind, he did it in such a way that it was obvious that the man’s faith was involved or the healing couldn’t have taken place. It says in John 9:6-7 that Jesus, “spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is interpreted, Sent).”

The blind man demonstrated his faith or belief that his blindness was not a permanent condition when he did what Jesus told him to. The light that Jesus shed on this man’s situation was that he had the ability to see even though he was born blind. The truth of the matter was that God didn’t want to punish this man, but to make him whole. As a result of his healing, the man was questioned by the Pharisees in order to get some evidence against Jesus because in order to heal the blind man he made clay on the Sabbath, something they considered to be against the law. The man that was healed said this about Jesus, “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing” (John 9:32-33).

Walking on water

It was obvious from the miracles Jesus performed that he had supernatural ability to do things that no one had ever seen done before. What was less obvious, but just as true, was that Jesus’ disciples had the same supernatural ability. When Jesus was about to send his disciples out to preach the gospel, it says in Luke 9:1, “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.” The Greek word translated power, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) specifically refers to miraculous power (1411), but the Greek word dunamis is derived from, dunamai (doo’-nam-ahee) suggests that the twelve apostles had limitless power, the ability to do everything that Jesus was able to. An example of this is found in Matthew’s gospel where it is recorded that Peter walked on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:29). After Peter was come down out of the ship, Matthew said, “he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:29-30). Jesus reached out and grabbed Peter by the hand in order to keep him from sinking, and then rebuked him stating, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt” (Matthew 14:31).

The problem with Peter’s faith was that it lacked confidence. The term Jesus used to describe it, “little faith” could also be translated “puny argument” (3641/3982). In other words, Peter’s demonstration of his faith was unconvincing. Even though he got out of the boat, Peter wasn’t certain he wanted to walk across the sea as Jesus had just done (Matthew 14:25). Jesus pointed out that the reason Peter began to sink was because he doubted (Matthew 14:31) or mentally wavered from his original conviction (1365) about the possibility that he could do what Jesus had commanded him to, “come” to him on the water (Matthew 14:29). Matthew said the cause of Peter’s mental wavering was fear. He explained, “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). Although Peter may have been overcome by fear, it was not his fear that caused him to doubt. The Greek word translated doubt, distazo (dis-tad’-zo) means to duplicate (1365), the word distazo is derived from, dis (dece) which means twice (1364) or duo (doo’-o) to have two of something. At the moment when he began to doubt, it is likely that Peter thought twice about what he was doing and realized that walking on water was humanly impossible; but what is even more likely than that, is that at the moment his doubt got the better of him, Peter realized that he and Jesus were doing the same thing and that meant that, if Peter continued, he would no longer be able to excuse himself from doing whatever God commanded him to.