Incomprehensible strength

Sanctification was a central characteristic of the Israelites’ relationship with God. When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, they were told, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) means sacred. “It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony…This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9)…God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918). Qadowsh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means, “to be (causative, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally)…The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they became holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)…The word is used most often in the intensive stem, meaning to pronounce or to make holy, to consecrate” (H6942). Exodus 19:8 tells us, “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’” And then, “When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’” (Exodus 19:9-11). The Israelites’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai was a unique experience in that they could hear what God was saying to Moses. When they heard God speak the words of the Ten Commandments, “the people were afraid, and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

“God made a conditional promise to the Israelites that if they would obey him and keep his covenant, he would regard and treat them in a special way. The people chose instead to make a golden calf and forsake the God who had rescued them from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 32:1-24). That event, as well as persistent infidelity throughout most of their history, greatly limited the extent to which the Israelites could realize these promises. The designations ‘royal priesthood’ and ‘a holy nation’ are also applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:9, 10” (note on Exodus 19:5, 6). Peter addressed his letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling in his blood and said:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Peter’s mention of the sprinkling in Jesus Christ’s blood is related to the Old Testament process of sanctification. During their ordination, the blood of a bull and two rams were used to consecrate Aaron and his sons so that they could serve God as priests (Exodus 29:1). Exodus 29:19-21 states, “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and their garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.” The placement of blood on the tip of the right ear symbolized sensitivity to God and his word. The placement of blood on the right thumb and great toe of the right foot symbolized a life of service to others on God’s behalf (note on Exodus 29:20, KJSB). Peter wanted his readers to understand that as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the elect exiles of the Dispersion were set apart to serve God and were expected to accomplish what the Old Testament priesthood failed to do, to be sensitive to God’s word and to serve others on God’s behalf.

Peter emphasized the importance of abstaining from the passions of the flesh and indicated that they “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The flesh represents the unregenerate part of man that is associated with human nature. The soul is regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life. The soul as an essence differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (G5590). “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the afterlife [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). Peter’s determination that the passions of the flesh war against your soul was reinforced by James’ warning against worldliness. James said:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)

The war between the flesh and the soul of a man is a spiritual conflict that James associated with submission to God. James admonished believers to resist the devil and said, “He will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7).

On an individual basis, the Israelites were able to consecrate themselves to God by making a special vow, “the vow of a Nazirite” (Numbers 6:2). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God. The Nazarite vow included abstinence from strong drink or the cutting of his hair, and no contact with dead bodies” (H5139) because of his separation to God (Numbers 6:7). If the vow of a Nazarite was broken, it was considered a sin (H5088). The person would have to go through a process of purification which included making atonement for his sin (Numbers 6:11). “The word ‘Nazarite’ (not to be confused with ‘Nazarene’) means ‘separated,’ and in this context refers to one who was specifically ‘holy to the LORD’ (Numbers 6:8). By the terms of the vow, men or women could voluntarily separate themselves unto the LORD for a specific period of time, even for life” (note on Numbers 6:2-21). Samson is one of the two Nazarites mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. The circumstances of Samson’s birth are recorded in Judges 13:1-5. It states:

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Samson’s designation as a Nazarite was a life-long commitment that began even before his conception. His mother was told to “drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4) in order to keep Samson from being defiled while he was in her womb. When Samson’s mother told her husband about what had happened, she said, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6). The Hebrew word that is translated awesome, yareʾ (yaw-rayˊ) means “to fear…This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God” (H3372).

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD had the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him” (note on Exodus 23:20-23). When the angel of the LORD appeared a second time, Samson’s father, Manoah said to him, “’What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’” (Judges 13:17-18). The Hebrew word that is translated wonderful, pilʾiy (pil-eeˊ) means “incomprehensible” (H6383) and is derived from the word pala (paw-lawˊ) which means “to separate, i.e. distinguish” (H6381). “While nothing is too extraordinary for God, various things are said to be beyond the abilities of some individuals to do or comprehend.” The angel of the LORD’s appearance to Samson’s parents was likely intended to prepare them for the incomprehensible things that God intended to do through their son Samson. “Samson was a Danite, living adjacent to the Philistines. He was selected before birth as the one who would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). God gave him superhuman strength to achieve this, but Samson’s life was filled with compromise in his repeated refusal to control his sensual desires and whims. His physical blinding by the Philistines (Judges 16:21) seems to have brought about the opening of his spiritual eyes; he gave his life for his people and is commended for his faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32)” (note on Judges 13:24).

It says of Samson in Judges 13:24-25, “The young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” The Hebrew word that is translated stir, paʿam (paw-amˊ) means “to tap, i.e. beat regularly; hence, (generally) to impel or agitate” (H6470). It was as if God was continually tapping Samson on the shoulder and asking him, when are you going to do something about this? Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was used by God to begin the process of change. Judges 14 tells the story of Samson’s embarrassing disappointment from the vantage point of a young man in love for the first time. It states:

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes.

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” And he said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”

And in three days they could not solve the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” And Samson’s wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

“Mixed marriages of Israelites with other races were forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4). Samson’s parents were right to oppose his marriage to a heathen woman from the Philistines, who constantly oppressed the Israelites” (note on Judges 14:3). “God did not force Samson into the marriage; Samson made his own decision. God used Samson’s marriage to accomplish his will in spite of the lack of wisdom on Samson’s part. It proved to be a crucial step in the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 15:1-8)” (note on Judges 14:4). It says in Judges 14:19, “In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” Samson’s passion for the woman that he wanted to marry was turned into zeal for the LORD because of his personal experience which revealed to him how the Philistines were taking advantage of the Israelites. Samson’s slaughter of thirty men so that he could pay his debt to the men who solved his riddle also demonstrated to the people of Ashkelon the incomprehensible strength that he was capable of exerting in order to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

God knows me

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was addressed “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Paul used the term saints to identify “those who are purified and sanctified by the influences of the Spirit…This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40). Since Paul was also a saint, he referred to this group as us when he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4, emphasis mine). Paul indicated that saints are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and were chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him. The Greek word that is translated chosen in Ephesians 1:4, eklegomai (ek-legˊ-om-ahee) means “to select” (G1586) and is derived from the words ek (ek) which speaks “of the efficient cause or agent, that from which any action or thing proceeds, is produced or effected” and lego (legˊ-o) which means “to ‘lay’ forth, i.e. (figurative) relate (in words [usually of systematic or set discourse])” (G3004). The Greek word logos (logˊ-os) is derived from the word lego and was used in John’s gospel to identify Jesus as “the Word.’ John said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the same way that God spoke things into existence in the creation account recorded in Genesis 1:3-26, God causes those whom he has chosen to become saints to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ by relating its message to them personally.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews made it clear that faith is the means by which everyone, including Old Testament believers, are justified or grated access to God (Hebrews 10:38). Hebrews 11:1-3 states:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews went on to name specific individuals from the Old Testament that by faith had been commended as righteous before God and would be made perfect along with all the New Testaments saints at a future point in time (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Moses talked about the Israelites being chosen by God in his final discourse shortly before his death. Moses said:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-10)

God dealt with the people of Israel as a whole, but also singled out individuals who hated him and would not keep his commandments. When the covenant was renewed in Moab, Moses pointed out that a reciprocal choice had to be made by each person. Moses said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Deuteronomy 30:19, bachar (baw-kharˊ) means “to select” and can designate human choice or divine choice, “in either case, it generally has theological overtones.” Bachar’s “meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him.” An example of this in the Old Testament can be seen in the life of King David. When David was anointed king of Israel, the Prophet Samuel went to his home, but didn’t know which of his father Jesse’s sons had been selected by God to be king. It says that Samuel “looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:6-7). The Hebrew word raʾah (raw-awˊ), which is translated looks, in this instance is being used to connote “seeing only what is obvious” (H7200).

David talked about God’s ability to see what was obvious in his heart in Psalm 139. David opened this psalm with the declaration, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” (v. 1). The Hebrew word that is translated searched, chaqar (khaw-karˊ) is properly translated as “to penetrate; hence, to examine intimately” (H2713). David’s statement implied that God could penetrate the surface of his being and examine the intimate parts of his soul. Knowing David this way meant that God had a relational viewpoint of David’s character and could communicate with him about intimate matters. God talked about his relationship with the people of Israel in the context of love and unity and promised to go with them into the Promised Land. Moses told the people:

“The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:3-6)

The words leave and forsake suggest that God could physically depart from his chosen people, but the Hebrew words that are translated leave and forsake have to do with God’s divine influence upon the human heart. The Hebrew word ʿazab (aw-zabˊ), which is translated forsake, “can mean to ‘allow someone to do something,’ as in 2 Chronicles 32:31, where ‘God left [Hezekiah], to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart’; God ‘let’ Hezekiah do whatever he wanted” (H5800).

God promised not to leave or forsake his chosen people, but indicated there would come a time when he would hide his face from them because of their evil behavior (Deuteronomy 31:18). God said, “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21). A person’s inclination to do certain things is a result of the way his heart and/or mind works. The Israelites were known to be stubborn and rebellious (Deuteronomy 31:27) and God did not expect them to change even though he had given them the opportunity to do so (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:19).

The thing that distinguished David from the other Israelites that God had to choose from when he anointed David to be king over Israel was his openness to having intimacy with the LORD. David said:

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:2-4)

Just like the twelve apostles that lived with Jesus during his three-year ministry on earth, David believed that the LORD was aware of his every movement and also knew what he was thinking during every waking moment of the day. David also believed that God was in control of his circumstances. David said:

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:5-6)

David admitted that God’s knowledge of his inner workings compared to his own was incomprehensible. David didn’t even have access to or you might say have an awareness of the things that God knew about him. David concluded:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

David realized that he couldn’t keep God from knowing things about him. Even if David wanted to escape God’s presence, there was no where he could go, including Sheol or Hell that God didn’t have access to. Proverbs 15:3 states, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

Jesus’ eminent departure from Earth after his resurrection from the dead likely caused his disciples to wonder how he was going to continue to be involved in their lives after he was gone. Jesus told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus said that he would be with his disciples always. The Greek word that is translated with, meta (met-ahˊ) denotes accompaniment and is generally used to convey an association with someone in the sense of participation or proximity (G3326). Meta appears in Matthew 1:23 where is says of Jesus, “’They shall call his name Immanuel!’ (which means, God with us)” (emphasis mine). After he died on the cross, God gave Jesus authority in heaven and on earth which means he now has the privilege of coming and going as he pleases. Jesus was given an all access pass, so to speak, to God’s kingdom. Jesus explained to the religious leaders who thought that God’s kingdom would be manifested on earth as a physical structure that God’s kingdom exists inside believers. It says in Luke 17:20-21, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven revealed the internal nature of God’s kingdom (Matthew 13). In his parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-8), Jesus taught his disciples about the effect of God’s word on the human heart. Luke’s gospel tells us, “And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:9-15). Jesus also talked about the light in you being a source of spiritual health. Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light” (Luke 11:33-36).

In Psalm 139:13-16, David depicted the intricate detail of God’s work in his invisible soul. David said:

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

David indicated that God had formed his days and wrote them in his book before his birth. The Hebrew word that is translated formed, yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) means “to press (through the squeezing into shape); to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)…By extension, the word conveys the notion of predestination and election (2 Kings 19:25; Isaiah 49:5)” (H3335).

God used analogy of the potter and the clay to describe his process of conversion to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “’Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” The Apostle Paul also used the analogy of the potter and the clay to refute the injustice of God’s sovereign choice. Paul argued, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)

Paul’s argument in favor of God’s sovereign choice points out the fact that everyone would be destined for destruction if it weren’t for God’s mercy. Proverbs 15:10-11 also indicates that God knows the hearts of people so well that he is able to determine who wants to go to heaven and who wants to go to hell. It states, “There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man!”

David concluded Psalm 139 by inviting God to search his soul and to determine if there was anything inside of him that needed to be corrected. David said:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

David indicated that he wanted to go to heaven by asking God to “lead me in the way everlasting.” The way refers to “a course of life or mode of action.” The Hebrew word derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life” (H1870).

In the New Testament book of Acts, Christianity is referred to as “the Way.” Before his conversion, Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was dedicated to persecuting Jesus’ disciples. It says in Acts 9:1-2, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” According to the Book of Hebrews, belonging to the Way meant that a person had access to God in the same way that Jesus has access to his Father (G3598) and in the same way that God has access to us. Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross opened up a new and living way that enables believers to draw near to God in the full assurance of faith and it says in Hebrews 7:25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us.” Because Jesus is making intercession for the saints, it is not only possible for God to know believers intimately, but it is also possible for them to experience intimacy with God and to have the full assurance of faith that they will be with him forever (John 14:1-4).

The adulteress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The way of life

Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with a statement that has come to be known as the golden rule. He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). What Jesus meant by this is the Law and the Prophets was that the golden rule summed up everything that was written in the Old Testament of the Bible. It was the bottom line so to speak of what you need to know in order to live the kind of life that God wants you to. Jesus went on to say, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). The words destruction and life have to do with what happens to us after we die. Jesus indicated that there are two ways that we can enter into eternity, the narrow gate which leads to life or what we think of as eternal life, life in the absolute sense (G2222); and the wide gate which leads to destruction or what we think of as hell, a place where we suffer the eternal consequences of our sin (G684). Jesus said, “The way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). The Greek word that is translated easy, euruchoros (yoo-rooˊ-kho-ros) means “spacious” (G2149). One of the reasons why it is easy for a person to go to hell is because there are no boundaries or you might say limitations to keep you out (G5561). Jesus contrasted the way to destruction with the way of life by stating, “The way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). The Greek word that is translated hard, thlibo (thleeˊ-bo) means “to crowd” and “has reference to sufferings due to the pressure of circumstances, or the antagonism of persons” (G2346).

Jesus indicated that there are few who “find” the way of life (Matthew 7:14). This suggests that many people are looking for the way that leads to life, but not all of them are finding it. Jesus told his followers:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

In order to find the way that leads to life, you have to first be seeking it. Seeking God begins with an awareness or an acknowledgment that you don’t know what to do. As a result of that awareness, you either seek a relationship with God if you don’t already know him or if you do have a relationship with Christ; you seek to know God’s will for your particular situation, the goal being to ascertain the meaning of your circumstances and to see things from God’s perspective.

Jesus later explained to his disciples that an exchange needed to occur in order for them to experience life in the absolute sense. Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). In this instance the life that Jesus was referring to was not life in the absolute sense, eternal life; but the soul, “the inner self” or “’what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers’” (H5315). It says in Genesis 2:7 that God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he “became a living soul” (KJV). The soul and the spirit of man are sometimes confused with each other. The soul is associated with breath, “the breath of life, that vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing” (G5590). The soul can be thought of “as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death.” In that sense, when Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39), he wasn’t talking about death, Jesus was talking about our inner self being changed so that it conforms to God’s way of doing things.

The Israelites that were delivered from slavery in Egypt had the benefit of God telling them directly what he wanted them to do or not do in order to live their lives the way he wanted them to. The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:7-21) were a comprehensive list of the essential behaviors that God was looking for, but Moses broke the entire law down even further into a single commandment that contained the key to Israelites’ spiritual success. Moses said, “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). Loving God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might has to do with focusing our attention on what is going on in the spiritual realm instead of the physical realm. The rituals that the Israelites went through on a regular basis were intended to continuously remind them of God’s presence and his involvement in their lives. In particular, the seven annual feasts that the Israelites were expected to observe shaped their culture and provided a framework for the people of Israel to worship God. These celebrations became a way of life for the Israelites, but not necessarily for the reasons that God intended them.

The sabbatical year, which occurred at the end of every seven years, was designated as a year of release. Moses said, “And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor; his brother, because the LORD’s release has been proclaimed” (Deuteronomy 15:2). The cancellation of debt was intended to eliminate poverty, but from a spiritual perspective the observance of the sabbatical year was meant to remind the Israelites of the moral debt that God had forgiven for them. The Hebrew word that is translated release, shᵉmittah (shem-it-tawˊ) means “remission” (H8059). During the Last Supper, Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus took a cup and when he had given thanks, he gave it to his disciples and said, drink of it all of you, ”For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28 KJV). The Greek word aphesis (afˊ-es-is) “denotes a release from bondage, imprisonment, liberation from captivity and remission of debt…It also means forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission of the penalty” (G859). The Mosaic Law was intended to represent the ideal state of mankind’s union with God, but many of its required rituals were misunderstood. The book of Hebrews explains how the process of redemption works and makes it clear that Christ’s sacrifice releases us from the consequences of our sins once and for all. It states:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyfor the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourconscience from dead works to serve the living God…And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christhad offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 9:11-10:14)

The writer of Hebrews used the phrase “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14) to describe the result of having our sins forgiven. The Greek word that is translated conscience, suneidesis (soon-iˊ-day-sis) means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…that faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the formal and avoid the latter” (G4893). When we have a clear conscience, we are able to enter into the presence of God and worship him. Therefore, the purification of our conscience, or rather the remission of sin, is one of the things that helps us to find the way of life that Jesus talked about in his Sermon on the Mount.

The annual observance of the Passover feast was intended to remind the Israelites of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:3), but it also had a spiritual significance as well in that it represented Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples coincided with a celebration of the Passover feast. Matthew 26:17-19 states, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?’ He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples”’ And the disciples did as Jesus directed them, and they prepared the Passover.” It was not accidental that Jesus’ death was associated with Passover. The spiritual meaning of what Jesus was doing was beyond the human comprehension of his disciples, but the Apostle Paul later explained that the Lord’s Supper was intended to provide a means of confessing our sins on a regular basis so that our consciences would remain clear after the initial experience of being born again. Paul said, “Anyone who eats the bread or drinks from the cup, if his spirit is not right with the Lord, will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. This is why a man should look into his own heart and life before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. Anyone who eats the bread and drinks from the cup, if his spirit is not right with the Lord, will be guilty as he eats and drinks. He does not understand the meaning of the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, NLV).

Jesus revealed the meaning of his body to his disciples shortly before his death. Jesus told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The Greek word that is translated bears, phero (ferˊ-o) signifies being impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). There was a great deal of emphasis in the Apostle Paul’s ministry on bearing fruit. Paul used the word fruit in almost all of his letters in reference to the results of preaching the gospel. The feast of weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-12) was originally called The Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16) and in the New Testament times became known as Pentecost (note on Exodus 23:14-17). The connection between The Feast of Harvest and the day of Pentecost, which is recorded in Acts 2:1-4, seems to be the filling that took place as a result of each of these two events. Acts 2:1-4 states:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Greek word that is translated arrived, sumpleroo (soom-play-roˊ-o) denotes a complete filling that results from a union of individual parts (G4845). It says in Acts 2:1 that “they were all together in one place.” The “they” that is referred to here is all believers. “The Holy Spirit filled every believer on the day of Pentecost, not just a select few” (note on Acts 2:1-4). From a spiritual perspective, the Feast of Harvest resembled the day of Pentecost because it focused on the firstfruits of people’s labor (Exodus 23:16). It’s important that we realize there is expected to be a tangible result when we walk with the Lord. Jesus told his followers, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word perissos (per-is-sosˊ) refers to abundance in terms of both quantity and quality (G4053). You might think of life being abundant from a quantity perspective when it consists of many years, but perissos has to do with excess or going beyond what is needed. From that standpoint, it seems likely that Jesus’ intention behind giving us an abundant life was so that we could have more than enough time to experience all that life has to offer us within the boundaries of living a godly life.

King Solomon, who is thought to be not only the wisest man to ever live, but also the richest, wrote about his experience of pursuing everything that life had to offer him from a secular perspective. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 states:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Solomon’s declaration that all was vanity and a striving after the wind after he had indulged himself in every kind of pleasure that was imaginable demonstrated that the way of life and the way of destruction are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to our daily activities. The difference between these two ways if life seems to be dependent on the motive behind your actions.

Solomon stated in Proverbs 6:20-23, “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” Solomon associated the way of life with the reproofs of discipline and indicated that the commandment and the teaching of scripture would illuminate a believer’s pathway forward. According to Solomon, spiritual life involves discipline (Proverbs 6:23). The Hebrew word that is translated discipline, muwçar (moo-sawrˊ) means “chastisement” as well as “restraint.” Muwçar is usually connected with God’s discipline of his chosen people, but it seems to be applicable to everyone in Job 5:17 where it says, “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty”

Jesus told his disciples, “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 described himself as the light of the world or you might say the illuminator of everything we experience in life and said that those who follow him will have the light of life. In other words, when you follow Jesus you will have the ability to see what life is really all about, you will understand life from a spiritual perspective. The reason why that is important is because your soul was designed for eternal life. It is not dissolved when you die like your body is (G5590). Paul talked about the perishable body putting on the imperishable and the believer’s final victory over death in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the moral puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

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.

Overcoming the world

John concluded his first epistle with a bold statement about the victory that every believer can expect to have as a child of God. John said:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)

John equated overcoming the world with keeping God’s commandments and indicated that our faith in Jesus is what makes this victory possible for us. John’s concept of overcoming the world was most likely linked to the Jewish belief that eternal life could be attained through moral perfection (Matthew 19:16). The Greek word that John used that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) “is first a harmonious arrangement or order, then by extension, adornment or decoration, and came to denote the world or universe, as that which is divinely arranged” (G2889). The reason why John thought it was necessary for Christians to overcome the world was because the present condition of human affairs is alienation from and opposition to God. If we go the way of the world, we will end up separated from God for all of eternity.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the opportunity to go in and possess the land that he had promised to give their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but along with that opportunity came the obligation for the children of Israel to serve God and keep his commandments. God assured the Israelites that he would bless them for their obedience and said:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

God’s expectation that the children of Israel would walk in his statutes and observe his commandments was based on his deliverance of his chosen people from slavery. God told them, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:13). God used the euphemism of breaking the bars of your yoke to signify that the Egyptian Pharaoh was no longer the Israelite’s master. The children of Israel were free to do as they pleased. God’s declaration that he had made the Israelites walk erect meant that his sovereign will had been carried out according to his plan of redemption that was set in motion before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4). All the Israelites had to do was choose which way they wanted to go.

In order to convince the Israelites that it would be best for them to pursue a path of righteousness, God informed his chosen people of the consequences of their disobedience. God said:

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.”

“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.”

“And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.”

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.” (Leviticus 26:14-32)

God’s stern warning was likely intended to inspire the awe and reverence that his chosen people seemed to lack. The grumbling and complaining that was a constant part of Moses’ assignment to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was a reflection of the Israelites’ negative attitude about leaving behind their lifestyle of spiritual bondage.

The book of Leviticus concludes with an important lesson about the value of a soul. Leviticus 27:1-8 states:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

The Hebrew word that is translated valuation in this passage, erek (eh’-rek) is derived from the word arak (aw-rak’) which means “to set in a row, i.e. arrange, put in order…’To arrange in order’ makes it possible ‘to compare’ one thing with another” (H6186). In many ways, that is what happens when we get involved in activities in the world. We compare ourselves with other people and we often think we are better than they are.

Jesus talked about the value of our soul in the context of compromising our commitment to him in order to gain an advantage in the world. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus used the same word interchangeably for life and soul indicating that the part of a person that is saved or becomes born again is the soul. Salvation is comparable to the redemption of persons that was discussed in Leviticus 27 except that salvation is a permanent state of redemption that can only be attained through a spiritual transaction with God. When Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for the sins of all of mankind, he completed the necessary transaction on our behalf. Thus, we can experience the benefits or gain from this transaction without doing anything ourselves. Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In other words, if we work to get ahead in the world and neglect the salvation of our souls, we won’t experience any real benefit.

John concluded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). John’s statement had to do with personal conquest. The point I believe John was trying to make was that at the end of our lives there is only one thing that really matters and that’s the salvation of our souls. In order to be saved, we need to be born again (John 3:3) and John made it clear that the only way we can do that is by faith. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Paul indicated that we are saved by grace through faith, therefore, grace and faith work together to accomplish the task of saving a soul. You might say that grace is God’s part and faith is our part, but Paul went on to say that “this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe this was the point Jesus was getting at when he asked the question, “what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). A person that is in unsaved state, is spiritually bankrupt and has no means of redeeming himself. It is only through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life.

John seemed to be addressing a concern that some believers had when he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15). Like the Israelites who grumbled and complained about everything that didn’t seem to be right with them, some of the 1st Century Christians may have expected a life of ease after they committed their lives to Christ. John emphasized the fact that God hears our prayers, but also pointed out that it is only when we ask for something according to God’s will that we know we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:15). One of the evidences that we have overcome the world is that our will and God’s will are aligned with each other.

John’s message about overcoming the world was continued in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven churches that the Lord instructed John to write to was encouraged to overcome a difficult circumstance in order to obtain a reward. The letter to the church at Ephesus stated, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, NKJV) and the church in Smyrna was told, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, NKJV). The Lord told the church in Pergamos, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NKJV). Each of these spiritual rewards was connected with the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talked about throughout his ministry on earth and seem to form a comprehension picture of what believers will experience after the resurrection of the dead. The final piece of the puzzle was given to the church at Laodicea. The Lord told them, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV). In this instance, sitting down on a throne denotes the assumption of power and rule over a specific dominion. When Jesus sat down with his Father on His throne, his conquest over the world became a reality in that he was able to exercise his authority over it (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus indicated that we who have overcome the world will do the same after we are resurrected from the dead.

Individual responsibility

God’s covenant with Abraham was based on collective treatment of all who descended from him. In his promise, God said, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee” (Genesis 12:2). The Hebrew word for nation, goy (go´ – ee) represents a group of individuals who are considered as a unit (1471). In God’s eyes, the blessing of Abraham was given to all who would believe in him, not just the individual man he was speaking to at the time,

In the same way that Abraham’s blessing was transferred from generation to generation, so was the curse of sin that began with Adam in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19). In his ten commandments, God clearly stated that the punishment for sin could be transferred from father to son for as many as four generations (Exodus 20:5). A proverb that originated in Jerusalem expressed self-pity, fatalism and despair because people believed they could not escape from the curse they inherited from their fathers. The proverb stated that corporate solidarity was responsible for the captivity that was about to consume God’s people (Ezekiel 18:2).

God argued that everyone had a chance to be saved under the law. He said, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Perhaps, the greatest misunderstanding that resulted from God’s second commandment was the idea that a person could be punished even though he had committed no sin. In actuality, what God was saying was that he would do everything he could to break the cycle of hereditary sin, but ultimately, it was up to each person to take individual responsibility for their soul’s well-being and eternal destination.

The human soul is referred to in Hebrew as nephesh (neh´ – fesh). In simple terms, the soul is what makes us alive. It is the inner person, separate from the flesh or human body. When God said, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), he was basically saying that sin was the cause of death in every person. If there was a person that did not sin, then that person would not die. God said, “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right…he is just, he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 18:5,9). The Hebrew word translated live, chayah (khaw – yaw´) means not only to live, but also to revive. In other words, a righteous soul cannot be killed, if it were, it would come back to life, just as Jesus did after he was crucified.

Exercise for the soul

Physical exercise is a relatively new concept in America. If you remember Jack LaLanne, then you know that in the 1960’s there were not many people that believed they needed regular physical exercise and fitness centers were exclusive clubs for the rich and famous. The information age has turned the majority of people into couch potatoes that rarely break a sweat without an intentional effort. It takes work to keep your body strong, especially if you want to be active in your later years.

Speaking to the LORD in Psalm 138, David said, “In the day when I cried thou answeredest me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul” (Psalm 138:3). The word soul or nephesh in Hebrew is also translated as life and person (5315). The word nephesh is derived from the word naphash which means to breathe (5314), so you could say in one sense that naphash refers to having breath in you or being alive.

When David said that the LORD strengthened him with strength in his soul, he meant that the LORD gave him a sense of vitality and exuberance toward life. The Hebrew word translated strength is also translated as power, might, and boldness (5797). In order for David to be strong in his soul, he had to exercise, he had to do what the LORD instructed him to do in his word.

David not only listened to the LORD, he did what the LORD told him to do, even when it seemed impossible. David said, “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psalm 139:5-6). The word translated wonderful, paliy is derived from the word pala which means to be beyond one’s ability to do (6381). David did not let the thought of impossibility stop him from doing what the LORD asked him to do. David realized that “although something may appear impossible to man, it still is within God’s power” (6381).

The thing that motivated David to exercise his soul was an awareness that God knew and understood him completely. David said, “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).

Thinking of the LORD as the trainer of his soul, David was willing to yield his life to the expert. David knew that the LORD wanted him to be a mighty warrior on the inside as well as on the outside. “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 Scriptures is to make the inner and outer consistent (5315).