God’s discipline

Moses’ preparation of the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land focused on the essential responsibilities they had in keeping their covenant with God. One of the things that Moses wanted the people to do was to consider the discipline of the LORD. Moses said:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day, and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did.” (Deuteronomy 11:1-7)

Moses described the discipline of the LORD as “his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds” (Deuteronomy 11:2-3) and then, went on to identify specific things that the people had seen God do in order to discipline them. Discipline is a type of personal involvement in the lives of others that is usually motivated by love. Hebrews 12:3-17 states:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The writer of Hebrews associated discipline with making straight paths for our feet and indicated that holiness is required for us to see the Lord (Hebrews 12:13-14). The Greek word that is translated see, optanomai (op-tanˊ-om-ahee) means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable)” (G3700). This particular kind of vision is different that simple voluntary observation or mechanical, passive vision. Optanomai has to do with spiritual discernment and one’s ability to understand spiritual truth.

Knowing and seeing the discipline of the LORD are connected with our personal experience as a believer. Jesus told his followers, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23). The Greek word that is translated knew, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) “signifies ‘to be taking in knowledge, to come to know, recognize, understand,’ or ‘to understand completely,’…”In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of a relationship” (G1097). Epiginosko “suggests generally a directive, a more special, recognition of the object ‘known’ than does ginosko (G1097); Sometimes epiginosko implies a special participation in the object ‘known,’ and gives greater weight to what is stated…Cf. the two verbs in 1 Corinthians 13:12, ‘now I know in part (ginosko); but then shall I know (epiginosko) even as also I have been known (epiginosko),’ ‘a knowledge’ which perfectly unites the subject with the object” (G1921).

The Hebrew word that is translated discipline in Deuteronomy 11:2, musar, (moo-sawrˊ) appears throughout the book of Proverbs and is used figuratively in speaking of “warning or instruction; also restraint” (H4148). Musar is used three times in the first seven verses of Proverbs 1 which “provide the title (v. 1), the purpose (vv. 2-6), and the theme (v.7) of the book as a whole” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7). It states:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1-7)

According to Solomon, instruction or discipline is connected with wisdom and intelligence and therefore, it is silly to disrespect the person that gives it to you. Proverbs 3:1-12, which encourages believers to trust in the LORD with all their hearts, contains the original text that is cited in Hebrews 12:5-6. It states:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
    and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:1-12)

Solomon warned believers against leaning on their own understanding or being wise in their own eyes. The point that Solomon was trying to make was that our minds and God’s mind do not work the same way. God’s way of doing things is superior to our own and he is able to accomplish anything he wants to. Isaiah 55:6-11 states:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Thinking “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived” (H2803). Typically, people do this without giving any consideration to God’s thoughts about the matter or his ways of doing things compared to their own. Isaiah’s argument in favor seeking the LORD was that God is compassionate and he is willing to forgive our mistakes.

Judges 1:1 tells us that “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’” “The expression ‘inquired of the LORD’ refers to the fact that the civil ruler of Israel had the right to ask the high priest to consult the Urim and Thummin for him (Numbers 27:21). This was the means that God set up for the judges, and later the kings, to know his judgment on any particular matter” (note on Judges 1:1). The Urim and the Thummin were necessary in Old Testament times because the Holy Spirit was not yet available to believers. When one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus said to them:

“When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, 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. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:2-13)

Jesus used the example of an unfortunate friend to illustrate his point that God always responds to our requests for help and then, concluded with the statement, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit is our primary means of direct communication with God. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). The Holy Spirit doesn’t intercede on our behalf in order to make our request known to God, but, so that God can communicate his will to us.

After the people of Israel “inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’ The LORD said, ‘Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.’” (Judges 1:1-2). The answer the people received gave them the confidence to move forward and resulted in successful conquests, but a pattern developed where there was a failure to complete the conquest. Judges 1:19 states, “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” Judah’s inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron was not a matter of it being impossible. Israel’s conquests in Northern Canaan involved a great horde of soldiers, “in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots” (Joshua 11:4). The problem that developed was that the people who had seen the great work that the LORD had done for Israel all died. “And there arose a generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7, 10). Israel’s disobedience caused the angel of the LORD to tell them, “I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you…And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:3, 11-12).

Israel’s early abandonment of the LORD was predicted before Moses’ death. Deuteronomy 31:16-18 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.” The LORD hiding his face meant that his favor had been withdrawn, making it seem as if he was no longer present with his people (H5641). The LORD was certainly aware of what was going on because he continued to intervene on their behalf when they got into trouble. Judges 2:16-22 tells us:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.”

The statement, “They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways” (Judges 2:19) indicates that the people of Israel were at that point doing “what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25), rather than inquiring of the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated practices, maʿalal (mah-al-awlˊ) refers to “an act (good or bad)” (H4611). Maʿalal is derived from the word ʿalal (aw-lalˊ) which specifically means “to glean” or to produce an effect, “by implication (in a bad sense) to overdo” (H5953).

Psalm 50 provides some additional insight into what was going on during the period of time between Joshua’s death and the installation of Israel’s first king. Psalm 50:7-17 states:

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
    O Israel, I will testify against you.
    I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
    your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house
    or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
    the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
    and all that moves in the field is mine.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
    for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
    or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

But to the wicked God says:
    “What right have you to recite my statutes
    or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
    and you cast my words behind you.

God indicated that his people were continually sacrificing burnt offerings to him, but for the wrong reasons. The Israelites weren’t thankful for the things that the LORD had done for them; they were trying to earn God’s favor. God associated the wicked with being able to recite his statutes and being identified with his covenant, but indicated that the wicked were not open to his correction or willing to apply his word to themselves. Subjugation to God’s discipline was an important aspect of the relationship that was demonstrated between God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus used the parable of the two sons to emphasize his point that it is necessary for us to change our minds in order to do what God wants us to. Jesus asked, “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).

A spiritual pathway

The Israelites journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan had both physical and spiritual elements to it. As the people traveled through the desert, they were focused on worshipping God and were given many opportunities to experience spiritual success and failure. After they rebelled against God (Numbers 14:1-4), the people of Israel were pardoned, but none of the men who had seen God’s glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and in the wilderness were allowed to enter the land that God had promised to give them (Numbers 14:20-23). The LORD told the Israelites, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure” (Numbers 14:34). At the end of the forty years, Moses recounted the Israelites’ journey. Moses wrote, “This is the route the Israelites followed as they marched out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress. These are the stages of their march, identified by the different places where they stopped along the way.” (Numbers 33:1-2, NLT). Moses indicated that the Israelites’ route was determined by the LORD and their progress was dependent upon their stops along the way. Deuteronomy 1:2 states that “it is eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea” and yet, the Israelites arrived in Kadesh-barnea “in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month” (Deuteronomy 1:3).

Moses told the people of Israel that the LORD had carried them, “’all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe in the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go” (Deuteronomy 1:31-33). The Hebrew word that is translated place, mᵉqomah (mek-o-mahˊ) is properly translated as “a standing, i.e. a spot; but used widely of a locality (generally or specifically); also (figuratively) of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). Mᵉqomah appears in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place and stayed there that night.” Mᵉqomah is derived from the Hebrew word quwm (koom) which means “to arise, stand up, come about…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). When it says that the LORD carried the Israelites all the way that they went until they came to this place, it meant that the Israelites’ final destination was prearranged, but it also meant that the people were going to arrive at their destination at a particular time because of the way or route that they traveled. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) “represents a ‘distance’ (how far or how long) between two points.” Derek is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action.” In Jeremiah 10:23, derek “signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life, or his ‘destiny’” (H1870).

Jesus told his followers, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When Jesus said he was the way, he was speaking of himself as “the author and medium of access to God and eternal life” (G3598). In that sense, Jesus was the pathway, the route that people needed to follow in order to connect with God. When Jesus called his disciples, he commanded them to, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19, 9:9; John 1:43). Jesus talked about the pathway to heaven in the context of the Golden Rule. Jesus said:

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:12-14, NLT)

Jesus referred to the pathway to hell as a highway because that’s the route that most people choose to take. The idea that Jesus conveyed was a paved road that had lots of traffic on it. By contrast, the pathway to heaven was very narrow and difficult, likely a single lane, dirt road that required a four-legged animal or today a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to your destination.

Psalm 95 provides insight into why the people of Israel were unsuccessful in the spiritual aspect of their journey to the Promised Land. It says of God, “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’” (Psalm 95:10). The Israelites didn’t understand God’s way of doing things and also made the mistake of following the examples of other nations. Proverbs 12:26 says, “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were referred to as wicked men in Numbers 16:26. Moses said, “These men have despised the LORD” (Numbers 16:30). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rejected the LORD and were influencing other Israelites to rebel against Moses and Aaron’s leadership (Numbers 16:2-3). Numbers 16:25-33 states:

So Moses got up and rushed over to the tents of Dathan and Abiram, followed by the elders of Israel. “Quick!” he told the people. “Get away from the tents of these wicked men, and don’t touch anything that belongs to them. If you do, you will be destroyed for their sins.” So all the people stood back from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrances of their tents, together with their wives and children and little ones. And Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things that I have done—for I have not done them on my own. If these men die a natural death, or if nothing unusual happens, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord does something entirely new and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them and all their belongings, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have shown contempt for the Lord.” He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel. (NLT)

Going astray in their heart meant that these wicked men’s will and God’s will were not aligned with each other. In Proverbs 4:23 we are told to guard our “heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT). The Hebrew word that is translated heart, leb (labe) “includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man…the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820).

It says in Genesis 8:21 that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” and in Deuteronomy 29:4 that the LORD did not give the Israelites hearts that could understand what he was doing. The only way the people knew how to do what God wanted them to was to obey his commandments and follow Moses’ directions. It says in Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” The Hebrew word that is translated listens, shama (shaw-mahˊ) “means to give undivided attention” and refers to hearing in both an intellectual and spiritual context. “The most famous use of this word is to introduce the Shema, ‘Hear, O, Israel,’ followed by the content of what the Israelites are to understand about the Lord their God and how they are to respond to him” (H8085). Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states, “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.” The connection between loving God and listening to him had to do with the relationship that God wanted to have with his chosen people. It says in Deuteronomy 7:6 that the Israelites were chosen by God to be a people for his treasured possession. “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977).

God encouraged the Israelites to do what he commanded them to by promising to bless them if they were obedient and to curse them if they were not. Moses told the people, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated high in Deuteronomy 28:1, ʿamad (aw-madˊ) is an epithet for God and means “to stand” and “can suggest ‘immovable,’ or not being able to be moved…another nuance appears in Psalm 102:26, which teaches the indestructibility and/or eternity of God—the creation perishes but He ‘shalt endure [will ever stand].’ This is not the changelessness of doing nothing or standing physically upright, but the changelessness of ever-existing being, a quality that only God has in Himself” (H5975).

God’s promise of an eternal kingdom provided a strong incentive for the people of Israel to follow the spiritual pathway that he had prepared from them, but knowing that they were unlikely to live up to his expectations, God established a strong deterrent against disobedience as well. Moses said, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 20). The Hebrew word that is translated cursed in Deuteronomy 28:16, ʾarar (aw-rarˊ) generally denotes to inflict with a curse. “There are at least five other Hebrew words with the same general meaning. This verb, in a more specific sense, means to bind (with a spell); to hem in with obstacles; to render powerless to resist” (H779).

After Simon Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, “the Son of the living God,” Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19). Jesus told Peter that he was blessed because a spiritual truth had been revealed to him by God the Father. The Greek word that is translated revealed, apokalupto (ap-ok-al-oopˊ-to) means “to take off the cover, i.e. disclose…The subjective use of apokalupto is that in which something is presented to the mind directly as…the will of God for the conduct of his children (Philippians 3:15)” (G601). Jesus indicated that the spiritual truth that was revealed to Peter would be the rock on which his church was built “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus’ reference to the gates of hell not being able to prevail was likely intended to point out that a spiritual battle was taking place and that this particular spiritual truth could free a person from spiritual bondage. Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Greek word that is translated loosed, luo (looˊ-o) speaks “of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ” (G3089).

The fact that the Israelites who did not obey the voice of the LORD were cursed and therefore, rendered powerless to resist the temptation of sin suggests that they were forced to go down a spiritual pathway that was contrary to God’s will, but God used the Israelites’ disobedience to accomplish his ultimate purpose, the salvation of the world and unification of the Jews and Gentiles into a single body of believers. Paul discussed this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:11-18, NLT)

The Book of Hebrews explains that God has provided a better way for us to know and do his will through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It says in Hebrews 10:14-22:

For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.

And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,

“This is the new covenant I will make
    with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he says,

“I will never again remember
    their sins and lawless deeds.”

And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (NLT)

It says in Hebrews 10:20 that Jesus’ death opened up “a new and life-giving way.” In other words, Jesus created a spiritual pathway that takes us into the presence of God. The Greek word that is translated life-giving, zao (dzahˊ-o) appears in Matthew 16:16 where Peter identified Jesus as “the Son of the living God.” Jesus also used the Greek word zao when he told the woman at the well that he could give her “living water” (John 4:10). Zao is associated with the resurrection of believers, but more specifically with, “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198). The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus’ death opened the way or in Hebrew the hodos (hod-osˊ). The Greek word hodos is similar to the Hebrew word derek. It refers to the road or the route one takes on a journey, but metaphorically it represents “a course of conduct,” or “way of thinking” (G3598). Jesus’ death made the recovery of physical life from the power of death possible for us and now we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT).

Proverbs 12:28 states, “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” Basically, what this verse means is that if we travel through life on the pathway of righteousness, hell will not be a part of our route. Righteousness is the state that believers enter into when they accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the atonement for their sins. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The transaction that takes place when a person puts his or her trust in Jesus is called justification. Paul talked about Abraham’s justification in his letter to the Romans. Romans 4:18-25 states, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Confidence

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians didn’t follow his typical pattern, but was filled with a significant amount of information about his call into the ministry and what he felt was his responsibility as a servant of Christ. Paul specifically mentioned his ministry of reconciliation and said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). At the heart of Paul’s message of reconciliation was the idea that it is possible for us to be restored to divine favor. The Greek word katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) “denotes an adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor, especially the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory/propitiatory death of Christ. Man changes and is reconciled. God does not change. It is translated atonement in Romans 5:11, signifying that sinners are made ‘at one’ with God” (G2643).

Paul indicated that he no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). What Paul meant by that was that his opinion of people wasn’t based on their outward appearance (G1492). The flesh is often thought of as the physical part of man, but the Greek term sarx (sarx) deals with human nature and is thought of as “the weaker element in human nature…the unregenerate state of men” (G4561). In his defense of his ministry, Paul stated, “I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh For the weapons of are warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:2-4). The accusation that Paul and his companions were walking in the flesh was based on their change of plans to come to Corinth after visiting Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:15-18). The Corinthians thought that Paul was vacillating because he was still angry at them and hadn’t forgiven the sinner that was in their midst (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Paul explained to them that he was being led to go to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) and his confidence came from his reliance upon Christ. Paul stated:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

The Greek word that is translated confidence, pepoithesis (pep-oy’-thay-sis) is derived from the word pascho (pas’-kho) which means to suffer and signifies the sufferings of Christ. In certain tenses, pascho means “to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful)” (G3958). Paul’s reference to God making them sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant that was “not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6) was most likely meant to point out that Paul and his companions were being directed by the Holy Spirit to go to certain locations at certain times so that their gospel message could be distributed in an efficient manner. As much as Paul would have liked to go to Corinth as he had planned, he knew that his ministry was dependent on God’s leading for its success (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

When he arrived in Corinth, Paul said that he did not want to “show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:2). Paul may have thought it would be necessary for him to show the Corinthians his credentials so to speak. Paul tried to convince the Philippians that it was useless for him to boast of his accomplishments in the flesh. Paul told them:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:2-8)

Paul said that he counted as loss everything that he had done in his flesh because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as his Savior (Philippians 3:7-8, emphasis mine). The value Paul placed on his salvation was related to the cost that was associated with Jesus’ sacrifice of his life. Paul described it as the surpassing worth or in the Greek huperecho (hoop-er-ekh’-o) which literally means to over achieve (G2192/G5228). Paul’s claim that he was blameless under the law (Philippians 3:6) meant that he had followed the Mosaic Law perfectly. And yet, Paul said about Christ, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).

Paul indicated that he was not walking according to the flesh, but was walking in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2-3, emphasis mine) and said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The warfare that Paul was referring to in this passage was his “apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752). It seems likely that the divine power that Paul was talking about had to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but in order for him to destroy strongholds, Paul had to engage his audiences in what we might think of today as difficult conversations. The Greek word that is translated strongholds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ra-mah) is used metaphorically in this verse to refer to “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). That could be anything from a savings account to perfect attendance at church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their mindsets were skewed in their favor and could not be relied upon for spiritual security. Paul said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mos’) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Logismos is derived from the word logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) which has to do with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

Abraham was the first person to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Paul’s defense of his ministry was built on this principle and Paul emphasized that he had to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Paul was most likely concerned about the contradiction and/or dilution of spiritual truth. God’s word is often contrary to the things that we hear from our government officials and the media. The implication of taking our thoughts captive is that we are able to control the mindsets that govern our behavior and can reject the negative thought patterns that keep us from doing God’s will. Obedience to Christ involves a submission to God’s will by allowing our lives to be under his control (G5218). The Greek word that is translated disobedience in 2 Corinthians 10:6, parakoe (par-ak-o-ay’) has to do with “the mind and will both wavering” (G3876). “Primarily, parakoe, means ‘hearing amiss’ (para, ‘aside,’ akouo, ‘to hear’), hence signifies ‘a refusal to hear.'” Paul’s comment, “when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:6) was most likely meant as a figurative reference to the the process of sanctification. The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) means “to fill one’s heart, to take possession of it” (G4137).

The priests in the Old Testament were consecrated to God so that they could do the work that was assigned to them without any wavering. During the ordination of Aaron and his sons, a ram was killed “and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron’s sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet” (Leviticus 8:23-24). The blood symbolized consecration and by placing it on the ears of Aaron and his sons Moses was designating that the priests were consecrated in order to “hearken to the word and commandments of God” (Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament). Leviticus 10:1-2 shows us that consecration didn’t guarantee obedience to God. It states:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came down from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

The unauthorized fire that Nadab and Abihu offered was something that was outside the law of God (H2114). Therefore, it was something that was done according to their flesh, meaning that they weren’t listening or paying attention to what God told them to do. Moses explained to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). Being near to God involves entrance into his presence as well as being actively and personally involved with him (H7126). In order to be sanctified, God has to be separated from anyone or anything that is not dedicated to him. Nadab and Abihu’s disobedience demonstrated their lack spiritual discernment and made it clear that they had not submitted themselves to God’s will as a result of being ordinated into the priesthood.

Jesus made the same comment several times in order to emphasize the importance of listening to what he had to say. After he told the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus probably wasn’t talking about having physical ears because that would have meant he was directing his comment to pretty much everyone in the crowd. It seems likely that there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ instruction. The prophet Isaiah’s commission from the Lord included some distinction about the spiritual aspect of hearing God’s voice. He said:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)

Isaiah’s message pointed out that hearing is connected to understanding and seeing is connected to perception in the spiritual realm. The Lord suggested that making the people’s ears heavy would prevent them from being able to hear him. The Hebrew word that is translated heavy, kabed (kaw-bade’) is related to being weighed down by something and seems to be associated with the burden of sin (H5313). Another form of the word kabed “bears the connotation of heaviness as an enduring, ever-present quality, a lasting thing. Used in a negative but extended sense, the word depicts sin as a yoke ever pressing down upon one” (H3515).

Paul instructed the Corinthians to, “Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed” (2 Corinthians 10:7-8). Paul acknowledged the fact that the Corinthians had a right to be confident as a result of their relationship to Christ, but he also cautioned them to not go too far with it because of the authority that had been given him to oversee their church. The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) comes from the meaning of “‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases…the right to exercise power” (G1849). Paul indicated that his authority was given to him so that he could build up the church (2 Corinthians 10:8) and that his area of influence entitled him to certain privileges because God had assigned it to him (2 Corinthians 10:13). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that his confidence was not a threat to the Corinthians because he was being directed by God to help them grow in their faith. The important thing that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand was that a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error, but God is not subject to error. Therefore, Paul concluded, “it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom God commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

The kingdom of heaven

Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven suggests that it is not so much a place as it is a condition that is developed over a period of time. In some ways, you might say that the kingdom of heaven is an internal state that is connected to external factors such as housing, nutrition, and financial security. Jesus used a parable to explain how the kingdom of heaven works. He said:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

The example Jesus used to explain the kingdom of heaven had to do with a common experience that most people who lived in the first century could relate to, but they still didn’t understand what he was saying. “Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, he told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). The Greek word that is translated secrets, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) in the New Testement denotes, “not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13, 16-17). One of the people in the Old Testament of the Bible that was able to see the kingdom of heaven, but still did not understand how it worked was Jacob, the son of Isaac that inherited Abraham’s blessing. When Jacob left his father’s home in Beersheba and traveled toward Haran where his uncle Laban lived, he spent the night in place that he later described as “the house of God” (Genesis 28:17).

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:11-15).

The King James version of this passage indicates that Jacob “lighted upon a certain place” (Genesis 28:11). The Hebrew words paga (paw-gah’) and maqowm (maw-kome’) suggest that Jacob was being placed (H6293/H4725) in the house of God because it was God’s will for him to be there rather than any intentional effort on his part to arrive at that location. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, God sowed Jacob like a seed and he landed on a rocky spot where he had to use a stone as a pillow to fall sleep.

Jesus explained the parable of the sower to his disciples in simple terms so that they could grasp the spiritual truth he wanted to convey. He said:

“Hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what he has sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this in the one who hears, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:18-22).

When Jacob realized the LORD was in the place where he was staying, he exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Jacob was excited about his discovery, but he was unwilling to make a commitment to the LORD. Like the seed that landed on rocky ground, God’s promise didn’t take root in Jacob’s heart because Jacob didn’t believe in God. After Laban tricked him into marrying his daughter Leah and forced Jacob to stay in Haran another seven years in order for Rachel to be his wife, Jacob’s expectation of returning to his father’s house seemed to disappear altogether.

After living with his uncle Laban for 20 years, Jacob received a second message from the LORD. “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you'” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram and “set his face toward the country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:21) where his father Isaac was, but Jacob was detoured from his destination. On his way from Paddan-aram, Jacob camped before the city of Shechem and “he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he pitched his tent” (Genesis 33:19). It’s unknown how much time Jacob spent in Shechem, but while he was there, his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons destroyed the city out of revenge. This seems to reflect the situation Jesus described as seed that was sown among thorns because Jacob started out obeying the LORD’s instruction by leaving his uncle’s home and heading toward Gilead, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the word, meaning Jacob was happy living in Shechem until the tragedy of rape closed off his spiritual airway and he allowed the city to be ransacked by his angry sons.

God spoke to Jacob a third time as he dealt with the aftermath of his daughter’s rape. “God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau'” (Genesis 35:1). The Hebrew word that is translated arise, quwm (koom) is used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). The Hebrew word maqowm (maw-kome) which is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is derived from quwm and speaks of not only of a locality, but also figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). God’s command to go up to Bethel was not related to its geographical location because Bethel was located about 25 miles south of Shechem. What God was likely doing when he instructed Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel” (Genesis 31:1) was calling Jacob, inviting him to become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said in his parable of the weeds:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'” (Matthew 13:24-30).

The Greek word that is translated weeds, zizanion (dziz-an’-ee-on) “is a kind of darnel growing in the grain fields, as tall as wheat and barley, and resembling wheat in appearance, except the seeds are black. It was credited among the Jews with being degenerate wheat. The seeds are poisonous to man and herbivorous animals, producing sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death (they are harmless to poultry). The plants can be separated out, but the custom, as in the parable, is to leave the cleaning out till near the time of harvest” (G2215).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds indicated there is only one kingdom that exists in the world and Satan’s followers are usually found intermingled in it with believers. Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38-39). One of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to tell if a person is saved or not is because Satan’s sons cleverly disguise themselves as Christians. They want everyone to think they are good people and don’t intend to do anyone any harm. In the parable of the weeds, the man who sowed the good seed told his servants not to gather the weeds because “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matthew 13:29). This could mean that the lives of believers and unbelievers are so closely intertwined that separating them presents a risk of believers becoming calloused toward God.

Jacob’s love for his wife Rachel was a driving force in his decision to stay with his uncle Laban. At first, Jacob only committed himself to serving Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, but after he was tricked into marrying Leah instead, Jacob agreed to serve Laban seven more years. At the end of that time, Jacob was persuaded to stay another six years in exchange for flocks of animals to feed his family. When Jacob finally decided it was time for him to leave Paddan-aram, Rachel stole her father’s household gods, hid them in her camel’s saddle, and lied to Laban about it while he searched for them in her tent. The household gods were idols that most likely symbolized the family’s devotion to pagan deities such as Astoreth and Ishtar. After God commanded Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there” (Genesis 35:1), it says in Genesis 35:2-3, “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob’s awareness that his family was practicing idolatry was a compromise that had most likely affected his spiritual leadership. His commitment to the LORD at Bethel may have been Jacob’s way of changing the course of his family’s history and a distinct point in time when God began to work out Jacob’s destiny through the lives of his children. Genesis 35:16-19 states, “Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was the hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for you have another son.’ And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem).”

Jesus told his disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32). What happened to Jacob when he went to live with his uncle Laban seems to illustrate this spiritual truth. Jacob’s uncle admitted that he had learned by divination that the LORD had blessed him because of Jacob. The Hebrew word that is translated divination, nachash (naw-khash’) means a magic spell, but can also refer to learning by experience or diligently observing something. Like the branches of the tree in Jesus’ parable that spread wide and tall and were inviting to the birds that were looking for places to build their nests, God’s blessing on Jacob’s life was a benefit to everyone around him and some people took advantage of that. Jesus went on to say, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). This seems to suggest that faith can be contagious and that it is easier for the people around a believer to have faith in God once they see it at work in the believer’s life.

It’s not known exactly how old Jacob was when he returned to his father’s home, but it can be estimated that he was about 100-105 years of age. Jacob was approximately 90 years old when his son Joseph was born. Jacob lived in Paddam-aram another six years after that (Genesis 30:25 31:41), then he went to Shechem and lived there until Joseph was probably around 12 or 13 years old. Genesis 35:27-29 encapsulates the entire period of time from when Jacob returned to Hebron to when Isaac died at the age of 180, which would have made Jacob 120 years old (Genesis 25:26). These verses state, “And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”

After Jacob returned to Hebron, it appears that he and Esau lived peacefully with each other the rest of their lives. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talked about the reconciliation of the two people groups that are represented by the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. He said, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and had broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Paul described the peace of God as something that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). This may have been what Jesus was talking about when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Jesus went on to say, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The only way a person can have the peace of God is by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. In his final discourse, after eating the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus concluded by stating, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Suffering

The Apostle Peter’s first letter to Jewish believers contained much of the same information that Paul preached to people that were not connected to Judaism. Peter’s mini-version of the gospel focused on just a few of the essential points of Christian living and answered some very difficult questions like, why do Christians suffer? Peter said, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21, ESV). According to Peter, suffering is a part of the process that causes us to become like Jesus. The Greek word translated example, hupogrammos means “an underwriting that is copy for imitation” (G5261). It is as if Peter was saying that we should be a carbon copy of Christ’s suffering. This proved to be true in Peter’s case because he was crucified like Jesus was except that he was crucified upside down (Nero Wikipedia).

Peter’s letter was most likely written to address the persecution that was going on in the latter half of the first century. He stated, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled'” (1 Peter 3:13-14, NKJV). Jesus addressed this kind of suffering in his sermon on the mount. He stated:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Jesus pointed out that persecution is a by product of citizenship in heaven. Earlier in his letter, Peter referred to believers as strangers, indicating that citizenship in heaven causes one to be viewed as an outsider in the material world. Jesus made it clear that Christians who are persecuted on Earth would be rewarded in heaven and even went so far as to say, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). The Greek word translated exceedingly glad, agalliao (ag-al-lee-ah’-o) means to jump for joy (G21). It’s hard to imagine having that kind of attitude toward suffering, but Jesus was obviously expressing a spiritual truth that does not make sense to us from a physical perspective.

The resurrection of Jesus is an indicator of the type of reward that awaits Christians in heaven. Peter said that Jesus in on the right hand of God and angels, authorities, and powers have been made subject to him (1 Peter 3:22). Jesus’ ultimate position of power is a direct result of his triumph over sin. Jesus now has the ability to direct the affairs of men with complete authority over all created beings in the universe. Peter said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2, NKJV). The phrase “arm yourselves with the same mind” is a reference to spiritual warfare.

To arm yourself means that you are equipped with weapons. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds (1 Corinthians 10:4). One of the ways that we can fight against the devil is to pray and ask God for help. Peter indicated that we need to trust God and believe that his Holy Spirit will help us in our time of need. He stated, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:17-19, NKJV).

Spiritual treasure

Jesus used a series of parables to teach his disciples the exorbitant value of the kingdom of heaven. He said:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all these things?”  They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:44-52, ESV)

A scribe was a person that had the ability to read and write and was responsible for maintaining the documents associated with the Jewish religion. Jesus likened a scribe that had received spiritual instruction about the meaning of the documents he was managing to someone that manages a household because the ability to teach God’s word comes from an understanding of how everything fits together. Jesus implied that the treasure of God’s word is found when you connect the dots or put together the timeless truths of both the Old and New Testaments.

Jesus’ parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13) showed that the Bible teachers of his day were unwilling to make sense of what he was teaching them in light of the many prophecies that were given hundreds of years earlier about the coming of the Jews Messiah. It wasn’t that these men were unable to connect the dots, it was that they saw no value in the old Hebrew manuscripts and therefore, had missed the references to Jesus’ coming (Luke 16:1-2). The Jewish religious system had become outdated and needed to be refurbished, but there were no one willing to take on the challenge of searching through the Old Testament scriptures to discover the truth.

At the heart of the problem Jesus’ was addressing was a desire to obtain material wealth, rather than the riches of the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus’ parable, when the unjust steward was told he was going to be fired (Luke 16:2), he went to all his master’s debtors and reduced the amount they owed him (Luke 16:5-7), so that when the steward became unemployed, they would welcome him into their homes (Luke 16:4). Jesus commended the unjust steward, “because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).

Jesus’ reference to “children of this world” and “children of light” (Luke 16:8) was not a distinction between believers and unbelievers. He was referring to believers that are using their worldly intelligence and experience to make decisions rather than spiritual discernment. The reason Jesus commended the man who used his practical skill to get himself out of trouble was because he had actually practiced a spiritual principle without knowing it, the forgiveness of debt. Jesus argued, “If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11). In other words, the real treasure of heaven or truth of God’s word is given to those who know what to do with it.