The crossroads of life

Our journey through life often includes many twists and turns, detours, and roadblocks, but the most important aspect of our travels are the decisions we make when we come to the crossroads of life. The crossroads are typically turning points and may determine whether or not we will continue or stop making progress toward our final destination. One of the ways we know we are at a crossroad is that we experience spiritual warfare and in extreme situations, may be confronted by God or the devil directly. The first crossroad of mankind occurred in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:1-7 tells us:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. 

The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden changed the course of mankind. The issue that was presented to Eve was the truthfulness of God’s word and whether or not she was willing to obey God’s commandment even though she didn’t understand the reasoning behind it.

The Hebrew word massah (mas-sawˊ) is translated as both temptation and trial in the King James Version of the Bible. Massah appears in Deuteronomy 4:32-36 where Moses talked about the LORD being personally involved in the Israelites’ lives. It states:

“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials (massah), by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.”

Moses listed trials along with signs and wonders, as well as war and great deeds of terror as acts of God that were meant to show the people of Israel that there was no other God besides the LORD. The Hebrew word massah “is actually two homographs – words that are spelled the same yet have distinct origins and meanings. The first homograph is derived from the verb masas (H4549), meaning to dissolve or melt, and it means despair. This word occurs in Job 9:23. The second homograph is derived from the verb nasah (H5254), meaning to test or try, and denotes a test, a trial, or proving. It is used in reference to the manifestations of God’s power and handiwork before the Egyptians at the Exodus (Deuteronomy 4:34; 7:19; 29:3[2])” (H4531). Massah also appears in Psalm 95 in reference to the Israelites’ disobedience in the wilderness. It states:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. (Psalm 95:6-9)

Psalm 95:7-11 is quoted in the book of Hebrews as a warning against unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-11). Paul said, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Paul indicated that an evil, unbelieving heart could lead you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). The heart is mentioned in all but four of the thirty one chapters in the Book of Proverbs and the heart’s condition is central to its theme of wise living. In the Hebrew language, “the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages believers to “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.” The Hebrew word that is translated ways, derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life, suggesting the pattern of life (Proverbs 3:6)” (H1870). In Proverbs 8:1-2, wisdom is depicted as a woman that is standing beside the way trying to get our attention when we pass through the crossroads of life. It states:

Does not wisdom call?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand.

The Hebrew word that is translated stand, natsab (naw-tsabˊ) means “to station” (H5324) and suggests that wisdom’s role might be to direct traffic or to act as a crossing guard. It could be that wisdom’s job is to protect believers from the trickery of the devil and to make sure that we do not veer off course at critical points in our journey through life.

Proverbs chapter nine compares and contrasts The Way of Wisdom with The Way of Folly. It begins with a description of Wisdom’s attempt to invite those who are open to her influence to come and eat with her. Proverbs 9:1-6 states:

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
    from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

Wisdom’s target audience is “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:4). The Hebrew words that are translated lacks sense literally mean without heart (H2638/H3820). A person without heart could be someone that has no will of his own or perhaps, someone that is completely open to the influence of others. It seems likely that Wisdom’s plea to whoever is simple means that she is trying to reach those who have not yet made a commitment to follow the Lord. The woman Folly makes a similar plea in Proverbs 9:13-18. It states:

The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
    who are going straight on their way,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.

Folly’s plea is the same as Wisdom’s, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” and her target audience is the same, “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:16), but Folly’s objective is very different. She says to him who lacks sense, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” Folly is appealing to the evil desires of naïve people in order to cause them to disobey God’s commandments (H3687/H3474). One of the characteristics of Folly that is mentioned is that she is seductive and it says that she knows nothing. The tactic that Folly uses to cause people to sin is to appeal to their sin nature or what the Bible refers to as the flesh. Jesus told his disciples to, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Paul addressed the issue of the flesh’s weakness in the context of spiritual warfare in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul 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. 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 10:3-6). The Greek word that is translated warfare, strateia (strat-iˊ-ah) is used figuratively to refer to “the apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752) as well as “to contend with carnal inclinations” (G4754). Paul indicated that the weapons of the believer’s warfare have “divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Paul was speaking metaphorically of strongholds as “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794) and indicated that these strongholds consisted of “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We know that Paul was talking about the believer’s mind or heart because he said we need to take every thought captive to obey Christ. The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mosˊ) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Paul’s instruction to take every thought captive meant that we need to cancel out or at the very least refuse to pay attention to thoughts that violate our conscience or clearly contradict God’s word.

Paul concluded his statement about destroying spiritual strongholds with a warning that we need to be ready to punish every disobedience when our obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:6). Paul was likely speaking figuratively of the filling of the Holy Spirit (G4137) and meant that believers should allow God to correct their thinking processes by submitting themselves to the Holy Spirit’s influence in their hearts and minds. Paul used the example of something he referred to as his thorn in the flesh to make the point that God’s power is able to overcome the strongholds that Satan establishes in our minds. Paul said:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

The Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient for him. The Greek word that is translated grace, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers to “divine influence upon the heart” and indicates “favor” on the part of God by removing the guilt associated with our sin (G5485).

Paul referred to his thorn in the flesh as “a messenger of Satan” that had the ability to harass him (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Greek word that is translated messenger, aggello (angˊ-el-os) “most frequently refers to an order of created beings superior to man (Hebrews 2:7; Psalm 8:5)” (G32). Paul described this angelic order of beings in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12). Paul indicated that the spiritual forces of evil reside in heavenly places. Therefore, it can be assumed that our minds are accessible to beings in the spiritual realm.

Moses’ repetition of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy included several references to purging “the evil from their midst” (Deuteronomy 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7. The Hebrew word that is translated midst, qereb (kehˊ-reb) “denotes the center or inner part of anything…but especially the inner organs of the body…This place was regarded as the home of the heart from which the emotions spring” (H7130). Typically, the phrase purge the evil from your midst was associated with the death penalty and most often had to do with stoning a person to death. You might think that killing people who committed serious crimes would eliminate evil, but it seems that the punishment was actually intended to deal with evil that was affecting the people who were left behind. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

The Hebrew word that is translated purge, baʾar (baw-arˊ) means “to kindle, i.e. consume (by fire or by eating)” (H1197). A word that is derived from baʾar is baʾar (bahˊ-ar) which is properly translated as “food (as consumed); i.e. (by extension) of cattle brutishness; (concrete) stupid” (G1198). It seems that purging the evil from our midst is related to taking down strongholds that exist in our minds in that actions and memories cannot be erased, but they can be consumed or you might say sacrificed by submitting them to God.

The Old Testament sacrifices depicted submission to God through their purifying effect and atonement for sin. James encouraged believers to submit themselves to God in order to purify their hearts. James exclaimed:

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 referred to people that are stuck at the crossroads of their lives as being double-minded. The Greek word that is translated double-minded, dipsuchos (dipˊ-soo-khos) means “two-spirited, i.e. vacillating (in opinion or purpose)…This person lives one life for himself and lives another for God” (G1374). The double-minded person is vulnerable to the pleas of Folly because they appear to be the same pleas as those of Wisdom’s. It says about Folly’s house in Proverbs 9:18, “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” It is only through submission to God that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:5-11, 29-31) and be able to resist temptation by God’s grace (James 4:6-7).

Jesus modeled submission to his Father at the crossroads of his life. During his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus used God’s word to resist the devil. It says in Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’” Jesus didn’t do what the devil told him to even though he was hungry and could have turned the stones into loaves of bread if he wanted to. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to go to cross, but left the outcome in God’s hands. It says in Matthew 26:39, “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus made it clear that it wasn’t his will to die for the sins of the world. When Jesus fell on his face, he placed himself in a posture of submission and in essence was giving up on the situation. It wasn’t that Jesus was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Jesus knew what he needed to do and didn’t want to do it, but he allowed God to decide for him and prayed the second time, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

Our weaknesses

Jesus’ ministry on earth involved a lot of miracles that were intended to persuade the children of Israel that their Messiah had finally arrived. Matthew’s gospel linked one incident in particular to a prophecy that verified this aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew stated:

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:14-17, KJV)

The Greek word that is translated infirmities, astheneia (as-then’-i-ah) is typically used in reference to different types of physical ailments, but the primary implication of this word is moral frailty or weakness (G769). A word that is related to astheneia is asthenema (as-then’-ay-mah). “This word is found in the plural in Romans 15:1, ‘infirmities,’ i.e., those scruples which arise through weakness of faith. The strong must support the infirmities of the weak (adunatos) by submitting to self-restraint” (G771). From this standpoint, Jesus taking our infirmities upon himself means that his moral strength makes it possible for us to live godly lives. Paul talked about this in his final warnings to the Corinthians. Paul said:

I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:2-4)

Paul contrasted Christ’s human weakness with the power of God in order to point out that we have the same weaknesses that he did as well as the same power of God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. The word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 13:4 that is translated weakness is astheneia. Jesus experienced moral frailty because he lived as a human being and had a sin nature. In other words, just like us, Jesus had a natural tendency toward rebellion against God, and yet, Jesus lived a perfect life and therefore, overcame this weakness completely. Hebrews 4:14-16 talks about the example that Jesus set by living his life according to God’s commandments. It states:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In order to draw near to the throne of grace, we have to understand Jesus’ role as our great high priest. It is explained to us in Hebrews 5:7-10 where it states, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” This verse indicates that Jesus was being made perfect. The Greek word teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) means to complete in the sense of being mature (G5048). In 1 Corinthians 13:10, teleios is used to refer to “the complete revelation of God’s will and ways, whether in the completed Scripture or in the hereafter…One who is teleios has attained the moral end for which he was intended, namely to be a man in Christ” (G5046).

Paul concluded his discussion of his sufferings as an apostle with the statement, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Paul understood that suffering was a part of the process of reaching spiritual maturity. The way that Paul seemed to view his weaknesses was that they were opportunities for him to grow in his faith. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that our weaknesses are transformed into supernatural power when we are resurrected from the dead. Paul stated:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

According to Paul, the weaknesses of our earthly bodies will result in miraculous power that will benefit us throughout eternity.

One of the things that Paul made clear in his second letter to the Corinthians was that his weaknesses had kept him from thinking too much of his personal accomplishments or becoming conceited about his special position as an apostle of Christ. Paul shared his experience of being caught up to the third heaven in such a way that it couldn’t be misconstrued as a claim that he had somehow already been resurrected from the dead. Paul said, “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me” (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). Paul went on to say that because of this experience, he was given a physical affliction that plagued him the rest of his life. Paul said:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s personal message from the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) was most likely intended to encourage him in his spiritual growth. Paul may have been thinking about giving up on his goal of reaching the farthest regions of Asia because of the pain that his thorn in the flesh was causing him, but the Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient to get him through. The Greek word that is translated sufficient, arkeo (ar-keh-o) is related to the word airo (ah’-ee-ro) which has to do with the expiation of sin with regard to the effect of atonement on the believer’s life (G142) which is moral purification (G2512) or in Old Testament terms, becoming clean (H2891) and therefore, consecrated to God.

The distinction between clean and unclean things made it difficult for the Israelites to remain in fellowship with God. Something as natural as her menstruation cycle could keep a woman from being able to come into the presence of God (Leviticus 12:4). The most extreme case was the disease of leprosy which could cause a person to be permanently separated from loved ones and quarantined for weeks at a time (Leviticus 13:4-5). Leviticus 13:45-46 describes what happened when the priest determined that a person had leprosy. “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Jesus demonstrated that he had the power to make a leper clean. In fact, one of the first miracles Jesus performed was the cleansing of a leper. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus later explained to his disciples that a person becomes defiled or you might say spiritually weak by the things that come from inside the person’s heart. Mark’s gospel states:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

Paul made it clear in his letter to the Corinthians that he wasn’t ashamed of the thorn in the flesh that was given to him as a result of the surpassing greatness of his revelations. Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul looked at his weaknesses as an advantage in getting God’s attention. The Greek word that is translated rest, episkenoo (ep-ee-skay-no’-o) means “to spread a tabernacle over” (G1981). Paul may have been thinking of the way that God dwelt among the Israelites when they were in the Sinai Desert before they entered the Promised Land. Exodus 14:19-20 describes the protection that God’s presence provided the Israelites when they were fleeing from Pharaoh’s army. It states:

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was a cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

Moses indicated that the pillar of cloud moved from the front of the Israelite camp and to a position behind it in order to create a barrier between them and the Egyptian army. Psalm 51, which was written by King David after his sin of adultery was exposed, talks about the presence of God being associated with a clean heart and a right spirit. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12). The Hebrew word that David used that is translated clean in Psalm 51:10, tahowr (haw-hore’) is used six times in Leviticus 13 in reference to a leper being pronounced clean. Tahowr means “pure (in a physical, chemical, ceremonial or moral sense)” (H2889). According to the Mosaic Law, “Clean things were considered normal; unclean things were considered polluted, but they could be restored to their state of purity (Leviticus 11-15)…God expected his people to be morally pure and to imitate Him (Habakkuk 1:13). This word served to express this state. Clean hands merited God’s favour (Job 17:9), and pure words were pleasing to the Lord. God judged a sacrifice’s value by the quality of the offerer’s heart (Psalm 51:10[12]); thus, David prayed for a pure heart.”

Paul told the Corinthians, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul’s statement, “when I am weak, then I am strong” may have been designed to make his listeners aware of the fact that God’s power is available to us on an as needed basis. If we think we are powerful enough to do something ourselves, we are not going to rely on God’s ability to intervene on our behalf. Paul said that he was content with his weaknesses, meaning that he accepted them and had no problem admitting that they were affecting his ability to do the work that God had assigned to him. Paul’s attitude made it possible for God to do extraordinary things through him and resulted in his ministry becoming a focal point of the book of Acts. Paul’s defense of his ministry included an explanation of how he was able to accomplish so much when his bodily presence was considered to be weak and his speech of no account (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul said:

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—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 our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Paul’s reference to using divine power to destroy strongholds and destroying arguments by taking every thought captive was linked to spiritual warfare. Paul indicated in his letter to the Ephesians that the key to defeating our adversary the devil is to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

Foolishness

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul took the opportunity to boast a little about the things he had experienced while preaching the gospel. Paul started out by saying that it was foolish of him to try and impress the Corinthians with a bold display of his spiritual credentials (2 Corinthians 11:16) and then, added a disclaimer that the Lord had not given him permission to share his personal story (2 Corinthians 11:17). Among the many dangers Paul credited himself with were imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, and starvation (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Paul concluded with a special revelation he had of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said:

I have to talk about myself, even if it does no good. But I will keep on telling about some things I saw in a special dream and that which the Lord has shown me. I know a man who belongs to Christ. Fourteen years ago he was taken up to the highest heaven. (I do not know if his body was taken up or just his spirit. Only God knows.) I say it again, I know this man was taken up. But I do not know if his body or just his spirit was taken up. Only God knows. When he was in the highest heaven, he heard things that cannot be told with words. No man is allowed to tell them. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4, NLV)

After sharing this fantastic experience, Paul stated, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul seemed to be saying that he was physically disabled as a result of his heavenly excursion. What isn’t perfectly clear is how Satan’s messenger came into play in inflicting Paul with this disability. The Greek phrase Paul used hina (hin’-ah) kolaphizo (kol-af-id’-zo) me (meh) which is translated “to buffet me” is also translated as “to harass me” (ESV) and “to hurt me” (NLV), but a better translation might be “to beat me up” because Paul was talking about being kept in a position of humility.

Paul’s objective in sharing his personal experience was to show that he was equal with the apostles that were present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Paul recognized that it was foolish of him to boast about his accomplishments and admitted to the Corinthians, “I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:11-12, ESV). Paul’s position as a super-apostle didn’t seem to gain him any favor with regard to suffering for the ministry of Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul indicated that he was expected to suffer more because of the authority that had been given to him. Paul asked the Lord three times to take away his thorn in the flesh, but his request was denied. Paul explained, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).