The tablets of your heart

The way that we think of our hearts as an organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies is correct from a materialistic perspective, but the Bible has a different view of the heart’s primary function. The Hebrew word leb (labe) indicates that “the heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself.” In some instances, “Leb is used of the man himself, or his personality (Genesis 17:17)” and from a spiritual perspective, “the heart could be regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom and as a synonym of ‘mind’ when ‘heart’ appears with the verb ‘to know.’” The heart encompasses some of the activities that we typically associate with the brain. “Memory is the activity of the heart (Job 22:22),” but it goes beyond that and may even be “the seat of conscience and moral character.” The Bible tells us that “God controls the heart” and he is able to give us “a new one (Ezekiel 36:26).” The heart can also be thought of as a source of expression, it “stands for the inner being of man, the man himself, and is the fountain of all he does (Proverbs 4:4). All his thoughts, desires, words, and actions flow from deep within him. Yet a man cannot understand his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9)” (H3820).

The first appearance of the word leb in the Bible is in Genesis 6:5-6 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” In these verses we are told that God also has a heart and that it is the source or you might say the motivation for his spiritual activity. The Hebrew word that is translated intention in Genesis 6:5, yetser (yayˊ-tser) has to do with creation and is figuratively thought of as conception. Yetser is derived from the word yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) which means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)” (H3335). A word that appears to be identical with yatsar means “to press (intransitive), i.e. be narrow; (figurative) be in distress” (H3334). The fact that the intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually after sin entered into the world indicates that the situation was hopeless. God wanted to give up on his creation (Genesis 6:6), but instead he started working out a way for people to be saved from the wickedness that is inherent in our fallen human nature.

The book of Job shows us that spiritual conflict is the result of Satan’s intervention in the lives of godly people. Although Job was described as “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8), God allowed Satan to afflict Job in order to prove that his devotion was sincere. During the process, Job’s friends tried to convince him that his wickedness was great and that he deserved to be punished (Job 22:1-11). Eliphaz the Temanite suggested to Job, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart” (Job 22:21-22). In his defense, Job stated:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
    and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
    he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
    What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
    and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
    when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
    nor because thick darkness covers my face.” (Job 23:8-17)

Job thought that God had made his heart faint and that the Almighty had terrified him (Job 23:16), but in actuality, it was Satan that was responsible for the tragedies that Job experienced (Job 1:13-19, 2:7). Job knew that he needed to keep God’s commandments and also said that he had stored up God’s word as if it was necessary for his continued existence (Job 23:12), but the result Job got from his effort was not what he expected (Job 24:22-25).

Psalm 37 offers advice to those of us that feel God has abandoned or rejected us even though we have been doing the right things. It states:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)

Putting our trust in the Lord is a part of the process that we go through to be saved. The Greek word peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over; to persuade,’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations” (G3982). The Greek word pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’” (G4100). “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God” (G3982).

Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates that trust is an activity of the heart. Solomon instructed us 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 acknowledge, yada (yaw-dahˊ) has to do with knowing someone both relationally and experientially. One of the most important uses of the word yada is “depicting God’s knowledge of people: The Lord knows their hearts entirely (Exodus 33:12; 2 Samuel 7:20; Psalm 139:4; Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea 5:3)” (H3045). Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees hearts caused him to rebuke them on numerous occasions. In one instance, Jesus indicated that they had committed an unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). Jesus asserted that the words we speak are an indicator of the condition of our hearts and said of the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).

The book of Hebrews reveals that the Israelites never entered into the kind of relationship that God wanted to have with them because their hearts were hardened (Hebrews 3:8-9). The term that was used to describe the condition of the Israelites’ hearts was an “unbelieving” heart (Hebrews 3:12). The Greek word that is translated harden in Hebrews 3:8 is skleruno (sklay-rooˊ-no). “This word stresses that the nape of the neck stiffens and thus renders the head in an unbending position” (G4645). This condition of the heart is illustrated in the Old Testament by Pharaoh who persistently refused to obey the LORD’s command to let his people go. It says in Exodus 7:13 that Pharaoh’s “heart was hardened.” “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Moses’ summarization of the Israelites’ forty year journey included some sharp rebukes because of their unbelief. Moses said:

“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:22-24)

Moses said that the Israelites did not believe or obey the voice of God indicating that there was not only a lack of faith on their part, but also a lack of reverence toward God and yet, Moses interceded on their behalf and asked the LORD to give them a second chance. Moses prayed, “Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness’” (Deuteronomy 9:27-28).

The prophet Ezekiel’s message from the LORD indicated that the only way the problem of the Israelites’ hardened hearts could be fixed was to give them a new heart. The LORD told Ezekiel:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.(Ezekiel 36:22-27)

The LORD said that the Israelites’ heart of stone would be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The Hebrew word that is translated stone in this verse is the same word that is used in Deuteronomy 10:1 in reference to the tablets of stone that God wrote the Ten Commandments on.

Moses’ account of the Israelites’ journey shifted dramatically from a materialistic perspective to a spiritual perspective when he started talking about the second writing of the Ten Commandments. Moses stated, “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandmentsthat the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me” (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Moses emphasized the fact that everything had been done just as it had been before and that God himself wrote on the tablets, “in the same writing” (Deuteronomy 10:4), meaning that it was God’s handwriting, signifying the legality of the documents. Moses went on to specify the terms of the contract that had just been ratified. Moses said:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Moses specified five things that the LORD required. First, the people were expected to fear or reverence the LORD, “whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Second, the people of Israel were expected to walk in all the ways of God, meaning that they were to exhibit a godly lifestyle, their behavior was supposed to be consistent with the God they served. Third, the Israelites were required to love God; they were expected to have a strong emotional attachment to him and have a desire to be in his presence. Fourth, the Israelites were required to serve the LORD with all their hearts and with all their souls. This meant that the people’s attention was to always be on the LORD and that he would be their number one priority in their daily lives. The final requirement that the people of Israel keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD was a matter of the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) being evidenced in their lives. Everything that the Lord required of Israel really boiled down to whether or not the people would actually put their trust in God and believe that he was going to do what he promised to.

The stone tablets that the Ten Commandments were written on were likely meant to be representative of the Israelites’ hardened hearts. The Hebrew word that is translated tablets in Deuteronomy 10:1, luach (looˊ-akh) is used in Jeremiah 17:1 where it says, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of a diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart.” The concept of the heart being a tablet that can be engraved upon also appears in the New Testament in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Paul compared the Ten Commandments to a letter from Christ that was written with the Spirit of the living God, suggesting that it was possible to engrave the word of God on the human heart in the same way that God wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. The key to this process being successful might be what Moses described as the circumcision of the heart.

After Moses talked about the requirements of God’s relationship with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:12-13), he said, “Behold to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:14-16). When Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their heart, he meant that they were to “remove the hardness and to love God” (H4135). This willful act was necessary to change the condition of the people’s hearts. Paul talked about the new life that believers are expected to live in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “put off the old self” and to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Greek word that is translated put off, apotithemi (ap-ot-eethˊ-ay-mee) is derived from the word apo (apoˊ) which means “off” (G575) and tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) which means “to put” (G5087). Tithemi is associated with appointment to any form of service. “Christ used it of His followers.” From that standpoint circumcision of the heart or putting off the old self could mean that believers are expected to cut off any activity or relationship that interferes with their worship and/or service of God.

According to Paul, in addition to putting off the old self, it is necessary for believers to put on the new self in order for them to be able to trust in the LORD with all their hearts (Proverbs 3:5). It could be that Proverbs 3:3 is a prescription for doing just that. It states, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Steadfast love and faithfulness are two of the primary characteristics of God that are evident in his work of salvation. The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…The Bible prominently uses the term chesed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within” (H2617). The Hebrew word ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth), which is translated faithfulness, means “stability” (H571) and is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ) which means to “believe.” (H539). Writing steadfast love and faithfulness on the tablet of our heart might mean that we commit to memory specific verses of the Bible that are relevant to these characteristics of God. At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:23-26)

The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us understand God’s word and to remind us of the things that we’ve learned about Jesus, but he can only do that if we are committing scriptures to memory, i.e. writing them on the tablets of our heart.

Believing

Jesus told his disciples on several different occasions that he would be killed and three days later rise again (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), and yet, after he was crucified, it appears that no one expected to ever see Jesus again. John’s gospel tells us, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:1-2). We aren’t told who the “they” was that Mary thought had taken the Lord’s body away, but it’s possible that she thought Jesus’ declaration that “they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:23, emphasis mine) meant that whoever killed Jesus would also after three days take his body away. Mary’s mental perception of the situation made her believe something that was incorrect, that someone had moved Jesus’ body. John went on to say:

So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20:3-9)

John tells us that he saw and believed. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:8 is different from the word that is translated saw in John 20:1 and also John 20:6. Mary perceived that the stone had been taken away from the tomb, but she didn’t know how it had happened. When he “saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7), Peter made a careful observation of the details and considered all the facts before coming to a conclusion. John, on the other hand, saw that Jesus’ body was no longer bound by the linen cloths and that the cloth that had been coving his face had been placed in a different location and even though he didn’t understand the Scripture; John believed that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:9).

The Greek word that is translated believed in John 20:8. pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” John’s assessment of the situation when he entered the empty tomb wasn’t necessarily based on what he saw, but what he didn’t see. Jesus’ body was definitely gone. Whereas, Mary concluded that because his body was gone, someone must have taken Jesus away, John believed that Jesus was alive again. “Pisteuo means not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’, etc” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis) which means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation…Pistis is conviction of the truth of anything, belief; of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined in it. It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ; to Christ with a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God” (G4102). Thus, it could be said that John not only saw and believed (John 20:8), but John saw and was saved.

The difference between what happened to the others and what happened to John when he entered the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was gone had to do with the way each person perceived the situation. John’s knowledge of what happened was affected by his close relationship with Jesus. John referred to himself as, “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2), indicating that there was affection and a personal attachment between Jesus and John. Peter’s denial of Jesus may have caused him to be detached or skeptical that Jesus still loved him. It’s possible that John wanted to see Jesus again, so much that he was willing to accept even the slightest evidence that he had indeed risen from the dead. What seemed to be obvious to John that was not to Mary or Peter was that the linen cloths had been left behind. If someone had moved Jesus’ body, it wouldn’t make sense for whoever did it to unwrap the dead body before taking it away. Likewise, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with the linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44). The fact that the linen cloths that had encased Jesus’ body were lying inside the tomb and the body wasn’t there made it seem as if Jesus’ body had disappeared into thin air.

Unbelievable things can and do happen. Whether you think of it as a miracle or just something that has never happened before, the fact that something appears to be impossible doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. In a similar sense, something that has actually happened may not be believed because it seems impossible. The many miracles that Jesus performed were intended to build his disciples confidence in his ability to do things that had either never happened before or were considered to be impossible from a human standpoint. When God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he did it through many signs and wonders (Exodus 7:3). Moses’ first encounter with God involved a great sight, a bush that was burning, but was not consumed (Exodus 3:2). When the LORD saw that Moses turned aside to see, “God called to him out of the bush” (Exodus 3:4). During the conversation that followed, God told Moses that he was going to give him powerful signs so that the people would believe that he had appeared to him. Exodus 4:1-9 states:

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

In spite of the many signs and wonders that God did, the Israelites didn’t believe that they could overcome the people that were dwelling in the land that God had promised to give them. The whole congregation grumbled against Moses and asked, “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3). After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, Moses encouraged the Israelites to believe they were finally ready to conquer the inhabitants of the land. Moses used the defeat of King Og as an example of their assured victory. Moses said:

“Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’So the Lord our God gave into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people, and we struck him down until he had no survivor left. And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder. So we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir), all the cities of the tableland and all Gilead and all Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. (For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit) (Deuteronomy 3:1-11)

Moses’ comment about all the cities that were destroyed being fortified with high walls, gates, and bars and the huge size of Og the king of Bashan was directly related to the report that was given when the land was spied out 40 years earlier (Numbers 13:26-33). Moses concluded his account with a reminder that he was being punished for the Israelites unbelief. Moses had pleaded with the LORD, saying, “Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon” (Deuteronomy 3:25)  But, Moses said, the LORD was angry with him because of the people’s lack of faith and would not listen to him (Deuteronomy 3:26).

The Hebrew word that is translated angry in Deuteronomy 3:26, ʿabar (aw-barˊ) means “to cross over” and is used very widely of any transition. The word ʿabar also “communicates the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of the wrong” (H5674). One way of looking at the LORD’s anger was that it was an indicator that Moses had gone too far. Moses was no longer capable of completing his assignment of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Rather than blaming his failure on the Israelites, it might be fair to say that Moses himself lacked faith when it came time for him to put his trust in Christ. The incident that caused Moses to be excluded from the Promised Land involved the glory of the LORD appearing to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:6) and an instruction from the LORD to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Numbers 20:8). According to 1 Corinthians 10:4, the Rock was Christ. The verse states regarding the Israelites, “All drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” After the incident, the LORD told Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

The connection between crossing over and believing in the Lord may be a matter of transitioning from the physical to the spiritual realm. Mary, who saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb (John 20:1) and came to the conclusion that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2) later came to the realization that the man she thought was the gardener was actually Jesus (John 20:16). The shift in Mary’s perception seemed to take place as a result of her hearing the Lord speak her name. John 20:11-18 states:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Mary saw Jesus standing before her, but she didn’t know that it was him at first. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:14 is the same word that John used to describe Peter’s investigation of the empty tomb (John 20:6-7). When Mary said, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), a different word was used. The Greek word horao (hor-ahˊ-o) does not emphasize the mere act of seeing, but the actual perception of some object…Particularly, to see God, meaning to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know His character…In a wider sense: to see God, i.e. to be admitted to his presence, to enjoy his fellowship and special favor” (G3708). Jesus emphasized in his conversation with the woman of Samaria that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Mary’s declaration, “I have seen the Lord (John 20:18) was an act of worship and evidence that she had transitioned from relying on her physical perception to the use of spiritual discernment.

The Apostle Thomas’ refusal to believe unless he saw the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and placed his hand into his side (John 20:25) makes it clear to us that we can choose to believe or not believe if we want to. Jesus came to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). The Greek word that is translated disbelieve, apistos (apˊis-tos) is spoken of things “incredible, unbelievable” and is also spoken of persons who withhold belief or are “incredulous, distrustful” (G571). In Thomas’ case it meant that he had not yet been saved. Thomas’ response indicates that he did put his trust in the Lord (John 20:28). Jesus asked Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen (horao) me?” (John 20:29). I think what Jesus meant by that question was that faith is not a result of physical evidence and so Thomas didn’t need to put his finger in Jesus’ hands or place his hand into the hole in Jesus’ side in order to put his trust in him. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

John stated that the purpose of his gospel was “so that you may believe” (John 20:31). John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John identified the essential truth that you need to believe in order to receive salvation, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The reason why John zeroed in on this one critical point was because if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, nothing else matters. The Apostle Paul explains this further in Romans chapter eight where he says that salvation is dependent upon us being a member of God’s family and receiving our inheritance through Christ. Paul said, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—of God and fellow heirs with Christ…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:3-29).

Secret mission

Nehemiah’s position as Artaxerxes’ cup bearer gave him unique access to the king of Persia. About 13 years after Ezra was sent to repopulate the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah discovered that the mission was unsuccessful and God’s people were unable to regain the glory they had once experienced in the great city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was devastated by the news and showed visible signs of his distress when he appeared before the king. Artaxerxes questioned Nehemiah, asking him, “Why is thy countenance sad seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (Nehemiah 2:2). The king’s observation of Nehemiah’s sadness and sorrow of heart wasn’t meant to be an expression of care or concern, but rather an objection to Nehemiah’s distraction from his work. Nehemiah was responsible for the king’s welfare and needed to be completely focused on what he was doing. In the moment, when Nehemiah was confronted about his bad behavior, it says in Nehemiah 2:4 that he “prayed to the God of heaven.”

Nehemiah’s sorrow of heart was due to his realization that God’s people were still reaping the consequences of their rebellion against God. Even though they had physically returned to the Promised Land, the Jews still appeared to be spiritually separated from the LORD. As a result of his prayer to God, Nehemiah was prompted to ask Artaxerxes to send him to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s walls. Nehemiah also asked for an armed escort to go with him, most likely because he wanted the people of the surrounding nations to believe that he was on a mission for the king. Initially, Nehemiah decided to keep the purpose of his mission a secret. It says in Nehemiah 2:12, “And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.”

Nehemiah’s inspection of the city gates at night indicated his secrecy was probably due to suspicious activity within the Jewish population. It could have been that some of the Jews were cooperating with Israel’s enemies in exchange for special treatment or political favors. Nehemiah had received instructions from the LORD, and yet, he was reluctant to share the information with anyone else. Perhaps, Nehemiah’s greatest concern was that he would be unable to convince the Jews that God wanted to help them and would protect them if they once again put their trust him. The key issue Nehemiah had to deal with was the people’s unbelief. What God had put in Nehemiah’s heart would no doubt require their faith and the belief that Israel’s Messiah would eventually come to Jerusalem, just as God had promised. When Nehemiah finally revealed his secret mission, the Jews responded positively. It says in Nehemiah 2:18, “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.”

Whose side are you on?

The prophet Jonah’s ministry to the city of Nineveh made it clear that God’s mercy was not limited to the Israelites (Jonah 3:10). Even though the book of Jonah seems to end without an answer to the question, was the Ninevites repentance sincere? Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s eventual destruction of the Assyrian empire indicates its capital, Nineveh only received a temporary reprieve and would one day experience God’s judgment for their wicked behavior along with the rest of the world.

Describing God’s overthrow of Assyria, Isaiah declared, “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders” (Isaiah 14:24-25). As Sennacherib king of Assyria approached Jerusalem and threatened its destruction, it must have seemed to king Hezekiah that God had changed his mind and would allow Assyria to continue its conquest of the world.

After hearing of Sennacherib’s threat, Hezekiah sent Eliakim, Shebna, “and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blashphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring them forth” (Isaiah 37:2-3). King Hezekiah knew that Sennacherib was right about his ability to defeat Jerusalem. It was only a matter of time before he would break down the city walls and take the people into captivity.

Isaiah assured Hezekiah that God would not allow Sennacherib to carry out his threat, but Hezekiah’s confidence was shaken when he received a second message from Sennacherib’s servant Rabshakeh.

Let not thy God, in whom thou trustiest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. (Isaiah 37:10,14)

Hezekiah’s action of spreading or displaying the letter before the LORD was similar to presenting evidence. Hezekiah was making a case that Sennacherib had accused God of lying. In Hezekiah’s opinion, Sennacherib had gone too far and God needed to do something about it. As a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God did more than just stop the Assyrians from attacking Jerusalem. It says in Isaiah 37:36, “Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses”.