Escalation

The Israelites crossing of the Jordan River initiated a series of military conflicts that escalated over time. At first, the people of Canaan hunkered down and waited for the Israelites to attack them (Joshua 6:1), but as time went on, the kings of the nations joined forces and waged war against Israel (Joshua 9:1-2). Joshua 11:1-5 tells us:

When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

Joshua described the armies that were coming together to fight against Israel as “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4). We know that Joshua was afraid because the LORD said to him, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel” (Joshua 11:6).

Joshua and all his warriors came against the great horde that was encamped against them suddenly and fell upon them (Joshua 11:7). The way that Joshua dealt with the situation was to launch an immediate attack with the intention of overthrowing his enemies as quickly as possible. His strategy was consistent with the message he received from the LORD, indicating that Joshua believed what the LORD had told him. “And the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. And Joshua did to them just as the LORD said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 8-10). Unlike the battle of Jericho, the Israelites had to engage in hand to hand combat when they attacked the great horde that came up against them in order to overthrow their enemies. The key thing to note was that even though their opponents’ army was “in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4), “they struck them until he left none remaining” (Joshua 11:8). Afterward, there was no one left in the enemy’s army.

The relief that the Israelites felt as a result of the great horde of soldiers being completely wiped out is captured in Psalm 149. It states:

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
    let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
    making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
    he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
    let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
    and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
    and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
    This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

The Israelites’ excitement caused them to want to spontaneously praise the LORD, sing to the LORD, be glad, dance, and make melodies to him with their musical instruments. The people of Israel were literally overjoyed because of the great victory they had gained over their enemies.

A statement that is made in the middle of Psalm 149 emphasizes the connection between warfare and worship of God. Psalms 149:6 states, “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands.” The word of God is likened to a two-edged sword in Hebrews 4:12, which states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The writer of Hebrews went on to connect God’s word with judgment by stating, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). The two-edged sword is also used symbolically in the book of Revelation to depict Christ’s gospel (Revelation 1:16). It says in Revelation 19:15 that Christ’s sword will be used to “strike down the nations.” With this in mind, it seems that Psalm 149:6 might by referring to spiritual warfare rather than physical warfare, but it is more than likely both. The psalmist continued, “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 149:6-9). These verses correlate with God’s stated purpose for the Israelites entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 9:4-6) and the outcome of the Israelites’ battles with the armies of the northern kingdoms (11:16-20). The final statement, “This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 149:9) indicates that our desire to praise God is linked to the effect that a victory over our enemies has on us personally.

God’s use of his saints to execute judgment on the people of the world that had rejected him is said to have resulted in “honor for all his godly ones” (Psalm 149:9). The Hebrew word that is translated honor in Psalm 149:9, hadar (haw-dawrˊ) means “magnificence” and is a counterpart to Hebrew words for “glory” and “dignity.” “Thus hadar means not so much overwhelming beauty as a combination of physical attractiveness and social position” (H1926). One of the things that honor is associated with in the Bible is weight. The Hebrew word kabed (kaw-badeˊ) means “to be heavy” (H3513) and is translated honor in the Fifth Commandment which states, “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). The idea behind the Bible’s concept of honor was likely precious metals which were valued by their weight and were an indicator of wealth. Therefore, the more honor a person received, the heavier he was considered to be from a measurement perspective.

Psalm 149:4 explains that the way God bestows honor on his people is through salvation. It states, “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he adorns the humble with salvation.” The Hebrew word that is translated adorns, paʾar (pawˊ-ar) means to beautify or to embellish. In a figurative sense paʾar can mean “to boast” (H6286). Salvation was initially a way for God to differentiate between the Israelites, his chosen people, and everyone else. God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was considered to be salvation in a similar way to what we think of it because it kept the descendants of Jacob from becoming extinct as a people group. “’Salvation’ in the Old Testament is not understood as a salvation from sin, since the word denotes broadly anything from which ‘deliverance’ must be sought: distress, war, servitude, or enemies…The worst reproach that could be made against a person was that God did not come to his rescue” (H3444). The fact that God adorns only the humble with salvation has to do with the way that he works in people’s lives. The primary root of the Hebrew word that is translated humble is ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) which means “to be afflicted, be bowed down, be humbled, be meek…Frequently the verb expresses the idea that God sends affliction for disciplinary purposes” (H6031). ʿAnah is identical with ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) which is properly translated as “to eye or (generally) to heed, i.e. pay attention; by implication to respond; by extension to begin to speak; specifically to sing, shout, testify, announce” (H6030).

God often escalates the conflict or affliction in our lives in order to draw us closer to him. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul spoke of an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison that believers are being prepared for through affliction. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated glory, doxa (doxˊ-ah) is where the English word doxology comes from. “Doxa, ‘glory’ primarily signifies an opinion, estimate, and hence, the honor resulting from a good opinion” (G1391). An example of this expression is the saying, “He’s worth his weight in gold.” “This refers to a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something. A person’s doxa (G1391) may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error [except when used of Jesus]. It always signifies a subjective estimate of a thing, not the objective appearance and qualities the thing actually possesses” (G1380). The point that Paul was likely trying to make when he said that our eternal weight of glory would be beyond all comparison was that our reputation in heaven would be blown way out of proportion, extremely overstated, compared to our actual accomplishments on earth, because of God’s grace and mercy in our lives (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Joshua 11:21-23 tells us:

And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Joshua was credited with cutting off the Anakim from the hill country and taking the whole land even though he likely had little to no direct involvement in determining these outcomes. When the situation escalated and a great horde of troops encamped to fight against Israel (Joshua 11:4-5), the LORD told Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel” (Joshua 11:6). The LORD indicated that he would give over all of them, slain, to Israel. In other words, the LORD was going to kill everyone and then, transfer possession of the dead bodies from his army to Joshua’s, so that, essentially, Joshua didn’t have to do anything except show up for the battle. Afterward, Joshua recorded, “And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan…in all, thirty-one kings” (Joshua 12:7-24). The reason why Joshua was able to take credit for the defeat of the thirty-one kings on the west side of the Jordan was because his army was present when the LORD’s spiritual battles were taking place.

The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into what will take place when the world’s rebellion against God escalates into a final conflict referred to as the battle of Armageddon. Similar to the war between Israel’s army and the kingdoms of the north, the kings of the earth and their armies will gather together to fight against the LORD. The scene begins with the entrance of a rider on a white horse. John says:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)

We know the rider on the white horse is Jesus because he is called “The Word of God” and “He is clothed in a robe dipped inblood” (Revelation 19:13). At this point, Jesus has returned to earth in his resurrected body and brings with him the armies of heaven who are “arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” (Revelation 19:14). “Their robes of white indicate this to be the redeemed church—bride of Christ—returning in triumph with her heavenly Bridegroom (cf. 19:8; 17:14)” (note on Revelation 19:14, KJSB), who are prepared to fight with the Lord.

The most interesting thing about the battle of Armageddon is that no fighting actually takes place. John’s account of the battle indicates that the beast and the false prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse” (Revelation 19:20-21). The Word of God, Jesus was able to kill outright those who were gathered to make war against him. Zechariah’s prophecy provides more detail about what happens to the people that are slain. Zechariah states, “And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths” (Zechariah 14:12). Zechariah describes what happens as a plague and says that their flesh, eyes, and tongue will rot away. The Hebrew word that is translated rot, maqaq (maw-kakˊ) means “to melt; figuratively to flow, dwindle, vanish” (H4743). The power that is displayed by the Word of God (Jesus) is His ability to dissolve that which exists in the material world.

The LORD’s instruction to Joshua when he was confronted by a great horde of troops that was “in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4) was “Do not be afraid of them” (Joshua 11:6). “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Proverbs 23:17-18 provides an explanation of why Joshua’s trust needed to remain in the LORD when the situation he was dealing with escalated to the point that he was willing to accept defeat. It states:

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

In this instance, the phrase all the day has to do with a period of time of unspecified duration (H3117). It could be an entire lifetime or a season of testing or the length of a specific trial you are going through. The Hebrew word that is translated future, ʾachariyth (akh-ar-eethˊ) means “the last or end” and may refer to the outcome of something (H319). The statement “your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18) is intended to reflect God’s involvement in the lives of believers. Hope is an important aspect of faith or believing in Christ. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). The Hebrew word that is translated hope in Proverbs 23:18, tiqvâh (tik-vawˊ) literally means “a cord (as an attachment)” (H8615) and is comparable to the word qaveh (kaw-vehˊ) which refers to “a (measuring) cord (as if for binding)” (H6961). Figuratively, tiqvâh is used to refer to expectancy in the sense that you are attached to an outcome and you believe that it is only a matter of time until you achieve it. In Jacob’s case, God told him “tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel.” Joshua had to adjust his thinking and do his part in order for this to happen. Joshua 11:7-8 tells us, “So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining.”

A spiritual journey

The nation of Israel began with a single act of obedience that set in motion a mass relocation of millions of people that were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; who was given the name Israel after he prevailed against God in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:24-30). Like their ancestor Abraham whom God commanded to leave his country (Genesis 12:1), the Israelites were told to leave their homes in Egypt and travel to a land that they had never seen before. Exodus 12:37-38 states, “And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude went with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.” The Hebrew word that is translated journeyed, nasa (naw-sehˊ) means “to pull up, especially the tent-pins, i.e. start on a journey” (H5265). One year after the Israelites left Egypt, “the tabernacle was erected” (Exodus 40:17) and Exodus 40:34-38 tells us:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

The Hebrew word that is translated journeys in Exodus 40:38, maççaʿ (mas-sahˊ) is derived from the word nasa and means “a departure (from striking the tents), i.e. march (not necessarily a single day’s travel); by implication a station (or point of departure)” (H4550).

In Exodus 40:38, it says that “the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated sight, ʿayin (ahˊ-yin) has to do with perception and more specifically with the processing of information through the physical senses. In Exodus 40:38, ʿayin refers to the physical perception of God’s will for the people of Israel. In the Hebrew language, “eyes” were used “figuratively of mental and spiritual abilities, acts and states” (H5869). It is likely that the sight that Moses was referring to was connected to both the physical and spiritual realms. The cloud and the fire were physical manifestations of a spiritual entity, namely the preincarnate Jesus Christ (notes on Exodus 3:2 and 13:21, KJSB).

Jesus associated his body with the temple that was located in Jerusalem during his ministry on earth. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus cleansed the temple and afterward the Jews asked him for a sign of his authority to do such a thing. John recorded:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The metaphor of the temple being Jesus’ body was meant to illustrate how the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would replicate in the lives of believers the Israelites journey through the wilderness. The Apostle Paul touched on this in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul asked, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Paul went on to explain in his letter to the Hebrews that the correlation between the tent of meeting that the Israelites used to worship God and the believer’s body was that they both foreshadowed the perfect union with God that Jesus made possible through his death, burial, and resurrection. Hebrews 8:1-7 states:

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

Paul’s reference to the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (Hebrews 8:2) had to do with the eternal nature of believers’ resurrected bodies. Paul indicated that Jesus’ New Covenant was enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6), meaning that the power behind the promises was capable of doing more than before i.e. conquering the physical and spiritual death that affects the lives of human beings once and for all.

Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, made a statement in his final speech before he was stoned to death that might be overlooked if you weren’t aware of the details of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land. Stephen said, “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen” (Acts 7:44). The tent of witness is mentioned in Revelation 15:5-8 where it says that John looked, “and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” According to Stephen’s testimony, the tent of witness in the wilderness was made according to the pattern of the tent of witness in heaven that was connected with the final judgment of the world. The Greek word that is translated witness, maturion (mar-tooˊ-ree-on) is being used in this instance as a designation of the Mosaic tabernacle being evidence of the existence of the tabernacle in heaven (G3142). In other words, we know that the tent of witness in heaven exists because the Mosiac tabernacle was a replica of it.

In the same way that the tent of witness in the wilderness was evidence that a tent of witness exists in heaven, so was Jesus’ physical presence on earth evidence that God exists and that he is currently residing in heaven. Jesus told his followers that he would go back to heaven after his death and would prepare a place there for them so that they could live with him there. Jesus said:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:1-11)

Jesus’ explanation that whoever had seen him had seen the Father was based on the fact that he and his Father were one person and could not be distinguished from each other from a physical perspective. The difference between Jesus and his Father was that they existed in two separate locations and were therefore distinct individuals that were identified as the Father and the Son. One way of understanding the trinity of God is to look at it in the same way that we do substances like water that change or you might say adapt to their environment. When you heat water to a certain temperature, it becomes vapor. When you cool water down to a certain temperature, it becomes ice. In the spiritual realm, God exists in a spiritual form. In the physical realm, God exists in a physical form. The physical form of God is the person we know as Jesus Christ. No other physical form of God exists, but there is a spiritual form of God this is not the same as Jesus because the spiritual form of God does not have human characteristics.

In order for us to connect with God, to have a relationship with him, we must enter into the spiritual realm. In his conversation with a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:3). Jesus also told a Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers of God will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

Everything that the Israelites did after they left Egypt was designed to bring them closer to God. The tabernacle in particular was intended to give the Israelites a materialistic view of God’s plan of redemption and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). In other words, there wouldn’t have been a Savior of the World if the Jews hadn’t become God’s chosen people and produced the physical heir to God’s kingdom on earth. The primary connection the Jews had with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was the annual Passover celebration that was instituted the night they fled from Egypt (Exodus 12:50). The second Passover celebration occurred just before the Israelites left the wilderness of Sinai. Numbers 9:1-3 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.”

The Israelites were commanded to “keep the Passover at its appointed time” and “according to all its statutes and all its rules” (Numbers 2-3). The Hebrew words that are translated appointed time and according to all its statutes have to do with the synchronization of physical and spiritual activities and indicate that the Israelites were focusing on God and their relationship with Him (H4150). Numbers 10:11-13 tells us:

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses.

The phrase set out by stages (Numbers 10:12) contains two Hebrew words that specify a journey was about to begin and the phrase they set out for the first time indicates that this was a new experience for the Israelites. What was different about this setting out as opposed to the Israelites’ departure from Egypt (Exodus 12:37) was that the tabernacle of the testimony was with them (Numbers 10:11).

Paul connected the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, which were identified as God’s testimony (H5715), with the doctrines of Jesus (G3142). Paul encouraged his spiritual son Timothy not to be ashamed of his testimony about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Paul said:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12)

Paul talked about the testimony being “manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10). The Greek word that is translated manifested, phaneroo (fan-er-oˊ-o) means “to render apparent…as opposed to what is concealed and invisible…Phaneroo is thought to describe an external manifestation, to the senses hence open to all, single or isolated” (G5319). Epiphaneia (ep-if-anˊ-i-ah), which is translated appearing, refers to “the advent of Christ” (G2015).

Paul told Timothy to “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). It is important to note that at the time that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, Paul’s spiritual journey on earth was coming to a conclusion. The book of 2 Timothy was written by Paul from a prison in Rome. “Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to The Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Later in his letter, Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Paul’s instruction to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14) had to do with a spiritual gift that Paul wanted Timothy to “fan into flame” (2 Timothy 1:6). It seems that Paul thought of Timothy’s spiritual gift as being similar to the appearance of fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness. It says in Numbers 9:15-18:

Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents. At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the Lord they would camp; as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained encamped. (NKJV)

The Greek word that is translated fan into flame in 2 Timothy 1:6, anazopureo (an-ad-zo-poor-ehˊ-o) “as a verb, denotes ‘to kindle afresh’ or ‘keep in full flame’… (2 Timothy 1:6, where ‘the gift of God’ is regarded as a fire capable of dying out through neglect)” (G329). The message that Paul was trying to get across to Timothy was that you have to keep the Holy Spirit active in your life in order to successfully complete your spiritual journey.

Substitution

Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was based on a spiritual principle that was established when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. It states in Numbers 3:11-13:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.”

The LORD told Moses that he had taken the Levites instead of the firstborn of the people of Israel who had been consecrated to him when he spared them from the plague that killed every firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 11:7).

The process of consecration enabled people and things that were unholy to become holy. “The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they become holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)” (H6942). The first occurrence in the Bible of God making something holy was the seventh day. It says in Genesis 2:3, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The King James Version of the Bible uses the word sanctified to describe what God did to make the seventh day holy. God told the Israelites, “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).

Sanctification is the ultimate goal and ideal state of everyone and everything that is connected with God. The problem is that it is not the natural state of human beings because of their sin nature. Paul dealt with this problem in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul stated:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 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 has 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.

The Greek word that is translated reconcile in this passage, apokatallasso (ap-ok-at-al-lasˊ-so) means to reconcile fully. “This word means to change from one condition to another so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace and is used in Ephesians 2:16, of the ‘reconciliation’ of believing Jew and Gentile in one body unto God through the cross” (G604).

Spiritual rebirth involves two actions that work together to produce a single effect. “The new birth and regeneration do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience, they refer to the same event but view it in different aspects. The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old…Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparations for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainosis, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824). “Palingenesis (G3824) stresses the new birth; whereas, anakainosis stresses the process of sanctification” (G342).

Both aspects of spiritual rebirth were demonstrated through the Levites substitution for the firstborn of the people of Israel. The LORD instructed Moses, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:6-7). Bringing the tribe of Levi near and setting them before Aaron was similar to the paliggenesia in that the Levites had nothing to do with God selecting them from among the other tribes to be his servants. The Hebrew word that is translated set, amad (aw-madˊ) means to stand. “Such standing is not just standing still doing nothing but includes all that one does in ministering before God (Numbers 16:9)…The verb can suggest ‘immovable,’ or not being able to be moved…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). When the Levites were set before Aaron, they were to a certain extent translated into God’s eternal kingdom and became his spiritual agents among the other tribes of Israel. Anakainosis or regeneration has to do with an individual becoming adapted to God’s spiritual kingdom. The Levites demonstrated this through their ministry of guarding over Aaron and the whole congregation which required them to focus their attention on the well-being of others rather than themselves.

The Hebrew words that are translated minister in Numbers 3:6-7, ʿabad (aw-badˊ) and abodah (ab-o-dawˊ) refer to work of any kind. The LORD assigned the Levites specific duties. (Numbers 3-4). It was the Levites’ job to take care of all of the furnishings of the tabernacle and to move them from place to place as the people of Israel traveled through the desert. The Levites’ responsibility of keeping guarding over Aaron and the whole congregation meant that they had to act as sentries and had to maintain the security of the camp. If there was an attack, the Levites’ were expected to warn others and to potentially put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the tabernacle’s valuable furnishings. The Levites’ service wasn’t voluntary and so to a certain extent they were like slaves, but there is no indication that they resented or rebelled against their substitution for the firstborn among the people of Israel.

The Levites’ were numbered according to a different standard than the rest of the tribes of Israel. Moses was instructed, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers’ houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list” (Numbers 3:15). The other tribes of Israel were listed according to the number of men “from twenty years old and upward” who were able to go to war (Numbers 1:3). The reason for this distinction was because the Levites were exempt from military service. It was determined that “all those listed among the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the LORD, by clans, all males from a month old and upward, were 22,000” (Numbers 3:39). “And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273” (Numbers 3:43). The excess of 273 persons was dealt with through the process of redemption. Numbers 3:44-49 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekelsper head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs), and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.” So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites.

The 273 firstborn of the people of Israel who were over and above those that were redeemed by the Israelites’ through substitution still had to be accounted for. A redemption price had to be paid for them in order for them to be excused from service. The Hebrew word that is translated redemption price, paduwy (paw-dooˊ-ee) is derived from the word padah (paw-dawˊ) which means “’to redeem, ransom.’ Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…The word is connected with the laws of the firstborn. As a reminder of slaying all the Egyptian firstborn but sparing the Israelites, God retained an eternal claim on the life of all Israelite firstborn males, both of men and cattle. The latter were often sacrificed, ‘but all the firstborn of my children I redeem’ (Exodus 13:15). God accepted the separation of the tribe of Levi for liturgical service in lieu of all Israelite firstborn (Numbers 3:40ff.). However, the Israelite males still had to be ‘redeemed’ (padah) from this service by payment of specified ‘redemption money’ (Numbers 3:44-51)” (H6299).

“In the time of the patriarchs, the firstborn son had a position of special honor and responsibility in the family structure. God proclaimed Israel to be his firstborn (Exodus 4:22). All the firstborn sons of the Israelites were to be sanctified unto the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 11-16; 22:29)” (note on Numbers 3:12, 13). Jesus’ high priestly prayer shortly before his death included a section that addressed the sanctification of his followers. Jesus told his Father:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify themin the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself,that they also may be sanctifiedin truth. (John 17:14-19)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated consecrate, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to consecrate, devote, set apart from a common use to a sacred use since in the Jewish ritual, this was one great objective of the purifications…Spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will (John 10:36, ‘whom the father consecrated and sent into the world’ [ESV]; 17:17, ‘Sanctify them in [or in the promulgation of] thy truth’ [cf. John 17:18, 19])” (G37). Jesus indicated that believers are sanctified in truth. According to the definition of hagiazo, that meant that sanctification was a direct result of preaching the gospel.

Drawing on the parallel of Jesus’ death on the cross to the animal sacrifices that were made for the Israelites, the book of Hebrews points out that the only way sanctification can occur is through the shedding of blood. Hebrews 13:10-16 states:

We have an altar from which those who serve the tenthave no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The connection between sanctification and the offering up of a sacrifice of praise to God is evident in the definition of the Hebrew word ʿabad (aw-badˊ) which is translated as service in Numbers chapters three and four. “When the focus of the labour is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him. Moreover, in these cases, the word does not have the connotations of toilsome labour but instead of a joyful experience of liberation (Exodus 3:12; 4:23; 7:16; Joshua 24:15, 18)” (H5647).

Psalm 134 reflects this kind of experience and is identified as a psalm of ascents indicating that it was sung at the beginning of the worship services at the temple. It states:

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the Lord!

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

The reference to standing by night in the house of the LORD was most likely associated with the Levites’ service of guarding the tabernacle. The Hebrew word that is translated stand in Psalm 134:1 is the same word that was used in Numbers 3:6 to indicate that the tribe of Levi was set before or designated to minister before God (H5975). The exchange of blessings in verses two and three of Psalm 134 suggests that there was a reciprocal action going on between those who blessed the LORD and those who were blessed by the LORD. We know from the prophecy of Micah that Zion will be the location of Jesus’ headquarters during his millennial reign (Micah 4:7-8). Therefore, it seems likely that the LORD’s servants will be rewarded for their service during that time period.

Jesus told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). A short while later, James and John asked for the privilege of sitting one at Jesus’ right hand and the other at his left in his kingdom (Matthew 20:21). The other ten disciples were indignant and so “Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The Greek word that is translated ransom, lutron (looˊ-tron) refers to a redemption price and literally means “‘loosing money,’ i.e. price paid for redeeming captives” (G3083). Jesus gave his life in exchange for our freedom from the bondage of sin and death. The substitution that was made had to do with “the soul, the immaterial part of man held in common with animals…his spiritual and immortal nature with its higher and lower powers, its rational and natural faculties…that which strictly belongs to the person himself” (G5590).

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains how the substitutionary death of Jesus makes us free from sin and death. Paul wrote:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old selfwas crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11).

Paul indicated that the substitutionary process that resulted in believers being baptized into Christ’s death in order to be redeemed by his blood also produced a reciprocal result of them being able to walk in newness of life. Paul explained this transaction further in his second letter to the Corinthians and in his letter to the Galatians. Paul said, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Temptation

Paul compared the Corinthian believers to the Israelites that wandered in the wilderness for 40 years in order to illustrate their need for spiritual nourishment. Paul said that the Israelites “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthian 10:3-4, ESV). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their spiritual health was dependent upon a regular intake of spiritual food. Paul’s declaration that Christ was the Rock that provided water was based on Jesus’ statement to a Samaritan woman that he met at a well. He told her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14, ESV). Jesus went on to explain that we obtain our spiritual nourishment through worshipping God. He said, ” But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV).

Paul talked about the Israelites’ being tempted in the wilderness and said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11, ESV). Paul may have wanted to stress the importance of the time period in which he lived by describing it as “the end of the ages.” What Paul was referring to was the culmination or end result of God’s work of saving his chosen people. Although the age of God’s grace has been going on now for more than 2000 years, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was a single event that marked the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites to give them a Messiah. Therefore, Paul warned the Corinthians to not take for granted their spiritual health. He stated, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Paul was probably focusing his attention on the Corinthian Jews in particular when he talked about being tempted to ignore the gift of salvation that Jesus had made available to them. The Greek words translated stand and fall in 1 Corinthians 10:12 likely have something to do with the Israelites’ status as God’s chosen people. Stands or histemi in the Greek is comparable to the word tithemi (tith’-ay-mee) which was used by Peter to refer to unbelieving Israel (1 Peter 2:8). What seems clear from Paul’s discussion of temptation was that it was related to spiritual health. Paul stated, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you to be tempted beyond your ability; but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV). The phrase “beyond your ability” refers to spiritual strength that can be attained through spiritual exercise or as an inherited trait. To be able to do something means that you have the power to accomplish it. Paul concluded his lesson on temptation with this admonition, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). In other words, don’t do things that you obviously know are wrong.

The new temple (part 6)

According to Ezekiel’s vision, in the center of the temple courtyard there stood an altar on which sacrifices were to be made. Since the period of grace began, after Jesus’s death and resurrection took place, it has seemed as if sacrifices are no longer necessary. What we can assume from the appearance of an altar in the new temple is that there will come a time when salvation by grace will no longer be available to mankind. In other words, God’s law will once again be the standard by which all men will be judged (Ezekiel 43:27). Although Jesus’ death paid the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed, our ability to claim that payment and apply it to our spiritual account has an expiration date, the day he establishes his kingdom on earth.

During Christ’s millennial reign on earth, a new world order will exist that requires submission to God’s will. Obedience to God’s laws will no longer be optional. If you can image a kingdom in which there will be no sins committed against God, you will understand that God’s sovereignty has never been forced upon man up to this time. Free will represents the ability man has to rebel against God. There will come a time when man’s free will is exempted and God’s grace will cease to exist in the sense that it can no longer be claimed in lieu of obedience to the law. Therefore, sacrifices will be made to God just as they were when the first temple was built by king Solomon. At that time, the celebration of feasts signified a right relationship between God and his people. In the future, that relationship will be restored and it will cause the people to do what was never possible before, live according to God’s commandments.

A glimpse into this future new world order is given in Hebrews 13:10-21. It says:

We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burnt without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you sooner. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The new temple (part 1)

Ezekiel was taken to the site of a new temple after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. The purpose of the visit was for Ezekiel to see and record the floor plan for a restored place of worship for God’s people. It was evident that God wanted his people to know exactly what the temple would look like because a man whose appearance was described as “like the appearance of brass” (Ezekiel 40:3) took great pains to measure every detail of the structure. Ezekiel was told to set his heart upon all that he was shown. In other words, he was told to pay close attention and not to miss any of the specifications that were pointed out to him.

The first aspect of the new temple Ezekiel was shown was the eastern entrance to a courtyard that consisted of a gate, steps, a porch, and chambers or alcoves in which guards could rest. No doubt, the eastern gate would have been where the general public entered the temple. Along with the dimensions of the chambers, Ezekiel was told “between the little chambers were five cubits” (Ezekiel 40:7) or spaces approximately nine feet wide. There is no indication why the chambers were spaced out in such a way, but it is possible the spaces in between the chambers were designed for storage or a place to hold prisoners.

One of the things known about the new temple Ezekiel was shown is that it was never built. After the Israelites returned from captivity, the temple built by Zerubbabel was built by a different specification and so was the temple built by Herod, which was the one standing at the time of Jesus’ birth. There is no reference in Ezekiel’s vision as to when the temple he saw was to be built, but it could be that it will be in use during the millennial reign of Christ. An indicator of this is the type of measure Ezekiel used in his measurements, a long or royal cubit, approximately 20.4 inches in length.

The curious nature of the new temple’s design may be due to its representation of spiritual concepts that have yet to be introduced into God’s kingdom. For instance, the integration of Jews and Gentiles into a single worship system as well as the mixture of resurrected and unresurrected persons into kingdom activities. The only way to tell the real significance of Ezekiel’s new temple may be in the timing of his vision. It says in Ezekiel 40:1, “In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither.”

All the dates in the book of Ezekiel are reckoned from the 597 exile. The Hebrew New Year festival known as Rosh Hashanah would have been taking place at the time of Ezekiel’s vision, had the people not been in captivity. More than likely, the vision was a reminder that God’s worship system remained in tact and was still active in spite of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that was built there. Perhaps, the introduction of the new temple at that time; April 28, 573 B.C. was a sign that God’s calendar of events was being set in motion and would conclude at the appointed time, the start of millennial reign of Christ.

Spiritual reform

Hezekiah’s intentional effort to revive his nation’s worship system began immediately after he became king of Judah. It says in 2 Chronicles 29:3, “He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.” During his father Ahaz’s reign, idolatry had replaced worship of the LORD and the temple of God had been desecrated by foreigners (2 Kings 16:17-18). Hezekiah took responsibility for his nation’s spiritual reform and acted quickly to make things right again.

Hezekiah saw the connection between Judah’s trouble and the neglect of God’s temple. Hezekiah’s personal commitment to the LORD resulted n a national revival at a time when there was little to no interest in God’s blessing (2 Chronicles 30:10). Much of what Hezekiah did could be attributed to supernatural circumstances or divine intervention. After the temple was restored to daily activity, it was noted that it happened suddenly, as if in the blink of an eye (2 Chronicles 29:36).

The primary focus of Hezekiah’s spiritual reform was restoration of the Passover celebration. The Passover was key to the Israelites relationship with God because it not only represented their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, but also signified their forgiveness of sin. The Day of Atonement was a national celebration in which the priest made reconciliation in order to atone for the sins of all Israel (2 Chronicles 29:34). The sacrifice literally wiped the slate clean for the entire nation in a single moment.

The positive effect of having their sins forgiven resulted in the people of Judah giving generously to support the priest and Levites who served in the temple. It says in 2 Chronicles 31:5, “as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.” The people brought so much stuff to the temple that it took four months to process and store their offerings (2 Chronicles 31:7).

Hezekiah’s spiritual reform shows that the kings influence had a significant impact on the people. His actions were described as “that which was good and right and truth before the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 31:20). But, perhaps the best testimony to Hezekiah’s positive spiritual example was the condition of his heart. It says in 2 Chronicles 31:21, “in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart.”

Escape clause

The punishment Amos predicted was a complete destruction of the nation of Israel. He said, “Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise” (Amos 5:1). A lamentation is a chant or wail that occurs at a funeral. Amos was speaking as if the judgment had already been decided and there was no chance of escaping it, but God intended to preserve a remnant of the nation.

According to Amos, ten percent of the people would survive (Amos 5:3). What this meant was that at an individual level there was a type of escape clause in God’s punishment that enabled an Israelite to remain alive even though the nation of Israel would not longer exist. Amos stated, “For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, seek ye me, and ye shall live” (Amos 5:4).

The Hebrew word translated house, bayith (bah´ – yith) refers to a family or a household. It can also designate a “fixed, established structure made from some kind of material” (1004) such as a home. Similar to when the Israelites celebrated the Passover in Egypt and were exempted from the plague that killed all the first born males, each household that sought God’s mercy would be kept alive.

One of the things that Amos made clear was that the punishment of Israel’s sin was coming directly from God. Amos declared, “Therefore the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord, saith thus; wailing shall be in all streets; and they shall say in all the highways, alas! alas! And they shall call the husbandman to mourning, and such as are skillful of lamentation to wailing. And in all vineyard shall be wailing: for I will pass through thee, saith the LORD” (Amos 5:16-17).

A significant problem that existed in Israel was false worship. By that I mean worship that had nothing to do with having a relationship with God. The goal of worship was supposed to be communication with God. In particular, prayer was meant to be a two-way conversation. Instead of asking God what he wanted them to do, the people of Israel were making sacrifices so that God would do what they wanted him to.

Pagan worship, in which deities had to be appeased in order to gain their favor, had infiltrated the Israelite culture. Much like the heathen that lived around them, the Israelites expected their God to do certain things because they made sacrifices to him. The LORD warned his people, “Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meal offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts” (Amos 5:22). In order to be saved, God’s people would have to seek his direction through prayer.

The true God

Elijah’s residency in the northern kingdom of Israel gave him an advantage in confronting the people because he knew what was going on there. Like king Ahab, the people were caught in the middle of two worship systems, one that honored the pagan god Baal and one that honored Jehovah; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and had given them the land of Canaan to dwell in.

Elijah challenged the people to make a choice based on whichever one they believed to be the true God. “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word” (1 Kings 18:21).

The message Elijah was trying to convey was that worshipping two gods was getting them nowhere. The people were hopping back and forth depending on their circumstances and were not committed to either deity. The reason the people couldn’t give Elijah a straight answer was because they were stuck. They weren’t sure if they were ready to walk away from God altogether and didn’t know if Baal could protect them the way the LORD had.

In order to prove to the people of Israel that Baal was no match for God, Elijah designed a test to demonstrate the superiority of the LORD. It involved the sacrifice of a bullock as a burnt offering without using any fire. Elijah’s instructions to the people were “call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: And the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered him and said, It is well spoken” (1 Kings 18:24).

Elijah’s contest was intended to show the people of Israel that their idols were inanimate objects with less than human capabilities. Baal could not see or hear them and he was unaware of the worship they performed to honor him (1 Kings 18:26). In stark contrast, God instituted the Israelite’s system of worship and made a covenant with them to guarantee the fulfillment of his promises to his people.

In order to emphasize God’s awareness and involvement in what was going on, Elijah drenched his bullock and the altar it was placed on with water before he prayed to the LORD to consume it with fire. It says in 1 Kings 18:33-35 that Elijah filled four barrels with water, poured it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood, then repeated the process two more times until more than 30 gallons of water ran round about the altar and filled a trench that Elijah dug to hold it. His extreme demonstration made it clear that it would be impossible for Elijah to light the fire for the sacrifice.

Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. (1 Kings 18:39)

 

Division

The divided kingdom of Israel represents the two areas of a believer’s life that can also sometimes get divided, the secular and the sacred. The area of a believer’s life referred to as the secular involves things like a job or the work we do, our family or the community in which we live, and careers that affect the choices we make. The sacred area of our lives clearly belong to God and involve such things as going to church or a synagogue, reading the Bible, and prayer. The way God dealt with the divided kingdom of Israel demonstrates his sovereignty over all areas of our lives.

Judah, the southern part of the kingdom, remained under the control of king David’s descendants. Judah correlates to the sacred area of our lives. The temple that existed within Judah’s borders made it possible for the people to connect with God and worship him as he prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The rest of Israel was governed by kings appointed by God to make sure the nation continued to exist until God’s plan for his people was accomplished. Secular activities are necessary to sustain life. Otherwise, God could have wiped out the rest of Israel and left Judah on its own.

Even though God sustained the entire nation of Israel, he did not protect the northern kingdom of Israel in the same way he did Judah. When God brought judgment on king Jeroboam for his idolatry, God destroyed his entire household. Not one descendant of Jeroboam was left when Baasha took over as king (1 Kings 15:29). The extermination of Jeroboam and his descendants conveyed the message that God would not tolerate pagan worship. What he wanted his people to understand was that they could shut him out of their everyday lives, but he was still their God and would discipline them as he saw fit.

The wars that took place between Asa and Baasha king of Israel (1 Kings 15:32) are similar to the internal conflict that a believer experiences when the secular and sacred areas of their lives get disconnected. The man that goes to church every Sunday and has an ongoing affair with his secretary will not sleep peacefully at night unless he is a psychopath. Guilt will eventually cause him to quit going to church or stop having the affair.