The Pursuits of Righteousness and Blessing

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
Deuteronomy 28:1-7

Deuteronomy 28 is infamous among students of the Torah for its short list of blessings for obedience to God’s commands and very long list of curses for disobedience–you have to skip ahead to Isaiah 60 to get a fuller picture of the blessings.

A chiasm in Deuteronomy 28:2-7 that highlights the blessings of obedience to God's Law.This chiasm in verses 2-7 caught my eye as I was reading this chapter last week:

  • V2 – You will be overtaken by blessing.
    • V3 – You will be blessed wherever you are.
      • V4-5 – Your labors will be blessed in the fields (agriculture) and cities (manufacturing).
    • V6 – You will be blessed wherever you are going.
  • V7 – Your enemies will be overtaken by curses.

If we are careful to keep all of God’s commandments, then blessing will overtake us, while curses overtake our enemies. We will be blessed whether we work in the fields or in the cities, whether we are going out into the world, or coming home to Israel. Whatever our professions might be, our labors will be rewarded.

I want to tell you three things about this chiasm and about the whole chapter in general.

First, I want to address the apparent imbalance in the amount of text given to blessings and obedience.

The curses aren’t given in more excruciating detail than the blessings because God is all lightning and brimstone with no patience for human foibles. To the contrary, God is extraordinarily longsuffering and generous in his forgiveness. He takes no pleasure in the suffering and death of the wicked, but longs to bless them through their repentance. No, there are other reasons for the lack of detail in the blessings.

True blessing is harder to perceive than curses. Defeat, poverty, disease, and barrenness…those things are easy to see and understand. But blessing is more and more subtle than victory, riches, health, and fruitfulness. Blessing comes also as love, contentment, honor, and purpose. This is one possible reason why the blessings for obedience aren’t enumerated: because they aren’t so easy to name and might look different to each recipient. Every child understands the threat of punishment, but most children will never understand the true value of their parents’ blessings until they are parents themselves.

Second, notice how this chiasm begins and ends: with pursuit and capture.

In the opening, we are overtaken by blessings in our pursuit of righteousness. In the closing, our enemies are overtaken by curses (defeat) in their pursuit of cursing us. This is related to the disparity of text dedicated to blessing and cursing.

Blessings are good things, by definition, and there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to be blessed in every way possible. Good health, profit, wisdom, children… These are all things that we should desire, but they must be kept in proper perspective. Balance can never be achieved by pursuing blessing, only by pursuing righteousness.

The light of God’s Word and Love desires to shine through us into the world, but it can’t do that if we are only focused on ourselves. The ultimate goal of every righteous man must be to become an effective conduit of God’s Light into his community and even the whole world. By every mitzvah–every good deed–that we perform, we show God’s love to one another as well as to him, because as Yeshua pointed out, to love God and to love one’s neighbor are together the cornerstone of the whole Law.

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 22:40

Through pursuing greater righteousness (not for salvation, but out of love and gratitude toward our Creator and Messiah), we will be overtaken by the blessings of God, while those who pursue rewards for themselves and curses for their enemies will be overtaken by curses themselves.

Third, see where the blessings will come and how: in the city and in the field, in the fruits of agriculture and in the fruits of manufacturing, whether you are coming or going. 

The point is that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living nor where you do it. It doesn’t matter if you are a farmer, builder, teacher, or accountant, whether your work is done on the road or at your kitchen table. What matters is who you are (Israel, both native and grafted in) and how you execute your labors (according to all of God’s commands).

It’s good to get your hands in the dirt, but no one is more righteous for being a farmer rather than a pastry chef. It’s also good to desire and to work for good things, so long as they never supplant God as our ultimate focus. By blessing God and our brothers and sisters, we bless ourselves.

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
Matthew 6:33

Blessings come in many guises, but they come to all people who love God and keep his commandments before all else.

Storming the Gates of Hell

We don't always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.

Jamie Carper in the studio at WAIF FM in Cincinnati, Ohio. 1960-2018

My brother Jamie died last week.

He fought cancer for almost two years, holding on long enough to provide as much financial security to his family as he could, and to spend a few of his last few days with his parents. Having settled his affairs and given a little comfort to mom and dad, he finally let go.

But the impact his life had on the world is here to stay.

For more than thirty years he promoted Christian music of all kinds and sometimes performed himself. He was part of the worship team at church for almost his entire adult life. As a DJ, sound man, musician, and organizer, he helped untold artists gain an audience and touched uncountable lives in ways great and small.

I knew all of that before, but until now I had no idea how deep and how signficant his influence had been.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been contacted by several people who told me about the enormous impact that Jamie had on their lives simply by being a friend and introducing them to spiritually healthier music choices without being judgmental about who and where they were at the time. At his memorial last Saturday, one person after another spoke about how they were in a bad place in life until Jamie opened his home or his studio or just treated them respectfully like real human beings. The love he showed to friend and stranger alike drew people in a better direction and changed their lives.

He was a good man and remains so today in the care of the Father.

Hearing those very personal stories reminded me of this conversation that Yeshua had with Peter:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:15-19 ESV

I’m not going to get into all the many and divisive interpretations of this passage. (Although you have to appreciate the fortuitous coincidence of Jamie’s primary focus being on rock music and it’s many close relatives.) Instead, I want to talk about a way that you and I can assault the very Gates of Hell in our daily lives. I’m not talking about casting out demons or praying in tongues. I’m after something more immediate and relevant to each and every one of us on any given day.

Let me start with an example from my own experience.

If you spend enough time on social media, you’re bound to encounter people with some pretty strange opinions. For example, there is a significant number of people who believe that the earth is flat and that NASA and the United Nations have been conspiring to fool us all into believing it’s round. They believe that this conspiracy somehow keeps people from believing in God.

There are also people who believe very strongly that the proper spelling of Jesus’ name is a matter of eternal salvation. If you don’t spell it Yahashuwa (or whatever), then you’re not calling and believing on the right name, and so you’re not saved.

I think that’s absurd nonsense, and I have very little patience for people who push those ideas. I’ve tried arguing with them, mocking them, and ignoring them, but in the end, I usually unfollow them so I don’t see them anymore.

But I learned something very important this past week from my brother’s many friends: Even people who say and believe stupid stuff need to be heard and loved. They’re already working hard to cut themselves off from the rest of the body of the Messiah, and they don’t need my help. Making them invisible doesn’t take away their loneliness and confusion.

Now maybe I won’t be able to convince many of them that the earth is round or that Jesus loves them no matter how they pronounce his name, but Jamie didn’t stop reaching out and loving people just because 99% of them didn’t respond. The few, with whom he was able to connect and develop a lasting relationship, were ready for what he had to offer, but they didn’t necessarily advertise themselves. Jamie had to talk to them all in order to find the few who were ready. They responded and they were snatched right out of the very bowels of hell because Jamie didn’t fear to stroll through the gates, listen to a bit of music, and share some food and conversation.

Sodom was a vile city that needed to be destroyed, but righteous Lot lived there. What would have happened if God had said, “I don’t need to go in there. I’ve already heard the stories. Let’s just burn it all.” Lot would have been lost.

Jericho needed to fall, but we can’t abandon Rahab.

Moab was a wicked nation…but remember Ruth.

We don’t always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.

God is love, and upon this rock he will build his kingdom from a multitude of lonely, hurting people, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against you and me loving them as Yeshua loved us.

Sabbath-Honoring Labor

 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.

But if you had known what this is, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned those who are not guilty.
Matthew 12:7

“Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22:36-39

Yeshua plainly refuted the idea that there is no hierarchy or precedence within God’s law. There are greater commandments and lesser commandments. Some laws must be held higher than others in order to resolve apparent conflicts such as healing or feeding the poor on the Sabbath.

Most Christian theologians divide the law into two or three parts (civil, moral, and ceremonial), and they usually dismiss the ceremonial as irrelevant to life after the cross. That division is incorrect and does a great deal of harm. It would be much better to divide the law the same way that Yeshua did: by beneficiary. All of God’s laws have a beneficiary, and usually more than one: Self, Others, or God.

Keeping the Sabbath benefits all three.

It honors God, strengthens the community, ensures a day of rest for even the lowest laborer, but keeping the Sabbath is also self-serving. It gives you an excuse to say no.

  • No, sorry, I can’t help you move on Saturday.
  • No, I can’t come into the office on Saturday.
  • Sorry, I have an appointment at 7 tonight.

There is nothing wrong with that. God gave us all of the law for our own benefit. For many people, especially in a society that doesn’t recognize God’s appointed times, it is a vital opportunity to say no without causing hard feelings.

Other laws are aimed at the benefit of others and take precedence over the former. “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years. And in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.” A slave owner is required to care for the physical and spiritual welfare of the slave.

Like the Sabbath, the laws governing Hebrew slavery fit all three categories: They honor God by honoring his image and his chosen people. They benefit the slave owner by ensuring the good will of his slaves and the health of his community. However, the slave reaps the greatest benefit. His servitude was limited in duration, scope, and rigor. He is assured generous compensation for his service. In fact, if he sold himself into slavery, he will be paid at least twice, three times if he has a God-fearing master: first when he sold himself, second during the course of his service, and third when he is released.

There are some laws that appear to benefit only God, but we must be especially careful with those, because their purpose is often obscure. Sometimes they seem like empty ritual, and it’s easy to let them slide. Sometimes we can only guess at the purpose of these commands, but it’s an illusion that they are only for God’s benefit.

Every commandment that God has given also benefits the law-keeper, his family, and his community. “You shall have no other gods before me,” for example. Worshipping other gods is a waste of effort and invites sickness and disaster, but primarily we worship only one God because that is what he wants.

Sacrifice is another example. Blood sacrifices were never about satisfying God’s blood lust, for he has none. Like Yeshua’s sacrifice, the sacrifice of animals was to bring us closer to God. Hence, blood sacrifice is mostly for the benefit of the one bringing it. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” God said, but we need both.

If you encounter an apparent conflict in obeying God’s laws, he has already given us the standard which we are to follow. Choose the path which honors God first, then that which honors others, and finally that which honors ourselves.

When you aren’t sure, choose life. All of God’s instructions are designed to restore us to right, healthy relationship with both God and man. Therefore, Christians and Jews alike consider those who save and restore lives to be exempt from the strictest interpretation of the Sabbath.

To heal on the Sabbath is to keep it, even if such healing requires great physical exertion.

More Tools for Bible Study

Tools for the serious Bible student. Commentaries, dictionaries, atlases, and more.

So far in Common Sense Bible Study we’ve looked at setting up for your study time, how not to get lost in irrelevant theological weeds, a few tips on how to read the Bible in its historical context, and some essential Bible study tools.

In this installment, we’ll look at a number of other Bible study tools of varying importance, starting with those I believe to be most important and working our way down to “eh”. I want to let you know what’s available without boring you to tears, so I’ll try to keep this brief.

Full disclosure: I earn a small commission on anything you buy from Amazon through the links on this page.

Bible Commentaries
Bible commentaries contain verse-by-verse (or at least passage-by-passage) discussions of the whole Bible or of individual books. They can be very helpful for understanding the meaning of difficult passages–and even many passages that appear to be simple– but remember that they are only the teachings of men, and different teachers can have very different interpretations of the same passages. No commentary has the same authority as the original Scriptures themselves. Just as with Bible translations, I recommend that you don’t rely too heavily on any one. Contrast and compare.

Here are some commentaries I recommend (not saying I agree with everything they contain):

  • Any of Tim Hegg’s commentaries on individual books.
  • Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (included with e-Sword)
  • John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (included with e-Sword)

Bible Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias define words and concepts found in the Bible. Pretty straightforward. They are especially good for identifying people and place names. Most Bible apps include several of each, and there are many more that you can access for free on the Internet. If you prefer hard copy, here are a few good options:

Histories
What kind of culture did the Hebrews leave behind in Egypt and what did they find in Canaan? How did the tense relationship between Rome and Jerusalem affect the Sanhedrin’s treatment of Jesus?

Histories can provide important background and contextual information for understanding the Biblical texts. Unfortunately, many historians of western civilization ignore the Hebrew contribution and treat the Bible as fiction, despite it’s having proved itself to be more reliable than any other history book that has ever been written. There are some good ones out there, though. Here are some that I think you will find interesting and useful:

Bible Atlases
Bible atlases contain maps of the lands in which the events of the Bible took place. A good atlas will include information about people groups, political contexts, international conflicts, and the movements of individuals and groups of people at various points in history. Most hard copy Bibles have some maps in the back, but these don’t come close to providing the level of detail that a real atlas does. You can find a lot of great geographical information on the Internet, but it can be hard to determine the reliability of any particular source. Here are a few hard copy atlases that should be pretty accurate and detailed:

Study Bibles
Study Bibles are usually popular translations of the Bible interspersed with commentary. I made this a separate category from Bible Commentaries because a novice Bible student might mistake them for being more authoritative than other commentaries because the text is set side-by-side with the Bible, and yet they tend to be less rigorous and less reliable for that same reason. Keep in mind when reading any study Bible, that it is only commentary. I would avoid study Bibles with a pop focus, such as those written specifically for women, teens, or athletes. Here are a few that I think are better than most:

Lectionaries
Lectionaries provide lists of Bible passages to be read on specific dates or events. In my opinion, their greatest value lies in leading the reader to thematic connections between different passages that might not be obvious at first. Jewish tradition pairs a reading from the first 5 books of the Bible (this reading is called a Parsha) to a related passage in the Prophets (called a Haftarah). The second passage illustrates or expands on the meaning of the first. Many Christian denominations use lectionaries as well. If a lectionary includes liturgy, devotionals, or commentary, it could be a problem, but if it only pairs related Bible passages, it could make for some very interesting study material.

Devotionals
Devotionals are collections of short essays on Biblical topics, usually intended to be read daily. Their quality, value, and depth are all over the map. There are great devotionals and terrible devotionals. There is probably more devotional-type literature published than any other. I’m confident that you will find some great content in these:

Bible/Gospel Harmonies
A harmony is an attempt to create a single, chronological text from different accounts of the same events. For example, a gospel harmony combines the narratives of all four gospels into a unified, chronologically arranged account. Such a work necessarily involves some extra-biblical interpretation, because there are ambiguities in the original texts that require making some assumptions about the author’s intent to make them line up with the other accounts. I have only seen harmonies made of the gospels, but I’m sure someone must have attempted harmonies of the Torah and the historical books of the Old Testament as well. You can find them on the Internet or in book stores.

In general, I view harmonies as curiosities and little more. They never seem to deliver the value or clarity one would expect. On the other hand, you might learn a lot from compiling your own.

You can probably find hundreds of examples for each of these types of resources. I recommend researching the authors and their likely biases before ascribing much authority to them, and, of course, weigh everything they say against Scripture. You are unlikely to ever find an author or organization who agrees with you on every important detail, so don’t reject a tool just because it contains something you don’t like. Look at the whole work and decide for yourself whether you can learn enough from it to balance its potential errors. In time, you might even discover that that the author wasn’t wrong, but you were.

Pray. Read. Study. Meditate. Pray some more. May you be blessed and may God be glorified in everything that you do.

Jay Carper

Bear Fruit in Keeping with Repentance

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance...Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:8-10

But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 20:16-18

When Israel made war with the nations that lived in the Promised Land, God commanded them to give no quarter. If those people fled before the army of Israel arrived, there was no need to pursue, but if they remained to fight, then every man, woman, child, and beast was to be killed.

That sounds extraordinarily harsh, but we must remember two things about God’s relationship to mankind:

First, God owns every one of us. He designed us, he created us, and he judges us. He is entirely within his rights to destroy us or rescue us by any means he chooses. Remember that you are the Ranger, not the Ford Motor Company. What right does a created thing have to demand anything from its creator?

Second, God knows our hearts better than we do. He knows what we have done and what we desire to do. The people of Canaan had engaged in such abominable religious practices that not even the most innocent babies among them had escaped guilt. Personally, I can’t even imagine what that looks like, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to either, but God said it many times, so we can be assured that it is true.

But what about Rahab? She was one of those people that were to be devoted to complete destruction, but she was spared and even became an ancestor of Messiah Yeshua. How can we reconcile these two seemingly incompatible facts?

Immediately after the passage quoted above, Moses related God’s instructions concerning trees that might surround a city which Israel has besieged. Although it looks like an afterthought tacked onto the rules of war, there’s a reason it’s placed where it is.

When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.
Deuteronomy 20:19-20

Okay, but what does that have to do with Rahab? As the passage says, “Are the trees human, that you should besiege them?”

No, they aren’t. In fact, trees can’t in themselves be righteous or sinful, clean or unclean. This is one reason the rabbis give for why sukkot should be built of branches, and not hides.

On the other hand, Scripture often uses trees as a metaphor for people. The righteous are upright trees. Powerful men are cedars or oaks. Weak men are small trees or shrubs living in their shadows. Israel is an olive tree. Gentile believers are wild olive branches grafted into the tree of Israel.

Consider especially the parables Yeshua told about trees.

Speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Yeshua said,

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matthew 3:8-10

Speaking of false prophets, he said,

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:15-20

When he encountered a fig tree that bore no fruit, he cursed it, and it died:

And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
Mattthew 21:19

There are other examples, and in every one of them, the point Yeshua was trying to make was never about trees or edible fruit, but about people. Those who produce no good fruit for the kingdom were never part of the kingdom in the first place and will be cursed, cut down, and burned. Those that produce good fruit will be spared and tended so that they will bear yet more fruit.

This is the truth of Rahab that is hinted at in Deuteronomy 20:16-20: Even among the pagan Canaanites there can be found a few good trees baring good fruit. Rahab was just such a tree. When she saw the Hebrews coming, she recognized the power that was with them, the great Deliverer of Israel who destroyed all their enemies before them. She declared herself for Adonai and Israel and against Canaan, and she immediately began to bear good fruit by protecting the two spies who hid on her rooftop.

If, in the course of marching across Canaan and driving out the Hittites, Perizites, et al, the Israelites should encounter a rare good tree, baring good fruit, in a forest of the spiritually dead, God said they *must* spare that tree and make it one of their own.

Rahab and the good trees of the besieged cities of the Promised Land are you and me, the believing gentiles, who hear the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven encroaching on the Kingdom of Death, and who repent, declaring our allegiance to the King of Israel.

If we repent of our sins, submit to the One who conquered death, and commit to obeying his law, we are the good trees who are spared and the wild olive branches grafted into the cultivated tree of Israel. No longer gentiles at all, but joint heirs with Yeshua, as Paul said, with one God, one King, one Nation, and one Law.

So You Shall Purge the Evil from Your Midst

Torah says we are to purge the evil from our midst. The words of Jesus and Paul tell us how to do that.

You cannot get a complete picture of God’s prescribed justice system by reading any single passage of the Torah. Rules for how to handle a particular sort of crime are in one place. Rules for handling a kind of investigation are in another. Guidelines for reporting and investigating allegations of idolatry are in yet another place.

I think this is by design. God doesn’t want a person to read only this or that part and dismiss the rest as not applicable to him. Although not every regulation is specifically addressed to every person, no person can effectively carry out what does apply to him without understanding what applies to everyone else. Remember that God told Ezekiel to measure and describe the Temple and to teach it to the people in order to make them ashamed. There are universal truths in every statement within Torah, and every person can learn something important even from those rules that are clearly not intended for him to follow in any literal sense.

Deuteronomy 17 describes three apparently disconnected aspects of justice:

  1. How to handle an allegation of idolatry. (Verses 2-7)
  2. How to handle a case that is too difficult for the local court. (Verses 8-13)
  3. How to ensure a king remains humble and accountable to God. (Verses 18-20)

I say “apparently” because they are connected by more than the overall theme of justice. For example, the sequence illustrates the roles and responsibilities of various members of the nation as their relative authority increases. The picture begins with individuals, moves to the community, then to the nation, and finally to the king.

One person may or may not be committing idolatry and some other person discovers it. If a person suspects his neighbor of idolatry, but he has no real evidence, he can’t snoop. He has to mind his own business. Nobody is allowed to go looking for people who might be worshiping idols without some basis.

However, if some evidence comes to light or if an accusation is made, then the community must get involved. There is no option. There must be a thorough investigation and a trial conducted by the authorities of the town or the city where the crime is alleged to have taken place. The accused is presumed innocent unless sufficient evidence is found and at least two truthful, qualified witnesses testify against him.

If the accused is found guilty by his neighbors, those same people are to take him to the town gates where he will be stoned to death. The witnesses must be the first to throw their stones.

So you shall purge the evil from your [community] midst. Deuteronomy 17:7b

The accused–and the entire community–is entitled to a public trial before a jury of his peers and in which he must be allowed to face his accusers and defend himself… That sounds awfully familiar.

If the case is too difficult for the local judges to decide, they are to take it to a high court in Jerusalem consisting of a panel of priests and whoever is judge over the nation at the time. (This would be someone like Joshua, Gideon, or Samson.) Whatever that court tells them to do, they must do. There are no appeals, no second opinions, and anyone who refuses to carry out the instructions of the high court must himself be put to death.

So you shall purge the evil from [the nation of] Israel. Deuteronomy 17:12b

This entire process requires that every member of the community is living in subjection to the community. There’s nothing wrong with an amount of “rugged individualism”, but a truly biblical lifestyle can only exist within the context of a community with a recognized authority structure. It doesn’t have to be very rigid or formal, but it has to exist and has to be able to respond when evil is found among the people.

And some evils are too large for a single community to handle.

Although Israel had no king at the time this law was given, it recognized that they might at some point and set out some rules for how a king is to behave: He is not to abuse his position to gain wealth, power, or prestige for himself. He is not to rely on military power, political alliances, or economic strength for security, but on God. He is not to oppress the people.

Finally, the king must become a lifelong Torah scholar beginning on the day he ascends to the throne. He is required to make a copy of the Torah for himself and to read it and meditate it on it every day of his life.

That his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. Deuteronomy 17:20

In the first two sections, the focus of the text is on purging evil from Israel, but when we look at the king, the lens is reversed. It no longer focuses on removing what is wrong, but on building what is right.

Certainly the king would have a role in punishing wrongdoers and purging evil from the people, but his primary role isn’t as a law enforcement officer or even as a military commander. Before all else, the king must be a teacher of God’s ways, an exemplar of humble & consistent righteousness.

We can see these same principles all through the New Testament as well.

We are told not to be gossipers and fault-seekers, but rather to extend grace to one another. We are to yield to one another whenever possible, to act in good order for the benefit of the community as a whole. When there is some wrong, we aren’t to take matters into our own hands, but to first find out if there has been any actual wrong done, and if so to give opportunity for repentance.

A note here: The rules in Deuteronomy 17 require a complete system. No individual, church, or synagogue may carry out these instructions. They are given in the context of a community and a nation that honors God’s Law. Only the community is authorized to investigate, try, and condemn the accused. Only a national court of priests and the judge is authorized to try the most difficult cases. We cannot execute idolaters or anyone else strictly according to God’s commands in modern America because that execution itself would be in violation of God’s commands.

If someone in our congregations is found to be an idolater, an adulterer, or guilty of any other serious sin, we should be certain of the facts first, and if the guilty refuses to repent, then we are to expel that person from our midst, but until our whole people accept God’s Law, that must be the end of it. Once they are outside of our congregation, they are no longer our responsibility, but God’s. (1 Corinthians 5:13)

We don’t have communities, judges, and national leaders who respect God’s Law. We don’t even have many churches or synagogues who do.

What we do have–and what we must have more of–are community leaders who follow the example of the king in Deuteronomy 17, who take God’s Law seriously, who study it and meditate on it daily. As long as our teachers, elders, preachers, pastors, and rabbis continue to reject the clear instruction of God, we can’t expect our community members to do any better.

As Paul wrote, don’t accuse people casually and don’t appoint them to leadership casually either. Our leaders must be men above reproach, men of honor in the eyes of both men and God, men who are not respecters of position or abusers of power. We need men who love God and love their own people as brothers, not subjects.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
1 Timothy 3:1-7

The End of the Law

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) Did Jesus come to put an end to the Law? Or is he the aim of the Law?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:4

I can’t tell you how many times someone has quoted this verse to me as “proof” that Jesus (also known as Yeshua) annulled God’s Law. At first glance, it looks like a killer argument. QED. How much clearer could it be?

Eh. Not so fast.

Remember that not a single word of the Bible was written in English and, by the very nature of human languages, no translation can ever be perfect. The key word in this verse seems to be “end”, so lets take a look at the original Greek.

τελος γαρ νομου χριστος εις δικαιοσυνην παντι τω πιστευοντι

The first word, telos, is the word translated into English as “end”.

Thayer’s Greek Definitions defines it thusly:

1) end
1a) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time)
1b) the end
1b1) the last in any succession or series
1b2) eternal
1c) that by which a thing is finished, its close, issue
1d) the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose
2) toll, custom (i.e. indirect tax on goods)

Termination of the Law would seem to be a reasonable translation, but Thayer gives us a number of other options too, including “aim” and “purpose”. “The aim of the Law” also seems pretty reasonable to me. Coincidentally, the English word “end” can be interpreted either way as well.

But is telos used in the sense of “aim” and “purpose” anywhere else in Scripture? Several places, in fact, by Paul, James, and Peter.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
(James 5:11)

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In the above three quotes, I bolded the English words used to translate the Greek word telos. Can the Lord ever be terminated (James 5:11)? Is our faith terminated by our salvation (1 Peter 1:8-9)? Should we stop avoiding pointless controversies once we have attained love (1 Timothy 1:5)? Of course, not! In these cases, translating telos as “termination” would be absurd.

So there is ample precedent for translating telos as aim or purpose instead of end, but how can we know for certain which one Paul meant in Romans 10:4?

Easy. Jesus said so.

Do not think that I have come to abolish (καταλυσαι: tear down, destroy, dissolve, overthrow) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill (πληρωσαι: make full, complete, carry out, perfect) them.
(Matthew 5:17)

Does it really make sense for Yeshua to say “I have not come to tear down the Law, but to put an end to it”? No. If we interpret Romans 10:4 to mean that Yeshua ended the Law, then we make his own words in Matthew 5:17 into nonsense. However, if we interpret Romans to say “The aim of the Law is Christ…”, it agrees with Matthew perfectly: Yeshua did not come to terminate the Law, but to perfect it.

“The end of the Law” means exactly the opposite of what many people today claim that it means.

And if my word isn’t good enough, here’s what a few venerable Christian commentaries have said concerning Romans 10:4:

  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown: For Christ is the end — the object or aim.
  • Matthew Henry: The design of the law was to lead people to Christ.
  • Geneva Bible: The law itself points to Christ, that those who believe in him should be saved.
  • Adam Clarke: The law is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ; it cannot save, but it leaves us at his door, where alone salvation is to be found.
  • Albert Barnes: It also means the design or object which is had in view; the principal purpose for which it was undertaken.
  • John Wesley: The scope and aim of it. It is the very design of the law, to bring men to believe in Christ for justification and salvation.

QED, indeed.

So, let’s have an end of this foolish controversy so that we may allow the Law to fulfill its manifold purposes: to teach men about sin and their need for a Savior, to illustrate the identity and purpose of that Savior, and to show us how to love God and one another. All of these together are the telos of the Torah.

 


I recorded a video to go with this article. You can watch it on YouTube or PewTube.

In Yeshua’s Instructions There Is Neither Jew nor Greek

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19

Some people insist that Yeshua’s (Jesus) words in this verse don’t necessarily mean that we should be keeping and teaching Torah (aka God’s Law) either because 1) Yeshua said people who throw out Torah “will be called least in the kingdom” and therefore must still be in the kingdom or 2) these words were spoken to Jews alone and were not intended for Gentile Christians at all.

On point one, I agree completely. Those who have put their faith in Yeshua for their eternal salvation are part of the kingdom of heaven even if they reject God’s Law and teach others to do the same, provided they do so from an honest misunderstanding of scripture and not from rebellion against God.

However, on the second point, we have a more serious difficulty. I’ll set aside whether or not the statement is factual or not for the moment and move on to the implications. This one verse (19) is part of a longer bit of oratory known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, all of which was addressed to a single gathering of people. No portion of the sermon was separated out as being addressed to one subset of the gathering more than another subset. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some other lines from the sermon:

  • v3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • v11 – Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
  • v13 – You are the salt of the earth…
  • v14 – You are the light of the world…
  • v22 – I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…
  • v28 – I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
  • v37 – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
  • v41 – If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
  • v44 – I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

There’s much more, but I’m sure you recognize most or all of the passages listed above. I hope the problem is already apparent to you: If verse 19 is intended only for Jews, then verses 3 and 44, etc., are also intended only for Jews, and Gentile Christians are free to hate their enemies and retaliate against those who persecute them.

Almost everything Yeshua is recorded to have said in all four Gospels was addressed to Jews. The idea that anything he only said to Jews was only intended for Jews requires that non-Jews ignore almost the entire text of the Gospels. How absurd!

The Apostles wrote that we ought to live according to Yeshua’s instructions. He himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

And here is one thing that Yeshua instructed:

(14) You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  (15)  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  (16)  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  (18)  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  (19)  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (20)  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:14-20

Many translations put a break and a topic heading in between verses 16 and 17, but these two statements are placed together for a reason. Verse 16 speaks of “good deeds”, and verse 17 defines those deeds: Following God’s commandments as detailed in the Law and the Prophets.

This was addressed to a group of people who were probably mostly Jews with a few Gentiles, but they were intended for everyone who might wish to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So go do them, and, when you have accumulated some practice and understanding, teach them. I think I have some articles around here somewhere on how to do that.

God’s Loving Graciousness

God is love.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We hear these statements all the time. We smile, nod our heads, and enjoy the warm fuzzies.

But do we know what they mean?

We think we do. We assume we do…. But remember what happens when we assume? Yep. You guessed it.

I didn’t want to assume that I knew what Moses and John and other Biblical writers meant by “love”, so I spent some time over the last few weeks looking at the various Hebrew and Greek words that are translated into English as love and how they are used in Scripture.

Most of us who grew up in a Christian church have probably heard more than one sermon about the difference between agape and phileo. Agape is supposed to be unconditional, godly love, while phileo is a lesser, brotherly love, but I think that might be making too much of it.

(Just FYI. I’m not an expert in any Biblical languages. I have only a small knowledge of Hebrew and rely extensively on concordances, dictionaries, and commentaries.)

In many cases, “like” is a perfectly adequate translation of phileo in the Greek Scriptures with no need to add anything mystical to it, while agape is closely analogous to the English word “love”. Certainly *unconditional* love would fall within the scope of agape, but to say that agape always refers to that kind of love is an overstatement.

Genesis 34:3 says that Shechem loved Dinah, whom he had just kidnapped and raped. The translators of the Septuagint, who understood ancient Greek far better than anyone alive today does, chose to translate the Hebrew word for love in this verse as agapao, the verb form of agape.1 Clearly Shechem did not have unconditional love for Dinah.

Since the Apostolic writings were essentially exposition on the Torah and the Prophets in the context of Greek and Roman culture, I think we can get a very good idea of what these words meant to them by looking at their corresponding Hebrew words in the Old Testament.

There are essentially 3 Hebrew words that are frequently translated as love in the Old Testament.

  • אהב (H157), pronounced as ahab
  • חשׁק (H2836), pronounced as chasak2
  • חסד (H2617), pronounced as chesed2

Ahab is usually translated as “love”, and its meaning is almost identical to the English: a strong, favorable emotion linked to desire, longing, and affection. Accordingly, it can refer to the love of God for his people, a father for a son, a man for his wife, and anyone for his favorite food. Ahab has a wide range of meaning. It can be used in almost any context in which you would use the English word love.

Here are some ways in which this word is used in the Old Testament3:

  • Genesis 27:4 – The food that Isaac loves (ahab).
  • Genesis 34:3 – He loved (ahab) the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.
  • Leviticus 19:18 – Love (ahab) your neighbor as yourself.
  • Deuteronomy 11:1 – Love (ahab) YHWH your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.
  • Isaiah 61:8 – God loves (ahab) fair and honest judgment.

Chasak is a more difficult word to translate, but the concept doesn’t seem to be very difficult to understand. (Did I mention that I’m not a scholar of ancient languages?) Essentially, chasak is an attachment to something, whether of one physical object to another or, in a metaphorical sense, an emotional attachment to do or have something. It’s translated into the Greek equivalents of the English words choose, elect, smith (as in a metal smith), and take.

Here are some examples of chasak in the Old Testament:

  • Genesis 34:8 – Shechem longs for (chasak) Dinah.
  • Exodus 38:17 – The pillars of the court are fastened (chasak) by silver.
  • Deuteronomy 7:7 – God set his love (chasak) on Israel.
  • 1 Kings 9:19 – Solomon desired (chasak) to build.
  • Isaiah 38:17 – In love (chasak) God delivered.

The third word, chesed, is closer to what people usually mean when they talk about the Greek word, agape, but different Bible translators favor different English renditions. Some of the most common translations are “loving kindness”, “steadfast love”, and “mercy”. It is usually translated into Greek as eleos, instead of agape or phileo.

I’m going to give you more examples of chesed from the Old Testament, because frankly I think it’s a much more interesting and profound word, and I’m going to spend more time talking about it:

  • Genesis 19:19 – You have shown me great kindness (chesed) in saving my life.
  • Genesis 24:49 – Show steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness to my master.
  • Genesis 47:29 – Promise to deal kindly (chesed) and truly with me.
  • Exodus 15:13 – In your mercy (chesed) you led the people whom you redeemed.
  • Numbers 14:18-19 – YHWH is slow to anger, and of great mercy (chesed).
  • Deuteronomy 5:10 – Showing steadfast love (chesed) to thousands of those who love (ahab) me and keep my commandments.
  • Deuteronomy 7:9 – The faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments
  • Judges 1:24 – Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly (chesed) with you.
  • 2 Chronicles 35:26 – The acts of Josiah, and his kind deeds (chesed).
  • Jeremiah 33:11 – YHWH is good, for his steadfast love (chesed) endures forever!
  • Daniel 9:4 – God keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments.
  • Jonah 4:2 – You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (chesed), and relenting from disaster.

Kindness is a dominant theme in the use of chesed throughout the Bible, but kindness is both too simple and too broad of a concept. Chesed is a special sort of kindness. In every case, the person who shows chesed to another is in a position of relative power.

Let me give you two examples from the Old Testament texts and two illustrations from Biblical relationships.

Two Examples of Chesed in the Old Testament

When Joseph was young, he would have loved (ahab) his father. He probably felt affection for him, enjoyed being in his presence, and did good things for him. However when Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt and Jacob was very old, their positions were reversed. Joseph held all the power, while Jacob was feeble and completely dependent on his son. Then Jacob begged Joseph’s mercy (chesed) in not allowing his bones to remain in Egypt after his death.

The translators of 2 Chronicles 35:26 had difficulty translating the chesed of King Josiah. Different translations render it as good deeds, goodness, mercy, kind acts, etc., but these differences are minor. The intent is clearly to show that Josiah showed exceptional mercy to his people.

Two Illustrations of Chesed from Biblical Relationships

It’s good if a man loves (ahab) his wife, and it’s even better if he loves (chesed) her. This is what Paul meant when he said that men should love their wives as the weaker vessel. Husbands have spiritual authority and physical dominance of their wives, and they need to keep that in mind so that they will be mindful to give chesed. It’s easy to be kind to your peer or to someone with more power. It’s something else to be kind to someone who is relatively weak and vulnerable.

Although God loves (ahab) us, he also shows us loving kindness (chesed) in deigning to provide for us, protect us, and raise us from our sin and poverty. God loves (chesed) those who love (ahab) him. God shows chesed to man by forgiving, protecting, and healing, but man never shows chesed to God because no man has ever been in a position of power over God.

Chesed and the Grace of God

If I had to summarize the meaning of chesed in a single English word, that word would be grace. Not in the sense of the physical grace of a ballerina, but the regal grace of a king who treats his subjects with kindness and understanding. He has the power, the authority, and the right to destroy those who offend his law, but he shows grace by commuting sentences, by hearing and embracing his poorest subjects, and by granting mercy and honor to weaker rivals.

When the Apostles wrote of God’s grace, this is what they meant.

The Greek word usually used to translate chesed in the Septuagint (a 2200 year old Greek translation of the Old Testament) is eleos, and this Greek word is almost always (and accurately) translated into English as mercy.

On the other hand, the Greek word translated as grace in the Apostolic writings is charis.2 Grace is an excellent translation of this word into English, as it appears to carry the same dual meaning of physical elegance and regal forebearance in Greek as it does in English.4

So why did the Apostles use charis instead of eleos to express the concept of Hebrew chesed?

Perhaps it was an idiomatic use that had been adopted by Jewish scholars when discussing biblical concepts among themselves in Greek. Or perhaps they consciously used charis because of the additional dimension of elegance in the meaning of the word.

Regardless of how the word Greek charis was used in everyday speech by the Greeks of the first century, the Apostles used it very much like Hebrew chesed was used in the Old Testament scriptures: to refer to the loving graciousness that one person in a position of power willingly shows to another in an inferior position.

Read these Apostolic passages as if they were written using the Hebrew word chesed instead of the Greek word charis:

John 1:17 – For the law was given through Moses; chesed and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, this is the wording used in Proverbs 16:6 – “By mercy (chesed) and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.” Chesed gives this verse so much more depth of meaning. God Law was revealed through Moses, but God’s grace to forgive was revealed in the person of Jesus. (And I can already see I’m going to have to write another article on the topic of “grace and truth”.)

2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the chesed of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Although he had all power and authority in Creation, he came down from his throne to live among his subjects in order to elevate them.

Ephesians 3:8 – To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this chesed was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…

Paul wrote that his appointment as the Apostle to the Nations was an undeserved kindness granted by God.

It seems to me that God’s mercy & loving kindness, as described throughout the Old Testament with the Hebrew word chesed, is the very essence of divine grace, and it is glaringly obvious that grace was not a new concept in the first century. Yeshua’s death on the cross wasn’t God’s first act of Grace. Rather, it was the apex of his grace, the most personal, painful, and heart-wrenching extension of his loving kindness to mankind.

The grace of a king is manifested in the mercy that he extends to those who have violated his law, and he rightly expects them to be grateful and to stop doing whatever it was that caused them to come under his Law in the first place. How must it seem to Yeshua when those for whom he suffered and died in order to earn that pardon use it as a license to ignore his law instead of as an opportunity to start over with a clean slate?

God’s grace, his chesed, is not the suspension of his Law, but the suspension of his judgment for violating it. That suspension will not be extended indefinitely to people who abuse it.

God's grace consists of his willingness to forgive and heal those of us who have rebelled against his Law.

1 The language of the New Testament (Koine Greek) is a little different than the language of the Septuagint. I don’t think that difference has any significant impact on this point.
2 In both Hebrew and ancient Greek transliteration, the letter combination of ch is pronounced like kh. There is no ch sound (as in church) in either language. Why tranliterators chose to use ch instead of kh, I don’t know. They should have asked me first.
3 Most of the Bible quotes in this article are taken from the ESV, but I also used the KJV, LITV, and others when the ESV’s translation of a word seemed especially obscure.
4 See these comments on the secular and Biblical usage of charis: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/518/Charis.htm

We’ve Done Nothing

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10

Two men once climbed a mountain together. They trudged up the lower slopes and scaled cliff faces to reach the tree line. Past the mid-point, they spent days camping at various points to adjust to the thin, oxygen-poor air. They pulled and pushed each other along, sometimes tied together with a long cord so that if one misstepped, he might be saved by the other. After weeks of enduring howling winds and biting cold with the help of oxygen tanks and state-of-the-art gear, they finally reached the summit.

The first man, barely able to pull in enough air even to speak, turned to his friend and said, “Look…what we did…we saw…we conquered…”

The second man smiled and, looking around at the deadly beautiful mountain range, replied, “Thank God…made all this…gave eyes…and feet…”

Together, they achieved something that only the tiniest fraction of humanity could hope to emulate. They really did something great.

The first man will die and be forgotten within a generation. His experiences and labors will die with him. The second man, however, will never die. He will inherit all that he sees from one of the highest points on earth.

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
Deuteronomy 9:4-6

Israel was nothing special in the world. We did nothing to deserve God’s favor. He rescued us from Egypt, made us a people, defeated our enemies, and gave us a country, yet we were stiff-necked, rebellious idolaters. And God knew this before he ever spoke to Abraham, our father.

As Moses was preparing the people to cross the Jordan and expel the Canaanites from the land that God had promised to Israel, he reminded them that they deserved nothing good from God. If they were blessed, it wasn’t because they had done anything to earn it. If they had victory in war, it wasn’t because they fought or planned better than their enemies.

Victory was assured because God had promised the Patriarchs, and God always keeps his promises.

The Anakim and the Canaanites had forgotten to whom they owed their existence and had exchanged worship of the Creator for things they themselves had created. They had succumbed to the basest sin of all: pride. And so God determined to destroy them. They are remembered now only as a vile people who sacrificed even their own children to gods of their own making.

Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones to fall so low.

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:11-13

Despite having witnessed the utter destruction of the Canaanites before God’s power, the ancient Israelites followed in their corrupted footsteps. They erected sacred pillars and worshipped every false god they could imagine and manufacture with their own hands, as if the glory of a created thing could ever exceed that of the one who created it. They rejected the real glory of being God’s special people for the false glory of dead things that can’t move, hear, or speak.

Over and over again, God called Israel to repentance. We repented and regained his favor only to fall again into “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.” We exchanged service to the Most High for slavery to sin. We rejected the source of Living Water for broken cisterns of our own invention.

We don’t appear to have learned anything since then. We cut and splice God’s creatures, claiming to make them better. We kill millions in the name of profit and energy. We slaughter our own children for the sake of convenience. We build machines and send them into space and say, “Look what we did!”

Whether we call our own creations “gods” or “science”, we worship them as if the glory of dead metal and plastic could possibly exceed that of the One who created the particles, the energies, and the physical laws that make it all possible and which we have barely begun to comprehend.

Machines are good. Genetic science is good. I love to see the astonishing accomplishments of today’s space engineers. SpaceX landing rockets on their tails like something from a 1950s science fiction was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen!

But all of these things are only possible because God has made them so. We have minds to imagine and invent, because God gave them to think. we have hands to create, because God fashioned them after his own. Yet we still say, “Look what we did!”

Pride is the greatest barrier of all to spiritual health and restoration of people to their Creator.

We’ve done nothing.

But despite all this, God still promises forgiveness and even glory for those who repent, who love him above all earthly things, and determine to keep his Law.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:10

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

But there is no true repentance without humility. It is impossible to say honestly, “God, forgive me! Aren’t I great?” Humility requires that we give credit where credit is due, and all credit is due to him who makes all things possible. We must say instead, “God, forgive me! Not my will, but yours be done in the world and in my life.”