Miriam has some sober lessons to teach us. Miriam knew what it was to experience hope and despair, terror and deliverance, slavery and freedom, unimportance and prominence. She was a good example and she was a bad example; in fact, she was just like we are! We are simply not perfect every day of every month of every year! God is so gracious with us, and so patient, and so forgiving—but there are times when a loving Heavenly Father must act in decisive discipline, lest the course we have chosen destroy us and all of those who look to us for leadership and guidance.
Miriam’s problem is one that I think is very easy for women to fall into, and it’s one we have to be alert to guard against. We must be content with the influential role that God has given us within the framework he has instituted. Do you hear that? That’s really important! When we make a play for power we can often lose influence.
The first we see of Miriam is in her role as a protective sister. Miriam’s childhood in the slave quarters of Egypt was one of fear and uncertainty. She and her three-year-old brother, Aaron, had godly parents who trusted the God of Israel—but the king of Egypt hated her people. He had ordered that all boy babies be drowned in the Nile, and her mother was pregnant! The baby was due anytime. Suppose it were a boy! How could they kill it?
The incident that we are going to read about in Exodus 2, and I wish you would turn there, doesn’t give us her name and doesn’t give us her age. We know her name is Miriam—she is Moses’ sister and Aaron’s sister—and we can assume that her age is anywhere between seven and twelve.
I’m going to read and will you follow? For those of you who are interested, I am reading from the New International Version. Exodus 2:1-10:
Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine [the word has the idea of a special, beautiful, extraordinary] child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch [to make it waterproof]. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said.
Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?" [You see, there was no Similac in those days! They had to have someone!]
"Yes, go," she answered. And the girl went and got the baby's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you." So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water." [The word “Moses” has the sense of “draw out” in the Hebrew language.]
Now, this is about Moses, but we are concentrating on Miriam. What do we deduce about her characteristics, just from this little incident? What do we see about her? She’s protective, capable, brave—it would take a lot of courage—enterprising, quick-witted, and clever. What else? Obedient, because I’m sure her mother coached her. What else? Sensitive? I think she was mature for her age, don’t you? I think she was unselfish. These are all wonderful qualities, and she displays these at a very early age.
It must have been very wonderful for Miriam to know that she was involved in saving her baby brother’s life. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that she had a proprietary interest in Moses all the rest of his life—even when he left home to live in the palace. You see, this family had high hopes for this little baby! He was very special when he was born. God saved his life in a miraculous way. Maybe he would be the one to deliver Israel from Egypt! Moses had this idea about himself when he was forty. In fact, if you turn to Acts 7, you’ll see exactly that! Stephen is giving a history of Israel just before they stoned him, and in verse 25 he says Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.
I believe that within the consciousness of Moses’ family was, “Well, this is such a special child! He is going to have all this special training and contact in the palace—maybe God is going to use him!” I wonder how Miriam felt when he moved to the luxury of the palace and the rest of the family stayed in the slave quarters! I don’t think it mattered how different her life was from his, Miriam always thought of Moses as her little brother whom she had helped save.
The day came when all Miriam’s hopes for Moses were dashed to the ground. Moses, who had become a powerful man (a military leader) in Egypt, attempted to rescue an Israelite from harsh treatment by an Egyptian, and he killed the Egyptian. Consequently, he had to flee for his life at the age of forty to get away from Pharaoh. Moses was forty. Miriam was about fifty. It would be forty years before they met again. People in those days lived a lot longer, so don’t get worried about this! I wonder how she felt during those years when he was gone. Disappointed? Bitter? Frustrated? Helpless? For one thing, certainly, their hope for a deliverer had ended in despair.
Look at Exodus 2:23-24.
During that long period [that Moses was gone—that forty years], the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. [God had told Abraham that his descendants would suffer in slavery for four hundred years. The time was now.] So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
It was God’s time to deliver Israel, and he had just the man! Moses, the fugitive, the failure, had made a whole new life for himself in the land of Midian. He’d gotten a wife, he had two sons, and he spent all his days taking care of sheep—not even his own, but his father-in-law’s! That’s quite a come-down for a prince of Egypt, isn’t it? But that’s where Moses was when God called him out of the burning bush. After his encounter with God, Moses obeyed God. He went back to Egypt, and told his people that God had sent him to deliver them from Egypt. Their years of slavery were over, and God would deliver them with a mighty hand and destroy the nation that had enslaved them for four hundred years.
Now try to put yourself in Miriam’s place, as she sees the fearlessness of her brother, Moses, and Aaron, his spokesman, as they thunder God’s commands to Pharaoh! She sees God confirm their message by the great miracles that he did. She sees one plague after another devastate and humiliate the Egyptians. These were her brothers, and God was using them to totally defeat Pharaoh! I wonder what she was doing in the six-month period that this whole contest was going on! This didn’t happen in just a week. It went on for at least six months. I think she was a support to her brothers.
I think Miriam rallied the women—put starch in their spines—encouraged them. She did for the women what Moses and Aaron had to constantly be doing for the men, which was to remind them of God’s promises and to prepare them for departure. These must have been heady days! Miriam was thrust into a place of prominence because her brothers were who they were, but also because God had given her abilities that made her and equipped her to be a leader of women.
Finally, the unforgettable night came when Israel left Egypt with the mourning cries of the Egyptians echoing in their ears. Every home was mourning the death of a firstborn. And Israel left. It had been impossible, but here they were, going out of Egypt on their way to their own land—three million strong. God had kept all of his promises to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob—and to them! He had delivered them from Egypt!
Miriam was there when this vast number of people came to the impassable barrier of the Red Sea. Miriam was there when they looked behind them and saw the chariots of Pharaoh bearing down on them, to either take them back to Egypt or to kill them. Miriam was there when God opened a path to the sea, and that whole army of people walked over on dry ground. Miriam was there when Pharaoh’s chariots and horses stepped in to go into the same path, and the walls of water that had stood so firm for the Israelites crumbled and fell and filled in that whole dry bed, and drowned the mightiest army of that civilization.
The Israelites were free! Free forever from Egypt and all of its cruelty and bondage! It was a time for joy, a time for singing, and that’s exactly what they did in Exodus 15. Will you turn to that? This is the first song recorded in the Bible, and it is not without significance that it is only after a people was redeemed. You see, only a redeemed people have a song to sing, and in Revelation it tells us that one day we, the redeemed, will sing a new song before the throne!
Moses taught them this song. Exodus 15:1-2:
"I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea.
[You know, this is something for us to learn from. When you thank the Lord for things, do you just say, “Oh, Lord, thank you for all my blessings;” or do you say, “Thank you, Lord, for the fact that in this family we have had three meals today”? “Thank you for the health of my children! Thank you that I have a kind and loving and supportive husband! Thank you that I have a church that I can go to to hear your Word! Thank you for a country that is free!” Or, do we just say, “Thank you”? You see, we need to be specific. Moses said, “The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.”]
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
I won’t read the rest. I think you need to read it, though, to see the way their praise totally magnified the Lord. Look—I love this section in verse 11, though--"Who among the gods is like you, O LORD?” They had just left a country that worshipped three hundred thousand gods! They worshipped the fly, they worshipped the beetle, they worshipped the sun, they worshipped the bulls, and everything! And he says, “Who among the gods is like you? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” You see, what God did revealed his character, and that’s exactly what the song brings out.
But, in that day, the way they would sing in praise was that one side would sing, and then the other would answer in response. That’s antiphonal singing. Look what happened in verses 20-21.
Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them [and she sings the same verse as verse 1 there, with a little bit of change in the pronoun]:
"Sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea."
We see hear that she is a leader of the women. They followed her. She has musical ability. She takes her place of leadership, but her leadership directed them to the Lord--in praise to the Lord. She has a godly influence.
I want you to notice the word that is used to describe her. What was it? Prophetess! What’s a prophetess? A “she-prophet”? Right! It’s a female prophet! What’s a prophet? A prophet is one to whom and through whom God speaks, revealing himself and his will.
We need to make a little distinction. In the Old Testament, especially at this time not one word was written of the Word of God. Moses was the one who wrote the Word of God, and that’s a lot later. He wrote the first five books. They have no written Word, so God has to use men to speak his Word. He gave them very clear guidance in Deuteronomy 13. He said that if a person says he’s a prophet and he says something’s going to happen, and it happens, then you can say he is a prophet of the Lord. If it doesn’t happen, he is not a prophet of the Lord, and the Lord didn’t send him. The test of a true prophet was that what he said came to pass; but the emphasis must not be on foretelling the future, although the prophets did that—the emphasis has to be on forth-telling the Word of God. These people spoke God’s Word that he revealed to them, clearly to the people. That’s what a prophet did.
In the New Testament, before the whole New Testament text was written, the prophets spoke. God gave the church prophets. It was one of the foundational gifts, because the Word was not completely written. They not only foretold, but they gave forth new revelation. Now that does not happen anymore. When the Scripture was complete, there was no need for further revelation. But, we do see today that there is a gift of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 12, for instance, it’s listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit, one of the enabling gifts. This is 1 Corinthians 12, New Testament, verses 27-31:
Now you are the body of Christ [he is saying this to all the Corinthians], and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles [they were the ones who came and gave the message with authority and built the church], second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? [The answer in the Greek demands a “no” because it is preceded by a negative. It’s a question that must be answered with a “no.”] Are all prophets? [No.] Are all teachers? [No.] Do all work miracles? [No.] Do all have gifts of healing? [No.] Do all speak in tongues? [No.] Do all interpret? [No.] But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
The gift of prophecy today is the ability to proclaim God’s Word with authority and power, and the gift is given to women, as well as men. There were other people in the Bible, women, that were called prophets. There were Deborah, Huldah, Anna in the New Testament, and Philip’s four daughters.
I want you to understand that Miriam was God’s gift to the people of Israel. In fact, he says that in Micah 6:4. He says, “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” She was God’s gift. It was a very important thing for you to see how privileged she was, and how influential she was.
Try to imagine for yourself what it was like as Israel began her journey to the Promised Land. Miriam was involved in everything that happened. She heard the complaining when water ran out, and she saw God’s provision. She heard the complaining when food ran out, and she saw God send the manna every single day for forty years, except Saturday. She picked her share of manna for her family. Now, the Bible does not tell us that she was married, but Jewish tradition says that she married a man named Hur. Do you remember that he was one of those that held Moses’ arms up when he was praying over the battle with the Amalekites? There was Aaron on one side and Hur on the other. She heard the awesome voice of God as he thundered from Mount Sinai and gave them his Law.
Then came the exciting days when the tabernacle was being built—God’s dwelling place in the camp! The women were very important in the finishing of that project. Women brought their gold and silver jewelry; their earrings and nose rings and bracelets and rings; their expensive fabrics and their fine yarns, to offer them before the Lord. Willing women, skilled in weaving and sewing and embroidery worked on all the coverings and the curtains. It tells us that in Exodus 35. Miriam had to be at the head of the line. She was the leader of the women, and she was a pacesetter. She encouraged them.
But, something happened to change Miriam--the protective sister, the prophetess who led the women and supported her brother—into his rival. What happened in that two years that it took them to travel from Egypt to the border of the Promised Land? Did her position go to her head? Did the fact that the women looked up to her fill her with pride?
Miriam had not usurped leadership! I want you to understand this. She was given leadership by God; but with leadership comes great responsibility. I wonder if she resented the way Moses handled some things. Moses was a humble man. He waited for God’s guidance. I get the feeling—maybe I’m putting myself too much into this—that Miriam was more aggressive, more active. You know how hard it is when you think, “Why doesn’t he do something?” You know? And then you prod a little bit, and you prod, and it doesn’t do anything, and then you just get irritated and you begin to question their leadership, and so on?
I think Moses was Miriam’s little brother, whose life she had saved, and I think there was always that kind of feeling. That’s hard to get rid of, isn’t it? And so, something began to erode her wholehearted support for Moses. I don’t know what it was—but I think it was probably a compilation of a lot of things, but ambition began to burn within her. Why should Moses have the final word? Aaron was the high priest. She was a prophetess. Why shouldn’t Israel be run by a committee of three, instead of Moses’ having the final say? They really ought to be equal! You see, instead of being thankful for the influence that God had given her, she wanted more power, more authority, and sometimes when that happens, we lose our influence.
Now something occurred to give them the opportunity they needed to cover their real motives. Turn to Numbers 12:1. “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” Moses is eighty-two by this time. Apparently his first wife, Zipporah, whom he had married forty-two years before, was dead. He has taken another wife, which I find is usually the pattern! I’m always interested to know how long it takes a widower to marry! It’s anywhere from about two months to you-name-it! But, anyway, he took another wife.
Moses’ new wife is a Cushite. What’s a Cushite? She came from the land of Cush, which was around Ethiopia. Cush was a descendant of Ham, who settled down in that area of Africa, and in southern Arabia. The woman probably was darker skinned. This has overtones of racial prejudice. At the very least, it indicated contempt for Moses’ choice of a wife. There was nothing in the Law to forbid his marrying this woman. There were some they were not to marry. They were not to marry any of the Canaanites, or any of the Moabites, but there was nothing forbidding them to marry Cushites. It was strictly a personal thing.
Maybe Miriam didn’t like another woman’s having an influence in Moses’ life. That might have been it. Miriam had been very important all those years. In any case, this became a platform that Miriam and Aaron used to advance their own authority to equality with Moses. They began to talk about Moses. What’s another name for that? Gossip! Everybody knew that! Isn’t that interesting? To whom did they talk? To each other first, and then it began to spread—and I’m sure they didn’t talk to Moses!
You see, this started as they talked to each other about what they didn’t like about their secondary position of leadership, and then it spread subtly. It spread among the women as they picked the manna and as they worked together and they ground it, and as they cooked. Don’t forget that Aaron did his share! You know how it’s done: hints of dissatisfaction, questioning judgment, disappointment in Moses, promoting themselves. Look what they say; now their real motive comes out! See, the smoke screen is talking about this woman from another race that he had married, but now it really comes out!
Numbers 12:2: “’Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn't he also spoken through us?’" The pitch is for equality. We all know how it’s done. Most of us have done this, motivated by pride, jealousy, and envy, we tear down other people or we rebel against the leadership that God has placed over us. This can happen in the home, in the church, in our families, or at work, and it’s the most destructive thing that we can do!
James 3:5-6 says this:
The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
I’m sure all of us have experienced this! Has your tongue been a destructive influence in your life, or has it brought blessing and healing? It is such a critical area that it’s one we all have to watch. James 3:9-10 goes on to say:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men [“Curse” means “to speak evil of.” It doesn’t mean just “to say swear words to.” It means “to speak evil of.”], who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
I can remember when we were raising our first son, who was the most difficult child to raise. I didn’t handle it very well! He would just tick me off, and I would scream and say all kinds of things. I can’t even remember what I said! I had a friend who took her courage in her hands, and she said to me one day that she didn’t think I handled him very well, and that I shouldn’t say the things I did. I was not very grateful for her interference, I have to tell you! That week, I was reading Scripture and in Proverbs the Lord just gave me a verse that pierced my heart. It said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).” I had to make up my mind whether it was going to be death or life for me as a mother and for him as a son, in the way I spoke to him. God really used that. That doesn’t mean I’ve been perfect—but almost! It’s a very important area, girls, in our homes, and with our friends, and with our children. You see, Moses’ credibility as a leader was at stake if this rebellion spread, and Moses wasn’t going to do anything about it.
Look at Numbers 12:3. “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” He wasn’t going to defend himself, but there was someone who would defend him. Look at that phrase at the end of verse 2: “And the LORD heard this.” Now verse 4: “At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "‘Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.’" So the three of them came out.” You’ve got to get the picture here! All three of them were in the tent, God has summoned them, and God’s presence was there in the cloud that was fire by night and cloud by day. The cloud comes down, see? Numbers 12:5-8:
Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent [He’s not resting over it. He’s right at the entrance.] and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, he said, "Listen to my words:
"When a prophet of the LORD is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams. [He says, “This is the usual way that I reveal myself to a prophet.”]
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face, [Moses never saw God’s face. This is an anthropomorphism. It’s a way of talking about God as if he were a man, but, he says, “I speak to Moses with nothing between. There’s no mediator. There’s no vision or riddle, or anything to confuse it. I speak to Moses as clearly as possible, because Moses is my servant--my faithful servant.”]
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD. [We don’t know what Moses saw. Remember when Moses said, “Show me thy glory”? God said, “I cannot show you my glory, lest you die, but I will cover you and then my backside will pass by.” This is another one of those theophanies, where Christ appeared before his incarnation in visible form. Whenever there is anything that the senses can perceive in the Old Testament, it is always the Son who reveals the Father. See? So, in this way, he says to them, “Moses and I have a special relationship, because Moses is a very special person, different from prophets. I deal with him differently. Look at the end of verse 8:]
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?"
Now turn to Romans 13:1-2. I would like for us to have a little bit of present-day application of this. Romans 13 is the definitive New Testament passage on authorities.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities [now here’s what I want you to hear], for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
This is pretty scary, but you see, everyone lives under some kind of authority. Women who are married live under the headship of their husbands--not inferior--equal in personhood, but willingly taking a place of submission to the one God has given the responsibility to lead them. In the church we have leaders—our elders, pastor, deacons (whatever you call them)—they are our church leaders. As long as they are consistent in obedience to the Word of God, we are to support them and to follow their leading.
Every authority is established by God. Therefore, rebellion is against God. In your heart are you resentful of your husband’s role as your head? Rebellion is against God! Do you resent the fact that you have someone supervising you at work? You just really are not into that very much. You like to be on your own. Rebellion is against God. Do you discount or dishonor the leaders of your church? Rebellion is against God, and this brings judgment! It brought judgment to Miriam. Now God’s swift and terrible discipline falls.
Look at Numbers 12:9-10. “The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam — leprous, like snow.” Why Miriam only? Is she the instigator? Now you girls know that I will always take the woman’s side, won’t I? If there is any question I will lean that way! In this case, I think we have to really face it that Miriam was the instigator. She was the one who started this. I think the leprosy on Miriam was God’s confirmation of this.
Why leprosy? What was so terrible about leprosy? It was something you could see! What else happened? In Numbers 5:1-3, if you just turn quickly back, this is just one of the places:
The LORD said to Moses, "Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them."
So, anyone with leprosy had to go outside the camp and stay there until the leprosy left them. Now what was it that Miriam wanted? She wanted more power, more influence, and more prominence. What has happened? She will not even have contact with human beings. No association! No influence! In fact, she would be just a figure of pity and revulsion as she would have to cover her mouth and call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” when anyone got even within hearing distance. That is an unbelievable judgment!
Isn’t God interesting, the way he brings discipline? I also think it’s a very good example of the terrible irony of God. If this is based on racial prejudice, it’s as if God were saying, “If you prefer white, how would you like to be really white?” I think this is something we need to think about. A lot of us have this within our hearts, and I think this works both ways! I don’t think all the prejudice is from whites to blacks, I think it’s reverse, as well. I think we have to recognize that whatever covering God has given us, inside we are all alike. God has fashioned all of our hearts alike, and he has made all men of one blood. We may have personal preferences in whom we marry and whom we want our children to marry. That’s OK. Just don’t make those preferences biblical! Don’t try saying, “God forbids marrying another race,” or, “One race is better than another.” There is no biblical support for that, and I think this is an excellent example to sort of scare us a little bit!
Now look at Numbers 12:10b-12.
Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; and he said to Moses, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away."
Aaron sees with shock his sister’s condition. Aaron is the high priest. He’s the one to intercede with God, but what does he do here? He appeals to Moses to intercede with God for Miriam, and he calls Moses “my lord.” He is acknowledging Moses’ leadership and he confesses his own complicity in their sin. He pleads in touching words for Miriam, and Moses’ response is moving, also. Notice what he says in verse 13: “So Moses cried out to the LORD, "’O God, please heal her!’"
I think the emotion underlying the passage lets us see how much these two brothers really loved their older sister. Now look at v. 14-15:
The LORD replied to Moses, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back." So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.
The Lord says, “Listen—even an earthly father, if he had, because of rebellion or very great disobedience, spit in the face of his child, she would be disgraced and humiliated publicly. I have rebuked and punished her. Even though I will heal her, there needs to be some public humiliation.” He said, “Put her outside the camp, and in seven days bring her back in.”
Why was this necessary? I think the more prominence we have, the more responsibility we have. Because of sin, we can take so many people with us! God has to let there be public humiliation as a deterrent for anyone else to do it-- in this case, a deterrent to anyone else to challenge Moses’ leadership in the future.
This is why it doesn’t upset me too much when people like the Bakers are exposed publicly. The sin had been a public violation of trust, all in the name of the Lord. I hate seeing all of this happen on TV and in the papers, and the papers really camp on it, you know! There is a sense in which this is right, because it’s an exposure that I think God allows. It is a discipline from the Lord. Don’t waste a lot of sympathy. I see these letters in the paper saying, “These people are good people, and it’s terrible the way you keep on.” I don’t think they were good people. If they were good people, the sin is so bad that it needs to be exposed.
We must not protect what is wrong. We can forgive, and we can “not be judgmental” because we can all do the same type of thing. But we must be honest and forthright, and when someone says something, I don’t defend them. I say right out that what they did is totally wrong; it is unbiblical; it is ungodly; it is unchristlike, it is a lust for money; it is all the rest of it, and don’t defend it.
When it says in the Scripture, “Judge not that you be not judged,” it is not saying that we must never say that something that God says is sin, is sin. What he’s talking about is the person who is always looking at somebody to find little flaws. He said, “You see a little mote in your brother’s eye and you say, ‘See, you’re not really what you ought to be, because there’s that little speck I see there.’” He says, “What are you doing? You’ve got a great big log in your eye! How can you judge anybody?” Do you see? That is what it’s talking about! It’s not saying that when someone commits adultery, or somebody does something like this that you are to just close your eyes and just say, “We’re not supposed to judge!” That’s foolishness!
The Bible tells us we are to judge that! That’s the only way that sometimes someone will break off something like that--because they realize they’re going to lose everything if they don’t do it. They are going to lose your friendship. They are going to lose your support. They are going to lose your companionship. Sometimes that is what God uses. Do you understand the difference there, girls?
In this case, Miriam, the leader of women, the prophetess who wanted to be equal with the leader God had appointed, was outside the camp alone for seven days. What do you think she thought of when she was there? What do you think she was like when she came back in? Embarrassed? Humbled? Not quite so sure of herself! Maybe now she was content to be what God had called her to be—a leader of women, under Moses’ leadership.
Do you think there was a loss of influence? I think so! Certainly, she was no longer on a pedestal! She had thirty-eight more years to live under Moses’ leadership, and she never challenged it again. In fact, we never hear her mentioned again, until chapter 20, verse 1, when she’s about 130 years old. They are on the border of the Promised Land for the second time. It’s the first month of the fortieth year, and she dies. She is still a woman of influence, because they record her death, but I am sure that there was a definite diminishing of the influence that she had.
Galatians 5:20 tells us that discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, envy, and conceit are acts of the sinful nature—not of those under the control of the Spirit of God. Now, when I talked about the tongue and how difficult it was to control the tongue, I’m sure some of you were saying, “Man, that is my problem!” It will comfort you to know that the Scripture also says in James 3, “No person can control the tongue.” Now why does it say that the person who controls the tongue is a perfect person, and in the next breath say that no person can control the tongue? It’s because none of us can control the tongue apart from the power of the Spirit of God, who does it for us.
You are saying, “Well, that’s great. That’s what I’m going to do.” But, you, see, you can’t have the Spirit of God unless you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. And you can’t be freed from bondage to sin apart from him. Now let me make the analogy for you! The Israelites were born in Egypt into slavery. No one signed up to be a slave. They were born into it and they could never get out of it by their own effort. Nothing could get them out of it, and for four hundred years they were born slaves in Egypt. The only way they could get out of Egypt was to believe on the leader God sent to deliver them, and to follow him out—and that was Moses! And he delivered them. God did it; he used Moses.
Now you and I are born slaves to sin. The Scripture says that. That sweet little baby that some of you brought here today and you hold in your arms, has a sin nature and is a slave to sin by birth! He’ll prove it to you when about the second word he ever learns is, “No!” See? Now, there is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from our sinful nature. We can’t be good to make up for the bad. We can’t go to church, be baptized, or do any of those things. The only thing we can do is to trust the deliverer God sent to rescue us.
The Bible says that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. When Jesus Christ came to earth, he didn’t come just to teach and to be a wonderful example, he came to give his life as a ransom for many! He came to give his life for you, and for you, and for you, and for me—so that our sins could be forgiven! So that we could have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We could have a divine nature. We could be ready for heaven. We can have access to God. Jesus Christ did that. He did it all. There is not anything we can add to it, but there is one thing we have to do.
God gave Jesus Christ as his gift, and no gift is yours until you take it. You can take the Lord Jesus as your Savior right where you are sitting, by saying, “Lord, I really understand that when you came, you died for me. I need you, because I am a sinner, and I can’t control that. I need you to control me, so I trust you as the one who died in my place and rose from the dead. I trust you as my Savior, my God.” Then you will have a new nature. You will have the Holy Spirit indwelling you forever. You will have the ability, then, to learn how to control the sin, whatever it is–whether it’s lust, temper, tongue, you name it! That’s why Jesus came! But you must do what the Israelites did. They had to believe on the leader God sent them, and they had to follow him out, and he will do the very same thing for you.
I want you to turn to Philippians for a minute. Let’s look at the kind of attitude we must have if we are going to get on in our relationships. Starting right at verse 1, the word “if” in verse 1 really should be “since.” It’s that idea. It’s not “if” in doubt, it’s the “if” of certainty. Phil 2:1-4:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ [and you do], if any comfort from his love [and you do], if any fellowship with the Spirit [and you have that], if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Now can you imagine what would happen if everybody in this room, in the area where they ministered, in their church or in their home, had this attitude? Not, “I want to be first!” Or, “I want everybody to know how good I am.” But, “That person is better than I am! I’m interested in their interests. I want to work together with everyone so that corporately we accomplish what God wants, and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit!” Can you imagine what would happen in the church? You see, that’s what we’re called to do! We are called, not to come here every Wednesday morning to sit and say, “Oh gee, I enjoyed that lesson!” We are called to get out there and use our gifts in the body that we belong to, for each other and for the glory of God.
Now what is it that keeps us from doing that? What are the things that keep you from actively serving God in some area specifically? Busy-ness! Busy-ness in things that are not as important! Right? What else? Laziness? That’s a biggie! What else? Self! Selfishness! “I’ve gotta find myself! I really have to do things to make me feel better! I just take care of people all day, and I’ve gotta do something for me!” The great “me” generation! You know, that is not at all biblical! I don’t want you to think that is all biblical, even if it’s showing up in Christian books!
The most productive, fruitful, exciting life you can live is one in which you know God is working through you to reach other people for himself, no matter what channel he uses. Whether he uses you to help someone who needs food or clothes, or help someone understand God’s Word, or help someone come to Christ, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is advancing the kingdom of God. Anything you do that is for God’s glory and to advance his kingdom, to advance the gospel, is the only thing that is going to last.
Now, tell me why else you do not serve him. Satan deceives us? That is true. You feel inferior; but if God says you have a gift, and you were given it the moment you trusted Christ, then what do you have to do to get over that? Just believe God and go on out and do it! What else? Fear of ridicule! What other kind of fear? Fear of failure. What other kind? Fear of rejection. Fear that people are going to notice that all of a sudden you are making a stand for God, and they are going to make fun of you. That’s true! What else? What else keeps us from doing the most wonderful thing in the world? Pride? It’s mainly self-centeredness. It’s unbelief! It’s telling yourself that it doesn’t matter what God’s Word says, that you are going to do your own thing. And then when you get old and all of these interesting things that you are doing now don’t matter anymore, then maybe you’ll give God the dregs—you know, whatever’s left! See, such foolishness!
The only things you can do that will ever matter are the things that you do that bring God glory and advance his kingdom. For some of you, that right now is raising your children to know Jesus Christ, and to live for him. I’m not saying to you, “Forget this!” But, one of the things that you can say is, “Lord, send to me, while I’m confined at home, send to me people I can minister to.”
It is also true that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. There is a woman in my church who came to me about two years ago, and she said, “I have multiple sclerosis.” She seemed to deteriorate quite rapidly! Then they re-diagnosed it, and it’s Lou Gehrig’s disease. The minister of music and the minister to adults went to her house this morning to plan her funeral. She can no longer talk. She can communicate, but no longer talk, and she’s about 28! That’s it! Twenty-eight! You see, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. It’s really true!
We need to begin to really see the responsibilities we have. Can you imagine, if this were our attitude as is lined up for us in Philippians, what a difference it would make in our home, in our church, in our community organizations? Think of all the gossip and the hurt feelings that would be avoided. Think of the freedom we would have just to be ourselves, and to let that other person be himself or herself without being afraid of being “shot down.” Think of how far forward we could go if we didn’t have to keep looking backward to see who was getting ready to “stab us in the back.”
You see, we women have to be particularly careful of our tongues—not because we gossip and men don’t. That’s not true. But, we do talk so much more, and that’s why the danger is more! In fact, it says in Proverbs 10:19, and listen carefully to this; this is kind of an awesome verse. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he [or she] who holds his tongue is wise.”
The influence of women is so critical that Paul had to make a special appeal to two women who are on the outs in Philippi, to reconcile their differences because it was hurting the whole church. Phil 4:2-3:
I plead with Euodia [a woman] and I plead with Syntyche [another woman] to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow [he’s asking one of the leaders of the church there], help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
He said that these women were critical workers for the gospel. They were influential. They were effective, and they are on the outs. It’s hurting them and it’s hurting the church. He said that the leadership needs to move in and help them! If you know women in your church that have a “thing” between them, and they are just going on, help them! Do what you can to bring them back. Pray for them! Talk to them! Confront them and bring them back together. Our influence is terribly important.
I am very grateful that in this church and in the church that I go to, that the women’s ministry is not just a fringe program that is just barely tolerated by the leadership. It is an integral part of the church program. Our attitude as women must always be one of freedom to be all that God wants us to be, with care not to be resentful about restrictions that are placed upon us—now listen carefully—that are biblical! Be very careful about that! That’s a goal that I want to keep as the women’s representative at Northwest, and certainly as an example to you here. I don’t want to lose influence by making a play for power, and I think we have to be very careful about that as women.
Miriam was a unique woman. This is our theme. She was very influential, and she was held accountable by God for that influence. She lost influence by making a play for power. You are unique! You are responsible to God! You have an influence! You have it already! It’s either good or bad, or in between! Are you satisfied with what God has given you to be and to do? Are you serving him wholeheartedly, just where you are, whatever your calling? Are you envious and looking at someone else and wishing that you could do that—waiting to get out of the “prison” where the kids are?
I know that there is every season of life represented here. There are some with no children, some with first children, some with more than one, some whose children are grown, some whose children have left. We are at every stage of life, and I can tell you, because I’m in the last stage now—that every single stage of life can be rich and satisfying, if we are determined that we are primarily responsible to God, to love him, to serve him, to obey him, whatever stage of life we are in. If you have that commitment, you won’t be able to handle the joy and the significance that he’s going to bring into your life.
God’s woman is a unique creation, responsible to God, to love him, to serve him, to obey him, and influential in her sphere. There are three words I want you to keep remembering: unique, responsible, and influential. Miriam was a woman of influence, and she lost a lot of that because she was not satisfied with the limitations placed on her, and she made a play for power. We need to be careful about that!
1. Read Exodus 2:1-10. Describe what we can deduce about Miriam, Moses’ sister, from this incident.
2. Ex. 15:20-21 is 80 years later. What is she called? What do we learn about her and her abilities? Why was she an important support for Moses?
3. Numbers 12:1-16. What do you think was really the motivation behind Miriam and Aaron’s challenge to Moses’ leadership? What occasion did they use as a smoke screen? Who were the Cushites? What might be the subtle undercurrent here? What did Miriam and Aaron want to change?
4. How did Moses defend himself or his authority? How did the Lord defend Him? Summarize what God says in verses 6-8 about His special relationship with Moses. Compare Mark 14:3-9 and note the similarities in Jesus’ defense of Mary.
5. Have you ever been accused falsely? How did you defend yourself? Have you ever had to just let the Lord defend you or vindicate you? What can you learn from Psalm 25 about this?
6. What is implied by the fact that the Lord punished only Miriam? Why was leprosy such an awful disease? What would happen to Miriam? Numbers 5:1-5.
7. What is the significance of the way Aaron addresses Moses in vs. 11? How does he fulfill his function as High Priest here?
8. What feeling for Miriam do her brothers reveal in vs. 11-13? What do you think was the effect of Miriam’s banishment from the camp on her? On the people? Deut. 24:9
9. How does this incident illustrate Romans 13:1-2? See also Colossians 3:18-4:1 and Hebrews 13:7, 17 and name the human authorities God has instituted. What attitude are we to have towards these authorities?
10. Was Miriam influential? Did God consider her important? Micah 6:4. Where did she go astray? What does Numbers 20:1 (38 years later) indicate about her?
11. Galatians 5:20, 26; Philippians 2:3-4; 4:2-3; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:1-4 tell us how we should relate to each other in God’s family. What attitudes should we have as leaders and as those under the leadership of others?
12. Do you see some wrong attitude you should forsake, some godly attitude you should develop? Is there someone in leadership you resent or are jealous of? Do you undermine their leadership by gossip or slander? What ACTION OF YOUR WILL based on God’s Word will you take to correct this? Then depend on Galatians 2:20!
A couple of years ago I heard from an old friend—really a relative—that had been had been married thirty-seven years ago. She was from a Christian home. He was a missionary kid. They met at Wheaton. They graduated. They went to Africa as missionaries. They were the ideal Christian family--had five children and I-don’t-know-how-many grandchildren at that time. One day he came in after several months of what appeared to be a disaffection in his attitude and said to her, “I just don’t want to be married anymore.
A couple of years ago I heard from an old friend—really a relative—that had been had been married thirty-seven years ago. She was from a Christian home. He was a missionary kid. They met at Wheaton. They graduated. They went to Africa as missionaries. They were the ideal Christian family--had five children and I-don’t-know-how-many grandchildren at that time. One day he came in after several months of what appeared to be a disaffection in his attitude and said to her, “I just don’t want to be married anymore. I want a divorce.” When they went before the judge, he said to the judge, “I cannot fault her in any way. She has been a perfect wife. I just don’t want to be married anymore, especially to her [because a couple of years later he did marry].”
This story is being multiplied over and over, and almost all of you know somebody that this has happened to right in the Christian community. This type of suffering I think is one of the worst types. It’s domestic suffering. It’s terribly personal. It affects our self-image, our self-esteem, our sense of worth, and it’s happening all over the country. Every time I go on a retreat I hear a story like this.
Why do we suffer? Is suffering in your life and mine always a consequence of our personal sin? Does it automatically mean that God is displeased with us? Is it because we are not spiritual? Why is it that my child has gone astray? My marriage has disintegrated? My family is hit with tragedy, with financial reverses, with fatal disease? I’m sure we’ve all asked that question of ourselves and others. Basically, it’s one question: Is suffering ever God’s perfect will for us? What does he accomplish through suffering that can be done no other way? And when we suffer, do we turn from God, or do we turn to him?
Now, one of the many women in the Bible for whom God’s purpose was suffering--in the culture of her time, a suffering that pervaded her entire being and every relationship she had--was Hannah. And I want us to turn to 1 Samuel 1, and I’m going to read the first eight verses and then comment on it. I’m going to skip a couple of sentences are not too relevant, so watch carefully. 1 Samuel 1:1-8 (NIV):
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah …. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty [the “Lord of Hosts,” this is in your King James] at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you [so] downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?
Let me set it up for you slightly. This is a Levitical family that lived in Ephraim. The Levites were scattered all over the country in forty-eight cities. It’s important to note that they were Levites, because Samuel becomes a priest, and so the priestly family was the Levitical family. Now, we have here a godly man, and he has two wives. Polygamy is tolerated in the Old Testament, but it is never displayed for us without all the accompanying heartache that goes with it. God’s intent from the beginning was one man and one woman, and I think this passage supports that, as well.
Hannah’s name meant “grace” or “favor.” The thing about Hannah that we know was the cause of great suffering was that she was barren. In the culture of that time, that was devastating. You see, God promised to bless his people when they were in the land, and one of his forms of blessing was children. So, if a person did not have children—if a woman did not have children--and obviously Hannah was the one at fault, because her husband had children, that meant several things. First off, it meant that it was a reproach. It was the kind of thing where all your neighbors said, “Well, there’s really something wrong with her, because if she weren’t a sinner then she would have children.” It meant that her personal worth, which was so dependant on her function, was diminished, because she did not function in the only way a woman should function: that was to give sons to her husband.
What do think this did for her? What do you think she felt like personally? Something is wrong with her. Rejected, certainly, by society, at least behind peoples’ backs. Failure to do her duty by her husband. What else? What about her self-esteem? And to top it off, it was compounded by this lovely rival she that she had in her house! You would think, with all of the children that Peninnah had, that she could have been gracious, wouldn’t you? Why do you think she did this to Hannah, from the passage? She was jealous of her. Why? Because Elkanah loved Hannah anyway! You see? Even with all these children—year after year she must have had a baby—she could not get her husband’s love.
Really, this is not a very, very happy home, but it’s a godly home. Certainly, in that day, it was exemplary, because year after year, this man went up. Now, three times a year the men of Israel were to go to where the tabernacle was. When Joshua brought the people into the land, he set the tabernacle up at Shiloh. Ramah, where they lived, is fifteen miles north of Jerusalem, and Shiloh is fifteen miles north of Ramah, so we’re talking about a fifteen-mile trek, which is a good day’s journey, that they made to go to sacrifice to the Lord where the tabernacle was.
There’s a little note here: Hophni and Phinehas—we’re going to meet them a little bit later--were the priests. Now, one of the sacrifices that was offered--this was probably the Feast of Tabernacles that this incident takes place in—one of the sacrifices that was offered was the peace or the fellowship sacrifice. What happened was this: they would offer the sheep, or the lamb, or the goat to the Lord, and then a part of it would go to the priest. The breast and the right thigh would go to the priest, and then the fat and all of that would be burned before the Lord, and then the rest of it would be eaten by the family. It was like God was saying, “Have a party on me. Have fellowship with me.” And they all ate it. Now, the older son would get a double portion.
In this case, what did this man do? He gave that to Hannah. He gave her a double portion, and what was he really saying? “Even you don’t have a son, you are so special to me that I want everyone to know that I love you.” I mean, I think that was really neat, don’t you? Especially in those days, it was really unusual for him to show such favor, regardless of her barren state. He really personally loved her.
I want you to notice a limitation. Elkanah was limited. He could not enter into her suffering. Why not? He had children. That’s exactly the point! And I love verse 8. He says, “Why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Am I not worth ten sons to you?” What was really her answer? “No!” Do you see that?
I think this is significant, because I think, especially in this day when we’re hearing so many great success stories that if you do this and you do this, your husband will turn out perfect! He will be a great communicator. He will meet all your needs. You won’t need any women friends. You won’t need anything; you just will have him and that will be enough. That is a lot of baloney, or malarkey, because there is a point beyond which men cannot go. I think we have to face it. The very, very unusual man may be able to, but no one really can really enter into the emotional make-up of a woman but a woman.
That’s why it’s so important for us to have good friends—Christian friends—that we can share with. Don’t have unrealistic expectations about your husband. It’s not fair to burden him with the job of meeting every little emotional need--listening to every little story you want to tell. Have you ever tried to tell your husband something, and you’re going into every little detail, and he’s saying, “Well, get to the point!” You want to tell the whole thing, because you want to relish every little incident! They are made so differently! Now, a lot of them can change and do change under the Spirit’s control and guidance. But I think we start off with a much better perspective if we don’t expect from them what is going to be very hard for them to deliver. This man, as much as he loved her, could not relate at all to what she was suffering, simply because it wasn’t a need that he had.
We find Hannah at the point where there is no human help available, no emotional support, and whose fault is this whole thing? God’s. How do we know it’s God’s fault? It says it twice! It says, “The Lord closed her womb in verse six, and it says it in one other spot—verse 5. Twice, “The Lord closed her womb.” This was God’s fault. There were no second causes. God planned her suffering! Now that’s hard to take! You see, a lot of us think, “Well, this just sort of slipped by God and he didn’t know it was going to happen,” but God directly planned that she suffer in this way.
I think every one of us in our lives, if we can look back, or even at the moment, have areas that we have no control over--no victory in. God has allowed us this area of weakness and defeat that we constantly fail in, and we are powerless in our own strength to change it. Why does God bring us to that place? What do we do as long as we can handle it? We handle it! And we never know his power! And we never call on him. When is it that we really call on him? When we’re desperate, isn’t that right? And when every other resource has gone--and God allows that! We come to an end of our rope, and you know what we find at the end of our rope? God! And God brought her to this place.
Someone has said--I think it was E. Margaret Clarkson— that pain, rightly used, increases our capacity for God. And the greater the capacity, the more we will be filled with him. And that’s God’s purpose for suffering: so that we get to know Him better and love him more!
Well, the time for the yearly sacrifice was here. 1 Samuel 1:9: “Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD's temple.”
You see, Hannah had to come to a decision: was this status quo going to go on forever? Was she forever just going to see Peninnah having one baby after another and she having none; and was she going to be satisfied with that? Or was she going to make an all-out commitment to the Lord and go for broke? She’d come to the end of her resources, and so she comes before the Lord. Now look at verse 11. I’m going to read v. 11-16, and I want you to notice the words that describe her emotional state.
She made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty …” (v. 11). This expression I want to just explain a little. It appears in verse 3. It’s the word “Lord of Hosts.” It is used particularly. It is never used in the first five books of the Bible. It’s never used in Joshua. It’s never used in Judges. It’s rare in the Psalms. It is speaking of God as the helper of Israel and the comfort to Israel in time of distress and failure. And see, Hannah personally was in a time of distress and failure, so she uses this expression. She says:
“O LORD of Hosts, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me [The word “remember” means “do something about my misery”], and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
“Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
Now, what words describe her emotional state? Just call them out, from the passage. “Anguish.” “Grief.” “I’m not a worthless woman.” What else? “Sorrowful spirit.” “Troubled.” “Distressed.” “Bitterness of soul.” “Pouring out her heart to the Lord.” Now, what kind of a prayer do you think this was? Was this an “O LORD, bless everybody” prayer? “Bless my family; bless me”? What was this? This was from the heart and this is an honest prayer. You know what I think she told the Lord? I think she said, “LORD, it’s not fair. LORD, I’m jealous. LORD, I hate Peninnah. She’s so mean to me!” I think she said everything she was feeling--and you know what? That does not upset God.
Some of us, when we come to pray, are so afraid to be honest. We’re afraid to say to the Lord what we’re really feeling--that we don’t think it’s fair. Why do they always have all the financial resources that they need and we are always hanging on the cliff of despair? Why do their children live and mine die? Why do they have a healthy family and we have diseases, one after another? I think we should come to God and say, “Lord, it just doesn’t seem fair! I’m bitter! I’m angry!”
I think it’s very important to be honest with God and to tell him how you’re feeling. Why? He knows anyway, so it’s no surprise! He knows anyway, but you know what? It does you good to tell him! If you read the Psalms, you’ll find David just says all kinds of things! If you read Job, you’ll find Job says all kinds of things to God. God doesn’t seem to be blown away by it! And then he just moves in with his reassurance and his comfort. David will start off a Psalm saying, how fearful and desperate he was, but then he ends it with a strong statement of trust in the Lord for deliverance. I think being honest with God about our emotions is very good for us, as long as we go right on into faith, and this is what God wants from us.
Now, Hannah was very honest with the Lord. She told him just what she was thinking, and I think God wants us to do the same kind of thing. Now let me ask you something. Why had she wanted a child before this great confrontation with God? What were her reasons? For herself--to be vindicated as a woman, and for her own pleasure. Are those bad reasons? No! What else? To please her husband. What else? Yes, to shut up Peninnah’s mouth and everyone else who reproached her. What else? What about her own sense of worth? It would certainly help, wouldn’t it? You see, basically, all of those motives are based on human pride, aren’t they? They are subtle, but they are there, and they’re not bad reasons.
But, you know, I believe that sometimes we want to be rescued from an intolerable situation--it might be a besetting sin; it might be our own personal suffering that no one knows about. But lots of times our reasons are the same. It’s for our self-esteem. It’s so that we’ll be accepted by others. It’s for our personal happiness. It’s to be vindicated as a good Christian. But see, those motives are really not quite good enough for God. There is one motive that pleases God. It’s the same motive that Jesus had.
In John 17:4, Jesus said in his great prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” “I have glorified you,” he said. Now in 1 Corinthians 6, we learn that that’s supposed to be what we do. First Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor [or glorify] God with your body.”
You might be thinking, “Well, I glorify him when I come to church, or I teach a Bible class,” but in 1 Cor 10:31 it says: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That is the motive that moves God’s heart. Now the word “glory” gets me kind of confused sometimes. I think of glory as the great brightness of God; but when it says to “glorify God,” it simply means “let God be revealed out of your life.”
When people look at you—when they look at how you live, how you handle sorrow, how you discipline your life, how you relate to your husband, how you relate to your children, how you minister in the church--they see God at work, and all that’s really all God expects of any of us! That’s why he’s left us here—so that he can be seen in our lives! You see, he could have sent angels! Periodically, once a year, we could have we could have a great mass of angels singing to God’s glory, and everybody would believe on God. He didn’t choose that. He chose to live in human bodies—our human bodies—otherwise, he could have just taken us straight to heaven and made it a whole lot easier for most of us!
Hannah’s motives were so purified that her selfish reasons were gone and she had the big picture. Did you notice what she said in verse 11? “If you give me a son, I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.” Now, a Levite served from the age of 25 to 50, and he retired. Twenty-five years. But she is saying, “Not twenty-five years, Lord. Give me a son and you can have him all of his life—every single day of his life.” And then she said, “No razor will ever come to his head.” Well, what is the significance of that? You see, this was the Nazirite vow.
She didn’t even have a child conceived yet, but she made up her mind that if she had a child, he would be a Nazirite. Now a Nazirite was someone fully separated or set apart for God. There were three things that a Nazirite could not do. He was never to cut his hair (remember Samson?), he was never to touch anything dead, and he was never to drink from the fruit of the vine. Three things. And she’s really saying, “I’m going to give this child, this son, back to you.”
She wanted a son because, of course, a son carried on the father’s name, but a son would be one who could serve the Lord in the tabernacle. And so, she says, “I want a son.” She’s very specific. “I’ll give him back to you all the days of his life, and I’m going to let everyone know visibly of my personal commitment to you, regarding this child.” There was no secret vow. This wasn’t something where she thought in her heart, “Well, I’m going to say this to the Lord, but if it gets tough and I want to back out later, nobody will know!” That’s not familiar? None of us ever does that?
I remember when I was going to go to seminary and I was so excited about it! I thought I could hardly wait to get there! Of course, my friends all knew I was going, and everybody was saying, “What are you doing this for? You’re crazy!” I would say, “Oh, I just know I’m going to love it! It’s going to be such a challenge!” I got there the very first day, and anyone who has ever gone will tell you that the first day is devastating, because all you do is go from one class the other, where each teacher tells you what you are required to do for the whole semester. And so, you go into one class, and you find that in this class you have to write seven papers, and in this class you write five papers, and in this class you have two exams and three papers--and I had never written a paper of that kind ever before. I came home and my kids were all excited, saying “How was it, Mom?” I can still see myself! I stuck my head down and said, “If everybody didn’t know I was going, I would quit today!”
You see, it’s easy to quit when nobody knows! And yet, she let everybody know that this child was going to be different, and the way he looked would show it, as well. Now look what happens. I want you to notice a couple of other things. It says a lot for the condition of Israel, that Eli thought she was drunk. That must have been not an uncommon thing, and she had to defend herself. So we see here also that she didn’t even have any pastoral support. She had no spiritual support of any kind. This was her and God and nobody else. Her husband wasn’t involved. In fact, that’s an interesting point. We’ll pick that up in a minute. Her spiritual leader couldn’t even relate to her.
And you know, sometimes with us, it’s got to be us and God. Sometimes no one else will understand why you have made this step or why you have made this commitment. It’s just you and God, and it may have to be all there is for you for a while, until God vindicates you.
Now Eli blesses her. He says, “Go in peace. May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” It was a blessing. It was almost prophetic. And then she answers, “’May your servant find favor in your eyes.’ Then she went her way, ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” How come? What had happened to change her? What circumstances were different? None! Do you realize she prayed, she wept, she made her vow, and she walked out not knowing whether God was going to take her up on it or not, and yet she was at peace inside. What does that tell us about her? She believed God! Her faith gave her that joy. She trusted God regardless.
You know, I often think many times we say, “Well, I’m gonna trust God if he does this for me. I’ll believe in him if he pulls me out of this.” But do you remember those three Hebrew young men who were there at the edge of the fiery furnace and Nebuchadnezzar says to them, “If you don’t bow down to my image I’m going to throw you into the burning fiery furnace, and what god will deliver you out of my hand?” And they said, “Our God can deliver us, O King. But if not, we still will not bow down to your image.”
I think in all of our hearts--and God knows it--there has to be a “but if not.” There has to be “Lord, this is what I really want—I don’t want my mother to have cancer! I don’t want my child to have leukemia! I don’t want my husband to lose his business, his job. I don’t want our home to go down the tube in foreclosure, but if not—I still am going to trust you. I still know that you are going to take care of our family. It’ll have to be different from what we expected, but we still trust you!” I don’t think that’s too much to ask of those of us who know the Lord, do you? God has to bring us to that place to sift out the wheat from the chaff, I think, in our lives.
Well, let’s go back to the text, 1 Samuel 1:19-20:
Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him."
His name was a testimony. The name means, “heard of God.” Every time his name his name was called, you could remember he was prayed for. His appearance was a testimony. His little hair grew longer and longer, and it was never cut. And I believe his training was a testimony. Now in that day, weaning took place at about three years--maybe a little longer, but not much more. She had him three to four years, and that was it. What do you think she taught him? If you only knew that you had that little boy for three to four years, what would you teach him? What would you want him to know if you knew he was going to leave you forever? What would you teach him? That he was prayed for, and that he was an answer to prayer, and therefore, what would he know about his mother? That she loved him; that he was very much loved and very much wanted.
What else would she have taught him? What do you think she said to him when he came in and said, “How come I can’t get a butch haircut like Jimmy down the street?” What do you think? “You’re special, because the way your hair is tells everybody that you are going to serve God all your life. What else? What do you think she would prepare him for? For leaving her! She would have to use all that time to build into him a love for God and a trust in God, and know that she would not be there to help him.
Now I am going to ask you something that I have asked myself. Do you think she ever thought of changing her mind? What would you have done? I mean, it’s great to think about what you would do if you had children. But when you have them, there’s something different, isn’t there? I remember before I was married being in the home of somebody who had absolutely impossible children! They were so unruly, and I thought to myself, “If my kid ever acted like that I’d kill ‘im.” You know what I found out when I had children? That I had a love for my own children that I didn’t have for theirs.
It’s easy to imagine what you’d be like, but it’s very different when they are yours. I think that she certainly must have thought, “Well, I ….” What would her excuses have been? What excuses would you have made? He’s my only one! I think she could have said, “I can’t give him up! I was distraught when I said that to you! You understand, don’t you? I really was a little out of my mind!” Pleading insanity—you know, this type of thing!
I want you to look at 2:12. “Eli’s sons were wicked men. They had no regard for the LORD.” What they did was they despised and dishonored the Lord’s sacrifices. Then look at 2:17. “This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.” And then look at 2:22: “Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.” They despised the Lord’s sacrifices and they were immoral, and they were priests of the Lord.
Now, that was the biggie! “Lord, how can I take Samuel to live in such an immoral environment when Eli wasn’t even a good father to his own sons?” You see, Eli was a better father than he was a priest. Not really better. God accused him of loving his sons more than he loved the Lord. You see, he should have not only rebuked his sons, which he did, but he should have kicked them out of the priesthood, and he didn’t. As a result, if you read the rest of it, God eliminated Eli’s family totally from the priesthood forever. God brought the punishment that Eli wouldn’t do. But she could have said, “How can I trust my child to such a bad environment?”
I think a lot of Christian couples are asking the same question today! They say, “We don’t want to have children. Such a terrible world to bring them into!” What do you think the New Testament world was like? You see, we have to trust God that in the midst of all the evil around us, he can give us wisdom, keep us faithful, and raise our children to serve him. If Christians don’t have children, who is going to be the next generation in the church? Who are going to be the leaders? Who are going to be the missionaries? You see, we can’t use this as an excuse, and she could have.
Notice what happens in 1 Samuel 1:21-23:
When the man Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, "After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always."
"Do what seems best to you," Elkanah her husband told her. "Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good his word." So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
Now there’s something missing in this whole story. What is it that you notice that may be bothering you a little. She hasn’t had the child yet, but she says, “When I have him, I’m going to give him away for life.” What’s missing? She didn’t say, “I’ll give him to you if Elkanah lets me.” I’m not going to turn to it because of the time, but I’d like you to turn to it when you get home. It is Numbers 30, starting at verse 10. In that passage, you will find that God gives permission to women in Israel to make a vow to him. It is because God knows we are in the framework of submission; it is controlled by this. It says that if your husband, in the day he hears of it, says nothing, the vow stands. If, later, he says, “No, I don’t want you to do it,” you are released from your vow. You get credit, of course, for having wanted to do it. If later he says, after he’s heard it, but later says, “I don’t want you to do it,” you are released from your vow, but your husband bears your iniquity.
You see? So, what this tells us is that God allowed for women in that day to relate to him, to have access to him, to give themselves in acts of devotion. It wasn’t just the father, and the mother had nothing. God made provision for that. And you’ll notice that he fulfilled his vow. He took her vow for his own.
Now let’s see what happens. 1 Sam 1:24-28:
After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with [either this is a three-year-old bull or three bulls (the manuscripts vary on this), a bushel] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. When they had slaughtered the bull, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, "As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD." And he worshiped the LORD there.
Now why did she bring a bull, or three bulls? Goodness, she was giving the most precious thing she had. Wouldn’t that be enough? What did Hannah and Elkanah realize that a lot of us forget? That you do not come to God on the basis of what you do for him. You come to God first and you have your sins dealt with. Every Old Testament sacrifice was a picture of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who would one day die and shed his blood for the sins of the world. You did not come into the presence of a holy God with any gift and think you were doing him a favor. You came first with a blood sacrifice to take care of your sin, and then you offered whatever else you wanted to, to God.
In this case, whether they offered a sin offering first or not with the other bulls we don’t know, but this was the consecration offering for Samuel. It was a burnt offering. What they did--if you want to read about it in Leviticus 1, you can find it. What they did was, they skinned the animal, they cut it up in pieces, they washed the insides and the legs and laid it on the altar, and all of it was burned. None of it was eaten. None of it was given to the priest. All of it was burned. Why was this called a consecration offering, a burnt offering? What did that indicate? Every bit of it was for God. It’s a perfect picture of Jesus Christ! When he died, all of him, body, soul, and spirit, was given for us. And she was giving all of Samuel for all his life to God, and that’s exactly what she did.
If you think that you can earn Brownie points with God because you’ve given up a lot for him, or you work a lot, or you do good deeds, you’ve missed the whole point of the Bible. The whole point of Scripture is that we can do nothing to please God until we take from God what he has done to make us acceptable. That is, he has given us his Son. We must take him as our Savior. When you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, then you become God’s child. Then the Holy Spirit lives within you. You’ve been given a divine nature. Your sins are forgiven. Now you are to serve God. Now you are to give yourself back to God for his exclusive use. This is what she did with Samuel. “I give him to God for his whole life.” And then she left there, went home and cried. Is that what it says? (Laughter.)
Hannah’s song in chapter 2, which I wish we could read, is so beautiful and so filled with joy that Mary’s song, when she received word that she would have the Savior, is borrowed a lot from it.
1 Sam 2:1. Right from the beginning, she said:
"My heart rejoices in the LORD;
in the LORD my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemy. [Who’s that? Peninnah!]
for I delight in your deliverance.”
And then she goes on: “There’s no one like you” (v. 2). And then she ends the song by giving a prophetic utterance. Notice this:
"He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed."
The word “anointed” is the word in the Hebrew, “Messiah.” This is the first time that the Messiah is referred to. This is very fitting! Her son would become the one who anointed the first two kings of Israel, and introduced the Davidic dynasty from which the Messiah would come. It’s all very suitable, very fitting, right here. Now notice, Samuel stays with Eli, verse 11: “… Elkanah went home to Ramah, but the boy ministered before the LORD under Eli the priest [in that awful environment].”
Look at 1 Sam 2:18-21:
But Samuel was ministering before the LORD-a boy wearing a linen ephod. [This was a little short tunic that the priests wore.] Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, "May the LORD give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the LORD." Then they would go home. And the LORD was gracious to Hannah [grace is the meaning of her name, and this is a play on words]; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.
How many did she ask for? One! How many did she get? Six! Do you ever think you can outgive God? She went there every year and never took him home; never rescinded her vow; never went back on her commitment. You know, I wish I could say that was the same with me! Do you ever make commitments to the Lord? “I am going to have a quiet time twice a week!” “I am going to do this, and then it just dribbles away and by the year’s end there’s just nothing, and you get so discouraged that you don’t want to start again? Never give up! Go right back to your point of failure and start all over again. God doesn’t mind. God will welcome you. He doesn’t really expect you to do anything apart from him. Just come back to your point of commitment and keep on going. Eli would bless her, and she had additional children.
But notice, all this time, 1 Sam 2:26, “… Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.” Now, let me ask you; let’s go back to our big question. Why had she endured these long years of suffering and reproach, this fruitlessness, this loss of self-esteem? Why did God bring that into her life? Well, you see, Israel was in trouble. This was the time of the judges. The end of Judges says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” They were breaking the Mosaic covenant. They were sinning, they were turning to idols. There was no good leadership. Eli was a weak man—a good man himself, but a weak leader—and God needed a man to lead his people in righteousness. But first he needed a mother who would be willing to raise her son and to give him to God.
Hannah’s influence was absolutely immeasurable on her nation. Hannah gave Israel a son that turned the nation around. Bible scholars say Samuel turned the nation. It was Samuel that brought them back to righteousness. It was Samuel that anointed the first king; Samuel that anointed the second king; Samuel who became the last judge and the first prophet. Israel needed a man, and God gave him to them, but he gave him the mother that would be so committed to God that she wanted her son to serve him. God still needs mothers like that! God still needs children like that!
What did Hannah personally learn about God from her suffering? What did she learn about him? She learned to depend on him. What did she learn about his relationship to her? He listened to her; he answered her prayer. What did this prove about him? That he loved her! That he loved her and that he was interested in every detail of her life. That he accepted her! She experienced his power and his fruitfulness, and she learned that her truest joy was in God alone. That’s what her song said: “I rejoice in the Lord!” And while we focus on people and on things, we miss the whole point! Only God can fill our heart with permanent joy, and she found this. She became a bold witness for him. In every way, everybody won—everybody but Peninnah. Israel won; Hannah won; Elkanah won--he had another son by his beloved wife. He had six children by his beloved wife, and God got the glory!
Let’s look at just some principles we can learn about suffering from the story of Hannah. When we suffer in the will of God—now, of course, some suffering comes as a consequence of sin in our own lives, and even that God can use. You can think of some of the things that have happened to you because of bad choices, because of rebellion, and God still can use it. But when we suffer as she obviously did (there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it), it will not diminish, but expand us in every way. You may think your life is shriveling up to nothing, but that’s not what’s going to happen.
The next thing we need to know is that suffering will not abort God’s plans for us, but will fulfill us in every way. It’s suffering that brings us to maturity. It tells us that in James 1! We never become mature without suffering.
Third, (and this is wonderful) suffering is controlled by God’s sovereignty and God’s mercy. He never takes us beyond what we can bear. That’s what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says! He may either give us the ability to endure or the way to escape.
The next one is that suffering ends. Isn’t that wonderful? It ends in God’s deliverance, one way or another. Remember Abigail? God got rid of Nabal, finally. She endured, and then God just zapped him, and that was the end of Nabal; and then she married David.
This is an important one: God cares for us and about us and our suffering, even though we may not feel it. This is something that we really need to remember: the person who is going through real heartache very often feels alienated from God. Many times they can’t pray. This is when we have to move in and really help them out and pray for them and be with them.
Our suffering can be a source of God’s blessing to others, as certainly Hannah’s was. Think of people like Corrie ten Boom and all of these others that have really gone through terrible suffering and have been such blessings.
And, our suffering, just like Hannah’s can bring glory to God. We know people right in this church that this has happened to. If you are right now going through something that has just been unbearable for you and you are ready to throw in the towel, let me close with this verse: 1 Peter 5:10-11:
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Have you ever had the feeling that God just wasn’t on the job? That he wasn’t keeping promises in the Bible that you counted on to be true? Have you ever been disappointed in him? Bitter? Are you blaming God for some sorrow or adversity that has happened that you don’t really think you deserve? Don’t be afraid to admit it! There are things in life that none of us really understands. Quoting Romans 8:28, “Oh, God will work it for good,” is sometimes like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound: it doesn’t always do the trick.
Some of you have left a comfortable lifestyle to come to seminary! You came trusting God to supply all your needs, and it hasn’t exactly been fun. In fact, it’s getting kind of old to wonder each week if there is going to be enough money for food, for those unexpected illnesses that you have to pay the doctor for. Your husband is working in a really low-class job, and he’s a gifted professional. Why hasn’t God given him a better job? After all, you gave up everything to serve him, didn’t you? Why do bad things happen to good people? Isn’t trouble usually a punishment for sin? Not always! I hope you hear that! Not always, as we’re going to hear from our study today!
Now, the woman we are studying lived in the ninth century before Christ in the Northern Kingdom—the ten tribes that called themselves Israel. The moral and spiritual state of the country was deplorable. Baal worship was officially recognized by the court, and why not? The king was the son of Ahab and Jezebel, who had introduced Baal worship into Israel. And King Jehoram not only tolerated Baal worship, but he encouraged the worship of the golden calf instead of fidelity to the living God of Israel.
Israel had been about to enter the land 600 years before. I want you to really listen to me carefully—a lot of the misapprehension and the wrong teaching that we have today about health and wealth being the evidence of spiritual rightness is taken from a misconception of this. Now, I want you to hear it carefully. Six hundred years before, Moses had given the people God’s conditions for blessing in the land. It was simply this: worship the Lord only and obey his commandments, and you will prosper. You will be blessed in every way, materially and spiritually. But if you turn from the Lord and you worship idols, you will be cursed in every way, materially and spiritually. It sounds like simple cause and effect, doesn’t it? It was saying that if you saw a prosperous person, you would know that they were following the Lord. If you saw a poor person, you would know they weren’t following the Lord. But it wasn’t that simple.
Even though the nation was characterized by idolatry, everyone in Israel had not been seduced by idols. In fact, in several cities—Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal, for three--there were what we would call today Bible schools, where men came to study God’s word. These were religious communities established for mutual encouragement and instruction, and they were called either “the sons of the prophets” or “the company of the prophets.” Now, God’s major prophet in the land in that time, whether it was Samuel or Elijah or Elisha, had a very close connection with these schools. In fact, they were the professors. They would teach them what they knew.
Elisha, who was God’s prophet at this time, had an itinerate ministry over Israel. He would visit these schools regularly and instruct them. These men were the faithful few who swam upstream against the current. Surely God would demonstrate through them the material prosperity that he had promised to the faithful. That would just make sense! But instead, 2 Kings 4 explodes with all its seeming inconsistency before our eyes. Look at 2 Kings 4, starting at verse 1 (NIV):
The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves."
Can you just see her, facing Elisha? “Your servant, my husband, revered the Lord! You know him! He is your student! You know that he was a godly man. Now he’s dead!” What was her problem? “Why has this calamity happened to us? Why didn’t the promises of prosperity to the righteous come true for us? Why did my husband die in the prime of life before he could straighten out our financial difficulties and provide for his family? It’s not fair!” Have you ever thought that? “I’ve lost a good husband, and now I’m going to lose my sons to pay his debts, and they are going to become slaves! Someone else is going to own them like property!” She had a valid complaint! She, no doubt, had supported her husband’s vision and his goals. She had been an efficient housewife. After his death she used up all their resources to pay their debts, and now she was reduced to nothing. There was nothing left!
In Leviticus 25, starting at verse 39, is the line of provision in the Mosaic Law for payment of debt when you had no money. I’ll summarize it for you: you worked it off in labor! That’s perfectly valid! But God was very, very careful to place a limit on the time you could serve. The most you could serve was six years, and you had to be released in the seventh. You see, God’s rationale was, “You were once slaves in Egypt, and you will never be slaves again. Certainly, you will never enslave your own brothers!” This is why, in the Year of Jubilee, these people were released. Not only that, they were never to be treated as slaves, but as hired workers.
Now the pathetic plight of this widow was that, not only had she lost her husband, now she’s going to lose her sons—her family. That was bad enough, but it meant something else. You see, it meant that in her old age, she would have no security. It was sons who took care of their aged parents. So, it meant that she faced loneliness, bereavement, destitution, despair, and even an early death because of the oppression of a creditor that violated the Law of God.
You see, God has made special provision for the widow and the orphan in Scripture. They were the responsibility of the community. First off, the husband’s family was to take care of them (if he had a family). Secondly, the community was. Special tithes were taken that were to be provided for their care. They were supposed to glean in the fields and vineyards to get food. They were not to be oppressed or taken advantage of. Look at Exodus 22:22-23 for a minute. It states that very, very clearly. "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” And then, in Deuteronomy 10:18: “He [God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow ….” He defends their cause. This widow cried out to Elisha because he was God’s representative, but who is she really crying out to? God, the defender of the fatherless and the husband to the widow.
Some of you are widowed—through death, through divorce, or through permanent singleness. Isaiah 54:5 is a verse that you can safely trust. That verse says, “…Your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name ….” He is your husband! He is the one who loves you. He is the one who will provide for you. If you need human beings to do it, he will bring them into your life. He will supply your every need!
Now, I know you are saying, “That’s easy for you to say! You have a husband, and you have five children, and you don’t have any problems!” Five children without problems is a misapprehension! But I know that this is true from experience. My father died when I was seven and my sister was five. There was no insurance, and there was no Social Security in those days. In fact, Social Security didn’t even begin until a year later! I can remember my mother saying over and over, during our lives growing up: “God has promised to be a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless.” My sister and I really believed her, and we saw him provide for her and for us, from that day 52 years ago, until now—so I know that this is true. Don’t ever be ashamed or afraid to cry out to God in your need. He is a God who wants to meet that need, whatever it is--whether it’s loneliness, or security, or daily provision, or guidance, or comfort, or victory over sin, or peace, or wisdom that you need. He is both husband and father!
Elisha’s response to this woman rightly reflected God’s attitude. Now to 2 Kings 4:2: “Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you?’” You see, he was sensitive, he was concerned, he was compassionate, he was willing to be involved, and so is God! He asked another question which I really love. He said, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?" (2 Kings 4:2b)
This was an important question to ask. You see, this would be no welfare handout! God would use what she had to start with.
Girls, there’s a principle here that is supported all through Scripture. God multiplies what we surrender to him. Remember when Moses was terrified about meeting Pharaoh and telling him to let Israel go, and God said, “What is that in your hand?” Moses’ shepherd’s staff became the rod of God, a symbol of God’s power. Remember when Jesus fed the 5,000? He started with a little boy’s lunch, which he multiplied to feed a multitude of probably 10,000 people, because it was only 5,000 men that were counted. God will use whatever we surrender to him, no matter how insignificant it seems.
Now, notice her answer. She says, "Your servant has nothing there at all … except a little oil" (2 Kings 4:2c). All she had was olive oil. That was a very necessary commodity in that culture. They used it for food, for cosmetic, and for medicine. But she had so little—not even enough for herself, and so she disparaged what she had! Do you ever do that? God says, “I want you to trust me—to live by faith. I want you to serve me. I want you to accomplish this task or finish this project.” And we answer, “How can I? I don’t have any talents! I don’t have any resources! I have nothing.” But you see, girls, God never made a “nothing.” He never did. He asks you to surrender whatever you have, and whatever you are and he’ll multiply it to accomplish what he has chosen for you to do.
You see, God doesn’t want us to be passive, but actively cooperating with him and depending on him. There is always a market for olive oil—all she needed was more! Now notice Elisha’s instructions. 2 Kings 4:3-4:
Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side."
Now, why did he tell her to do this? Why couldn’t the jar be multiplied, as well as the oil? That would have been such a simple solution. One reason is that it required faith to go around to every neighbor and ask for empty jars. It couldn’t have been easy: everyone knew her plight! It took faith to obey Elisha. Was she nervous? Was she fearful that maybe it wouldn’t work? Have you sometimes not told somebody you were praying about something because you were afraid it might not be answered, and then you didn’t want to look like God didn’t come through? You see, it didn’t matter how she felt; she acted with her will to obey Elisha. Her boldness and her personal effort combined with her faith, and that’s always a necessity, girls. Can’t you see her and her two boys as they as they hurried from house to house, asking for jars, getting them, bringing them back home until there were no more to get?
I think the second reason that Elisha required that she do this, is that he wanted to remind the community that they had a responsibility to her which they were not fulfilling. You see, they should have helped her! They could have all pitched in and helped pay the debt so that her sons would not be taken. They were simply not obeying God’s law in any way. And now, every family in the community was involved in contributing something.
Before we get too self-righteous, I want to remind us that we, too, have a responsibility for the widows and the orphans in our church, in our community. Some people are widowed through death, divorce, or lifelong singleness. Don’t forget that! Don’t discriminate because a person is divorced. It has been the hardest thing in evangelical churches to accept the divorced single. There’s an interested article, I’ll read a little more to you. I just got it yesterday in the mail, and the cover article is on the single parent. It’s a Moody Monthly. It has some very insightful letters in it that I’m going to share with you.
I want you to turn for a minute to 1 Timothy 5:16:
“If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”
Some of you have had to take care of aged parents, and you’ve been sort of champing at the bit a little bit, because you think, “Oh, if I didn’t have to do this, I could go out and serve God!” But you are serving God when you care for those in your family who no longer can take care of themselves. Certainly, widows, aged mothers, aged fathers need our care. This may be the only ministry you can do for a while. Remember, you are ministering. Let God give you a joy as you do that, because you are definitely obeying him.
James 1:27 is very, very clear. He says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” There are many things that we can do for people who are widowed, in whatever the way is. There are small repairs that a handy man can do: a “handy man,” not a “handyman,” but a “handy man;” boys that need a good role model (male role model); women that would be alone on holidays unless we invite them and share ours with them; good clothes that can be handed on. There are countless things that we could do.
Let me just read you a couple of things. This is a very interesting one. Is says, “No Place for the Single Parent.” The article is excellent. There are two articles. There are several letters that came in from single people around the country. Let me just read a couple of excerpts.
“Single parents who are divorced need help with the stress of parenting, not condemnation. Believe me; we already have enough guilt to last a lifetime.”
“One Sunday school class turned our entire half-acre of weeds into a lawn.”
“One team in the church came to our house one afternoon a week to baby-sit for my toddlers.”
“An adult Sunday school class planned a weekend camping trip and invited us to go with them.”
“I would have appreciated another family inviting us to the caravan with them to Disneyland or Yellowstone.”
“Sundays were a difficult day for me. I appreciated dinner invitations, especially on that family day.”
Listen to this—I’m afraid some of us might be guilty of the same type of thing. “One Sunday not long ago should have been my anniversary—twelve years. I had a very difficult time sitting through the service. The pastor’s wife came up to me afterwards and asked, ‘How are you doing?’ Normally, I would just have said, ‘Fine, fine,’ and covered it up, but that day I couldn’t. ‘Really, things are not going very well,’ I said. And she said, ‘Oh, come on! Put a smile on your face and say you’re wonderful!’ I won’t tell you what I felt like saying! I thought, ‘You don’t care about me! You don’t care that I’m hurting! You just want to hear for your sake that I am wonderful.’”
Another one says, “In the past six years, no Christian man has offered to spend time with my son—to play ball, teach him to fish, hunt, camp, give him a man’s perspective, show him how to be a husband and father himself one day. I had to turn to a secular organization to have that need met in his life.”
“My father was killed in the war when I was five, and my mother raised three children alone. With all my heart, I believe that the greatest contribution the church could make to single parents would be for a person of the sex of the missing parent to adopt the children for periods of time: a weekend once a month, perhaps, or an evening. The church failed my brother in this, and let it never be said that little girls don’t need their fathers, too!”
Pretty strong stuff, isn’t it? Every one of us has something to offer these people. This church has about a thousand singles that we minister to. Why don’t you ask the Lord to give you a heart and a vision and a sensitivity so that you might be able to use yourself and your resources to meet some of those needs?
Now in the privacy of her own home she stood with her two boys, surrounded. I imagine that the room was filled with empty jars. Elisha had said to shut the door. This was not going to be a public spectacle! This was going to be a very private miracle to show God’s personal love for this widow and her sons. God was being a husband and father in a very tangible way to this little family. I hope you use your imagination when you study! Can you imagine the suspense as she took the first donated jar and her small, half-filled little jar of oil and started to pour. And the oil kept coming until the big jar was full. And then they got another one and she filled that. And the next one and she filled that. As she filled them, the boys would take and put them to one side. And on, and on she went.
Look what it says (2 Kings 4:5-6):
She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one."
But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing.
You see, the basis for the miracle was her own resources! God will multiply what we surrender to him—multiply it beyond our dreams. I am really amazed at how the Lord gave me an example of this. I got this in the mail last night; we stopped at our post office box. This gal was in my Bible study at Faith Bible Church for six years. The last couple of years she had not been able to come because she was homeschooling. She sort of chased at this in the beginning, but she called me about two months ago to tell me that they were moving to Maryland, and that God had really done something very special for her. One of the things that they’d had trouble with all the time I knew her was financial problems. In the course of home schooling, she put together a schedule for herself and then she shared it with some others. It was so good that the homeschooling association has asked to publish it. This is her folder. It’s called A Time Minder: A Homeschool Organizer Designed by a Homeschooler for Homeschoolers, and she says that she is amazed at the response to this.
Now, this was something that she did not even know she had, but God gave her the opportunity to do this. She was a homeschool mother. God gave her the insight and the wisdom and she used her own skills to put this together. She found out that something she put together for herself is something that’s a need in the whole homeschool movement, and now it’s going to be a resource for income for her family. Plus, just from her letter to me, her own self worth—she’s always had some problems with that--was so elevated that it was wonderful. She said she just feels so excited that God is giving. She’s going around speaking. She’s sharing this. She’s going to conventions. God took what she had that she didn’t even know she had and multiplied it to meet real needs. Many of you have the same kind of resources within that you are not even aware of.
I want to ask you something: what effect do you think this had on her sons? They had a tangible demonstration of the love and care and the power of the living God. You know, I think sometimes that (I’m saying “we” because I feel guilty about it myself) we need to share with our children what God is doing in our lives. You know, how in our quiet time we keep our little journal. We talk about it; we talk to the Lord; we tell our friends; but we don’t say to our children, “You know, God is teaching me this. This is a problem I’ve had. God is meeting my needs.” You are the major source of information about God! Don’t make the mistake of thinking the public school’s doing it, or even Sunday school once a week. You are the major source of knowledge about God. It’s up to us to let them know that God is real for us, and he’s real for them.
And listen, gals, we need to know how to lead our children to Jesus Christ at an early age. Don’t condition them to behave like little Christians without the Holy Spirit resident within. They’ve got to be born before they can grow! Some of you need to learn from Child Evangelism Fellowship how to lead your children to Christ. In fact, I’m hoping that is going to be one of our electives this next coming time. That’s something, if you have young children, that you want to plan to take.
Notice how she never stopped pouring the oil until there was not one jar left, and the supply never ran out until there was no more need. See, God always works things out perfectly.
2 Kings 4:7: “She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’” You notice, he gave her two commands. He said, “Go, sell the oil.” You see, she still had work to do. She still had to take the initiative. She still had to be creative. Then he said, “Pay your debts!” That came first! That came before the new sofa, the new T.V., the new car, the new clothes. Pay your debts!
I got a book in the mail just yesterday--yesterday was a great day in the mail—by Ron Blue, Managing Your Money. If any of you have problems with your money, get it. It’s excellent, and one of the first things that he says is every Christian should aim to be debt free. Don’t buy the system. Don’t buy the credit card, the plastic, system. We need to be debt free! We really do! We need to learn how to live beneath our income. It’s a great book. I’d certainly encourage all of you young women to get it, and some of you older ones I’m sure can use it, as well. I always assumed that at a certain age we know everything, but that’s not true! You notice, he had a promise for her. He said, “You and your sons can live on what is left.”
Now, what did she ask him for? She had asked for her debts to be paid so her sons would not be taken as slaves. That’s what she’d asked for. But look what she got: God supplied enough so there would be no future debt or risk of loss for her or her children. He gave her security for her future, as well. God is so creative; he has his own way of doing things, and he does much more than we ask.
But I want to ask you something: how did this all start? It started with sorrow, loss, poverty, adversity, anxiety. It continued with injustice and oppression. This woman’s situation went from bad to worse and there was no human help available. It was her very extremity that brought her to cry to Elisha for help. In doing so, she was really crying out to the living God, and throwing herself upon him for his help, and he rescued her—not only from the immediate danger, but from future poverty, as well.
Why do bad things happen to good people? I think there are some very practical reasons. I probably won’t have them all, but there are enough for us to think about.
In the first place, it’s the normal experience of life. It’s the human condition. We live in a fallen world. Things that happen to other people happen to us. Being a Christian does not exempt you from the normal experiences of life: sickness, death, accidents, financial reverses! 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us this, but it also tells us that we have a resource that people who do not know the Lord, do not have:
No temptation [that word can be “trial.” No trial or temptation] has seized you except what is common to man. [Other people experience it.] And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
What does he give us? The ability to endure, or the way to escape!
The second one, I’m sure all of you will testify if you’ve gone through this, is that these crises in our lives are what God uses to bring us to an end of self-reliance. There’s a great passage in 2 Corinthians 1 that I’d like to share with you, starting at verse 8, in the middle of the verse. Second Corinthians 1:8b-11a:
We were under great pressure [Paul is speaking], far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. [Have you ever felt that way?] Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.
I think that passage also tells us how much we need each other. We need other people to pray for us. This says we need to share our needs and not be too proud to let people know we have a problem—because it’s other people’s praying for us that enables us to get through, as well. But do you notice: it teaches us to stop relying on ourselves, but to rely on God. Nothing will bring you to this place unless it’s something that’s too big for you to handle. Isn’t that true? Because I’m telling you to use every resource that’s available to you. And so, God allows that for this reason. And then what happens? When we come to the end of our rope, we turn to him. As we obey his Word, our faith increases. God works for us; our faith increases more. We rely on him more. It has a very beneficial effect.
The third reason that bad things happen is that it enables us to know God personally. You see, these heartaches and adversities are the means that God uses to reveal himself to us. He becomes more than a creed, more than a series of theological doctrines that you believe. He becomes, in reality, by demonstration, a loving Father, a sympathetic Savior, a caring God, and a very real presence. Do you remember what Job said when God spoke to him after he had gone through that terrible, unexplained suffering? In Job 42:5, he says: “’My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’"
That brings us to the fourth point. You know God personally, but you know yourself realistically. We know ourselves better. We are aware of our faults, our limitations, our wrong responses and attitudes. When we see God at work in our lives, when we study his Word and believe his promises, we not only get to know him better--we get to know ourselves better, both negatively and positively. We will find we have resources we didn’t know we had—skills, talents, that God has given us. If we surrender them back to him in all our helplessness, he will multiply them to meet our need.
And then, a very important one: James 1:2-4 has a great insight into the reason for suffering. I’d like you to turn to James 1:2-4.
Consider it pure joy [the word “pure” means “unmixed”—unmixed with sadness, unmixed with doubt, unmixed with bitterness, unmixed with grief. That’s tough! Consider it pure joy], my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance [the ability to stick it out and hang in there]. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The only thing that is going to make us mature and give all the facets of the personality that we need spiritually, is suffering! In fact, Philippians 1:29 says that not only were you called to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for his sake. So, suffering is part of it. The people that tell you, “All you have to do is just believe on Jesus and life is a bed of roses from then on”--are forgetting that roses have lots of thorns. That is a lie! Do not believe it! The Scripture does not support that at all! The difference for us is that God will take all of these hard things that we would willingly avoid from a human perspective, and he will turn them into gold for us if we keep on trusting him.
You see, these very things that we hate are what make us resilient. They toughen us to stand against the storms of life without crumbling. They strip us from the materialism and the lesser values of our culture, and we begin to have God’s value system. The spiritual is more important than the material. The eternal is more important than the temporal. Character is more valuable than appearance. Relationships mean more than money. People mean more than things. When we begin to have this value system, it’s evidence that we are becoming mature. That is the ultimate result of suffering.
The last one I want to mention is that suffering gives us a testimony. The things we suffer and the attitude we have through our suffering and the ability to endure are a testimony God uses to reach other people. Don’t you know that, first of all, her sons were permanently impressed? Her community, her neighbors, who had had to contribute their empty jars—they saw what God did for her. She was a testimony, and you and I are, much more so in adversity than in prosperity.
Think of the four women who lost their husbands so suddenly. Think about Lucy, who is teaching—would not stop. I said to her, “Lucy, you don’t have to teach!” and she said, “No, I’m going to go on.” Pray for these women. Even though they are radiant, they are suffering. They’re suffering, and they need our prayer! Don’t forget them just because the crisis is over.
I want to ask you something that we need to ask ourselves: think of what this destitute widow would have missed if she had not had her problem. What problem do you have now that has you reeling on the ropes? What grief have you suffered that you cannot find a reason for; that you are bitter about; that makes it hard for you to believe that God is a God of love? Are you willing to accept this terrible thing from God’s hand, because it’s tailor-made for you? Are you willing to believe that God will ultimately use it for your good, will reveal himself to you through it, will bring you to maturity? Will you consider it a mixed joy?
After all, if God could take the most unjust and tragic event in the history of the world and make it a blessing to all, he can do the same with you. Jesus Christ did not deserve to be falsely accused! He did not deserve to be sentenced to death, to be beaten, to be spit upon, to be mocked, to die the agonizing death of the cross. He willingly endured this so that you and I could be forgiven our sins and have a relationship with God that will last forever. God is an expert at taking tragedy and turning it into triumph.
Have you accepted the salvation that he paid such a great price for? The Bible says that as many as received him [the Lord Jesus], even to them that believe on his name, to them God gives the right to be children of God (John 1:12). You may do it right where you are sitting! You may say, “Lord, I realize I am a sinner. I realize I have no right to ask anything from you, or to walk into your presence; to ask for your help; to call myself your child; unless I have first trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior. He died for me, he rose again, and I do that right now.”
That’s as simple as it is. You can talk to God right where you are sitting. I would love it if you came and talked to me afterward—told me—so I could give you some encouragement from God’s Word. And then, when you do that—and most of us in here have done it—you can know you are God’s child, and you are his personal responsibility. You can turn your sorrows, your adversities, your injustices over to him and know that he will act on your behalf—to give you the ability to endure, to deliver you, to reveal himself to you, and to bring you to maturity.
Now let’s look at our theme overhead. God’s Woman –and that’s what we all are, and certainly want to become, more and more. This woman was God’s woman. She was unique. She was responsible to obey God, even in that strange command, and her obedience resulted in her deliverance. She influenced her sons, her community, and she’s a continuing influence, even to this very morning.
You are God’s woman. Every one of you is different and unique. Every one of you is responsible to God in the place where he has you--to love him, to obey him, and to serve him. Every one of you is influential in that very sphere. How’s your influence been this week? Ask the Lord to make you count for him this coming week. No matter what the situation is, no matter how your heart is crushed, no matter how despairing you feel, tell the Lord that you are willing to trust him to use all of these difficulties to bring blessing into your life.
2 Kings 4:1-7
1. What was the spiritual condition of the northern kingdom, Israel, as exemplified by her kings?
2 Kings 1:-3; 3:1-3
2. Write down what you can deduce about the widow’s husband from vs. 1.
3. The Mosaic Law provided for paying off debts by working? How did God limit the practice? Lev. 25:39-41
4. What responsibility did God place on the entire community regarding widows and orphans?
Ex. 22:22-23; Deut. 14:28-29; 24: 19-21. Did Israel obey God in this? Is. 1:17, 23; 10:1
5. What does God promise to do for the widow and orphan? Deut.10:18; Ps. 68:5
6. Why did the widow come to Elisha? What was especially pathetic about her situation?
7. What does Elisha’s response tell about his character? How do you respond to those in need?
8. What do you learn from the fact that he used what she had as a resource? Compare Ex. 4:1-5; Mark 6:35-44. Write a principle that you can derive from this. Can you make a specific application of this principle to your own life now?
9. List all the things that Elisha commanded her to do. Why do you think he had her ask her neighbors for jars?
10. What impact do you think this had on her sons? In what practical ways can you show your children what God is like and that He answers prayer?
11. What had she asked Elisha’s help for? What did she actually receive? What can you learn from this?
12. What is your responsibility today to the orphan and widow? To the single parent? 1Tim. 5:16; James 1:27. See also Acts 9:36-42. What do they need besides material provisions? What practical things can you do to help them? Is there someone in your family, the church or community whom you can reach out to this week?
Jerusalem’s religious leaders attempted to trap Jesus into teaching against the Law of Moses in order that they may have grounds to accuse him before the people. The bait they used for their trap was a young woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. Jesus knew the hearts of the accusers and caused them to leave one by one because of words he wrote in the sand. His tender mercy and forgiveness toward the adulterous woman is no different from the mercy and forgiveness he shows to any of us who comes to him in humble confession. No sin is too great for God to forgive it and to make good come from it.
Read John 7 to get the atmosphere and tensions of Jesus’ ministry at this time. There’s a distinction between the religious leaders and the crowds.
1. Had the leaders made up their minds about Jesus? What were they plotting? 7:19, 25, 32
2. Had the crowds made up their minds? What were their opinions? 7:12-14, 25-26, 31, 40-44
3. Why were the Pharisees and priests unsuccessful in their attempts to arrest Him? 30, 32, 45-46
4. How did the hostility of these leaders affect Jesus and His activities? 14-21, 28, 37-39
What does this teach you about handling opposition to the gospel and to you personally because you are a committed Christian? Read Heb. 4:15-16. How can this passage encourage your prayer life when you face hostility or injustice?
5. Read John 8:1-6. In what way was this incident a trap, in view of the indecisions of Chapter 7? Why did the religious leaders want to trap Him? What would they accuse Him of? Whom did they want to influence against Him?
6. What was strange about this episode? See Deut. 19:15; 22:23; Lev. 20:10
7. Who was the only person qualified to stone her? 2 Cor. 5:21. Why was Jesus able to forgive her instead of condemning her? 1 Peter 1:18-20; Mark 2:8-12; John 1:29
8. What does Jesus call “adultery”? Did that apply only in the culture of His day? See 1 Cor. 6:13b; 18-20; Eph. 5:3-14
9. Study 1 Thess. 4:1-8. What does this passage teach about pleasing God? What is specifically said to be God’s will? How can we “wrong” another person in this context? In what ways might a believer be “punished” (6) for immorality? What does verse 8 say that disobedience in this area really is? What is the connection between our calling to a holy life and the Holy Spirit?
10. What do you need to do to “flee” from the temptations to immorality? Do you need to stop reading some books, seeing some TV programs and movies? How will this affect your choice of clothes or your behavior towards men?
11. This incident clearly illustrates the distinction Jesus makes between the sin and the sinner. What qualities does he display towards the woman, towards her behavior? Is it difficult for you to make this distinction when dealing with immoral friends or family members? What can you ask Jesus for to correct this attitude?
After the Lord Jesus cured Mary Magdalene of possession by seven demons, she became his faithful follower. There is no scriptural basis that she was the type of immoral woman that she is portrayed by some to be. She was a single woman of means who devoted her life and resources to serving Jesus and his group of disciples. She was the leader of the women who followed him. Mary Magdalene is a wonderful model of creative, productive singleness. She focused totally on Jesus Christ and served him faithfully in life, in death, and after his resurrection.
At a time and in a society where women were not valued, Jesus took time out from his busy ministry to show regard for two women by healing them both. The first was an older woman of lowly social standing who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, and who was healed by her faith. The second was the twelve-year-old (marriageable in that culture) daughter of Jairus, a synagogue ruler, who was raised from the dead because of her father’s faith.
Mark 5:22-43; Matt 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56
1. Mark 5:22-23. What was Jairus’ position in the community? What did he believe about Jesus?
2. What kind of life had the woman in 5:25-26 led for 12 years? See Lev. 15:19-33. Describe her family life, social life and worship opportunities.
3. Why do you think she didn’t approach Jesus openly as Jairus did? Why just touch His clothes?
4. What do you learn about Jesus in Mark 5:30-34? Why did He insist upon her revealing herself? Didn’t He know who it was? What applications can you make concerning yourself and His attitude toward you today?
5. What did Jesus say was the reason she was healed physically? What is further implied in v. 34?
6. How was Jairus’ faith challenged and stretched? v. 35-36. Have you ever prayed earnestly and saw things get worse? How did you react? How should you have reacted?
7. What did Jesus mean in v. 39? See John 11:11-13. Was she really dead or in a coma?
8. What can you learn from Jesus reaction to ridicule when you know the truth?
9. Why do you think He took only 3 disciples and her parents into the child’s room?
10. What was His manner towards both of these women? Note His words in v. 34, 54-55.
11. Compare and contrast these two women. What conclusions do you find about Jesus and His regard for women? Is this different from what your perceptions are? How do you think this applies today?
12. What was the reason that Jesus performed these many miracles? Luke 7:20-23; Isaiah 29:18-21; 35:5-6; 61:1; Luke 4:18-21.
13. What was the response He wanted from the people? John 6:26-40; 10:25, 36-38; 11:41-42.
Have you personally trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
14. Is God the only source of miracles? 1 Thess 2:9. How can alleged miracles lead us astray if we’re not discerning? What questions should you ask when you hear of miracles today? Do we need miracles to prove God’s existence or power or the truth of His Word?
Someone has said, “The most important thing about you is what you think about God”--a simple but profound concept.
What is God like? How does He feel? More specifically, what does He think of women? Did He really intend for us to be on a little lower rung of the human ladder? Is it His will that we be abused and violated? The media is saturated today with women’s issues: issues that are constant reminders that women will not disappear into the woodwork or go back to the good old days. We have to commend much of what has been done to correct injustice and prevent abuse. But most of us would agree that in some areas, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.
Unfortunately, the church has not always been helpful in what it has contributed to this controversy. One of the reasons is that people often go back to church history to see what decisions the church fathers made over the years. The trouble with that approach is that even great scholars and godly men brought their own presuppositions, bias and just plain ignorance about women into their decisions. Tradition and Scripture are not synonymous. Tradition is human and fallible. Scripture is divine and infallible. And tradition is particularly dangerous when it is mixed with Scripture. That's why we must always go back to the Bible. Then when we hear a position, we can know what to accept because it is truth and what to reject because it is not supported by a proper interpretation of Scripture.
Women will always be uniquely women, thank God. No amount of theorizing can change the fact that God created a male and a female, equally in His image, equal in personhood, yet different in function. He created us not to compete, but to complete each other. God made women influential. We each have a sphere of influence whether we are conscious of it or not. Our greatest influence has historically been in the home.
There's no question that the devaluation of mothering and homemaking has contributed to the terrible disintegration of the family which we are all witnessing today. But women have also made an enormous impact on every other sphere of life--business, education, missions, politics, and philanthropy. The woman’s touch brings beauty grace and compassion wherever she goes. Yet we are not always appreciated as we would like to be. There are stereotypical remarks and attitudes that hurt and often hinder us from realizing the potential God has in mind for us. That's why it's essential to know how God values us. God loves women. Three little words that are important because they can give us a solid foundation upon which to build our lives.
One of the major influences in forming our ideas about God is our relationship with our parents-- especially our fathers. You see, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, God becomes our Father. And our experiences with our earthly fathers greatly influence our concept of God, our heavenly Father. If your father was kind, attentive, loving and wise, it’s easy to transfer those qualities to your heavenly Father. But if your father was harsh, hard to please, distant, cold, abusive, or absent, it’s hard to believe God is loving, caring and ever-present.
When the Bible uses an earthly example or picture to explain invisible realities, we can't help but transfer our impressions of the earthly to the heavenly. Since sin in human beings has distorted the earthly example of fatherhood, God went to a lot of trouble to show us what kind of Father he is. He sent someone that people could see, touch, and hear.
Read John 1:18 and 14:6-11.
John 1:18 (NIV):
“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.”
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”! Jesus revealed to us for all time the character of the Father--His great heart of love for his children; his sensitive compassion; his accessibility; his hatred of sin, but his forgiveness of the sinner. When Jesus acted, the Father was acting. When Jesus spoke, the Father was speaking. We must allow God to change the distorted concepts we have of Him by looking at Jesus and realizing that in Him we have the only accurate picture of our heavenly Father.
For this reason I'd like us to study today the way Jesus treated women, because only there will we see what our heavenly Father really thinks about us. Jesus set the example for all time. If his example had been followed in the church through the centuries, many injustices and misconceptions about women would have been avoided.
Jesus broke with the traditions of his culture in the way he treated women. A rabbi would never speak to a woman in public--not even to his wife. This restriction didn't bother Jesus. Remember his long conversation with the Samaritan woman? The rabbis also had a saying that you might as well teach a dog or burn the Scriptures, as to teach a woman. But Jesus taught women spiritual truth, such as Martha and the Samaritan woman.
Have you ever wondered how Jesus and his disciples were able to travel on an itinerant ministry when they were not bringing in an income to support themselves and their families? Remember these were working men. Jesus was a carpenter, others were fishermen. Who provided for them? Who cared for Jesus, cooked his meals, washed his clothes, and supported his ministry?
Read Luke 8:1-3.
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
It was unheard of for women to travel with a rabbi. But Jesus was different. These women could travel safely with Him. And he accepted their support, which arose from hearts filled with gratitude and love. Women supported the earthly ministry of Jesus from their private resources. This was a diverse group of women, from different levels of society. Some were married women, and some were single. For instance, we have no evidence that Mary Magdalene was anything other than single. And Jesus accepted them and appreciated them just as they were.
However, today I'd like to talk about one very special woman and her unique relationship with the Lord. I know that we'll be encouraged by what we learn. We first meet her in that familiar domestic situation which has become proverbial.
In their travels, Jesus and his disciples arrived at the little village of Bethany, about two miles outside Jerusalem. There a woman named Martha opened her home to him. Martha had a sister, Mary, and a brother, Lazarus. The scene is familiar, even today. The women were in the kitchen working hard to put the meal on the table and the men were in the living room or on the patio waiting and talking. But there was something different that day. Jesus was talking, and among those listening was Mary. She sat at his feet. This was the position of a learner, a disciple. When Martha, irritated that she was left to do the work by herself asked the Lord to get Mary into the kitchen, his answer is interesting.
Read Luke 10:41-42.
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
He didn't say that what Martha was doing was wrong, but her attitude was--and Jesus gently chided her for her worry and distraction about many things. Mary was focused, single-minded. She had chosen the better thing. She had chosen to learn from Jesus, to listen to his words, to open her heart and mind to Him. She had her priorities in proper order. And rather than rebuking her, Jesus applauded her choice.
How like Martha most of us are! We work hard to serve the Lord, and what we do is necessary. But do you ever get stressed out in your service? Do you get upset because the person who team teaches with you is always late or unprepared? Or you offer your home for a pot luck dinner, but getting everything ready really frays your nerves? And you're a little resentful because some people never open their homes? But we miss the better part--time spent with Him, listening to Him and worshiping Him. Wouldn't it make our service easier and more fruitful if we put first things first? Our Father wants our company more than He wants our busy-ness, even for Him.
As the months and years of his ministry continued, the friendship between Jesus and this family deepened. Their home was his whenever he needed it. So it's understandable that when they had a great need, they sent for Him. Lazarus was critically ill and nothing was helping him. So the message was brought to Jesus. "Lord, the one you love is sick." Then we read something that seems strange.
Read John 11:4-5.
When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
Jesus love Lazarus, Mary and Martha, but he didn't rush to Lazarus' side. He waited two more days. They wanted him to heal Lazarus. He had something far better in mind: something that would bring glory to God and to God's Son. Waiting for God is one of the hardest things we ever have to do, isn't it? But think of what they would all have missed if Jesus had just done what they wanted--heal Lazarus. We mustn't put God in a box and limit his options. Can you think of times when God didn't answer your prayers in the way and at the time you wanted? But what He did for you in the end was far better.
What disappointment or heartache are you experiencing now? You've prayed and it seems as though God doesn't hear or doesn't care. The problem is that God just doesn't follow our time schedule. Would you be able to accept your situation now if you knew just how God would be glorified as a result? But the faith that pleases God doesn't have to know how or when God is going to act. Faith just keeps on believing that God is in control and will make all things work together for our good. Philip Yancey puts it this way: faith believes ahead of time what can only be seen by looking back.
We all know that Lazarus died and Jesus raised him from the dead. But I just want us to focus our attention on Mary in the midst of the activity that went on. When word came that Jesus was finally there, she quickly went to meet him and fell at his feet. This time she was there because she was disappointed and heartbroken. Her beloved brother was dead, and Jesus could have healed him if he had been there. No one seems to have remembered that Jesus could heal people from a distance, as he did the son of a synagogue leader. Mary and their friends were loudly wailing in their grief as they still do in those cultures.
When Jesus saw her weeping, He was deeply moved. Jesus was moved by her tears! Even though he knew that in just a few minutes he would call Lazarus back from death, he shared her grief. Jesus wept. His was not a loud wailing, but gut-wrenching sobs as tears streamed down his face. This should help us to see that expressing our sorrow and grief is not wrong. If crying were sinful or unmanly, the Son of God would have never cried.
Jesus shared her sorrow. Have you ever wept with your child when he or she has been hurting? Think of your heavenly Father being moved by your tears, sharing your sorrow. He wants us to come to him today whatever our need. Heb. 4:15 says that we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, so we can come with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Our Father understands our nature and our emotions as women. He sympathizes with us in our pain. He won't scold us when we come to Him. Have you been hesitant to take your aching heart to Him? Don't be. He really cares for you. You'll receive mercy, grace to endure, and healing for your pain.
Raising Lazarus from the dead brought two reactions. Many of the Jews that were there now believed in Him--but others told the religious rulers what He had done. Instead of rejoicing, this just solidified their intent to get rid of Jesus. He was a threat to their position and authority, and Jerusalem became increasingly hostile territory for Jesus.
Even so, when it was time to celebrate the Passover, Jesus returned to Jerusalem. He stayed in the home of his friends, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. During that week before his death, a man named Simon, a leper whom Jesus had healed, held a dinner in his honor. His disciples were there. Martha as usual was helping to serve. Lazarus reclined at the table with the other guests. They didn't sit in chairs as we do. They reclined on couches, lying on their sides with their heads near the table, eating with one hand. Their feet were extended outward. We've accounted for Martha and Lazarus, but where was Mary?
Mary came in quietly with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. These jars had long necks. She broke the neck and poured some of the perfume on Jesus' head and poured the rest on his feet. Then she did something very personal and intimate. She unbound her hair and wiped his feet with it, even though a respectable woman did not let down her hair in public. She didn't care what anyone thought. Her gratitude for her brother's life, her faith that Jesus was the Messiah, and her love for Him personally motivated this sacrificial act to express her utter devotion. This was her original way of publicly declaring her total abandonment and commitment to Jesus Christ.
We each are so different. We each have different ways of expressing love and devotion to our families, friends, and to God. I'm frequently amazed by the creative things that other women do that never enter my head. Instead of feeling guilty, jealous, or inferior when someone does something we think is better than what we do, we should recognize and accept the fact that we are all unique creations and that God loves and accepts us just as we are.
Jesus loved Martha--practical, busy Martha, who provided for his creature comforts so willingly. And Jesus loved Mary--thoughtful, sensitive Mary, who listened carefully to his words and believed what he said. Over and over, Jesus had told his disciples that he would be killed in Jerusalem and then rise again. But they just didn't get it. It was Mary who knew there was not much time left. The opposition to Jesus was stronger every day. There was a contract out on Him. She had to let Jesus and everyone else know how much He meant to her. There was nothing she owned that she would not spend on him. The fragrance of the perfume filled the house. And then the buzzing started. Judas started it for his own personal reasons, and the other disciples quickly took up the refrain.
Read John 12:4-6.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
The other Gospels tell us that all the disciples were indignant and rebuked her harshly. They were angry with Mary and expressed their displeasure in no uncertain terms. What a waste! A whole year's wages just poured out for nothing! Think of how many poor families could eat for a week on that. Can't you see them frowning in disapproval as they rebuked her publicly?
Have you ever had your motives questioned or misunderstood? Have you ever had someone criticize the way you serve the Lord or the amount of money your give to the Lord? It's bad enough in private, but public rebuke and criticism is humiliating. How does one defend himself or herself in that situation? What did Mary do? She didn't say a word in her own defense--but Jesus did.
“Why are you bothering this woman? Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing to me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” She did what she could. Jesus defended her devotion.
No one understood but Jesus. He knew her heart. He knew the depth of her love. He understood what she was saying by this extravagant deed. He said, "She has done a beautiful thing to me." He told them that the fragrance of this perfume would linger on his body while he hung on the cross and when he was buried in the tomb. He wasn’t remotely suggesting that helping the poor wasn't important. Provision for the poor was built into the Mosaic Law. But Jesus himself would not be with them physically much longer. The time to show their devotion to him in his humanity was rapidly coming to an end.
But did you notice what else Jesus said? He said, “She did what she could.” Mary was the one who was spiritually in tune with Jesus. She believed his words about his coming death and resurrection. She did what she could while he was alive. It's interesting to note that she was not one of the women who stayed at the cross or went to the tomb. She, of all people, had reason to believe his promise that he would rise from the dead. After all, hadn't she seen Lazarus brought back from death? It was enough for her that Jesus knew that she did what she could for Him.
What does Jesus reveal to us about our heavenly Father and his understanding of us as women? It tells me that he knows our talents, our resources, our genetic heritage, our personality types, our families of origin, our physical stamina, our education, our marriages, our restrictions and limitations, our opportunities, our diverse kinds of suffering, our weaknesses and our strengths. All that he asks of each of us is that we do what we can. I don't have to be like anyone else and no one has to be like me to please the Lord. There are no clones in God's family. If God decorated the world with thousands of flowers in every shape, size and color, why would we think that he wants all of us to look and act alike? What freedom this gives each of us to be ourselves, controlled by the Holy Spirit! No competition, no comparisons.
Let me add a word of caution here. There are seasons in our lives when we are freer to do some things than others. I believe that what the feminists say is true to a point. Women can have it all. The error is in what they leave out: women can have it all, but all at the same time! The years when we are raising young children may limit us for other activities. But that's OK, because the Bible says that raising children is a good deed! Among the “good deeds” listed in 1 Timothy 5:10 are “bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints,” and “helping those in trouble.”
Some of you are caring for aged parents. Jesus calls that obedience to the command to honor your parents. It pleases Him. Some of you have a full time job outside the home and another one at home. Some of you have put your education on hold. We have to know what we are able to do in conjunction with all our other responsibilities and keep our priorities in order. And when we do what we can, it pleases the Lord no matter how little or big it may seem to us.
The friendship that Jesus had with Mary should enrich our understanding and encourage us in the security of our heavenly Father's love.
We have a Savior who revealed to us the love and acceptance of our heavenly Father. He is always present with us and accessible to us. He is not distant or silent, as we sometimes imagine. He wants us to serve Him with all our resources, spirit, mind, emotions, will, and body. We women bring a unique contribution to the church and society in general. We are creative, relational, and nurturing. And we are absolutely essential to the health of the home, church, and community, and to the accomplishment of God’s purposes.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). All of life is sacred. You don't have to wait till you get your daily tasks done to have a ministry. All of life is ministry for the woman who wants to serve God. We can make an eternal impact in the midst of our mundane, daily responsibilities if we keep this perspective. All that God asks is that we do what we can.
From the example of Jesus, who revealed to us the character of God, our heavenly Father, we learn something very important. We learn what God thinks of us!
Because God has wired us like this, He gives us a responsibility that only we can do. Only a woman can model godly womanhood.
Read Titus 2:3-5.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
It’s our job to befriend and be godly role models and mentors for the women coming after us. All of us have something to share from life’s experiences and our walk with God. Let's determine with God's help that our influence will be godly.
Now back to my first statement: what you think about God is the most important thing about you. If your concept of your heavenly Father doesn't line up with the picture Jesus gave us of Him, then the adjustment is yours to make. Come to your Father and tell him, "Father, I don't feel comfortable with the idea of you as my father, because of the way I feel about my earthly father. But I am willing for you to change me. I choose with my will to believe what Jesus revealed about your character. Only you can change my feelings." Then the next time a negative thought about God enters your mind, go to the Scripture. Read about Jesus and transfer his love, sympathy, compassion and power to your heavenly Father, because Jesus and the Father are one, and she who has seen Jesus has seen the Father.
Looking for a place of prayer by the river in Philippi, Paul encounters Lydia and other women gathered there. Lydia, a successful business woman and homemaker, responded to Paul’s gospel message, and her entire household became believers. She opened her home to Paul and his fellow travelers. We are reminded of the importance of showing hospitality to others. The following story is that of a slave girl with an evil spirit that allowed her to foretell the future, and Paul’s releasing her from that spirit. Mrs. Kraft cautions us about believing that miracles are always from God, and warns about harmful Halloween and occult practices.
Read Acts 16:6-40.
1. Look at the maps in the back of your Bible to orient you. What is the province of Asia today? What country is Macedonia in today?
2. What principle about God’s guidance is illustrated in 16:7-10? Has that principle ever been demonstrated in your life?
3. Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 10 reveal Paul’s usual missionary strategy. Why do you think he went to the riverside in Philippi? 16:13.
4. Describe Lydia from 16:14-16. How is her conversion described? What the immediate evidence of her faith? What did her home become?
5. The other events in Paul’ visit to Philippi had to have had a direct effect on Lydia. Try to imagine what decisions she had to make in light of these events concerning her family, friends and business.
6. 16:16-18. What power gave the slave girl her ability? How was she exploited? Was her message about Paul correct? Then why was he troubled? What does this tell us about people who predict the future even if some of it comes true?
7. 16:19-24. What were the results of Paul’s compassionate action?
8. 16:25-28. What was Paul and Silas’ response to this discouraging turn of events? Since God had led them there, why had this happened? Have you ever experienced trials even though you knew you were in the center of God’s will? What was your reaction?
9. 16:31-34. What was the immediate result of their imprisonment? How did the jailer evidence his faith? What similarity is there to Lydia?
10. 16:37-39. Why do you think Paul exercised his privileges as a Roman citizen now? Where was the last place they met in Philippi? In view of their notoriety what does this tell us about Lydia?
11. Acts 5:42; 12:12-17; Rom. 16:5, 13. How critical was hospitality in those days? Have you used your home to reach children or your neighbors for Christ? Do you entertain missionaries?
12. Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians about 10 years later. Compare the character of the church to its first convert, Lydia. Phil. 1:4, 5, 7; 2:25; 4:15-19; 2 Cor. 8:1-5.
13. What insight does this give us into the influence of women in the early church? See also Phil. 4:2-3; Rom. 16: 1-4, 6-7, 12-15. What do you think their specific contributions were? Are they still needed today?
Women such as Priscilla were important in the early spread of Christianity. Priscilla is never mentioned apart from her husband, Aquila, in the Scriptures. In Christian marriage, ideally, men and women are equal as persons, but different in function. Priscilla and Aquila welcomed Paul into their hearts and home, to live with them and work with them making tents. Paul established them in the doctrines of the faith, and they, in turn, taught others such as Apollos. Priscilla was intelligent, hospitable, and articulate. Her use of her gifts to nurture the church in its infancy is an inspiration to us today.
Read Acts 18.
1. Study a map of Bible times to familiarize yourself with the travels of this couple. Locate Pontus, Rome, Corinth and Ephesus.
2. What did Priscilla and Aquila have in common with Paul? What did they offer him? How long was he with them? How do you think they benefited from their relationship with him?
3. What was the climate of Acts 18? How did the Jews in Corinth respond to the Gospel? The Gentiles? v. 4-8 What did the preaching of the Gospel result in for Paul? v.12-13
4. What kind of pressure do you think may have been brought to bear on Priscilla and Aquila because of their association with Paul? What effect could this have had on their livelihood? What choice did they make? v. 18 Have you ever taken a stand for an unpopular cause because it was right? Was there any cost to you? Any blessing?
5. Acts 18:24-28. Describe Apollos. What were his strengths? His weakness? What does this incident tell us about Priscilla and Aquila? Note their attitude and approach. What could they have done instead? What is the significance of the word they in v. 26?
6. To see the importance of their influence briefly describe what became of Apollos. v. 27-28; 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:5-6, 22; 4:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13.
7. Read Acts 19. Paul returned to Ephesus and probably stayed with them again. How long?
v. 10 What was the effect of the Gospel on Ephesus? How do you think Priscilla and Aquila responded to the controversy here?
8. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. He mentions this couple in 16:19. What were they doing? How was their home being used?
9. Romans 16:3-5. What does Paul call them here? What do you think he referred to when he said they risked their lives for me? Why should all the churches be grateful to them? What were they doing in Rome?
10. 2 Timothy 4:19. This is Paul’s last letter. What does his mention of them tell us about them?
11. What do you think their marriage was like? What is suggested by the fact that her name is mentioned first four times out of six? What kind of man do you think Aquila was? What was the scope of their influence? Do you and your husband have common goals for ministry?
12. Rom 12:13; 1Tim. 3:2; 5:10; Heb 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9. What is commanded in these verses about the use of our homes? Have you given your home to God for Him to use for the advance of the Gospel?
Christmas is coming. I looked at the Arts section of the paper this week, and looked at all of the coming attractions for TV. It was interesting: they mentioned Frosty, the Grinch, Rudolph, Scrooge, Ziggy, Santa Claus, Mr. Magoo, Yogi, Mickey, and He-man and She-ra! There was a significant absence of the real people that were involved in the true Christmas story. Of course, nothing that TV can produce can match that first Christmas and the remarkable cast of characters. We’re going to study today the woman who is called "blessed among women,"--Mary, the mother of Jesus.
She was just a young teenager in an unimportant town called Nazareth, in the hills of Galilee. She came from a poor but honorable family. Her family were descendants of Israel's greatest king, David. She’d been carefully trained in the Scriptures and knew great portions of them by heart. She knew that God had promised to send the Messiah, One who would rescue her people Israel and be their king. For four hundred years, God had been silent. No new Scripture was written; no prophets had spoken.
Every Jewish girl prayed to be the mother of this Messiah. Mary loved God and wanted to serve him with all of her heart. But she was just a poor girl in an insignificant town, from a humble family, with no great expectations that her life was going to be any different from her mother's or from that of the other women in her town. In her day a girl was betrothed when she reached puberty and it usually was a year before she was married. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. They would be married within a year and she was spending this last year in her home learning how to be a good Jewish wife and mother. Joseph was a carpenter, hard-working and responsible. He was a kind man, and the more Mary knew him the more she appreciated his sensitivity and his gentleness toward her. Life would be good with Joseph. She was so glad that her parents had made such a good match for her.
One day as Mary was just going around doing her tasks, she was surprised by an unusual visitor. I’d like for you to turn to Luke 1. We’re going to cover all the major texts about Mary. I want you, as we do it, to try to put yourself in her place. This is hard to do, but just think of what was happening to her and how you would have felt. I’m going to start at v. 26 of Luke 1 (through v. 33, NIV).
In the sixth month [that means in Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy], God sent the angel Gabriel [There are only two angels named in Scripture: Gabriel and Michael. He sent the angel Gabriel] to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
There are a couple of things. The words, "Greetings, you who are highly favored,” in the Latin, is “Ave Maria.” That’s where you get the song. “Gratia plena” means “full of grace.” That is not what it says here. It says, “You who are highly favored.” The word “favor” is the word “grace,” and what we are being taught here is that she was a recipient of grace, not a source of grace. This is very important. The distinction is very important.
When the angel began to speak, she was terrified, as we all would have been. He quickly calmed her fears, and in a few short sentences revealed her future. She, Mary, was to be the mother of the Messiah! He would be the Son of God, the Son of David, ruling an eternal kingdom from David's throne. All of the promises of the Old Testament concerning this coming one were mentioned in the angel’s words. His name would be “Jesus.”
Her purity and her innocence are clearly revealed in her next words. Notice what she said (v. 34): "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" I think this is one of the strongest evidences for Mary’s virginity, because I think if she weren’t a virgin, she would be terrified to lie to an angel, don’t you think? Imagine saying to an angel, “I’m a virgin,” when she knew she really wasn’t. And this, from her own mouth comes the evidence, “I’m a virgin. I’m not married! I’ve not had any sexual relationship! How can this be?” She wasn’t doubting it, like Zechariah did earlier. What she was asking for was the method: how?
The angel's answer had to stretch her faith, because it was certainly something she could not have understood. Look what he says in v. 35-37:
The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."
It didn't matter if she could understand it. She believed that God was able to do what he said he would do, and that was enough. We get great insight into Mary's heart and character from her response to this revelation. Look at v. 38. If you ever want to know exactly what Mary, the mother of Jesus, was, this verse will tell you. "‘I am the Lord's servant…. May it be to me as you have said.’"
Now, the word “servant”: there are several in the Bible. This one is the lowest form of servanthood. This is a bondslave—a “doule.” She says, “I am the Lord’s slave. Let it be to me as you have said.” What do we see here about her attitude? Humility? Total submission to the will of God! Now listen: this didn't just happen at this moment. All of a sudden the angel comes and tells her this and she says, “Oh yeah, well, I’m the Lord’s ….” No, no, no! This was the pattern of her life. This was a young teenager, probably twelve or thirteen, and she could have this kind of relationship with God! What a remarkable young girl--she was willing to serve God at any cost, and cost there would be! She wondered how she could explain anything so strange to her mother; to Joseph. Would they believe her?
But just imagine: her relative Elizabeth was pregnant, six months, and was going to have a child in her old age! Well, God had performed a miracle for Elizabeth and Zechariah--maybe she could tell Elizabeth what had happened and she would understand! Mary could hardly wait to see her. In v. 39-45 we read:
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea [She’s probably made a trip of about eighty miles.], where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"
There’s a lot here, but it must have been a shock! Elizabeth knew without her telling. God used Elizabeth to confirm to Mary that she would be the mother of the Son of God. God also commended her faith. "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished!" The angel had said, "Nothing is impossible with God," and she had simply believed what the angel said. She simply believed that what God said he would do, he could do, and that’s a perfect definition of faith! Do you realize it? That’s as simple as we need to be for faith!
Do you and I have that kind of faith? I have to admit there are some things I don’t have that kind of faith about. This is a young teenager who simply believed God and wanted to serve him with all her life. What is it that you have stopped believing God for? What is it that you have not seen answered, and so you’ve given up? What situation seems so impossible that you’ve just decided not to pray for it anymore? Nothing could have seemed more impossible than Gabriel's message--but Mary simply believed God, submitted to his will, and the baby was already growing in her womb.
There are some interesting side issues here, and I want to mention them. If you ever wanted evidence for the fact that an embryo is not a “thing” and a “piece of tissue,” but a real person, you have it here! This baby leaped in his mother’s womb for joy! Elizabeth already referred to the child that Mary was carrying: she said, “the mother of my Lord should come to me?” You have very great evidence right in this passage if anyone ever questions that for you.
Now Mary's heart responds, and her mouth is filled with praise for God. Luke 1:46-55, which I will not read and I hope you have read as you studied the questions, is a hymn of praise. It is both poetry and prophecy. It reveals some very important things to us:
In the first place, it reveals the depth of Mary's spiritual understanding. I don’t think there are a lot of teenagers around who could have composed something like this.
It reveals a great knowledge of God’s Word, because every single phrase is taken from one of the psalms. She didn’t go looking up anything—she just knew it and it poured out of her. It sounds a lot like Hannah's song of praise in 1 Sam. 2.
It reveals she also knew God’s character. The only way you can know God’s character is to be saturated with God’s Word. This young woman did not have 15 translations of the Bible. Every Jewish child was taught God’s Word as soon as he or she was able to speak, and they memorized it! It was rote memory, and Mary knew God’s Word.
There is something very important here, because of all of the wrong ideas that have been perpetuated about Mary that we see revealed. Mary knew something about herself. What was it? It’s in v. 47. You see, she said, “…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …." Why would Mary need a Savior? Because she was just like each of us! She was born from Adam. She was a sinner with a sin nature, and each of us is. Mary knew she was a sinner and needed a Savior so that her sins could be forgiven. It’s most unfortunate that in the effort to exalt Mary beyond what Scripture has done—and remember, Scripture calls her “blessed among women”—that in an effort to exalt her beyond that, that she’s been declared to be sinless. Mary would be the first to deny this. She knew she needed a Savior. And now God was giving her the unique privilege of being the means by which this Savior, his own Son, would come into the world.
In verse 56: “Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.” I believe she stayed until John was born. It would seem strange for her to stay and then leave just before Elizabeth came to term—but she stayed till John the Baptist was born and then went back to Nazareth. I’m using my imagination a little here, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched. Can you imagine what it must have been like for her to come home and tell her mother that she was three months pregnant and still a virgin? Would you have believed her if it were your daughter? And there was still Joseph to tell. Would he believe her? A betrothal in that day was much more binding than an engagement is today. In fact, they considered them husband and wife already. The only thing was, they didn’t live together, and they certainly didn’t have sexual relations before they were married. A betrothal could only be broken by divorce.
Let’s turn to Matthew 1. I want you to keep your fingers in the Luke section and in Matthew. We’ll be going back and forth. Matt. 1:18-19:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged [betrothed] to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband [See, they’re calling him her husband, even though they were not married.] was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
Now, what does that tell us? He didn't believe her! Do you realize that? He didn’t believe her. He was shocked because Mary had seemed to be so pure and so faithful. He was terribly hurt. You have to assume that. Can you imagine what that must have been to him? He knew that he couldn’t marry her now. The law said that she should be publicly judged and the penalty was to be stoned to death. They really didn’t enforce that, that much—but Deut. 22:23-24 tells you that. He couldn't do that to Mary. He still cared for her. He would arrange to sign the papers for divorce privately. He went to bed that night with a very heavy heart.
But imagine what Mary was feeling, knowing that the man that she was supposed to marry did not believe her. Mary knew what it was to be accused of something she did not do, and to have her character questioned. I want you to put yourself in her place. This would be one of the most hurting things that a woman could feel. Look at Matt. 1:20-23.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin [This is Isaiah. The virgin] will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us."
What a wonderful relief it must have been to know that Mary's fantastic story was really true! An angel of the Lord had spoken to him in a dream. Actually, the only way God communicates with Joseph through this whole thing is through dreams. It’s interesting. The child conceived in her virgin womb was by the Holy Spirit, and he was to be called “Jesus.” Now, “Jesus”—the word means "the Lord saves." In that little word, we see who he is and what he would do. He’s the Lord, and he would save. He would save his people from their sins. And then, he’s also “Immanuel, God with us,” the one the Scripture had prophesied for centuries.
We see something about Joseph’s character in the next verse. This is the way he acted anytime we see him mentioned. Matt. 1:24-25:
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him [He obeyed immediately.] and [he] took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
He obeyed the next day. He took Mary home as his wife, under his protection, to wait for the birth of her child. Both of these godly people sacrificed the right to consummate their marriage until after her child was born. Then they lived a normal married life. You’ll notice it says he did not have “union with her until she gave birth to a son”—which would mean that after she gave birth to Jesus, they had a normal life. You see, it’s a wrong emphasis that celibacy is more spiritual than marriage that has led to the dogma that Mary was perpetually a virgin. It’s a myth that’s been propagated to promote a wrong idea in the first place. God instituted marriage, God blessed marriage, and God honors marriage.
In Mark 6:3 (you don’t have to turn to it), I want to show you something. They’re speaking about Jesus, and they say: “’Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?’" So, we see he has four half-brothers and at least two sisters. Any attempts to call these cousins or anything else just don’t jive with Scripture. Don’t go beyond what Scripture says about Mary and about Joseph.
I want you to imagine something. Now here she’s married, she’s three months pregnant, at least, and they’ve just been married. I wonder what the next six months were like. I mean, the people of Nazareth could count to nine! I believe that this was a shadow she lived under for the rest of her life. Mary knew the suffering of being accused and convicted of the worst thing that a virtuous woman could be accused of. In fact, over thirty years later there were still rumors about Jesus’ birth, and it's implied in John 8:41. Maybe you haven’t noticed this, but when the Jews were talking to him and he said to them, “You’re of your father, the devil.” They said, “Well, we weren’t born of fornication”—the real slur, implying that he was. Mary was able to endure rumors about her reputation because she knew the charges were not true. Being God's servant is not always a bed of roses, gals! But there is no better calling in life, even though it means the loss of things that we consider very precious. In this case, it was a good name.
Turn back to Luke 2. Mary was very near the end of her pregnancy when the news came to Nazareth that Caesar had decreed that everyone had to go to the town their family came from to be enrolled for tax purposes. Both Joseph and Mary had to go, because both of them were descended from King David, and they had to go to Bethlehem, David’s city. It was a journey of about 90 miles, and even though we always see her on a donkey, we have no way of knowing if that was really true. Either she had to go by foot or did ride on a donkey, and it was at least three to four day’s journey. I wonder if they remembered the prophecy in Micah 5:2, that the Messiah who would come would be born in Bethlehem.
In any case, when they arrived in the town, it was jammed with other people who had come for the same purpose. Mary was exhausted and in the first stages of her labor, and there was no comfortable place to stay. I wonder if she was afraid. Here she was facing her first birth with no mother; no friends around. She wasn’t in any antiseptic operating room, either! Finally, Joseph found a cave where animals were kept and there on a bed of straw, with no one but Joseph to help her, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in an animal feeding trough filled with clean straw.
I wonder what she was thinking in that humble place. God's Son had been born in the equivalent of what today would be a stable! There was no family there to share their joy. I think God deliberately sent a bunch of excited shepherds. They came in wonder and awe, telling the amazing story of an angel who had told them that a Savior was born, and then the sky was filled with angels praising God. You see, there was no human family there to celebrate, and of course, the birth of a son was something that you celebrated in a big way. But God was celebrating the birth of his Son! He sent these humble shepherds to rejoice with Mary and Joseph. We get insight into her reflective nature from Luke 2:19. Notice it, and it’s repeated a little later. “… Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” We see that repeated in v. 51, “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” This is a very thoughtful, deeply reflective, spiritual woman.
In Luke 2:21, we see something else about this couple. “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” What is it that we see immediately about them? They were Jews. What else? They obeyed God’s Law completely. The Law was that on the eighth day the child would be circumcised; he was given the name the angels said that he was to have; in every way this couple kept every ritual the Law commanded.
After forty days they went to the Temple to dedicate him. There God sent two old people who had been waiting for the Savior to come, to bring confirmation to them, both Simon and Anna. I think it’s neat that he sent a man and a woman to do this. When Simon held the child in his arms and praised God for the Savior, he then turned to Mary. In v. 34-35, he spoke directly to her. “…Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.’” And when you think of it, that’s exactly what Jesus Christ has done for two thousand years.
Then notice this phrase: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too." This child, this Son of God, was going to suffer. Because he suffered, his mother would suffer! Every one of us who has been a mother knows that that’s true. The worst thing we go through is when we see our children suffering and we can’t do anything about it. But Mary suffered more than anyone has ever had to suffer before or since.
They stayed in Bethlehem quite a long time--at least a year. Then one day they were surprised by a caravan of men from the east. These Magi told about a star that had led them to this child. They brought expensive gifts and they worshipped Jesus. But their visit had tipped off Herod, the king of the Jews, that the real King of the Jews had been born. He gave an order to kill all the boy babies in Bethlehem two years old and under. That’s why we know that he was much older. Even though your little crèche and mine has all of them there together, the shepherds and the Magi, when the Magi came, they came to a house where the child was. Because Herod figured it out for two years, we know that he was definitely older.
But again an angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph. Turn back to Matthew 2: 13-15a.
…An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream [again]. "Get up …take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."
Now think of it! Mary knew what it was like to get up in the middle of the night and flee for their lives. She knew because of the birth of her son other mothers in Bethlehem would be mourning the murder of their little babies. She knew what it was to live in a foreign country, Egypt, where she didn’t know the language, and where she was a stranger. I'm sure these were lonely days away from family and friends, but this woman of sturdy faith trusted God and obeyed him. She was uncomplaining and flexible and patient. She trusted God and she trusted Joseph, this kind and godly man.
It was better to suffer anything and be doing God's will than to be comfortable and be out of his will. Do you feel that way? Does the thought possibly of going to a foreign country as a missionary freak you out? “But they may not have a washing machine! I might not have electric lights! I might not have a comfortable bed!” That’s what hits most of us. I know myself that the minute I think of going somewhere, I immediately think of comfort. Camping out, for me, is a Holiday Inn! I went this past weekend for the first time on a hunting weekend—only because I knew we were going to a place that had all the conveniences. I went with my husband and my sons and another couple, and it was wonderful, because I had a dishwasher, a washer and a dryer, and central heat—and all of the conveniences, you see. Most of us are that way, but this family did whatever God told them to, whatever the cost.
I think it’s interesting that the gifts that the wise men brought were so expensive. I believe it was to finance this trip and their sojourn in Egypt. That gold, that frankincense, that myrrh, were used by this humble family, who would not have had the resources otherwise. God took care of his son, sending these messengers from hundreds of miles away.
Finally the day came when God told them to go back to Israel because Herod was dead, and they went back to Nazareth and raised their family there. Now turn back to Luke 2:39-40. We have to go back and forth!
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
Now listen: this is all we read about the childhood of Jesus until he’s twelve. Any myths that you have heard about the miracles of his childhood are not biblical! This is all we have of him. I wonder what it was like to raise a child that was sinless. I know Mary knew the difference when her other children were born! Mary and Joseph provided for this family a stable, loving, godly home. They taught their children God's Word. They memorized it. We know that from the way Jesus used the Scriptures when he was older. They carefully kept God's Law and observed the special feast days.
Now look at verses 41-42 of Luke 2. “Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.” A boy of twelve, a Jewish boy, was getting ready at thirteen to be Bar Mitzvah-ed. So, his twelfth year, or thirteenth year was extremely important, and it was for him, as well.
After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. [I don’t know why!] His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."
I think the anxiety of looking for him for three days was expressed in this outburst by her. This perfect son had caused her anxiety! She had forgotten something very important, and Jesus gently reminded her of it. Look at verse 49. “’Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?’" What did he remind them of? That Joseph was not his Father, but that God was! Jesus knew why he was sent to earth, but he also knew that as a twelve year old, he was subject to his parents. That’s why we read in v. 51-52, “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
The next 18 years of Jesus’ life were lived in obscurity. There is not one word in Scripture about them. During this time Joseph died. It doesn’t tell us that, but we know it has to be true, because Joseph was the legal heir to the throne of David. If he had still been alive, Jesus could not have come as the heir to the throne of David. Do you see that? That’s only one evidence. The caring for the family fell upon the oldest son. That was exactly the pattern. Jesus earned their living as a carpenter.
Finally, when he was thirty--you can pick up his age in Matthew 3:23--he began his public ministry. John the Baptist, Elizabeth's son, had prepared the people for his appearance, and now Jesus was beginning to select certain men to be his special disciples. One day (and turn to John 2 as we get ready for this), one day Mary, Jesus, and his disciples were all invited to a wedding in the little village of Cana. When Mary discovered that the hosts were embarrassed because the wine had run out …. The wedding feast lasted several days, and it was awful for them to run out of wine. It indicated that they had not prepared properly. It was an insult, really. She did what she was used to doing. She came to Jesus with the problem. Maybe she thought that if Jesus did something sensational, people would believe in him. That’s exactly what the brothers thought later on.
Notice what happens in John 2:3-4. “When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? …My time has not yet come.’” Jesus’ answer was a gentle reminder that he was no longer under her authority, and he was on a different timetable: he was on God’s. Mary says something next, and listen carefully to this. This is the only time Mary gives any orders to anybody, but notice what she says: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’" (John 2:5).
Do you realize that she’s still saying that to us today? You see, the focus is never on Mary. It's her Son, God's Son--her Savior and ours--that must be obeyed. Never, ever, shift that focus, girls. Jesus did turn the water into wine at this wedding, and it did reveal his glory so that the disciples believed on him. But strangely enough, even though he continued to perform all kinds of miracles, the ones who had been raised in the same home with him did not believe. In John 7:5, it tells us his brothers did not yet believe on him.
I wonder how Mary felt to know that her own sons did not believe in this one that she knew was the Son of God. I wonder how much she told them about his unusual birth. Gradually, they were able to pressure her, however, to get Jesus to conform to what their ideas about what his ministry should be. We pick this up in an interesting incident that I’m going to read from Mark 3, but it’s recorded in both Matthew and Luke. In Mark 3, Jesus is being pursued by the crowds that he is healing and doing wonderful miracles for. In v. 20-21: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him [Isn’t that audacious? Notice what they said:] …‘He is out of his mind.’" “He needs a caretaker.” The word “take charge” means “to take custody of .” They didn't approve of the way he was going about his ministry. They were going to take charge and take control, so they went to find him. Now look at v. 31-34.
Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. [Do you get the picture? Here he is, the Son of God on his public ministry, speaking God’s words, doing God’s work, and outside his mother and brothers call him!] A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."
[Notice his answer:]"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Now I want to ask you, what was he saying? He was saying that the spiritual family took precedence over mere blood relations. What else was he saying? They were just like anyone else, because the key to being related to Jesus Christ was not to be related physically, but to be related spiritually. How do you become related spiritually to Jesus Christ? You believe on him, and if you believe on him, that’s the first step in doing the will of God! In 1 John 3:23, it says, “And this is [God’s] command: [that we should] believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ ….” And then, when you believe on Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell, you study God’s Word, you obey God’s Word, and that’s what doing the will of God is. So he was saying, “That is more important than mere physical relationship.
Mary is with his brothers, so she must have approved of their plans and lent her authority to their demands. Jesus’ answer was very revealing. From now on, his earthly family was no longer in authority over him. Even the mother he loved and honored could not dictate to him concerning his ministry. This is important to note in a day when some people are teaching that we are under our parents’ authority until we marry. Jesus was subject to Mary and Joseph when he was twelve, but when he was thirty he made it very clear that membership in his spiritual family was more important than being a member of his earthly family. Doing the will of God is the mark of a member of Jesus' family.
I wonder what Mary was experiencing as she saw Jesus’ popularity increase as he traveled about the country performing miracles that no one had ever done before. Crowds continued to throng around him. The common people loved him, but the religious leaders were challenging him publicly and openly showing their unbelief. They were jealous of his popularity and knew it threatened their position. When Jesus made his final trip to Jerusalem, everyone knew that there was a conspiracy to kill him.
How did Mary feel? She went there with him and his disciples. She knew the fear and heartache that any mother would feel when her Son was betrayed and deserted by his friends, falsely accused and sentenced to death. She saw her perfect Son carrying his cross outside the city gate. She saw him cruelly nailed to it and hung there to slowly die in agony. When all of the disciples ran away in fear for their lives, Mary and the other women who cared for Jesus loyally stayed by the cross where he could see them and know they loved him. This gives an inkling into her courage, and her unfailing mother love. She had no special revelation about the way God would save the world. She only knew that she had been told that a sword would pierce her heart also and it was coming true.
It was while she stood their near the cross with the other women and John, Jesus’ closest friend, that her Son discharged his last duty to her. It was the responsibility of the eldest son to care for his parents and Jesus now committed her into the hands of John.
Read John 19:25-27.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Notice that he did not say, "Mother", but "Woman". The distance had widened between them all the years of his ministry. In fact, he never once calls her "Mother", but "Woman." Why did he not commit her care to her own sons, James, Joseph or Jude? Because they did not yet believe in him. After his resurrection they did, but not yet.
Jesus has taught us by his own example what it means to honor our parents. He was obedient to them when he was a child. But when he became a man, he moved out from their authority and dependence upon them. There comes a time that parental authority ends, and if we have to make a choice between God's will and our parents' will, we must choose to obey God. But Jesus never stopped caring for his mother or providing for her. In fact, he had some very harsh words for religious hypocrites who did not care for their parents in need because they used the excuse that their money was given to God and so they could not help them. That is what Mark 7:9-13 is all about. In this day of social security and pensions, we sometimes forget that our parents have need of our love, companionship and interest, even if we don't have to provide for them materially. And if they do have financial needs, the first place they should be able to turn is to their children. First Tim. 5:8 is very clear about this responsibility to our family.
There is no way that we can even remotely understand the joy that filled her heart when she heard of Jesus’ resurrection. It's interesting to note that the first person he appeared to was not his mother, but another woman, Mary Magdalene.
The last mention of Mary in the New Testament is found in Acts 1. The disciples had returned from the Mount of Olives, where they had seen Jesus ascend to heaven.
Read Acts 1:13-14.
When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
Mary is in a prayer meeting with the other women and with Jesus' brothers, who now believed in him. While she is not specifically mentioned in Acts 2, she no doubt was there when the Holy Spirit came down to indwell all believers permanently. She was still a woman of faith and humility, taking her place with all of the others who trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. She had been the most privileged and blessed of women.
She had known the presence of God all through these years. She knew what it was to raise a large family, to economize on a tight budget. She experienced slurs on her reputation. She knew unbelief in her own family as her other sons rejected her firstborn all their lives until after his resurrection. But now that Jesus’ earthly life was over, she asked for no special place of honor. She was simply another worshipper of her Lord.
This is the very last time she is mentioned in the Bible. All other teaching about Mary has come from human teaching and not God's Word. She is not to be worshipped, but she should not be ignored either. She is the peerless example of youthful purity, godly motherhood, and marital fidelity. She was a woman of great faith, of great knowledge of God's Word and of total submission to God's will whatever the cost. She knew what it was to see her precious Son assert his independence from her as he became a man. She saw his spiritual relationships take precedence over his human family. And she was able to let him go. She experienced the agony of his death and the rapture of his resurrection. She became his faithful follower and must have been a great encouragement to the early church. What a woman!
It is altogether appropriate to consider her as Christmas approaches. Why was she chosen to be the mother of Jesus Christ? Not because she deserved it, but because God bestowed his grace to her. She was given the privilege of being the one who would bear and raise his Son. But why did he send his Son to be born this way? Because all people needed a way to have their sins forgiven so that they could have a relationship with God. The only person who could pay for all the sins of all sinners for all time had to be the sinless one who was both human and divine, both God and Man. When Jesus hung on that cross, God place all of our sins on him and he took all the punishment for them that we deserve. He was our Substitute, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
The real meaning of Christmas, the reason that it is good news, is that God has given the first Christmas gift--his own Son. John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But a gift is not yours until you take it. John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God ….” You don't earn a gift or pay for a gift. You simply reach out and take a gift. That's what faith is. You can do that today, right there where you are sitting.
1. Read Luke 1:26-45. Make a list of at least six characteristics of Mary’s that you discern from this passage.
2. Luke 1:46-56; 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Note the similarities. What does this tell us about Mary? What does her song tell us about her knowledge of God? List some of His attributes that she mentions.
3. What does the expression “God, my Savior” indicate that Mary knew about herself? What extra-biblical dogma does this contradict?
4. What does 1:55 refer to? See Genesis 12:1-3.
5. Matthew 1:18-24. What kind of man was Joseph? Describe his character. What could he have done when he found Mary was pregnant, Deut 22:23-24? What shadow did Mary live under all of her life, John 8:41?
6. Luke 2:21-27. What insight does this passage give us into the kind of home that Joseph and Mary provided for Jesus?
7. What does Matt 1:25 mean? See Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19. What dogma does this refute?
8. Luke 2:1-7. Imagine what it was like to travel 90 miles in late pregnancy on foot or on a donkey. Think what it was like to give birth in a cave, with no woman to attend her. What questions do you think she could have been asking God?
9. Luke 2:41-52. What has happened to Mary and Joseph’s perception of Jesus in 12 years? What does his answer remind them of?
10. Compare Luke 2:51 to Matt 12:46-49; Mark 3:21, 31-35; Luke 8:19-21. What is different about Jesus’ responses? What does this tell us about our responsibility to parents as adults? Is this area a problem for you as the parent or as the child?
11. John 7:25. What does this tell us about the attitude of Jesus’ half-brothers? How do you think they acted towards him? How do you think Jesus responded to his brothers’ unbelief?
12. John 19:25-27. What does Mary’s presence at the cross tell us about her? What does this incident tell us about Jesus as a son? Why did he commit her care to John and not to one of her sons?
13. What qualities of this godly woman would you like to have? What steps do you need to take to begin to develop them? Be specific. Have short-term and long-term goals.