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Lesson 18: God the Just and the Justifier (Romans 3:25-26)

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Jonathan Edwards preached a powerful sermon on the phrase in Romans 3:19, “that every mouth may be stopped,” titled, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” He forcefully shows since God is infinitely lovely and holy, to sin against Him is an infinitely heinous crime, deserving infinite punishment. Thus God is just to punish sinners with eternal punishment.

As far as I know, Edwards did not follow up that sermon with another on Romans 3:25-26 on, “The Justice of God in the Salvation of Sinners.” But that is the question that Paul answers in our text: How can a holy God be just and yet justify sinners? How can He forgive our sins and still be a God of justice?

Admittedly, that question probably doesn’t keep you awake at night! Probably, you’ve never been asked that question when you shared Christ with someone. It’s more likely that you’ve been asked, “Why can’t God just forgive everyone? When someone offends me, I just forgive him. So why can’t God do that? Why did Jesus have to shed His blood?”

The answer to those questions is, “You can forgive like that because God is absolutely holy and you’re not. God must maintain His absolute justice by punishing all sin. An unjust ‘God’ would not be God at all.” There’s the rub: If God must punish all sin to maintain His absolute justice, then how can He forgive sinners? If a human judge started “showing love” by pardoning murderers and terrorists and rapists, we’d say, “Wait a minute! This is horrible! He’s not upholding justice.” So the question that Paul is grappling with here is, “How can a holy God be just if He pardons guilty sinners?” How can He be a God of love who shows mercy and yet be a righteous God of justice? His answer is:

Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfied God’s wrath and displays His justice in justifying sinners who have faith in Jesus.

As with our text last week, this week’s text is simple on one level and yet difficult and deep on another level. The easy-to-understand message is: When He died on the cross Jesus bore the penalty for sin for all who will trust in Him. Thus if I trust in Him, God can justly forgive my sin.

But, as with last week’s text, there are some difficult theological terms here that have generated thousands of pages of commentary and debate among scholars—propitiation; blood; righteousness; justify; and faith. We need to understand these terms and the flow of thought to apply this Scripture correctly. And, it’s a vital Scripture to apply properly, since it deals with our eternal destiny! And, of course, because it is such a vital text on a vital topic, the enemy has been relentless in attacking its truth. There are several current attacks on the doctrine of the atonement.

1. Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfied God’s wrath against us.

A. The basic meaning of propitiation is to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin.

Propitiation is not a word that we use in common conversation. It comes from the ancient religious world, where people offered sacrifices to appease the anger of the gods. Because of that imagery, some liberal scholars have tried to eliminate the idea of God’s anger by changing the word to expiation, which refers to the removal of guilt. But Leon Morris (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross [Eerdmans, third ed.], pp. 144-213) and other scholars have shown that the idea of satisfying God’s wrath against sin is inherent in propitiation. Paul is saying here that Christ’s sacrificial death is the means by which God’s just wrath is turned away from sinners.

But we need to understand several things that distinguish biblical propitiation from the pagan expressions of it. In pagan religions, the person who is experiencing some difficulty assumes that he has offended the gods in some way, but he often doesn’t know how. The gods are unpredictable, but something apparently got them upset! And, he’s not quite sure which sacrifice will work to calm down the gods so that he or his family can get relief from their troubles. But the shamans have more experience with these sorts of things. So the troubled man pays them their fee, offers the prescribed sacrifice, and hopes that the deities will be happy for a while. His sacrifice is an attempt to propitiate the gods.

But biblical propitiation is much different. In the first place, God’s wrath against sin is not capricious or mysterious. Rather, it is His settled holy opposition to evil, expressed in both temporal and eternal judgments. We see the temporal consequences of God’s wrath in both the Old and New Testaments. God cast Adam and Eve out of the garden and pronounced curses on them, on the earth, and on the serpent because of their sin. He sent the flood to destroy everyone on earth in the days of Noah. He rained fire and brimstone on the decadent people of Sodom and Gomorrah. However you interpret the Book of Revelation, it’s clear that God’s temporal judgments were not limited to the Old Testament. He pours out His wrath on rebellious people right up to the time of Christ’s return. That same book shows what Jesus often taught, that God’s temporal wrath will turn into horrible, eternal wrath at the final judgment.

We’ve already seen the concept of God’s wrath in Romans. In 1:18, Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” We saw that a large part of God’s presently revealed wrath against sin is to let us suffer the consequences of sin, as described in 1:24-32. In 2:5, Paul refers to God’s wrath as it pertains to eternal judgment: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Again in 3:5, he mentions “the God who inflicts wrath.” So the concept of propitiation as the satisfying of God’s wrath is not foreign to the Bible or to Romans.

But there is another major difference between the pagan concept of pacifying the anger of the gods and the biblical concept of propitiation. In the pagan religions, people take the initiative by offering sacrifices in an attempt to placate the gods. But in the Bible, God takes the initiative by providing the specific means of averting His wrath on sin. First, God always spells out what sin is, so that no one should accidentally do something to make God angry. He warned Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and He spelled out the consequences that would follow if they disobeyed: they would die. The same is true in the Law of Moses. God spells out what Israel should do or not do, along with the consequences for disobedience.

Also, in mercy God provides the way to satisfy His wrath and be reconciled to Him. He slaughtered an animal and provided their skins to clothe Adam and Eve. He told Noah to build the ark to preserve his family and him from the flood. He provided the ram, so that Abraham did not have to sacrifice Isaac. He gave detailed instructions to Moses about the sacrificial system. And, finally and supremely, by sending His own Son to die in our place on the cross, God satisfied His own wrath against our sin. Jesus paid the debt that we owed, so that God can show His grace and love to all that trust in Jesus Christ.

Paul makes this clear by the phrase, “whom God displayed publicly.” Other versions read, “set forth” (New KJV), “presented” (NIV, Holman CSB), and “put forward” (ESV). The verb that Paul uses can also mean to purpose or plan beforehand (Rom. 1:13; Eph. 1:9; the noun is used in Rom. 8:28; 9:11; Eph. 1:11; 3:11) and some scholars argue for that meaning here. It would then mean that God planned beforehand to provide Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. But it also can mean to display or set forth publicly. In this view, God’s setting forth or displaying Jesus as a propitiation would refer to His public death on the cross or to the apostolic preaching of the cross. Whichever view is correct, they both point to the fact that God took the initiative in providing the sacrifice that we need to satisfy His wrath.

Evangelical scholars debate one other thing about the Greek word that is translated propitiation. Some (Morris, Godet, and Lloyd-Jones) argue that it should be translated propitiation or propitiatory sacrifice. But others (Thomas Schreiner, Douglas Moo, and James Boice) point out that this word was used many times in the Old Testament to refer to the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies, where the high priest sprinkled the blood of atonement once a year. While perhaps we should not translate the word as mercy seat, it is easy to think that Paul could have had this in mind when he used the word here. The mercy seat was the place where atonement took place. God’s wrath was averted by the sprinkling of the blood of an innocent substitute on that mercy seat. While that yearly ritual was hidden from public view, it pointed ahead to Jesus, whom God publicly displayed (the veil is torn) as the final and complete sacrifice for our sins.

B. Christ’s blood is the means by which God’s wrath is propitiated or satisfied.

Again, liberals do not like the emphasis on Christ’s blood as the means of propitiation. This seems crude and primitive. We may wonder why the New Testament puts such an emphasis on Christ’s blood. Why doesn’t it just refer to His death, which is clearly what His blood symbolizes (John Stott, The Cross of Christ [IVP], p. 180, citing Alan Stibbs’ Meaning of the Word ‘Blood’ in Scripture)? Why does Paul say that God displayed Christ as “a propitiation in His blood”? He did so to connect what Christ did with the Old Testament sacrificial system (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], p. 83).

But why did God require blood sacrifices in the Old Testament? The Lord explains to Moses (Lev. 17:11), “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” God told Adam and Eve that the punishment for their sins was death. This referred both to physical death and to spiritual death, or separation from God. When God killed an animal, perhaps a lamb, and clothed them with its skin, He was indicating that the way of reconciliation with Him was through shedding the blood of an acceptable substitute.

In the Old Testament sacrificial system, God provided a temporary way for sinners to have their sins atoned for so that they could be reconciled to Him. He required that they kill a male firstborn lamb or goat without blemish and use its blood as the propitiation or atoning sacrifice for their sins. It pictured the substitutionary death of the victim in place of the sinner. It pointed ahead to Jesus, the Lamb of God, the ultimate and all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Thus Jesus, just before going to the cross, as He celebrated the Passover with His disciples, took the cup and said (1 Cor. 11:25), “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.”

So Paul’s point when he says that God publicly displayed Christ “as a propitiation in His blood,” is that Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfied God’s wrath against sin. All of this is foundational to understand the issue that Paul goes on to address: How can God be just when He forgives our sins?

2. Jesus’ sacrificial death displays God’s justice in passing over sins before the cross and in justifying sinners after the cross who have faith in Jesus.

A. Jesus’ sacrificial death displays God’s justice in patiently passing over the sins committed before the cross (3:25b).

“This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” Paul is answering the charge that if atonement and forgiveness come only through Christ’s death on the cross, then God was either unjust or terribly sloppy about sin to let go all of the sins committed before the cross. As Hebrews (9:9; 10:1-4) makes clear, those Old Testament sacrifices of animals could never make perfect or cleanse the consciences of the worshipers who offered them. The fact that people in the Old Testament era could be forgiven without the full satisfaction of Christ’s death implies that God is unjust or not righteous.

But Paul, like the author of Hebrews, argues that God’s forbearance in passing over sins in that era did not undermine His righteousness because that sacrificial system would find its fulfillment in the death of Jesus. Douglas Moo explains (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 240)

This does not mean that God failed to punish or “overlooked” sins committed before Christ; nor does it mean that God did not really “forgive” sins under the Old Covenant. Paul’s meaning is rather that God “postponed” the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant, allowing sinners to stand before him without their having provided an adequate “satisfaction” of the demands of his holy justice (cf. Heb. 10:4).

It’s as if the Old Testament saints who offered animal sacrifices in obedience to the Law were in heaven on credit. The payment of the bill was promised, but it had not yet been paid. Hebrews 9:15 explains, “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” God’s righteousness in passing over the sins of those before Christ was vindicated because Jesus paid the debt in full for those sins when He died. He made full atonement.

B. Jesus’ sacrificial death displays God’s justice after the cross when He justifies the one who has faith in Jesus (3:26).

Verse 25 deals with the question of God’s justice in justifying sinners before the cross. Verse 26 focuses on His justice in justifying sinners after the cross: “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” As we saw last week, to justify is to declare the accused to be righteous. But if the accused is actually guilty and the judge declares him to be righteous, isn’t the judge unjust?

Paul answers, “No, the cross where Jesus shed His blood to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin actually displays God’s righteousness.” Here righteousness does not refer to God’s declaring sinners righteous (as it does in 3:21-22), but rather to God’s justice. The death of Jesus demonstrates that justice has been served. God didn’t just shrug off our sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus, who was innocent of all sin, paid the penalty that we deserved. He bore the awful wrath of God when He cried out on the cross (Matt. 27:46), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

On the cross, God’s justice was satisfied so that His mercy could flow to every sinner who trusts in Jesus. The propitiation that God set forth in Jesus’ blood means that “He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Paul uses the name Jesus alone to emphasize His identification with us as a man. Because He was fully human, His death may be applied to the sins of humans. Because He is the eternal Son of God, His death has infinite merit. Jesus’ death vindicates God against any charge of injustice or unrighteousness.

But, note carefully that the benefits of Jesus’ death do not apply to everyone. God only justifies “the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). Paul emphasizes faith in verses 21-31. It’s in verses 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30 (twice), and 31, plus believe is in verse 22. Faith is not a work on our part that contributes toward our salvation. It is a gift from God and not something that we originate, or we would boast in our faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29). Faith is the hand that receives the gift of justification that God provides through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.

Some versions (in 3:25) read, “faith in His blood.” We put our faith in His blood in the sense that we trust in His death on the cross as our only means of being right with God. But technically, we trust in Jesus Himself. We trust the biblical witness concerning who He is. We trust the apostolic witness about the significance of His death in our place. It is the faith that realizes, “I’m spiritually terminal and I can’t heal myself. But Jesus can. His death paid the awful penalty that my sin deserves. Abandoning all efforts to save myself by my own good deeds, I cast myself totally upon Jesus and His shed blood.”

So thankfully, God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” But don’t miss that He also is just. If you do not have faith in Jesus, you will face God’s inescapable justice brought against all your sins. Either Jesus met God’s justice on your behalf, or you will face God’s wrath on judgment day.

Conclusion

I conclude with some practical applications:

First, these verses show us that God takes sin very seriously. His grace does not mean that He is sloppy about sin. God does not just shrug and say, “Oh well, let’s not worry about your sins. After all, everyone makes mistakes.” No, His grace is grounded in His justice. God takes sin so seriously that He made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Either you trust in Christ as your sin-bearer, or you’ll face God’s wrath throughout eternity.

Second, because God takes sin so seriously, so should we. It was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. That means that we should hate our sin and fight to kill it every day, especially on the thought level. C. H. Spurgeon said (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 53:225), “Shall I spare the sins, then, that nailed my Savior to the tree? O Christian, how you ought to hate the very thought of sin! We are very severe upon the sins of others, sometimes; how much more severe ought we to be upon our own!”

Finally, if Christ offered Himself as the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sinners, then any sinner can come to Him and find mercy. William Cowper was an 18th century English poet who suffered greatly from depression. His mother died when he was six and he was sent to a boarding school where the older boys mercilessly bullied and beat him. In his late twenties, he tried to commit suicide and was finally admitted to an insane asylum. Cowper struggled with his guilt and often cried out, “My sin! My sin! Oh, for some fountain open for my cleansing!” The main doctor there was a committed Christian, who gently guided Cowper to the only fountain that can wash away our sin and guilt.

One day Cowper opened a Bible and saw Romans 3:24-25: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to manifest his righteousness.” Cowper said, “Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone on me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made, my pardon in his blood, and the fullness and completeness of his justification. In a moment I believed and received the gospel.” (I took this account from James Boice, Romans [Baker], pp. 371-372. For more, see John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God [Crossway], pp. 81-119).

Cowper struggled with severe depression for the rest of his life, but God used him to write many beloved hymns, including “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”

Cowper’s experience of knowing that his sins were forgiven the instant that he believed in the shed blood of Jesus can be your experience. Trust in Jesus and God’s wrath is satisfied. He declares you not guilty both now and forever.

Application Questions

  1. How would you answer the person who asked, “Why can’t God just forgive everyone’s sins? Why did Jesus have to die? Why do we have to believe in Him?”
  2. Why is the concept of God’s wrath against sin essential to the gospel? Why do we not hear more of it in supposedly evangelistic messages?
  3. Some have argued that Old Testament saints were not truly forgiven. Why is this an error? What does Heb. 10:1-4 mean?
  4. How would you explain to an unbeliever what it means to have faith in Jesus? What analogies can you use?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Regeneration, Justification, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 19: Faith Versus Pride (Romans 3:27-31)

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If I were to ask all of you to write down the sin that causes you the most trouble, I would probably get many responses listing anger, lust, lying, and greed (or, materialism). I might get a few entries for jealousy, hatred, gossip, and laziness. Maybe I’d get one or two for gluttony. But I wonder how many would list pride as the most difficult sin that they battle every day?

It ought to be at the top of our lists, because it is the root of virtually every other sin. If you get angry, it’s because you want your way and you didn’t get your way. The truth is, you don’t like how God is dealing with you and you think you could do it better. The root of such anger is pride! If you lust, it’s because you imagine that you are so sexy that this woman would want to give herself to satisfy your desires, apart from a committed, loving relationship. You want to use her, not love her. Pride is at the root of such lust.

In Mere Christianity [Macmillan], C. S. Lewis refers to pride as “The Great Sin” (pp. 108ff.). After mentioning that pride led to the devil’s downfall, he says (p. 109), “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” He contends that pride is a sin that we are very much aware of and dislike when we see it in others, but most of us are blind to it in ourselves. Regarding spiritual pride, he offers this test (p. 111):

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

I bring up pride because Paul does (3:27): “Where then is boasting?” But that leads to some questions: Why does he bring up boasting here? Why does he ask this string of other questions? Why didn’t he just end the discussion of justification by faith after 3:26?

Before I address these questions, let me give a brief overview of verses 27-31. Most commentators understand Paul to be addressing three issues here: (1) Justification by faith alone excludes all boasting (3:27-28); (2) The fact that there is one God means that there is one way of salvation (justification by faith) for all people (3:29-30); (3) Justification by faith does not nullify the Law, but rather, establishes it (3:31). I’m going to differ slightly from the majority and suggest that the second point is really a continuation of the subject of boasting, aimed at the religiously proud Jew, so that Paul is saying two main things about justification by faith:

Justification by faith alone takes away all grounds for boasting and is the only doctrine that truly establishes God’s Law.

In 3:27-28, Paul contends that justification by faith alone takes away all grounds of boasting about keeping the Law for salvation. In 3:29-30, he shows that justification by faith alone takes away any grounds of boasting about one’s religious rituals as a basis for salvation. In 3:31, he anticipates the question that a Jewish critic may raise, “Then doesn’t justification by faith nullify God’s Law?” He replies, “May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

But let’s come back to the question, why does Paul bring up boasting and these other issues here? First, we must understand that Paul is still aiming at religious Jews. Back in 2:17, after approaching them indirectly in 2:1-16, he took direct aim: “But if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law and boast in God….” He goes on to hit them with their religious hypocrisy. In 2:23, he asks, “You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?” And, he will go on to deal further with boasting in 4:2, where he states, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”

So, why does Paul hammer on this theme? I suggest that it was because Paul knew, both from personal experience and from the Scriptures, how deeply embedded in our fallen hearts is the pride that wants to take some of the credit for being our own savior. Even if we acknowledge that God is the primary agent in our salvation, we’re still prone to claim that we had something to do with it, so that we can boast.

We’re like Stacey King, who played with the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan was at his peak. One night, Jordan scored 69 points and King scored one. He said later, “I’ll always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined to score 70 points” (Reader’s Digest [10/1991], p. 22). Of course, he was joking. But we’re often serious when we take some of the credit for our own salvation: “God must have seen something in me that caused Him to pick me out of the crowd!” We even can boast in our own faith, as if we were smart enough to believe. (See Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], pp. 110-114, for four other reasons that Paul raises these questions.)

So Paul follows up his argument that we are justified by faith as a gift by God’s grace (3:24) by underscoring these important implications of that crucial doctrine. If we understand this doctrine correctly, it deflates all our pride. And, it does not nullify God’s Law, but rather, establishes it.

1. Justification by faith alone takes away all grounds of boasting about keeping the Law for salvation (3:27-28).

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (3:27-28).

The Jews boasted in the Law (2:23), as we just saw. The Pharisees especially prided themselves in keeping the Law: They fasted, they prayed at the required times, they observed the Sabbath, they carefully washed themselves according to the prescribed rituals, and they even tithed their table spices (Matt. 23:23)! But Jesus confronted them with the defilement of their evil hearts (Mark 7:1-23).

Paul himself, before his conversion, took great pride in his Jewish religious credentials and good works. In Galatians 1:14, he says that he was advancing in Judaism more than many of his contemporaries. C. S. Lewis observes (ibid., pp. 109-110) that competition is the essence of pride. We glory in being better than others are. In Philippians 3:5-6, Paul rattles off the list that he once took great pride in: “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”

But he goes on to say that when he met Jesus Christ, he counted all of these things to be rubbish so that he might gain Christ, adding (Phil. 3:9), “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

That’s the same point that Paul is hammering home in our text: If we are justified by faith alone, apart from any human works, then we have no grounds for boasting. We can’t boast in our morality as the reason for why we are right with God, because even if we were outwardly moral before we met Christ, our hearts were corrupt (Rom. 3:10-12). Jesus’ words to the Pharisees apply to us all (Matt. 23:27): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” Even if we’re outwardly moral, it won’t put us right with God because He sees our corrupt hearts.

We can’t boast in our religious observance as a means of salvation, because the Bible is clear that God sees through such outward rituals and looks on our hearts. You can go to church every week, be baptized, and partake of communion, but none of these things earn points toward your salvation. None of these practices qualify you as a better candidate for salvation.

The same is true of spiritual knowledge. It’s helpful to study the Bible and understand its doctrines and moral precepts. It’s good to study the original languages in which the Bible was written so that your knowledge is more accurate. But none of these things will get you right with God apart from faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact, some even turn faith itself into a work and boast about their faith, as if they believed in Christ on their own, apart from His grace! If faith is something that fallen sinners can exercise on their own, apart from God’s granting it as a free gift, then those sinners will boast in their faith. After all, what makes me differ from unbelievers? I believed in Christ and they didn’t. But, why did I believe in Christ? If I claim any credit for that, I’m boasting in my faith. But, as Romans 3:11 states, “There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.” Jesus said (John 6:44, 65), “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; … no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” Saving faith isn’t something that we can produce and thus boast in. It’s a gracious, undeserved gift from God, so that we cannot boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

But, what does Paul mean when he says (3:27) that boasting is excluded by “a law of faith”? Some (e.g., Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 202; John Piper, “Justification by Faith is the End of Boasting,” on desiringGod.org) say that Paul means that “the law [of Moses] rightly understood is a law that teaches righteousness by faith.” This is further elaborated on in 4:3, where Paul cites Genesis 15:6 to show that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

But, in the context (3:21-16, 28) Paul is contrasting the righteousness that comes through faith with the Mosaic Law. This leads to the natural question of 3:31, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith?” So, it is better to understand that Paul is making a play on words when he refers to “the law of faith.” He is saying, “It is not the Law of Moses, which required works, that excludes boasting. Rather, it is the new ‘law of faith,’ apart from works that excludes boasting” (I’m following Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], pp. 247-250).

In 3:28, Paul explains his point in 3:27, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Right standing with God (“justification”) is not something that we earn by doing good works. Rather, it is something that we receive as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ and His shed blood. Instead of the words, “apart from works of the Law,” we can rightly say that we are justified by faith alone.

But, that raises another important question: Is Paul at odds with James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”? This issue was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation and it remains the major divide between the Protestant understanding of the gospel versus the Roman Catholic view. Bible-believing Protestants affirm with the Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, that we are justified by faith alone, apart from works. The Roman Catholic Church contends that we are justified by faith plus our works, as James seems to affirm.

When we studied James, I spent two messages dealing with this crucial question. It is crucial because the way that we are saved hinges on it! (See, “Saving Faith: Genuine or False? June 26, 2005; and, “Are We Justified by Works?” July 3, 2005, on fcfonline.org.) So here I must be brief.

First, both James and Paul affirm that we are saved by grace through faith alone. But each man was addressing a different problem. James was looking at those who professed to have faith in Christ, but their lives were void of works. James claimed that that sort of faith was not genuine and it does not save anyone. Genuine saving faith always results in a life of good works. Paul would concur (Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-8). No one is saved by a faith that is mere mental agreement. The faith that justifies is obedient faith (Rom. 1:5; 15:18; 16:26).

But Paul (in Romans and Galatians) was writing to those who taught that we must add our works to faith in Christ in order to be justified. The Judaizers claimed to believe in Christ, but they insisted that Gentiles who believe must also add circumcision and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul called this a distorted “gospel” that damns (Gal. 1:6-9). He accused these false teachers of emphasizing these things so that they could boast in the flesh (Gal. 6:12-13). If you want to boast in anything, Paul said, “Boast … in the cross” (Gal. 6:14).

Before we leave this point, please make sure that you have applied it personally. Have you abandoned all attempts to earn right standing with God by your good works? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone, who shed His blood to pay the penalty that you deserved because of your sin? Is your boast completely in the Lord, who chose you and saved you in spite of yourself (1 Cor. 1:26-31)?

2. Justification by faith alone takes away any grounds of boasting about one’s religious rituals as a basis for salvation (3:29-30).

“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one” (3:29-30).

Paul is still zeroing in on the Jews. He takes the creed that was central for all Jews (Deut. 6:4), “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” and argues, “If God is one, then He must be God not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles. And, if He is one, it is likely, isn’t it, that He would have only one means of salvation for all people? Since, as we’ve shown, we are justified by faith in Christ apart from the works of the Law, this must apply equally to both Jews and Gentiles. God justifies all people through faith alone.” Besides, the Old Testament clearly proclaimed that the God of Israel is the Lord of all the nations (e.g., Psalms 67, 96-98).

So Paul is arguing here that justification by faith means that there is only one way of salvation for all people. But, also, as I said, it seems to me that Paul is still confronting the tendency of the Jews to boast in their religion, especially in the rituals of their religion, the epitome of which was circumcision. As Paul will go on to show, God justified Abraham before he was circumcised, so justification cannot be based on compliance with that religious ritual. If God justified the yet-uncircumcised father of the Jewish nation by faith, then it follows that He also justifies the uncircumcised Gentiles by faith. You can’t take pride in any religious rituals.

Let’s apply this point: If you come from a religious background, don’t trust in church membership, baptism, or communion for salvation. You must trust in Christ alone. If you don’t come from a religious background, you don’t need to join the church, be baptized, partake of communion, or go through other religious rituals to get right with God. In fact, doing these things to earn right standing with God would only fill you with pride, which keeps you from God! Rather, laying aside all of your good works and all religious rituals, put your trust in Jesus Christ alone. God imputes the righteousness of Christ to all who believe (3:22).

But if “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (3:28), and if a sinner can be justified by faith apart from any religious rituals, then aren’t we nullifying the Law? Paul anticipates and answers this question:

3. Justification by faith alone does not nullify the Law, but rather establishes it (3:31).

“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (3:31; the NIV and ESV translate, “we uphold the Law.”)

This is a very difficult verse to interpret and every interpreter necessarily reads the verse through the lens of his own view of how the Law relates to believers in Christ. Having read many books and articles on this subject, I would say that it is one of the most difficult theological issues in the Bible to understand. It has to do with how much continuity versus discontinuity there is between the Old and New Covenants. There are verses that seemingly support the ongoing validity and benefit of the Law (Matt. 5:17-19; Rom. 3:31; 7:12; James 1:25) and other verses that say that we are not under the Law and speak negatively about it (Rom. 6:14; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:6-18; Heb. 7:12, 22; 8:7, 13). So I do not claim infallibility here!

For sake of brevity and clarity, I’m not going to give you the various interpretations of how we establish the Law through faith. Rather, following several authors (mainly, James Boice, Romans [Baker], 1:421-425) I’m going to suggest three ways from the context that justification by faith establishes or upholds the Law.

First, justification by faith establishes the Law by showing that it is impossible to attain right standing with God by keeping the Law. This is Paul’s point in 3:20, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” The Law requires perfect obedience to every commandment, not only externally, but also on the heart level (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28; Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). So if anyone is going to be saved, it can’t be by keeping the Law. The Law’s purpose is not to save us. Rather, the Law shows us our sin so that we will despair of being saved by works. In this way, the doctrine of justification by faith establishes or upholds the Law.

Second, justification by faith establishes the Law by showing that the punishment which the Law demanded has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. That is Paul’s point in 3:25, where he refers to Christ Jesus as the one “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” By His death, if we trust in Him, Jesus satisfied God’s just penalty for our sin, which was death.

Third, justification by faith establishes the Law by showing that God imputes the righteousness of Christ to us so that we meet the Law’s righteous demand in Him. As we’ve seen, justification means that God declares us righteous. But He doesn’t just do this arbitrarily. Rather, Jesus fulfilled the righteous demands of the Law on our behalf. As Dr. Boice explains (p. 424), “By saving us through this righteousness, and not by any lesser standard, God establishes the law that defines this righteousness.” Thus God can now be “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).

Conclusion

The doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone has always been under attack, including at the present time. How do we know whether it is the true gospel? One test of true doctrine is that it humbles our pride and it exalts God and His grace. Conversely, false doctrine always lifts up man and pulls down God, so that we don’t really need a Savior. Justification by faith alone excludes all boasting, except for boasting in Christ and Him crucified. It doesn’t allow me to say, “I teamed up with Jesus to score 70 points!” No, He scored all the points. God justifies sinners totally on the merits of Jesus Christ when they abandon their own works and trust in Him alone. This is the true gospel. Believe it, stand firm in it, and proclaim it to others!

Application Questions

  1. Some argue that if people are not capable of believing in Christ on their own, it is futile to tell them to believe. Your response?
  2. Think through the Ten Commandments and various lists of sins (Rom. 1:29-31; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). How is pride at the root of all of these sins?
  3. A Roman Catholic takes you to James 2:24 to insist that we are justified by works, not by faith alone. How would you answer?
  4. How would you harmonize Matt. 5:17-19; Rom. 3:31; 7:12; & James 1:25 with Rom. 6:14; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:6-18; Heb. 7:12, 22; 8:7, & 13?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Law, Regeneration, Justification, Soteriology (Salvation)

48. Joel 1-3, Daniel 1–12 (Promised Redemption)

A Chronological Daily Bible Study of the Old Testament
7-Day Sections with a Summary-Commentary, Discussion Questions, and a Practical Daily Application

Week 48

Sunday (Joel)

Introduction

1:1 This is the Lord’s message that was given to Joel the son of Pethuel:

A Locust Plague Foreshadows the Day of the Lord

1:2 Listen to this, you elders; pay attention, all inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your whole life or in the lifetime of your ancestors?

1:3 Tell your children about it, have your children tell their children, and their children the following generation.

1:4 What the gazam-locust left the ‘arbeh-locust consumed, what the ‘arbeh-locust left the yeleq-locust consumed, and what the yeleq-locust left the hasil-locust consumed!

1:5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you wine drinkers, because the sweet wine has been taken away from you.

1:6 For a nation has invaded our land. There are so many of them they are too numerous to count. Their teeth are like those of a lion; they tear apart their prey like a lioness.

1:7 They have destroyed our vines; they have turned our fig trees into mere splinters. They have completely stripped off the bark and thrown them aside; the twigs are stripped bare.

A Call to Lament

1:8 Wail like a young virgin clothed in sackcloth, lamenting the death of her husband-to-be.

1:9 No one brings grain offerings or drink offerings to the temple of the Lord anymore. So the priests, those who serve the Lord, are in mourning.

1:10 The crops of the fields have been destroyed. The ground is in mourning because the grain has perished. The fresh wine has dried up; the olive oil languishes.

1:11 Be distressed, farmers; wail, vinedressers, over the wheat and the barley. For the harvest of the field has perished.

1:12 The vine has dried up; the fig tree languishes – the pomegranate, date, and apple as well. In fact, all the trees of the field have dried up. Indeed, the joy of the people has dried up!

1:13 Get dressed and lament, you priests! Wail, you who minister at the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you servants of my God, because no one brings grain offerings or drink offerings to the temple of your God anymore.

1:14 Announce a holy fast; proclaim a sacred assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

1:15 How awful that day will be! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come as destruction from the Divine Destroyer.

1:16 Our food has been cut off right before our eyes! There is no longer any joy or gladness in the temple of our God!

1:17 The grains of seed have shriveled beneath their shovels. Storehouses have been decimated and granaries have been torn down, for the grain has dried up.

1:18 Listen to the cattle groan! The herds of livestock wander around in confusion because they have no pasture. Even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

1:19 To you, O Lord, I call out for help, for fire has burned up the grassy pastures, flames have razed all the trees in the fields.

1:20 Even the wild animals cry out to you; for the river beds have dried up; fire has destroyed the grassy pastures.

The Locusts’ Devastation

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm signal on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land shake with fear, for the day of the Lord is about to come. Indeed, it is near!

2:2 It will be a day of dreadful darkness, a day of foreboding storm clouds, like blackness spread over the mountains. It is a huge and powerful army – there has never been anything like it ever before, and there will not be anything like it for many generations to come!

2:3 Like fire they devour everything in their path; a flame blazes behind them. The land looks like the Garden of Eden before them, but behind them there is only a desolate wilderness – for nothing escapes them!

2:4 They look like horses; they charge ahead like war horses.

2:5 They sound like chariots rumbling over mountain tops, like the crackling of blazing fire consuming stubble, like the noise of a mighty army being drawn up for battle.

2:6 People writhe in fear when they see them. All of their faces turn pale with fright.

2:7 They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. Each one proceeds on his course; they do not alter their path.

2:8 They do not jostle one another; each of them marches straight ahead. They burst through the city defenses and do not break ranks.

2:9 They rush into the city; they scale its walls. They climb up into the houses; they go in through the windows like a thief.

2:10 The earth quakes before them; the sky reverberates. The sun and the moon grow dark; the stars refuse to shine.

2:11 The voice of the Lord thunders as he leads his army. Indeed, his warriors are innumerable; Surely his command is carried out! Yes, the day of the Lord is awesome and very terrifying – who can survive it?

An Appeal for Repentance

2:12 “Yet even now,” the Lord says, “return to me with all your heart – with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your garments!”

2:13 Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and boundless in loyal love – often relenting from calamitous punishment.

2:14 Who knows? Perhaps he will be compassionate and grant a reprieve, and leave blessing in his wake – a meal offering and a drink offering for you to offer to the Lord your God!

2:15 Blow the trumpet in Zion. Announce a holy fast; proclaim a sacred assembly!

2:16 Gather the people; sanctify an assembly! Gather the elders; gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out from his bedroom and the bride from her private quarters.

2:17 Let the priests, those who serve the Lord, weep from the vestibule all the way back to the altar. Let them say, “Have pity, O Lord, on your people; please do not turn over your inheritance to be mocked, to become a proverb among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?”

The Lord’s Response

2:18 Then the Lord became zealous for his land; he had compassion on his people.

2:19 The Lord responded to his people, “Look! I am about to restore your grain as well as fresh wine and olive oil. You will be fully satisfied. I will never again make you an object of mockery among the nations.

2:20 I will remove the one from the north far from you. I will drive him out to a dry and desolate place. Those in front will be driven eastward into the Dead Sea, and those in back westward into the Mediterranean Sea. His stench will rise up as a foul smell.” Indeed, the Lord has accomplished great things.

2:21 Do not fear, my land! Rejoice and be glad, because the Lord has accomplished great things!

2:22 Do not fear, wild animals! For the pastures of the wilderness are again green with grass. Indeed, the trees bear their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield to their fullest.

2:23 Citizens of Zion, rejoice! Be glad because of what the Lord your God has done! For he has given to you the early rains as vindication. He has sent to you the rains – both the early and the late rains as formerly.

2:24 The threshing floors are full of grain; the vats overflow with fresh wine and olive oil.

2:25 I will make up for the years that the ‘arbeh-locust consumed your crops – the yeleq-locust, the hasil-locust, and the gazam-locust – my great army that I sent against you.

2:26 You will have plenty to eat, and your hunger will be fully satisfied; you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has acted wondrously in your behalf. My people will never again be put to shame.

2:27 You will be convinced that I am in the midst of Israel. I am the Lord your God; there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.

An Outpouring of the Spirit

2:28 After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; your young men will see prophetic visions.

2:29 Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

2:30 I will produce portents both in the sky and on the earth – blood, fire, and columns of smoke.

2:31 The sunlight will be turned to darkness and the moon to the color of blood, before the day of the Lord comes – that great and terrible day!

2:32 It will so happen that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered. For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who survive, just as the Lord has promised; the remnant will be those whom the Lord will call.

The Lord Plans to Judge the Nations

3:1 For look! In those days and at that time I will return the exiles to Judah and Jerusalem.

3:2 Then I will gather all the nations, and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. I will enter into judgment against them there concerning my people Israel who are my inheritance, whom they scattered among the nations. They partitioned my land,

3:3 and they cast lots for my people. They traded a boy for a prostitute; they sold a little girl for wine so they could drink.

3:4 Why are you doing these things to me, Tyre and Sidon? Are you trying to get even with me, land of Philistia? I will very quickly repay you for what you have done!

3:5 For you took my silver and my gold and brought my precious valuables to your own palaces.

3:6 You sold Judeans and Jerusalemites to the Greeks, removing them far from their own country.

3:7 Look! I am rousing them from that place to which you sold them. I will repay you for what you have done!

3:8 I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah. They will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away. Indeed, the Lord has spoken!

Judgment in the Valley of Jehoshaphat

3:9 Proclaim this among the nations: “Prepare for a holy war! Call out the warriors! Let all these fighting men approach and attack!

3:10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears! Let the weak say, ‘I too am a warrior!’

3:11 Lend your aid and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves to that place.” Bring down, O Lord, your warriors!

3:12 Let the nations be roused and let them go up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit in judgment on all the surrounding nations.

3:13 Rush forth with the sickle, for the harvest is ripe! Come, stomp the grapes, for the winepress is full! The vats overflow. Indeed, their evil is great!

3:14 Crowds, great crowds are in the valley of decision, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision!

3:15 The sun and moon are darkened; the stars withhold their brightness.

3:16 The Lord roars from Zion; from Jerusalem his voice bellows out. The heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people; he is a stronghold for the citizens of Israel.

The Lord’s Presence in Zion

3:17 You will be convinced that I the Lord am your God, dwelling on Zion, my holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy – conquering armies will no longer pass through it.

3:18 On that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk. All the dry stream beds of Judah will flow with water. A spring will flow out from the temple of the Lord, watering the Valley of Acacia Trees.

3:19 Egypt will be desolate and Edom will be a desolate wilderness, because of the violence they did to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood.

3:20 But Judah will reside securely forever, and Jerusalem will be secure from one generation to the next.

3:21 I will avenge their blood which I had not previously acquitted. It is the Lord who dwells in Zion!

Prayer

Lord, all things of importance are tied together in Your great plan, across the old testament and new. May I trust Your prophesy, Your amazing love for Your children, and Your perfect plan.

Scripture In Perspective

Joel delivered what appeared to be a dual-event prophesy, one that described an immediate crisis and another of the last days of the End Times. He appeared to be focused more on circumstances impacting Jerusalem and Judah than Israel.

[The NET translator's notes observe that there is an ongoing debate in scholarly circles as to the era in which Joel prophesied, some say it must have been during or prior to approximately 750 BC as the prophet Amos referred to Joel and there is general scholarly agreement to a 750 BC date for Amos (based primarily on an earthquake record). Others have suggested 600-500 BC, and a third group 400-350 BC. Unless the dating of Amos is voided then 750 BC or earlier appears to be the best dating for Joel. The resolution of such is important as current events to which Joel referred would differ significantly.]

[New Testament references to Joel may include Mark 4:29 (Joel 3:13), Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-31), and Romans 10:13 (Joel 2:31). There are some who suggest parallels between Joel and Revelation but the associations are loose.]

Based on a 750 BC or earlier date for Joel the events swirling about would have included the death of Solomon in 930 BC followed by a division of the kingdom into Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) kingdoms. The Northern kingdom ended in 722 BC, after many struggles, when they were exiled by the Assyrians. The Southern kingdom struggled but remained somewhat intact until the Babylonian captivity in 586 BC.

Joel described invading armies much like the hordes of Assyrian king Sennacherib and the destruction of food and other resources is a common strategy of war, both to demoralize and to limit the capacity of the invaded people to resist for long.

In Chapter 2 there was a call to repentance before the Lord God, a repeated theme of the old testament “Perhaps he will be compassionate and grant a reprieve, and leave blessing in his wake – a meal offering and a drink offering for you to offer to the Lord your God! Blow the trumpet in Zion. Announce a holy fast; proclaim a sacred assembly!”

The Lord God did intervene, while allowing the Assyrians to serve as His instrument of judgment upon Israel, he drove Sennacherib away from his attempted conquest of Jerusalem and thus Judah also was spared. [Note: The recorded history of Assyrian king Sennacherib is said to affirm the Biblical account.]

Joel prophesied of a time to come when the Lord God would cause many to “... prophesy. Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; your young men will see prophetic visions” which was in the context of “In those days and at that time I will return the exiles to Judah and Jerusalem.”

The apostle Peter made reference to Joel's prophesy in Acts 2:16-21 as he explained what they were experiencing and observing during the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Peter used the term “last days” - referring to the time between the ascension of Jesus the Christ home to Heaven and the time of His return.

Joel concluded with additional prophesy as to the upcoming events as well as events into the future.

Interact with the text

Consider

The Lord God allowed the Assyrians to punish Israel but as He sent Joel to call Jerusalem and Judah to repentance He prevented the Assyrians from over-running Jerusalem – driving them back to Assyria.

Discuss

Could it be that Joel's prophesy was stimulated by the Lord God for the future purpose of Peter's statement to the people during the Pentecost events?

Reflect

The desire of the Lord was to bless His people but as was consistent He expected repentance.

Share

When have you discovered clarity about a New Testament concept or event from an Old Testament concept or event?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a future purpose ,for which you were being prepared, through something the Lord did in your life in the past.

Act

Today I will prayerfully reflect on what the Lord God has done in my life with an eye toward what He wants to teach me about His constant preparation of me to grow and to serve.

Be Specific ________________________________________________

Monday (Daniel 1-4:3)

Daniel Finds Favor in Babylon

1:1 In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem and laid it under siege. 1:2 Now the Lord delivered King Jehoiakim of Judah into his power, along with some of the vessels of the temple of God. He brought them to the land of Babylonia to the temple of his god and put the vessels in the treasury of his god.

1:3 The king commanded Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his court officials, to choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent – 1:4 young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service – and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians. 1:5 So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service. 1:6 As it turned out, among these young men were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 1:7 But the overseer of the court officials renamed them. He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar, Hananiah he named Shadrach, Mishael he named Meshach, and Azariah he named Abednego.

1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the royal delicacies or the royal wine. He therefore asked the overseer of the court officials for permission not to defile himself. 1:9 Then God made the overseer of the court officials sympathetic to Daniel. 1:10 But he responded to Daniel, “I fear my master the king. He is the one who has decided your food and drink. What would happen if he saw that you looked malnourished in comparison to the other young men your age? If that happened, you would endanger my life with the king!” 1:11 Daniel then spoke to the warden whom the overseer of the court officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 1:12 “Please test your servants for ten days by providing us with some vegetables to eat and water to drink. 1:13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who are eating the royal delicacies; deal with us in light of what you see.” 1:14 So the warden agreed to their proposal and tested them for ten days.

1:15 At the end of the ten days their appearance was better and their bodies were healthier than all the young men who had been eating the royal delicacies. 1:16 So the warden removed the delicacies and the wine from their diet and gave them a diet of vegetables instead. 1:17 Now as for these four young men, God endowed them with knowledge and skill in all sorts of literature and wisdom – and Daniel had insight into all kinds of visions and dreams.

1:18 When the time appointed by the king arrived, the overseer of the court officials brought them into Nebuchadnezzar’s presence. 1:19 When the king spoke with them, he did not find among the entire group anyone like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, or Azariah. So they entered the king’s service. 1:20 In every matter of wisdom and insight the king asked them about, he found them to be ten times better than any of the magicians and astrologers that were in his entire empire. 1:21 Now Daniel lived on until the first year of Cyrus the king.

Nebuchadnezzar Has a Disturbing Dream

2:1 In the second year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar had many dreams. His mind was disturbed and he suffered from insomnia. 2:2 The king issued an order to summon the magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and wise men in order to explain his dreams to him. So they came and awaited the king’s instructions.

2:3 The king told them, “I have had a dream, and I am anxious to understand the dream.” 2:4 The wise men replied to the king: [What follows is in Aramaic] “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will disclose its interpretation.” 2:5 The king replied to the wise men, “My decision is firm. If you do not inform me of both the dream and its interpretation, you will be dismembered and your homes reduced to rubble! 2:6 But if you can disclose the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts, a reward, and considerable honor. So disclose to me the dream and its interpretation!” 2:7 They again replied, “Let the king inform us of the dream; then we will disclose its interpretation.” 2:8 The king replied, “I know for sure that you are attempting to gain time, because you see that my decision is firm. 2:9 If you don’t inform me of the dream, there is only one thing that is going to happen to you. For you have agreed among yourselves to report to me something false and deceitful until such time as things might change. So tell me the dream, and I will have confidence that you can disclose its interpretation.”

2:10 The wise men replied to the king, “There is no man on earth who is able to disclose the king’s secret, for no king, regardless of his position and power, has ever requested such a thing from any magician, astrologer, or wise man. 2:11 What the king is asking is too difficult, and no one exists who can disclose it to the king, except for the gods – but they don’t live among mortals!”

2:12 Because of this the king got furiously angry and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. 2:13 So a decree went out, and the wise men were about to be executed. They also sought Daniel and his friends so that they could be executed.

2:14 Then Daniel spoke with prudent counsel to Arioch, who was in charge of the king’s executioners and who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon. 2:15 He inquired of Arioch the king’s deputy, “Why is the decree from the king so urgent?” Then Arioch informed Daniel about the matter. 2:16 So Daniel went in and requested the king to grant him time, that he might disclose the interpretation to the king. 2:17 Then Daniel went to his home and informed his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the matter. 2:18 He asked them to pray for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery so that he and his friends would not be destroyed along with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 2:19 Then in a night vision the mystery was revealed to Daniel. So Daniel praised the God of heaven, 2:20 saying, “Let the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him.

2:21 He changes times and seasons, deposing some kings and establishing others. He gives wisdom to the wise; he imparts knowledge to those with understanding;

2:22 he reveals deep and hidden things. He knows what is in the darkness, and light resides with him.

2:23 O God of my fathers, I acknowledge and glorify you, for you have bestowed wisdom and power on me. Now you have enabled me to understand what I requested from you. For you have enabled me to understand the king’s dilemma.”

2:24 Then Daniel went in to see Arioch (whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon). He came and said to him, “Don’t destroy the wise men of Babylon! Escort me to the king, and I will disclose the interpretation to him!”

2:25 So Arioch quickly ushered Daniel into the king’s presence, saying to him, “I have found a man from the captives of Judah who can make known the interpretation to the king.” 2:26 The king then asked Daniel (whose name was also Belteshazzar), “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I saw, as well as its interpretation?” 2:27 Daniel replied to the king, “The mystery that the king is asking about is such that no wise men, astrologers, magicians, or diviners can possibly disclose it to the king. 2:28 However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the times to come. The dream and the visions you had while lying on your bed are as follows.

2:29 “As for you, O king, while you were in your bed your thoughts turned to future things. The revealer of mysteries has made known to you what will take place. 2:30 As for me, this mystery was revealed to me not because I possess more wisdom than any other living person, but so that the king may understand the interpretation and comprehend the thoughts of your mind.

2:31 “You, O king, were watching as a great statue – one of impressive size and extraordinary brightness – was standing before you. Its appearance caused alarm. 2:32 As for that statue, its head was of fine gold, its chest and arms were of silver, its belly and thighs were of bronze. 2:33 Its legs were of iron; its feet were partly of iron and partly of clay. 2:34 You were watching as a stone was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its iron and clay feet, breaking them in pieces. 2:35 Then the iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold were broken in pieces without distinction and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors that the wind carries away. Not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a large mountain that filled the entire earth. 2:36 This was the dream. Now we will set forth before the king its interpretation.

Daniel Interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

2:37 “You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has granted you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. 2:38 Wherever human beings, wild animals, and birds of the sky live – he has given them into your power. He has given you authority over them all. You are the head of gold. 2:39 Now after you another kingdom will arise, one inferior to yours. Then a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule in all the earth. 2:40 Then there will be a fourth kingdom, one strong like iron. Just like iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything, and as iron breaks in pieces all of these metals, so it will break in pieces and crush the others. 2:41 In that you were seeing feet and toes partly of wet clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom. Some of the strength of iron will be in it, for you saw iron mixed with wet clay. 2:42 In that the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, the latter stages of this kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile. 2:43 And in that you saw iron mixed with wet clay, so people will be mixed with one another without adhering to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay. 2:44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed and a kingdom that will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of all these kingdoms. But it will stand forever. 2:45 You saw that a stone was cut from a mountain, but not by human hands; it smashed the iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold into pieces. The great God has made known to the king what will occur in the future. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is reliable.”

2:46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar bowed down with his face to the ground and paid homage to Daniel. He gave orders to offer sacrifice and incense to him. 2:47 The king replied to Daniel, “Certainly your God is a God of gods and Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery!” 2:48 Then the king elevated Daniel to high position and bestowed on him many marvelous gifts. He granted him authority over the entire province of Babylon and made him the main prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 2:49 And at Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the administration of the province of Babylon. Daniel himself served in the king’s court.

Daniel’s Friends Are Tested

3:1 King Nebuchadnezzar had a golden statue made. It was ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. He erected it on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 3:2 Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent out a summons to assemble the satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other authorities of the province to attend the dedication of the statue that he had erected. 3:3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other provincial authorities assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had erected. They were standing in front of the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had erected.

3:4 Then the herald made a loud proclamation: “To you, O peoples, nations, and language groups, the following command is given: 3:5 When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, trigon, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, you must bow down and pay homage to the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has erected. 3:6 Whoever does not bow down and pay homage will immediately be thrown into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire!” 3:7 Therefore when they all heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, trigon, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations, and language groups began bowing down and paying homage to the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had erected.

3:8 Now at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought malicious accusations against the Jews. 3:9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 3:10 You have issued an edict, O king, that everyone must bow down and pay homage to the golden statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, trigon, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music. 3:11 And whoever does not bow down and pay homage must be thrown into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. 3:12 But there are Jewish men whom you appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – and these men have not shown proper respect to you, O king. They don’t serve your gods and they don’t pay homage to the golden statue that you have erected.”

3:13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in a fit of rage demanded that they bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before him. So they brought them before the king. 3:14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you don’t serve my gods and that you don’t pay homage to the golden statue that I erected? 3:15 Now if you are ready, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, trigon, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, you must bow down and pay homage to the statue that I had made. If you don’t pay homage to it, you will immediately be thrown into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. Now, who is that god who can rescue you from my power?” 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, “We do not need to give you a reply concerning this. 3:17 If our God whom we are serving exists, he is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he will rescue us, O king, from your power as well. 3:18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we don’t serve your gods, and we will not pay homage to the golden statue that you have erected.”

3:19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with rage, and his disposition changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He gave orders to heat the furnace seven times hotter than it was normally heated. 3:20 He ordered strong soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 3:21 So those men were tied up while still wearing their cloaks, trousers, turbans, and other clothes, and were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 3:22 But since the king’s command was so urgent, and the furnace was so excessively hot, the men who escorted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were killed by the leaping flames. 3:23 But those three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell into the furnace of blazing fire while still securely bound.

God Delivers His Servants

3:24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and quickly got up. He said to his ministers, “Wasn’t it three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied to the king, “For sure, O king.” 3:25 He answered, “But I see four men, untied and walking around in the midst of the fire! No harm has come to them! And the appearance of the fourth is like that of a god!” 3:26 Then Nebuchadnezzar approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire. He called out, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the most high God, come out! Come here!”

Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego emerged from the fire. 3:27 Once the satraps, prefects, governors, and ministers of the king had gathered around, they saw that those men were physically unharmed by the fire. The hair of their heads was not singed, nor were their trousers damaged. Not even the smell of fire was to be found on them!

3:28 Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Praised be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent forth his angel and has rescued his servants who trusted in him, ignoring the edict of the king and giving up their bodies rather than serve or pay homage to any god other than their God! 3:29 I hereby decree that any people, nation, or language group that blasphemes the god of Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego will be dismembered and his home reduced to rubble! For there exists no other god who can deliver in this way.” 3:30 Then Nebuchadnezzar promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

4:1 “King Nebuchadnezzar, to all peoples, nations, and language groups that live in all the land: Peace and prosperity! 4:2 I am delighted to tell you about the signs and wonders that the most high God has done for me.

4:3 “How great are his signs! How mighty are his wonders! His kingdom will last forever, and his authority continues from one generation to the next.”

Prayer

Lord, You know all things and You share Your perfect knowledge with man as it serves Your perfect plan. May I always look to You first for answers. You intervened in history to deliver an end times prophesy through a pagan king and his faithful captive subject, and You prepared the way for the eventual exile of Judah to Babylon. May I be confident that in the great things of the history of the world that Your hand is greater and more certain than any thing any human, other heavenly being, or all of them combined can do. You used captive people to demonstrate Your sovereign power to a king, leading him to praise Your name. May I never lose my sense of awe for You, confidence that You can and do act anywhere and any time, and may I declare Your greatness.

Scripture In Perspective

Daniel was among those captured and deported to Babylon, there the king ordered his court official to “... choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent – young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service – and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians. So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service.”

“Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the royal delicacies or the royal wine. He therefore asked the overseer of the court officials for permission not to defile himself. Then God made the overseer of the court officials sympathetic to Daniel. But he responded to Daniel, “I fear my master the king. He is the one who has decided your food and drink. What would happen if he saw that you looked malnourished in comparison to the other young men your age? If that happened, you would endanger my life with the king!” Daniel then spoke to the warden whom the overseer of the court officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: “Please test your servants for ten days by providing us with some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who are eating the royal delicacies; deal with us in light of what you see.” So the warden agreed to their proposal and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days their appearance was better and their bodies were healthier than all the young men who had been eating the royal delicacies. So the warden removed the delicacies and the wine from their diet and gave them a diet of vegetables instead. Now as for these four young men, God endowed them with knowledge and skill in all sorts of literature and wisdom – and Daniel had insight into all kinds of visions and dreams.”

“When the king spoke with them, he did not find among the entire group anyone like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, or Azariah. So they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and insight the king asked them about, he found them to be ten times better than any of the magicians and astrologers that were in his entire empire.”

The king had a dream and demanded that his magicians and other frauds and practitioners of witchcraft in his court tell him both the content of his dream and their interpretation. They protested that no king had ever asked such a thing and that no one but “the gods” could know “but they don’t live among mortals!” He gave orders that they all be rounded up, including Daniel and his friends, and killed – and “... their houses reduced to rubble.” Daniel heard of this and asked the king to give him a little time to get him an answer. Daniel and his friends prayed and the Lord God provided the answer. He gave praise “O God of my fathers, I acknowledge and glorify you, for you have bestowed wisdom and power on me. Now you have enabled me to understand what I requested from you. For you have enabled me to understand the king’s dilemma.” and he also quickly asked that none be killed “Then Daniel went in to see Arioch (whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon). He came and said to him, “Don’t destroy the wise men of Babylon! Escort me to the king, and I will disclose the interpretation to him!””

Daniel had requested and received the Lord God's revelation of the king's dream and its meaning, and in grateful-awe had given the Lord great praise and thanks.

When the king asked him if he could meet the challenge Daniel humbly replied that no mere human could do so but “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the times to come.”

Daniel described the king's dream then the Lord God's interpretation “... In the days of those kings the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed and a kingdom that will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of all these kingdoms. But it will stand forever.” [The dream was essentially of a series of ancient kingdoms, which history records were followed by lesser kingdoms – all of which were somehow spin-offs, which we then obliterated upon the second coming of Christ. His first coming ushered-in the spiritual kingdom on earth, His second added the physical kingdom.]

“King Nebuchadnezzar bowed down with his face to the ground and paid homage to Daniel. He gave orders to offer sacrifice and incense to him.” [Note: Daniel was far too faithful and humble to ever ask anyone to worship him, see “... no wise men, astrologers, magicians, or diviners can possibly disclose it to the king. However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries … The great God has made known to the king what will occur in the future. The king replied to Daniel, “Certainly your God is a God of gods and Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery!””

Note that in Esther 6 Mordecai was honored but not worshiped. Daniel did not have the authority to forbid the king from his pagan sacrifices, nor would a man as respectful of authority have attempted to do so, but there is nothing about Daniel – or in the record – to suggest that he accepted worship. [Had Daniel done so he would not have received the blessings from the Lord that followed.]

“Then the king elevated Daniel to high position and bestowed on him many marvelous gifts. He granted him authority over the entire province of Babylon and made him the main prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. And at Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the administration of the province of Babylon. Daniel himself served in the king’s court.” [Constable's Notes observe that the Lord's arrangement for the elevation of these Jewish men provided sympathetic persons in authority for when Judah was later deported to Babylon.]

Daniel's friends were confronted by a massive statue about which the king declared “... you must bow down and pay homage to the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has erected. Whoever does not bow down and pay homage will immediately be thrown into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire!”

“Some Chaldeans … there are Jewish men whom you appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – and these men have not shown proper respect to you, O king. They don’t serve your gods and they don’t pay homage to the golden statue that you have erected.” Then Nebuchadnezzar in a fit of rage demanded that they bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before him …” He angrily challenged them agree to to worship the statue and mocked their God, to which they replied “We do not need to give you a reply concerning this. If our God whom we are serving exists, he is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he will rescue us, O king, from your power as well. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we don’t serve your gods, and we will not pay homage to the golden statue that you have erected.”

“He gave orders to heat the furnace seven times hotter than it was normally heated. He ordered strong soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. So those men were tied up while still wearing their cloaks, trousers, turbans, and other clothes, and were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. But since the king’s command was so urgent, and the furnace was so excessively hot, the men who escorted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were killed by the leaping flames.”

The king declared “... I see four men, untied and walking around in the midst of the fire! No harm has come to them! And the appearance of the fourth is like that of a god!” … He called out, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the most high God, come out! Come here!” ... the satraps, prefects, governors, and ministers of the king had gathered around ... saw ... Not even the smell of fire was to be found on them!”

“Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Praised be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent forth his angel and has rescued his servants who trusted in him, ignoring the edict of the king and giving up their bodies rather than serve or pay homage to any god other than their God! I hereby decree that any people, nation, or language group that blasphemes the god of Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego will be dismembered and his home reduced to rubble! For there exists no other god who can deliver in this way.” ... to all peoples, nations, and language groups that live in all the land: Peace and prosperity! I am delighted to tell you about the signs and wonders that the most high God has done for me. “How great are his signs! How mighty are his wonders! His kingdom will last forever, and his authority continues from one generation to the next.””

Interact with the text

Consider

The king wanted the best and the brightest of the young men of Israel for his court, both because the court protocol required the most-perfect to serve the king, and because appropriating them to his service sent a message to the captive people. Daniel remained humble throughout the whole process, yet he did not refuse delegated authority from the king. The three friends of Daniel were willing to die a terrible death rather than disobey the Lord God by worshiping a statue.

Discuss

Why did the king demand that his magical-advisers tell him both the dream and the interpretation, contrary to previous practice? Satan and his demons seek false worship, and their human agents (pagan kings) did so as well, so despite Daniel's repeated credit given to God-alone would it be the confused thinking of the king that caused him to order sacrifice and incense to Daniel? Isn't it amazing how the arrogant and pride-filled king became suddenly-humbled and worshipful by the combination of the faithful men and the miracle of the Lord God?

Reflect

Daniel risked setting boundaries in order to be clear-headed and healthy, which was good stewardship of his body, so that he could be righteous before the Lord God – despite his captivity. The timing and provision of the Lord created the circumstance where Daniel and his friends would be elevated in Babylon and that meant some safety for the Judean Israelites when they were exiled there. Not only did the king serve as a conduit of blessing to the men he also became a clarion of the message of the One true and all-powerful Lord God.

Share

When have you observed someone standing in faith when challenged to sell-out, only to have the Lord intervene and the one who challenged them turned to a friend of God?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you something He wants you to remove from your life which is unhealthy, emotionally, intellectually, physically, or spiritually, an opportunity to bless someone by sharing the Lord God's truth with them – giving Him all of the credit, and a place here He'd like you to stand in faith.

Act

Today I will give praise and thanks to the Lord God for His perfect wisdom and I will act immediately to obey the direction of the Holy Spirit. If I am uncertain I will ask one who meets the Biblical requirement of “elder”, and perhaps others, to pray in-agreement for clarity. I will boldly and Biblically share His Word and I will pray for His Word to be accepted and acted upon. I will stand in faith, asking others to pray in-agreement with me for protection and strength, and for those who are pressing me to sell-out to recognize and submit to the Lord God.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Tuesday (Daniel 4:4-5)

Nebuchadnezzar Dreams of a Tree Chopped Down

4:4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was relaxing in my home, living luxuriously in my palace. 4:5 I saw a dream that frightened me badly. The things I imagined while lying on my bed – these visions of my mind – were terrifying me. 4:6 So I issued an order for all the wise men of Babylon to be brought before me so that they could make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 4:7 When the magicians, astrologers, wise men, and diviners entered, I recounted the dream for them. But they were unable to make known its interpretation to me. 4:8 Later Daniel entered (whose name is Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom there is a spirit of the holy gods). I recounted the dream for him as well, 4:9 saying, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, in whom I know there to be a spirit of the holy gods and whom no mystery baffles, consider my dream that I saw and set forth its interpretation! 4:10 Here are the visions of my mind while I was on my bed. While I was watching, there was a tree in the middle of the land. It was enormously tall.

4:11 The tree grew large and strong. Its top reached far into the sky; it could be seen from the borders of all the land.

4:12 Its foliage was attractive and its fruit plentiful; on it there was food enough for all. Under it the wild animals used to seek shade, and in its branches the birds of the sky used to nest. All creatures used to feed themselves from it.

4:13 While I was watching in my mind’s visions on my bed, a holy sentinel came down from heaven.

4:14 He called out loudly as follows: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches! Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit! Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches!

4:15 But leave its taproot in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze around it surrounded by the grass of the field. Let it become damp with the dew of the sky, and let it live with the animals in the grass of the land.

4:16 Let his mind be altered from that of a human being, and let an animal’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time go by for him.

4:17 This announcement is by the decree of the sentinels; this decision is by the pronouncement of the holy ones, so that those who are alive may understand that the Most High has authority over human kingdoms, and he bestows them on whomever he wishes. He establishes over them even the lowliest of human beings.’

4:18 “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation, for none of the wise men in my kingdom are able to make known to me the interpretation. But you can do so, for a spirit of the holy gods is in you.”

Daniel Interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

4:19 Then Daniel (whose name is also Belteshazzar) was upset for a brief time; his thoughts were alarming him. The king said, “Belteshazzar, don’t let the dream and its interpretation alarm you.” But Belteshazzar replied, “Sir, if only the dream were for your enemies and its interpretation applied to your adversaries! 4:20 The tree that you saw that grew large and strong, whose top reached to the sky, and which could be seen in all the land, 4:21 whose foliage was attractive and its fruit plentiful, and from which there was food available for all, under whose branches wild animals used to live, and in whose branches birds of the sky used to nest – 4:22 it is you, O king! For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth. 4:23 As for the king seeing a holy sentinel coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its taproot in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze around it, surrounded by the grass of the field. Let it become damp with the dew of the sky, and let it live with the wild animals, until seven periods of time go by for him’ – 4:24 this is the interpretation, O king! It is the decision of the Most High that this has happened to my lord the king. 4:25 You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. 4:26 They said to leave the taproot of the tree, for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules. 4:27 Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged.”

4:28 Now all of this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 4:29 After twelve months, he happened to be walking around on the battlements of the royal palace of Babylon. 4:30 The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” 4:31 While these words were still on the king’s lips, a voice came down from heaven: “It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! 4:32 You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.”

4:33 Now in that very moment this pronouncement about Nebuchadnezzar came true. He was driven from human society, he ate grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until his hair became long like an eagle’s feathers, and his nails like a bird’s claws.

4:34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.

4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’

4:36 At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my nobles were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. I became even greater than before. 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to bring down those who live in pride.

Belshazzar Sees Mysterious Handwriting on a Wall

5:1 King Belshazzar prepared a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in front of them all. 5:2 While under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar issued an order to bring in the gold and silver vessels – the ones that Nebuchadnezzar his father had confiscated from the temple in Jerusalem – so that the king and his nobles, together with his wives and his concubines, could drink from them. 5:3 So they brought the gold and silver vessels that had been confiscated from the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, together with his wives and concubines, drank from them. 5:4 As they drank wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

5:5 At that very moment the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the royal palace wall, opposite the lampstand. The king was watching the back of the hand that was writing. 5:6 Then all the color drained from the king’s face and he became alarmed. The joints of his hips gave way, and his knees began knocking together. 5:7 The king called out loudly to summon the astrologers, wise men, and diviners. The king proclaimed to the wise men of Babylon that anyone who could read this inscription and disclose its interpretation would be clothed in purple and have a golden collar placed on his neck and be third ruler in the kingdom.

5:8 So all the king’s wise men came in, but they were unable to read the writing or to make known its interpretation to the king. 5:9 Then King Belshazzar was very terrified, and he was visibly shaken. His nobles were completely dumbfounded.

5:10 Due to the noise caused by the king and his nobles, the queen mother then entered the banquet room. She said, “O king, live forever! Don’t be alarmed! Don’t be shaken! 5:11 There is a man in your kingdom who has within him a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, he proved to have insight, discernment, and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father appointed him chief of the magicians, astrologers, wise men, and diviners. 5:12 Thus there was found in this man Daniel, whom the king renamed Belteshazzar, an extraordinary spirit, knowledge, and skill to interpret dreams, solve riddles, and decipher knotty problems. Now summon Daniel, and he will disclose the interpretation.”

5:13 So Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? 5:14 I have heard about you, how there is a spirit of the gods in you, and how you have insight, discernment, and extraordinary wisdom. 5:15 Now the wise men and astrologers were brought before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation. But they were unable to disclose the interpretation of the message. 5:16 However, I have heard that you are able to provide interpretations and to decipher knotty problems. Now if you are able to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, you will wear purple and have a golden collar around your neck and be third ruler in the kingdom.”

Daniel Interprets the Handwriting on the Wall

5:17 But Daniel replied to the king, “Keep your gifts, and give your rewards to someone else! However, I will read the writing for the king and make known its interpretation. 5:18 As for you, O king, the most high God bestowed on your father Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom, greatness, honor, and majesty. 5:19 Due to the greatness that he bestowed on him, all peoples, nations, and language groups were trembling with fear before him. He killed whom he wished, he spared whom he wished, he exalted whom he wished, and he brought low whom he wished. 5:20 And when his mind became arrogant and his spirit filled with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and his honor was removed from him. 5:21 He was driven from human society, his mind was changed to that of an animal, he lived with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until he came to understand that the most high God rules over human kingdoms, and he appoints over them whomever he wishes.

5:22 “But you, his son Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, although you knew all this. 5:23 Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. You brought before you the vessels from his temple, and you and your nobles, together with your wives and concubines, drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone – gods that cannot see or hear or comprehend! But you have not glorified the God who has in his control your very breath and all your ways! 5:24 Therefore the palm of a hand was sent from him, and this writing was inscribed.

5:25 “This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEQEL, and PHARSIN. 5:26 This is the interpretation of the words: As for mene – God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end. 5:27 As for teqel – you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking. 5:28 As for peres – your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

5:29 Then, on Belshazzar’s orders, Daniel was clothed in purple, a golden collar was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed third ruler in the kingdom. 5:30 And in that very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed. 5:31 So Darius the Mede took control of the kingdom when he was about sixty-two years old.

Prayer

Lord, no mere human king is Your equal, and pride has always led to their fall. May I take care to humble myself before you so that I may be your instrument of blessing to others.

Scripture In Perspective

The king had a dream which Daniel interpreted. Daniel pleaded with the king to humble himself before the Lord God but the king refused. One year later pontificating as to his own greatness the Lord humbled him to graze like an animal.

He remained in that state, as prophesied, until he had humbled himself and gave glory to the Lord God.

Nebuchadnezzar's son, Belshazzar, who knew his father's story chose to ignore it and became so prideful that he used containers (taken from the temple in Jerusalem) at a party – during which they praised false gods – when a heavenly hand wrote on the wall he became frightened and his mother instructed him to call Daniel.

Daniel delivered the prophesy “This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEQEL, and PHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the words: As for mene – God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end. As for teqel – you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking. As for peres – your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”

“And in that very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed. So Darius the Mede took control of the kingdom when he was about sixty-two years old.”

Interact With The Text

Consider

Nebuchadnezzar made it necessary for the Lord God to humble him, despite his awareness of the power of God when He saved Daniel's friends from the furnace.

Discuss

Why would Nebuchadnezzar's son, Belshazzar, knowing his father's history have been so foolish as to diss God?

Reflect

Belshazzar was clearly not listening, or at least was not believing Daniel's prophesy, as he gave him the gifts he had promised – which fit his pattern since he had learned nothing from his father's experience.

Share

When have you experienced or observed someone ignoring obvious wisdom?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you something that you should understand and which should change your behavior.

Act

Today I will humbly acknowledge what the Holy Spirit is teaching me and I will be intentional about changing my behavior accordingly. I will ask a fellow believer to pray in-agreement for courage and strength and to hold me accountable. It may be a tendency toward pride, a self-destructive or selfish habit, carelessness where I should be careful, perfectionism that has become a works-righteousness idol, or some other wrong behavior.

Be Specific _________________________________________________

Wednesday (Daniel 6-8)

Daniel is Thrown into a Lions’ Den

6:1 It seemed like a good idea to Darius to appoint over the kingdom 120 satraps who would be in charge of the entire kingdom. 6:2 Over them would be three supervisors, one of whom was Daniel. These satraps were accountable to them, so that the king’s interests might not incur damage. 6:3 Now this Daniel was distinguishing himself above the other supervisors and the satraps, for he had an extraordinary spirit. In fact, the king intended to appoint him over the entire kingdom. 6:4 Consequently the supervisors and satraps were trying to find some pretext against Daniel in connection with administrative matters. But they were unable to find any such damaging evidence, because he was trustworthy and guilty of no negligence or corruption. 6:5 So these men concluded, “We won’t find any pretext against this man Daniel unless it is in connection with the law of his God.”

6:6 So these supervisors and satraps came by collusion to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 6:7 To all the supervisors of the kingdom, the prefects, satraps, counselors, and governors it seemed like a good idea for a royal edict to be issued and an interdict to be enforced. For the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human other than you, O king, should be thrown into a den of lions. 6:8 Now let the king issue a written interdict so that it cannot be altered, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed. 6:9 So King Darius issued the written interdict.

6:10 When Daniel realized that a written decree had been issued, he entered his home, where the windows in his upper room opened toward Jerusalem. Three times daily he was kneeling and offering prayers and thanks to his God just as he had been accustomed to do previously. 6:11 Then those officials who had gone to the king came by collusion and found Daniel praying and asking for help before his God. 6:12 So they approached the king and said to him, “Did you not issue an edict to the effect that for the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human other than to you, O king, would be thrown into a den of lions?” The king replied, “That is correct, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed.” 6:13 Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the edict that you issued. Three times daily he offers his prayer.”

6:14 When the king heard this, he was very upset and began thinking about how he might rescue Daniel. Until late afternoon he was struggling to find a way to rescue him. 6:15 Then those men came by collusion to the king and said to him, “Recall, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no edict or decree that the king issues can be changed.” 6:16 So the king gave the order, and Daniel was brought and thrown into a den of lions. The king consoled Daniel by saying, “Your God whom you continually serve will rescue you!” 6:17 Then a stone was brought and placed over the opening to the den. The king sealed it with his signet ring and with those of his nobles so that nothing could be changed with regard to Daniel. 6:18 Then the king departed to his palace. But he spent the night without eating, and no diversions were brought to him. He was unable to sleep.

God Rescues Daniel from the Lions

6:19 In the morning, at the earliest sign of daylight, the king got up and rushed to the lions’ den. 6:20 As he approached the den, he called out to Daniel in a worried voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, was your God whom you continually serve able to rescue you from the lions?”

6:21 Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! 6:22 My God sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not harmed me, because I was found to be innocent before him. Nor have I done any harm to you, O king.”

6:23 Then the king was delighted and gave an order to haul Daniel up from the den. So Daniel was hauled up out of the den. He had no injury of any kind, because he had trusted in his God. 6:24 The king gave another order, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the lions’ den – they, their children, and their wives. They did not even reach the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.

6:25 Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and language groups who were living in all the land: “Peace and prosperity! 6:26 I have issued an edict that throughout all the dominion of my kingdom people are to revere and fear the God of Daniel.

“For he is the living God; he endures forever. His kingdom will not be destroyed; his authority is forever.

6:27 He rescues and delivers and performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions!”

6:28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Daniel has a Vision of Four Animals Coming up from the Sea

7:1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream filled with visions while he was lying on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream in summary fashion. 7:2 Daniel explained: “I was watching in my vision during the night as the four winds of the sky were stirring up the great sea. 7:3 Then four large beasts came up from the sea; they were different from one another.

7:4 “The first one was like a lion with eagles’ wings. As I watched, its wings were pulled off and it was lifted up from the ground. It was made to stand on two feet like a human being, and a human mind was given to it.

7:5 “Then a second beast appeared, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and there were three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and devour much flesh!’

7:6 “After these things, as I was watching, another beast like a leopard appeared, with four bird-like wings on its back. This beast had four heads, and ruling authority was given to it.

7:7 “After these things, as I was watching in the night visions a fourth beast appeared – one dreadful, terrible, and very strong. It had two large rows of iron teeth. It devoured and crushed, and anything that was left it trampled with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that came before it, and it had ten horns.

7:8 “As I was contemplating the horns, another horn – a small one – came up between them, and three of the former horns were torn out by the roots to make room for it. This horn had eyes resembling human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogant things.

7:9 “While I was watching, thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His attire was white like snow; the hair of his head was like lamb’s wool. His throne was ablaze with fire and its wheels were all aflame.

7:10 A river of fire was streaming forth and proceeding from his presence. Many thousands were ministering to him; Many tens of thousands stood ready to serve him. The court convened and the books were opened.

7:11 “Then I kept on watching because of the arrogant words of the horn that was speaking. I was watching until the beast was killed and its body destroyed and thrown into the flaming fire. 7:12 As for the rest of the beasts, their ruling authority had already been removed, though they were permitted to go on living for a time and a season. 7:13 I was watching in the night visions,

“And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him.

7:14 To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed.

An Angel Interprets Daniel’s Vision

7:15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed, and the visions of my mind were alarming me. 7:16 I approached one of those standing nearby and asked him about the meaning of all this. So he spoke with me and revealed to me the interpretation of the vision: 7:17 ‘These large beasts, which are four in number, represent four kings who will arise from the earth. 7:18 The holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will take possession of the kingdom forever and ever.’

7:19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others. It was very dreadful, with two rows of iron teeth and bronze claws, and it devoured, crushed, and trampled anything that was left with its feet. 7:20 I also wanted to know the meaning of the ten horns on its head, and of that other horn which came up and before which three others fell. This was the horn that had eyes and a mouth speaking arrogant things, whose appearance was more formidable than the others. 7:21 While I was watching, that horn began to wage war against the holy ones and was defeating them, 7:22 until the Ancient of Days arrived and judgment was rendered in favor of the holy ones of the Most High. Then the time came for the holy ones to take possession of the kingdom.

7:23 “This is what he told me: ‘The fourth beast means that there will be a fourth kingdom on earth that will differ from all the other kingdoms. It will devour all the earth and will trample and crush it.

7:24 The ten horns mean that ten kings will arise from that kingdom. Another king will arise after them, but he will be different from the earlier ones. He will humiliate three kings.

7:25 He will speak words against the Most High. He will harass the holy ones of the Most High continually. His intention will be to change times established by law. They will be delivered into his hand For a time, times, and half a time.

7:26 But the court will convene, and his ruling authority will be removed – destroyed and abolished forever!

7:27 Then the kingdom, authority, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be delivered to the people of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; all authorities will serve him and obey him.’

7:28 “This is the conclusion of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts troubled me greatly, and the color drained from my face. But I kept the matter to myself.”

Daniel Has a Vision of a Goat and a Ram

8:1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after the one that had appeared to me previously. 8:2 In this vision I saw myself in Susa the citadel, which is located in the province of Elam. In the vision I saw myself at the Ulai Canal. 8:3 I looked up and saw a ram with two horns standing at the canal. Its two horns were both long, but one was longer than the other. The longer one was coming up after the shorter one. 8:4 I saw that the ram was butting westward, northward, and southward. No animal was able to stand before it, and there was none who could deliver from its power. It did as it pleased and acted arrogantly.

8:5 While I was contemplating all this, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of all the land without touching the ground. This goat had a conspicuous horn between its eyes. 8:6 It came to the two-horned ram that I had seen standing beside the canal and rushed against it with raging strength. 8:7 I saw it approaching the ram. It went into a fit of rage against the ram and struck it and broke off its two horns. The ram had no ability to resist it. The goat hurled the ram to the ground and trampled it. No one could deliver the ram from its power. 8:8 The male goat acted even more arrogantly. But no sooner had the large horn become strong than it was broken, and there arose four conspicuous horns in its place, extending toward the four winds of the sky.

8:9 From one of them came a small horn. But it grew to be very big, toward the south and the east and toward the beautiful land. 8:10 It grew so big it reached the army of heaven, and it brought about the fall of some of the army and some of the stars to the ground, where it trampled them. 8:11 It also acted arrogantly against the Prince of the army, from whom the daily sacrifice was removed and whose sanctuary was thrown down. 8:12 The army was given over, along with the daily sacrifice, in the course of his sinful rebellion. It hurled truth to the ground and enjoyed success.

8:13 Then I heard a holy one speaking. Another holy one said to the one who was speaking, “To what period of time does the vision pertain – this vision concerning the daily sacrifice and the destructive act of rebellion and the giving over of both the sanctuary and army to be trampled?” 8:14 He said to me, “To 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be put right again.”

An Angel Interprets Daniel’s Vision

8:15 While I, Daniel, was watching the vision, I sought to understand it. Now one who appeared to be a man was standing before me. 8:16 Then I heard a human voice coming from between the banks of the Ulai. It called out, “Gabriel, enable this person to understand the vision.” 8:17 So he approached the place where I was standing. As he came, I felt terrified and fell flat on the ground. Then he said to me, “Understand, son of man, that the vision pertains to the time of the end.” 8:18 As he spoke with me, I fell into a trance with my face to the ground. But he touched me and stood me upright.

8:19 Then he said, “I am going to inform you about what will happen in the latter time of wrath, for the vision pertains to the appointed time of the end. 8:20 The ram that you saw with the two horns stands for the kings of Media and Persia. 8:21 The male goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between its eyes is the first king. 8:22 The horn that was broken and in whose place there arose four others stands for four kingdoms that will arise from his nation, though they will not have his strength. 8:23 Toward the end of their rule, when rebellious acts are complete, a rash and deceitful king will arise. 8:24 His power will be great, but it will not be by his strength alone. He will cause terrible destruction. He will be successful in what he undertakes. He will destroy powerful people and the people of the holy ones. 8:25 By his treachery he will succeed through deceit. He will have an arrogant attitude, and he will destroy many who are unaware of his schemes. He will rise up against the Prince of princes, yet he will be broken apart – but not by human agency. 8:26 The vision of the evenings and mornings that was told to you is correct. But you should seal up the vision, for it refers to a time many days from now.”

8:27 I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up and again carried out the king’s business. But I was astonished at the vision, and there was no one to explain it.

Prayer

Lord, evil people have attacked Your servants for generations yet Your plan to redeem a huge remnant from humankind continues. May I keep faith with You in spite of the threats of those who hate You, Lord. You will give to the evil powers (the ones that the rebellion of Adam and Eve, and the continuous rebellion of humankind afterward, had invited into the world) a time to reign, You will end their reign and re-establish Your perfect kingdom for those who are Yours. May I pray and act earnestly for the salvation of many prior to that time. You allow the prince of this world -- and the people who live apart from You -- to live-out their foolish schemes, but Your great plan to separate-out Your enemies and to reconcile with Your children is undeterred by anything man can do. May I be aware of the schemes of men but have confidence in the victory of You, my Lord and my God.

Scripture In Perspective

Jealous fellow leaders under king Darius conspired to set Daniel up. They appealed to the king's ego and had him issue an “written interdict” [a royal edict that, according to precedent among the Medes and Persians, could not even be over-ruled by the king himself], which made it mandatory for all to pray only to the king for 30 days. [They knew that Daniel prayed three times daily to the Lord God.]

They made the king aware of Daniel continuing to pray to the Lord God and when the king sought a way out of throwing Daniel in the lion's den they reminded him that his “written interdict” could not be undone, so he gave the order, but told Daniel that his desire was for “Daniel's God” to save him.

The king could not sleep that night and refused any “distractions” [which likely referred to concubines or entertainers and perhaps even alcohol or medications].

In the morning, the king rushed to the lion's den and called to Daniel, who responded “My God sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not harmed me, because I was found to be innocent before him. Nor have I done any harm to you, O king.”

“The king gave another order, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the lions’ den – they, their children, and their wives. They did not even reach the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.”

The joy-filled king issued a new edict about the Lord God “For he is the living God; he endures forever. His kingdom will not be destroyed; his authority is forever. He rescues and delivers and performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions!”

Daniel had another dream-vision, this went “... four large beasts came up from the sea; they were different from one another.”

An angel explained the visions as four nations.

The angel then explained that the Lord God “the Ancient of Days” would also come and one “... like a son of man“ would approach and receive “... ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed.” He will be known as “The Most High”.

The fourth beast will destroy the first three then he “... will speak words against the Most High. He will harass the holy ones of the Most High continually. His intention will be to change times established by law. They will be delivered into his hand For a time, times, and half a time. But the court will convene, and his ruling authority will be removed – destroyed and abolished forever!”

“Then the kingdom, authority, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be delivered to the people of the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; all authorities will serve him and obey him.’”

Daniel received another prophetic vision.

The archangel Gabriel explained

“The ram that you saw with the two horns stands for the kings of Media and Persia.”

“The male goat is the king of Greece ...”

“... and the large horn between its eyes is the first king.

[The NET translator's notes explain “ the large horn represents Alexander the Great. Alexander’s rapid conquest of the Persians involved three battles of major significance which he won against overwhelming odds: Granicus (334 ), Isus (333 ), and Gaugemela (331 ).]

The horn that was broken and in whose place there arose four others stands for four kingdoms that will arise from his nation, though they will not have his strength.

[The NET translator's notes explain “The four conspicuous horns refer to Alexander’s successors. After his death, Alexander’s empire was divided up among four of his generals: Cassander, who took Macedonia and Greece; Lysimachus, who took Thrace and parts of Asia Minor; Seleucus, who took Syria and territory to its east; and Ptolemy, who took control of Egypt.”]

“Toward the end of their rule, when rebellious acts are complete, a rash and deceitful king [the “small horn”] will arise. His power will be great, but it will not be by his strength alone. He will cause terrible destruction. He will be successful in what he undertakes. He will destroy powerful people and the people of the holy ones. By his treachery he will succeed through deceit. He will have an arrogant attitude, and he will destroy many who are unaware of his schemes. He will rise up against the Prince of princes, yet he will be broken apart – but not by human agency.”

[The NET translator's notes explain “This small horn is Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who controlled the Seleucid kingdom from ca. 175-164 . Antiochus was extremely hostile toward the Jews and persecuted them mercilessly.”] He has been labeled by some “The antichrist of the old testament.”

This text could describe many human "kings" as most have seized and held power illegitimately and used deceit to manipulate. The term "king" may refer to the most politically powerful person in a 'nation', so it could refer to one not locally labeled as a "king".

The question was asked “To what period of time does the vision pertain – this vision concerning the daily sacrifice and the destructive act of rebellion and the giving over of both the sanctuary and army to be trampled?” He said to me, “To 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be put right again.”

“The vision of the evenings and mornings that was told to you is correct. But you should seal up the vision, for it refers to a time many days from now.”

Interact With The Text

Consider

Even the king of a great empire found himself the victim of schemers and of tradition – trapped into an edict he issued – prevented from any authority to exercise discretion. Daniel's dream was a prophetic vision that would conclude in the latter days of the end times. As series of kings, great and lesser, were prophesied. Each would express a different scheme to power, without the Lord God, and each would ultimately fail.

Discuss

What were Daniel's enemies thinking? Even had they succeeded they would have sealed their fate with the king as evil and untrustworthy. Why would Daniel have become exhausted to the point of sickness from this prophetic vision and angelic interpretation?

Reflect

What Satan, though Daniel's enemies, intended for evil was turned to an empire-wide proclamation of the Lord God and to blessing for Daniel. The sequence and timing of the events in the prophetic vision have caused many to speculate as to their meaning and to debate if any have already occurred. Power does not always mean blessing or competence “By his treachery he will succeed through deceit. He will have an arrogant attitude, and he will destroy many who are unaware of his schemes.”

Share

When have you been in a difficult situation and rested in the comfort that the Lord God will one day render perfect justice and that enduring and serving in this world is worth His promise of eternity with Him? When have you observed someone who has acquired great power through treachery despite the absence of competence to rightly-manage the authority they received?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a fellow believer who is confused about the world and who could be comforted to be reminded that the Lord God will make all things right in the end and a situation where someone “... will destroy many who are unaware of his schemes”.

Act

Today I will ask a fellow believer to pray in-agreement for clarity and wisdom, courage and humility as I respectfully challenge poor decision-making in a family or organization. The problem of wrong-headed thinking may even include me. I will prayerfully listen to the direction of the Holy Spirit and then gently share these verses with the one to whom He has directed me. I will pray for courage and wisdom to share the truth and to stand for the truth in order to protect believers from being deceived.

Be Specific ________________________________________________

Thursday (Daniel 9)

Daniel Prays for His People

9:1 In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, who was of Median descent and who had been appointed king over the Babylonian empire – 9:2 in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, came to understand from the sacred books that, according to the word of the LORD disclosed to the prophet Jeremiah, the years for the fulfilling of the desolation of Jerusalem were seventy in number. 9:3 So I turned my attention to the Lord God to implore him by prayer and requests, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. 9:4 I prayed to the LORD my God, confessing in this way:

“O Lord, great and awesome God who is faithful to his covenant with those who love him and keep his commandments, 9:5 we have sinned! We have done what is wrong and wicked; we have rebelled by turning away from your commandments and standards. 9:6 We have not paid attention to your servants the prophets, who spoke by your authority to our kings, our leaders, and our ancestors, and to all the inhabitants of the land as well.

9:7 “You are righteous, O Lord, but we are humiliated this day – the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far away in all the countries in which you have scattered them, because they have behaved unfaithfully toward you. 9:8 O LORD, we have been humiliated – our kings, our leaders, and our ancestors – because we have sinned against you. 9:9 Yet the Lord our God is compassionate and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him. 9:10 We have not obeyed the LORD our God by living according to his laws that he set before us through his servants the prophets.

9:11 “All Israel has broken your law and turned away by not obeying you. Therefore you have poured out on us the judgment solemnly threatened in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against you. 9:12 He has carried out his threats against us and our rulers who were over us by bringing great calamity on us – what has happened to Jerusalem has never been equaled under all heaven! 9:13 Just as it is written in the law of Moses, so all this calamity has come on us. Still we have not tried to pacify the LORD our God by turning back from our sin and by seeking wisdom from your reliable moral standards. 9:14 The LORD was mindful of the calamity, and he brought it on us. For the LORD our God is just in all he has done, and we have not obeyed him.

9:15 “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with great power and made a name for yourself that is remembered to this day – we have sinned and behaved wickedly. 9:16 O Lord, according to all your justice, please turn your raging anger away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain. For due to our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people are mocked by all our neighbors.

9:17 “So now, our God, accept the prayer and requests of your servant, and show favor to your devastated sanctuary for your own sake. 9:18 Listen attentively, my God, and hear! Open your eyes and look on our desolated ruins and the city called by your name. For it is not because of our own righteous deeds that we are praying to you, but because your compassion is abundant. 9:19 O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, pay attention, and act! Don’t delay, for your own sake, O my God! For your city and your people are called by your name.”

Gabriel Gives to Daniel a Prophecy of Seventy Weeks

9:20 While I was still speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and presenting my request before the LORD my God concerning his holy mountain – 9:21 yes, while I was still praying, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen previously in a vision, was approaching me in my state of extreme weariness, around the time of the evening offering. 9:22 He spoke with me, instructing me as follows: “Daniel, I have now come to impart understanding to you.

9:23 At the beginning of your requests a message went out, and I have come to convey it to you, for you are of great value in God’s sight. Therefore consider the message and understand the vision:

9:24 “Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place.

9:25 So know and understand: From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives, there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times.

9:26 Now after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing. As for the city and the sanctuary, the people of the coming prince will destroy them. But his end will come speedily like a flood. Until the end of the war that has been decreed there will be destruction.

9:27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one week. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt. On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys.”

Prayer

Lord, Your servant Daniel recognized that Your judgment was prophesied and earned and that the people had not earned the right to ask You to restore Jerusalem and the temple – but asked that You do so for the sake of Your witness to the nations. May I also recognize that it is Christ in me, and not anything that I do, which justifies my redemption. Your great and sovereign plan will occur, no matter the machinations of humankind. You gave Daniel a vision of the future in order to bring hope and to build the foundation for additional prophesies for the last days of the end times. May I keep my eyes on You and my responsibilities to You and not worry about the details of what You in Your sovereignty do.

Scripture In Perspective

Daniel came to study and understand the prophesies of Jeremiah, including the historical reasons for the exile, and the 70 years which the Lord God had established for it.

Daniel was moved to pray a confession of guilt and a profession of repentance on behalf of the people.

He prayed and there were several elements to his prayer:

“... great and awesome God”

“... who is faithful to his covenant with”

“... those who love him”

“... and keep his commandments”

“... we have sinned!”

“All Israel has broken your law and turned away by not obeying you.”

“... you have poured out on us the judgment solemnly threatened in the law of Moses the servant of God”

“Still we have not tried to pacify the LORD our God by turning back from our sin and by seeking wisdom from your reliable moral standards.”

“... accept the prayer and requests of your servant”

“... show favor to your devastated sanctuary for your own sake.”

“For your city and your people are called by your name.”

Daniel 9 is a highly controversial passage, a subject of much debate as to its last days of the end times prophesy, and one which contains some parallel elements to a prophesy of Jeremiah.

[The NET translator's notes read: ““sevens.” Elsewhere the term is used of a literal week (a period of seven days), cf. Gen 29:27-28; Exod 34:22; Lev 12:5; Num 28:26; Deut 16:9-10; 2 Chr 8:13; Jer 5:24; Dan 10:2-3. Gabriel unfolds the future as if it were a calendar of successive weeks. Most understand the reference here as periods of seventy “sevens” of years, or a total of 490 years.”]

One might consider the seventy weeks or years to refer to Daniel's time, into the near-term old testament period, and in a symbolic way also events in the more-distant new testament and last days of the end times period.

One might also consider the future application of the days and wekks and years to be divided into periods during which certain events were to unfold rather than times that continued uninterrupted from Daniel's time.

Interact With The Text

Consider

Jeremiah's ministry finally found someone who was willing to listen and to respond properly – and it was another prophet. The Lord God prophesied periods of change during which elements of His sifting of humankind, elements of His judgment would be completed, and elements of His provision for salvation would be accomplished.

Discuss

Given their failure to repent, why would Daniel believe that he could pray and persuade the Lord God to restore Jerusalem and the temple? Why would the Lord God have given such a prophesy to Daniel?

Reflect

Daniel showed humility before the Lord God and believed that a restored Jerusalem and temple would bring glory to Him despite the conduct of his rebellious people. The enemy of the Lord God would have a limited time during which he would be permitted to trouble humankind at an intense level, it would be the Lord's test, and it would be humankind's chance to choose to meet the test or to partner with the enemy in making it a temptation to commit to a permanent condition of unrepentant rebellion.

Share

When have you been faced with a difficult situation and found that acknowledging your role in your circumstances opened the door to the Lord God's blessing? When have you considered the various perspectives of the tribulation and other major new testament events?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a frustrating circumstance where your refusal to acknowledge your own sin has created a barrier for the Lord to bless you.

Act

Today I will confess and repent, seek and accept the Lord's forgiveness, then partner with him to change my life so that it is more in line with His will, rather than my own. I will reflect upon the things in my immediate and constantly-changing short-term future, to which I give great importance and value, and then I will contrast them with the big-picture future plans of the Lord.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Friday (Daniel 10-11:20)

An Angel Appears to Daniel

10:1 In the third year of King Cyrus of Persia a message was revealed to Daniel (who was also called Belteshazzar). This message was true and concerned a great war. He understood the message and gained insight by the vision.

10:2 In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three whole weeks. 10:3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine came to my lips, nor did I anoint myself with oil until the end of those three weeks.

10:4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month I was beside the great river, the Tigris. 10:5 I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen; around his waist was a belt made of gold from Upaz. 10:6 His body resembled yellow jasper, and his face had an appearance like lightning. His eyes were like blazing torches; his arms and feet had the gleam of polished bronze. His voice thundered forth like the sound of a large crowd.

10:7 Only I, Daniel, saw the vision; the men who were with me did not see it. On the contrary, they were overcome with fright and ran away to hide. 10:8 I alone was left to see this great vision. My strength drained from me, and my vigor disappeared; I was without energy. 10:9 I listened to his voice, and as I did so I fell into a trance-like sleep with my face to the ground. 10:10 Then a hand touched me and set me on my hands and knees. 10:11 He said to me, “Daniel, you are of great value. Understand the words that I am about to speak to you. So stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up shaking. 10:12 Then he said to me, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel, for from the very first day you applied your mind to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I have come in response to your words. 10:13 However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia was opposing me for twenty-one days. But Michael, one of the leading princes, came to help me, because I was left there with the kings of Persia. 10:14 Now I have come to help you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to future days.”

10:15 While he was saying this to me, I was flat on the ground and unable to speak. 10:16 Then one who appeared to be a human being was touching my lips. I opened my mouth and started to speak, saying to the one who was standing before me, “Sir, due to the vision, anxiety has gripped me and I have no strength. 10:17 How, sir, am I able to speak with you? My strength is gone, and I am breathless.” 10:18 Then the one who appeared to be a human being touched me again and strengthened me. 10:19 He said to me, “Don’t be afraid, you who are valued. Peace be to you! Be strong! Be really strong!” When he spoke to me, I was strengthened. I said, “Sir, you may speak now, for you have given me strength.” 10:20 He said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Now I am about to return to engage in battle with the prince of Persia. When I go, the prince of Greece is coming. 10:21 However, I will first tell you what is written in a dependable book. (There is no one who strengthens me against these princes, except Michael your prince.

11:1 And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood to strengthen him and to provide protection for him.)

11:2 Now I will tell you the truth. The Angel Gives a Message to Daniel

“Three more kings will arise for Persia. Then a fourth king will be unusually rich, more so than all who preceded him. When he has amassed power through his riches, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece.

11:3 Then a powerful king will arise, exercising great authority and doing as he pleases. 11:4 Shortly after his rise to power, his kingdom will be broken up and distributed toward the four winds of the sky – but not to his posterity or with the authority he exercised, for his kingdom will be uprooted and distributed to others besides these.

11:5 “Then the king of the south and one of his subordinates will grow strong. His subordinate will resist him and will rule a kingdom greater than his.

11:6 After some years have passed, they will form an alliance. Then the daughter of the king of the south will come to the king of the north to make an agreement, but she will not retain her power, nor will he continue in his strength. She, together with the one who brought her, her child, and her benefactor will all be delivered over at that time.

11:7 “There will arise in his place one from her family line who will come against their army and will enter the stronghold of the king of the north and will move against them successfully. 11:8 He will also take their gods into captivity to Egypt, along with their cast images and prized utensils of silver and gold. Then he will withdraw for some years from the king of the north.

11:9 Then the king of the north will advance against the empire of the king of the south, but will withdraw to his own land. 11:10 His sons will wage war, mustering a large army which will advance like an overflowing river and carrying the battle all the way to the enemy’s fortress.

11:11 “Then the king of the south will be enraged and will march out to fight against the king of the north, who will also muster a large army, but that army will be delivered into his hand. 11:12 When the army is taken away, the king of the south will become arrogant. He will be responsible for the death of thousands and thousands of people, but he will not continue to prevail.

11:13 For the king of the north will again muster an army, one larger than before. At the end of some years he will advance with a huge army and enormous supplies.

11:14 “In those times many will oppose the king of the south. Those who are violent among your own people will rise up in confirmation of the vision, but they will falter.

11:15 Then the king of the north will advance and will build siege mounds and capture a well-fortified city. The forces of the south will not prevail, not even his finest contingents. They will have no strength to prevail.

11:16 The one advancing against him will do as he pleases, and no one will be able to stand before him. He will prevail in the beautiful land, and its annihilation will be within his power.

11:17 His intention will be to come with the strength of his entire kingdom, and he will form alliances. He will give the king of the south a daughter in marriage in order to destroy the kingdom, but it will not turn out to his advantage.

11:18 Then he will turn his attention to the coastal regions and will capture many of them. But a commander will bring his shameful conduct to a halt; in addition, he will make him pay for his shameful conduct.

11:19 He will then turn his attention to the fortresses of his own land, but he will stumble and fall, not to be found again.

11:20 There will arise after him one who will send out an exactor of tribute to enhance the splendor of the kingdom, but after a few days he will be destroyed, though not in anger or battle.

Prayer

Lord, You allow spiritual warfare because all of creation is groaning as the consequences of rebellion are experienced, and will until You bring it all to an end. May I be alert to spiritual warfare and confident that You are always in control of the big picture. While the battles for human empire ebb and flow Your great plan continues to unfold, one that is not based on geographic boundaries or on the egos of mere men – but on Your heart's desire to be reconciled and restored in relationship with as many of Your created humankind as possible. May I always remember what is truly important in the big-picture rather than what mere men insist is important in this confused and fallen world.

Scripture In Perspective

Daniel was told by a heavenly-being in a vision “... from the very first day you applied your mind to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I have come in response to your words.”

The “being” [an angel of the Lord] apologized for being delayed due to spiritual warfare “However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia [the prince of this world is Satan] was opposing me for twenty-one days. But Michael, one of the leading princes [an archangel of the Lord], came to help me, because I was left there with the kings of Persia.” [“kings” refers to the higher-ranking fallen-angels of Satan whereas Satan is sometimes referred to as a “prince” it is a higher rank than the 'kings”, one of the oddities of translation from ancient languages to modern English]

Daniel was prepared for the context of the message he was about to receive “Now I have come to help you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to future days.”

The being explained “He said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Now I am about to return to engage in battle with the prince of Persia. When I go, the prince of Greece is coming. However, I will first tell you what is written in a dependable book. (There is no one who strengthens me against these princes, except Michael your prince. And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood to strengthen him and to provide protection for him.)

[Note: The geographic references associated with the “princes” imply the assignment of angelic and demonic beings to nations, people groups, and/or regions.]

Daniel received a prophesy of future events among empires to come.

The NET translator's notes provide the following identities of the personalities and kingdoms:

Perhaps these three more kings are Cambyses (ca. 530-522 B.C.), Pseudo-Smerdis (ca. 522 B.C.), and Darius I Hystaspes (ca. 522-486 B.C.).

This fourth king is Xerxes I (ca. 486-465 B.C.). The following reference to one of his chiefs apparently has in view Seleucus Nicator.

The powerful king mentioned here is Alexander the Great (ca. 336-323 B.C.).

The king of the south is Ptolemy I Soter (ca. 323-285 B.C.). The following reference to one of his subordinates apparently has in view Seleucus I Nicator (ca. 311-280 B.C.). Throughout the remainder of chap. the expressions “king of the south” and “king of the north” repeatedly occur. It is clear, however, that these terms are being used generically to describe the Ptolemaic king (i.e., “of the south”) or the Seleucid king (i.e., “of the north”) who happens to be in power at any particular time. The specific identity of these kings can be established more or less successfully by a comparison of this chapter with the available extra-biblical records that discuss the history of the intertestamental period. In the following notes the generally accepted identifications are briefly mentioned.

“11:6a After some years have passed, they will form an alliance.”

Here they refers to Ptolemy II Philadelphus (ca. 285-246 B.C.) and Antiochus II Theos (ca. 262-246 B.C.).

“11:6b Then the daughter of the king of the south will come to the king of the north to make an agreement, but she will not retain her power, nor will he continue in his strength. She, together with the one who brought her, her child, and her benefactor will all be delivered over at that time.”

The daughter refers to Berenice, who was given in marriage to Antiochus II Theos.

Antiochus II eventually divorced Berenice and remarried his former wife Laodice, who then poisoned her husband, had Berenice put to death, and installed her own son, Seleucus II Callinicus (ca. 246-227 B.C.), as the Seleucid king.

“11:7 “There will arise in his place one from her family line who will come against their army and will enter the stronghold of the king of the north and will move against them successfully.”

The reference is to the king of Egypt.

The reference to one from her family line is probably to Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes (ca. 246-221 B.C.).

“11:10 His sons will wage war, mustering a large army which will advance like an overflowing river and carrying the battle all the way to the enemy’s fortress.”

The sons of Seleucus II Callinicus were Seleucus III Ceraunus (ca. 227-223 B.C.) and Antiochus III the Great (ca. 223-187 B.C.).

The NET translator's notes provide the following identities of the personalities and kingdoms:

This king of the south refers to Ptolemy IV Philopator (ca. 221-204 ).

11:14 “In those times many will oppose the king of the south. Those who are violent among your own people will rise up in confirmation of the vision, but they will falter.

This was Ptolemy V Epiphanes (ca. 203-181 ).

11:15 Then the king of the north will advance and will build siege mounds and capture a well-fortified city. The forces of the south will not prevail, not even his finest contingents. They will have no strength to prevail.

This well-fortified city is apparently Sidon. Its capture from the Ptolemies by Antiochus the Great was a strategic victory for the Seleucid kingdom.

11:17 His intention will be to come with the strength of his entire kingdom, and he will form alliances. He will give the king of the south a daughter in marriage in order to destroy the kingdom, but it will not turn out to his advantage.

The daughter refers to Cleopatra, the daughter of Antiochus, who was given in marriage to Ptolemy V.

11:18 Then he will turn his attention to the coastal regions and will capture many of them. But a commander will bring his shameful conduct to a halt; in addition, he will make him pay for his shameful conduct.

The commander is probably the Roman commander, Lucius Cornelius Scipio.

11:20 There will arise after him one who will send out an exactor of tribute to enhance the splendor of the kingdom, but after a few days he will be destroyed, though not in anger or battle.

The one who will send out an exactor of tribute was Seleucus IV Philopator (ca. 187-176 ).

Perhaps this exactor of tribute was Heliodorus (cf. 2 Maccabees 3).

Interact With The Text

Consider

Daniel was blessed because he made a choice and “applied your mind to understand and to humble yourself before your God”, he received a prophesy which extended through the so-called “inter-testamental period”, that is the period of history between the old and the new testaments. It is worth keeping in mind that the ebb and flow of conquest, e.g. north to south, and back again – meant (and means) little or nothing compared to the spiritual battle that rages unseen for each and every heart.

Discuss

What thoughts come to mind when you read that an angel was delayed on his mission due to spiritual warfare? Could it be that the purpose of this prophesy is to establish the historical credibility of the Word of God and of fore-telling prophesy? Why would it be important for Daniel to learn, in the midst of the tale of battles to come, that one whose job it was to “... exact tribute to enhance the splendor of the kingdom” would “... be destroyed” - but not “... in anger or in battle”?

Reflect

The being which spoke to Daniel had been rescued by Michael the archangel and now he was informing Daniel that Michael was watching over him as well. While this prophesy did not initially address events centered upon the Israelites the ebb and flow of empire most assuredly did impact them. In this series of events Daniel learned that his “people” would be involved at one point but nothing was said of a significant negative or positive impact upon them – it appears that they were not to be major players in the era of time being described.

Share

When have you tried to deliver a message of encouragement or to evangelize someone and you found your path blocked in odd ways? When have you discovered a Biblical perspective or recognized a piece of Biblical history while studying an extra-Biblical source such as an archeological discovery or a verified history of a civilization other than that of the Israelites? When have you observed a person intent upon selfish evil suddenly “destroyed” apart from the events, perhaps by an unexpected illness or what appeared to be a freak accident, and you wondered if the Lord had intervened?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you someone for whom you should pray because they are being harassed by spiritual warfare, to reveal to you something He'd like you to understand better about the Word – but from an extra-Biblical source which contains detail that reinforces the Biblical telling, and to reveal to you a place where you are too concerned about worldly events and therefore too distracted from that which the Lord God says is most-important.

Act

Today I will pray diligently for the one whom the Holy Spirit has identified to me, I will humbly study the materials to which the Holy Spirit has led me, I will study it with the filter that the Bible is always the primary authoritative document, and I will prayerfully receive what it is that the Lord wants me to receive. I will share what I have learned with a fellow believer. I will confess and repent, request and receive forgiveness, and I will adjust my priorities to make the things that the Lord says are most-important the things that I make most important.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Saturday (Daniel 11:21-12)

11:21 “Then there will arise in his place a despicable person to whom the royal honor has not been rightfully conferred. He will come on the scene in a time of prosperity and will seize the kingdom through deceit. 11:22 Armies will be suddenly swept away in defeat before him; both they and a covenant leader will be destroyed. 11:23 After entering into an alliance with him, he will behave treacherously; he will ascend to power with only a small force.

11:24 In a time of prosperity for the most productive areas of the province he will come and accomplish what neither his fathers nor their fathers accomplished. He will distribute loot, spoils, and property to his followers, and he will devise plans against fortified cities, but not for long. 11:25 He will rouse his strength and enthusiasm against the king of the south with a large army. The king of the south will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to prevail because of the plans devised against him. 11:26 Those who share the king’s fine food will attempt to destroy him, and his army will be swept away; many will be killed in battle.

11:27 These two kings, their minds filled with evil intentions, will trade lies with one another at the same table. But it will not succeed, for there is still an end at the appointed time.

11:28 Then the king of the north will return to his own land with much property. His mind will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action, and then return to his own land.

11:29 At an appointed time he will again invade the south, but this latter visit will not turn out the way the former one did.

11:30 The ships of Kittim will come against him, leaving him disheartened. He will turn back and direct his indignation against the holy covenant. He will return and honor those who forsake the holy covenant. 11:31 His forces will rise up and profane the fortified sanctuary, stopping the daily sacrifice. In its place they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.

11:32 Then with smooth words he will defile those who have rejected the covenant. But the people who are loyal to their God will act valiantly. 11:33 These who are wise among the people will teach the masses. However, they will fall by the sword and by the flame, and they will be imprisoned and plundered for some time.

11:34 When they stumble, they will be granted some help. But many will unite with them deceitfully.

11:35 Even some of the wise will stumble, resulting in their refinement, purification, and cleansing until the time of the end, for it is still for the appointed time.

11:36 “Then the king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every deity and he will utter presumptuous things against the God of gods. He will succeed until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been decreed must occur. 11:37 He will not respect the gods of his fathers – not even the god loved by women. He will not respect any god; he will elevate himself above them all. 11:38 What he will honor is a god of fortresses – a god his fathers did not acknowledge he will honor with gold, silver, valuable stones, and treasured commodities. 11:39 He will attack mighty fortresses, aided by a foreign deity. To those who recognize him he will grant considerable honor. He will place them in authority over many people, and he will parcel out land for a price.

11:40 “At the time of the end the king of the south will attack him. Then the king of the north will storm against him with chariots, horsemen, and a large armada of ships. He will invade lands, passing through them like an overflowing river. 11:41 Then he will enter the beautiful land. Many will fall, but these will escape: Edom, Moab, and the Ammonite leadership.

11:42 He will extend his power against other lands; the land of Egypt will not escape. 11:43 He will have control over the hidden stores of gold and silver, as well as all the treasures of Egypt. Libyans and Ethiopians will submit to him.

11:44 But reports will trouble him from the east and north, and he will set out in a tremendous rage to destroy and wipe out many.

11:45 He will pitch his royal tents between the seas toward the beautiful holy mountain. But he will come to his end, with no one to help him.

12:1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who watches over your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress unlike any other from the nation’s beginning up to that time. But at that time your own people, all those whose names are found written in the book, will escape.

12:2 Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake – some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence.

12:3 But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those bringing many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.

12:4 “But you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end. Many will dash about, and knowledge will increase.”

12:5 I, Daniel, watched as two others stood there, one on each side of the river. 12:6 One said to the man clothed in linen who was above the waters of the river, “When will the end of these wondrous events occur?” 12:7 Then I heard the man clothed in linen who was over the waters of the river as he raised both his right and left hands to the sky and made an oath by the one who lives forever: “It is for a time, times, and half a time. Then, when the power of the one who shatters the holy people has been exhausted, all these things will be finished.”

12:8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I said, “Sir, what will happen after these things?” 12:9 He said, “Go, Daniel. For these matters are closed and sealed until the time of the end. 12:10 Many will be purified, made clean, and refined, but the wicked will go on being wicked. None of the wicked will understand, though the wise will understand. 12:11 From the time that the daily sacrifice is removed and the abomination that causes desolation is set in place, there are 1,290 days. 12:12 Blessed is the one who waits and attains to the 1,335 days. 12:13 But you should go your way until the end. You will rest and then at the end of the days you will arise to receive what you have been allotted.”

Prayer

Lord, You used the ebb and flow of mere human conflict and conquest as a foundation to then also begin to communicate expectations for the terrible events of the very last days of the end times. May I be mindful that the struggles that humankind, in particular believers, has (have) faced is not as great as what is to come. You have determined the perfectly-just conclusion to history. May I invest my life in growing in my relationship with the One with Whom I will spend eternity.

Scripture In Perspective

The NET translator's notes provide the following identities of the personalities, places, and kingdoms:

11:21 “Then there will arise in his place a despicable person to whom the royal honor has not been rightfully conferred.

This despicable person to whom the royal honor has not been rightfully conferred is Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ca. 175-164 ).

11:25 He will rouse his strength and enthusiasm against the king of the south with a large army.

This king of the south was Ptolemy Philometer (ca. 181-145 ).

11:30a The ships of Kittim will come against him ...

The name Kittim has various designations in extra-biblical literature. It can refer to a location on the island of Cyprus, or more generally to the island itself, or it can be an inclusive term to refer to parts of the Mediterranean world that lay west of the Middle East (e.g., Rome). For ships of Kittim the Greek OT (LXX) has “Romans,” an interpretation followed by a few English versions (e.g., TEV). A number of times in the Dead Sea Scrolls the word is used in reference to the Romans. Other English versions are more generic: “[ships] of the western coastlands” (NIV, NLT); “from the west” (NCV, CEV).

11:30b … leaving him disheartened.

This is apparently a reference to the Roman forces, led by Gaius Popilius Laenas, which confronted Antiochus when he came to Egypt and demanded that he withdraw or face the wrath of Rome. Antiochus wisely withdrew from Egypt, albeit in a state of bitter frustration.

11:32 Then with smooth words he will defile those who have rejected the covenant. But the people who are loyal to their God will act valiantly.

This is an allusion to the Maccabean revolt, which struggled to bring about Jewish independence in the second century .

11:36 “Then the king will do as he pleases.

The identity of this king is problematic. If vv. 36-45 continue the description of Antiochus Epiphanes, the account must be viewed as erroneous, since the details do not match what is known of Antiochus’ latter days. Most modern scholars take this view, concluding that this section was written just shortly before the death of Antiochus and that the writer erred on several key points as he tried to predict what would follow the events of his own day. Conservative scholars, however, usually understand the reference to shift at this point to an eschatological figure, viz., the Antichrist. The chronological gap that this would presuppose to be in the narrative is not necessarily a problem, since by all accounts there are many chronological gaps throughout the chapter, as the historical figures intended by such expressions as “king of the north” and “king of the south” repeatedly shift.

11:40a “At the time of the end the king of the south will attack him. Then the king of the north will storm against him ...

The referent of the pronoun [him] is most likely the king of the south, in which case the text describes the king of the north countering the attack of the king of the south.

11:40b He will invade lands ...

This most likely refers to the king of the north who, in response to the aggression of the king of the south, launches an invasion of the southern regions.

11:41 Then he will enter the beautiful land.

The beautiful land is a cryptic reference to the land of Israel.

11:43 He will have control over the hidden stores of gold and silver, as well as all the treasures of Egypt. Libyans and Ethiopians will submit to him.

Or “Nubians” (NIV, NCV); Heb “Cushites.”

“Libyans and Cushites [will be] at his footsteps.”

11:45 He will pitch his royal tents between the seas toward the beautiful holy mountain.

Presumably seas refers to the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea.

The final words of prophesy to Daniel focused entirely on events to come in the distant future during the last days of the end times.

Daniel was told of the tribulation, the Book of Life, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment “Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake – some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence.”

He learned not only that the prophesy was not for the present but also that show who wanted a peek into the future would be denied it until the Lord God deemed the time suitable “But you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end. Many will dash about, and knowledge will increase.”

There are a variety of non-canonical books associated with the Word of God. They have been deemed inappropriate to include either because they contain texts that conflict with canonical text, therefore are not of God, or they have been determined not to be peer-texts (they are later writings falsely inserted into the canon).

From the NET translator's notes: The deuterocanonical writings known as the Story of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon appear respectively as chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Daniel in the Greek version of this book. Although these writings are not part of the Hebrew/Aramaic text of Daniel, they were popular among certain early communities who valued traditions about the life of Daniel.

Interact With The Text

Consider

“Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ca. 175-164 )” acquired great power through deceit, and many since then have done so as well. The text of Daniel is considered to be the only one where resurrection and judgment are clearly described in the old testament.

Discuss

Does it help to know that no matter how powerful the enemy of the Lord God, and His people, that at some point “... he will come to his end, with no one to help him” ?

Reflect

We are not expected to be perfect, and there is a path for restoration, even in the old testament “Even some of the wise will stumble, resulting in their refinement, purification, and cleansing until the time of the end, for it is still for the appointed time.” Daniel was blessed to learn of the tribulation, the Book of Life, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment.

Share

When have you observed a person of power, one who for a time appeared to be invincible, fall suddenly without an obvious cause (from another person or worldly force)?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a failure in your life which has troubled you greatly – one that He wants you to know that He is working in you for “... refinement, purification, and cleansing.” and perhaps also something about the tribulation, the Book of Life, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment that you need to understand better than you do.

Act

Today I will humbly acknowledge my failure, what the Lord has done to-date to refine, purify, and clean me, and I will gratefully partner in my continued restoration.

I will prayerfully read my Bible, and as is appropriate, consult with one who is Biblically-qualified to be a spiritual elder – in order to find clarity as to the knowledge which the Holy Spirit desires me to obtain.

Be Specific _________________________________________________

All Bible text is from the NET unless otherwise indicated - http://bible.org

Note 1: These Studies often rely upon the guidance of the NET Translators from their associated notes. Careful attention has been given to cite that source where it has been quoted directly or closely paraphrased. Feedback is encouraged where credit has not been sufficiently assigned.

Note 2: When NET text is quoted in commentary and discussion all pronouns referring to God are capitalized, though they are lower-case in the original NET text.

Commentary text is from David M. Colburn, D.Min. unless otherwise noted.

Copyright © 2012 by David M. Colburn. This is a BibleSeven Study –“Genesis 3. Prepared by David M. Colburn and edited for bible.org in August of 2012. This text may be used for non-profit educational purposes only, with credit; all other usage requires prior written consent of the author.

49. Ezra 1–6, Psalm 137, Haggai 1-2, Zechariah 1–14 (Cyrus, Promised return from exile, Darius)

A Chronological Daily Bible Study of the Old Testament
7-Day Sections with a Summary-Commentary, Discussion Questions, and a Practical Daily Application

Week 49

Sunday (Ezra 1-6)

The Decree of Cyrus

1:1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following:

1:2 “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:

“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 1:3 Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 1:4 Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’”

The Exiles Prepare to Return to Jerusalem

1:5 Then the leaders of Judah and Benjamin, along with the priests and the Levites – all those whose mind God had stirred – got ready to go up in order to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. 1:6 All their neighbors assisted them with silver utensils, gold, equipment, animals, and expensive gifts, not to mention all the voluntary offerings.

1:7 Then King Cyrus brought out the vessels of the Lord’s temple which Nebuchadnezzar had brought from Jerusalem and had displayed in the temple of his gods. 1:8 King Cyrus of Persia entrusted them to Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the leader of the Judahite exiles.

1:9 The inventory of these items was as follows:

30 gold basins, 1,000 silver basins, 29 silver utensils,

1:10 30 gold bowls, 410 other silver bowls, and 1,000 other vessels.

1:11 All these gold and silver vessels totaled 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all along when the captives were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

2:1 The Names of the Returning Exiles

These are the people of the province who were going up, from the captives of the exile whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced into exile in Babylon. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own city. 2:2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.

The number of Israelites was as follows:

2:3 the descendants of Parosh: 2,172;

2:4 the descendants of Shephatiah: 372;

2:5 the descendants of Arah: 775;

2:6 the descendants of Pahath-Moab (from the line of Jeshua and Joab): 2,812;

2:7 the descendants of Elam: 1,254;

2:8 the descendants of Zattu: 945;

2:9 the descendants of Zaccai: 760;

2:10 the descendants of Bani: 642;

2:11 the descendants of Bebai: 623;

2:12 the descendants of Azgad: 1,222;

2:13 the descendants of Adonikam: 666;

2:14 the descendants of Bigvai: 2,056;

2:15 the descendants of Adin: 454;

2:16 the descendants of Ater (through Hezekiah): 98;

2:17 the descendants of Bezai: 323;

2:18 the descendants of Jorah: 112;

2:19 the descendants of Hashum: 223;

2:20 the descendants of Gibbar: 95.

2:21 The men of Bethlehem: 123;

2:22 the men of Netophah: 56;

2:23 the men of Anathoth: 128;

2:24 the men of the family of Azmaveth: 42;

2:25 the men of Kiriath Jearim, Kephirah and Beeroth: 743;

2:26 the men of Ramah and Geba: 621;

2:27 the men of Micmash: 122;

2:28 the men of Bethel and Ai: 223;

2:29 the descendants of Nebo: 52;

2:30 the descendants of Magbish: 156;

2:31 the descendants of the other Elam: 1,254;

2:32 the descendants of Harim: 320;

2:33 the men of Lod, Hadid, and Ono: 725;

2:34 the men of Jericho: 345;

2:35 the descendants of Senaah: 3,630.

2:36 The priests: the descendants of Jedaiah (through the family of Jeshua): 973;

2:37 the descendants of Immer: 1,052;

2:38 the descendants of Pashhur: 1,247;

2:39 the descendants of Harim: 1,017.

2:40 The Levites: the descendants of Jeshua and Kadmiel (through the line of Hodaviah): 74.

2:41 The singers: the descendants of Asaph: 128.

2:42 The gatekeepers: the descendants of Shallum, the descendants of Ater, the descendants of Talmon, the descendants of Akkub, the descendants of Hatita, and the descendants of Shobai: 139.

2:43 The temple servants: the descendants of Ziha, the descendants of Hasupha, the descendants of Tabbaoth, 2:44 the descendants of Keros, the descendants of Siaha, the descendants of Padon, 2:45 the descendants of Lebanah, the descendants of Hagabah, the descendants of Akkub, 2:46 the descendants of Hagab, the descendants of Shalmai, the descendants of Hanan, 2:47 the descendants of Giddel, the descendants of Gahar, the descendants of Reaiah, 2:48 the descendants of Rezin, the descendants of Nekoda, the descendants of Gazzam, 2:49 the descendants of Uzzah, the descendants of Paseah, the descendants of Besai, 2:50 the descendants of Asnah, the descendants of Meunim, the descendants of Nephussim, 2:51 the descendants of Bakbuk, the descendants of Hakupha, the descendants of Harhur, 2:52 the descendants of Bazluth, the descendants of Mehida, the descendants of Harsha, 2:53 the descendants of Barkos, the descendants of Sisera, the descendants of Temah, 2:54 the descendants of Neziah, and the descendants of Hatipha.

2:55 The descendants of the servants of Solomon: the descendants of Sotai, the descendants of Hassophereth, the descendants of Peruda, 2:56 the descendants of Jaala, the descendants of Darkon, the descendants of Giddel, 2:57 the descendants of Shephatiah, the descendants of Hattil, the descendants of Pokereth-Hazzebaim, and the descendants of Ami.

2:58 All the temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon: 392.

2:59 These are the ones that came up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer (although they were unable to certify their family connection or their ancestry, as to whether they really were from Israel):

2:60 the descendants of Delaiah, the descendants of Tobiah, and the descendants of Nekoda: 652.

2:61 And from among the priests: the descendants of Hobaiah, the descendants of Hakkoz, and the descendants of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name). 2:62 They searched for their records in the genealogical materials, but did not find them. They were therefore excluded from the priesthood. 2:63 The governor instructed them not to eat any of the sacred food until there was a priest who could consult the Urim and Thummim.

2:64 The entire group numbered 42,360, 2:65 not counting their male and female servants, who numbered 7,337. They also had 200 male and female singers 2:66 and 736 horses, 245 mules, 2:67 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys. 2:68 When they came to the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem, some of the family leaders offered voluntary offerings for the temple of God in order to rebuild it on its site. 2:69 As they were able, they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 drachmas of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priestly robes.

2:70 The priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel lived in their towns.

The Altar is Rebuilt

3:1 When the seventh month arrived and the Israelites were living in their towns, the people assembled in Jerusalem. 3:2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his priestly colleagues and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his colleagues started to build the altar of the God of Israel so they could offer burnt offerings on it as required by the law of Moses the man of God. 3:3 They established the altar on its foundations, even though they were in terror of the local peoples, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and the evening offerings. 3:4 They observed the Festival of Temporary Shelters as required and offered the proper number of daily burnt offerings according to the requirement for each day. 3:5 Afterward they offered the continual burnt offerings and those for the new moons and those for all the holy assemblies of the Lord and all those that were being voluntarily offered to the Lord. 3:6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. However, the Lord’s temple was not at that time established.

Preparations for Rebuilding the Temple

3:7 So they provided money for the masons and carpenters, and food, beverages, and olive oil for the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar timber from Lebanon to the seaport at Joppa, in accord with the edict of King Cyrus of Persia. 3:8 In the second year after they had come to the temple of God in Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak initiated the work, along with the rest of their associates, the priests and the Levites, and all those who were coming to Jerusalem from the exile. They appointed the Levites who were at least twenty years old to take charge of the work on the Lord’s temple. 3:9 So Jeshua appointed both his sons and his relatives, Kadmiel and his sons (the sons of Yehudah), to take charge of the workers in the temple of God, along with the sons of Henadad, their sons, and their relatives the Levites. 3:10 When the builders established the Lord’s temple, the priests, ceremonially attired and with their clarions, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with their cymbals, stood to praise the Lord according to the instructions left by King David of Israel. 3:11 With antiphonal response they sang, praising and glorifying the Lord:

“For he is good;

his loyal love toward Israel is forever.”

All the people gave a loud shout as they praised the Lord when the temple of the Lord was established. 3:12 Many of the priests, the Levites, and the leaders – older people who had seen with their own eyes the former temple while it was still established – were weeping loudly, and many others raised their voice in a joyous shout. 3:13 People were unable to tell the difference between the sound of joyous shouting and the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people were shouting so loudly that the sound was heard a long way off.

Opposition to the Building Efforts

4:1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin learned that the former exiles were building a temple for the Lord God of Israel, 4:2 they came to Zerubbabel and the leaders and said to them, “Let us help you build, for like you we seek your God and we have been sacrificing to him from the time of King Esarhaddon of Assyria, who brought us here.” 4:3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the leaders of Israel said to them, “You have no right to help us build the temple of our God. We will build it by ourselves for the Lord God of Israel, just as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, has commanded us.” 4:4 Then the local people began to discourage the people of Judah and to dishearten them from building. 4:5 They were hiring advisers to oppose them, so as to frustrate their plans, throughout the time of King Cyrus of Persia until the reign of King Darius of Persia.

Official Complaints Are Lodged Against the Jews

4:6 At the beginning of the reign of Ahasuerus they filed an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. 4:7 And during the reign of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their colleagues wrote to King Artaxerxes of Persia. This letter was first written in Aramaic but then translated.

[Aramaic:]

4:8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter concerning Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows: 4:9 From Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues – the judges, the rulers, the officials, the secretaries, the Erechites, the Babylonians, the people of Susa (that is, the Elamites), 4:10 and the rest of nations whom the great and noble Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and other places in Trans-Euphrates. 4:11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent to him:)

“To King Artaxerxes, from your servants in Trans-Euphrates: 4:12 Now let the king be aware that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and odious city. They are completing its walls and repairing its foundations. 4:13 Let the king also be aware that if this city is built and its walls are completed, no more tax, custom, or toll will be paid, and the royal treasury will suffer loss. 4:14 In light of the fact that we are loyal to the king, and since it does not seem appropriate to us that the king should sustain damage, we are sending the king this information 4:15 so that he may initiate a search of the records of his predecessors and discover in those records that this city is rebellious and injurious to both kings and provinces, producing internal revolts from long ago. It is for this very reason that this city was destroyed. 4:16 We therefore are informing the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, you will not retain control of this portion of Trans-Euphrates.”

4:17 The king sent the following response:

“To Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and other parts of Trans-Euphrates: Greetings! 4:18 The letter you sent to us has been translated and read in my presence. 4:19 So I gave orders, and it was determined that this city from long ago has been engaging in insurrection against kings. It has continually engaged in rebellion and revolt. 4:20 Powerful kings have been over Jerusalem who ruled throughout the entire Trans-Euphrates and who were the beneficiaries of tribute, custom, and toll. 4:21 Now give orders that these men cease their work and that this city not be rebuilt until such time as I so instruct. 4:22 Exercise appropriate caution so that there is no negligence in this matter. Why should danger increase to the point that kings sustain damage?”

4:23 Then, as soon as the copy of the letter from King Artaxerxes was read in the presence of Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their colleagues, they proceeded promptly to the Jews in Jerusalem and stopped them with threat of armed force.

4:24 So the work on the temple of God in Jerusalem came to a halt. It remained halted until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.

Tattenai Appeals to Darius

5:1 Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo prophesied concerning the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. 5:2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak began to rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem. The prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

5:3 At that time Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and their colleagues came to them and asked, “Who gave you authority to rebuild this temple and to complete this structure?” 5:4 They also asked them, “What are the names of the men who are building this edifice?” 5:5 But God was watching over the elders of Judah, and they were not stopped until a report could be dispatched to Darius and a letter could be sent back concerning this.

5:6 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and his colleagues who were the officials of Trans-Euphrates sent to King Darius. 5:7 The report they sent to him was written as follows:

“To King Darius: All greetings! 5:8 Let it be known to the king that we have gone to the province of Judah, to the temple of the great God. It is being built with large stones, and timbers are being placed in the walls. This work is being done with all diligence and is prospering in their hands. 5:9 We inquired of those elders, asking them, ‘Who gave you the authority to rebuild this temple and to complete this structure?’ 5:10 We also inquired of their names in order to inform you, so that we might write the names of the men who were their leaders. 5:11 They responded to us in the following way: ‘We are servants of the God of heaven and earth. We are rebuilding the temple which was previously built many years ago. A great king of Israel built it and completed it. 5:12 But after our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he delivered them into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and exiled the people to Babylon. 5:13 But in the first year of King Cyrus of Babylon, King Cyrus enacted a decree to rebuild this temple of God. 5:14 Even the gold and silver vessels of the temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and had brought to the palace of Babylon – even those things King Cyrus brought from the palace of Babylon and presented to a man by the name of Sheshbazzar whom he had appointed as governor. 5:15 He said to him, “Take these vessels and go deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt in its proper location.” 5:16 Then this Sheshbazzar went and laid the foundations of the temple of God in Jerusalem. From that time to the present moment it has been in the process of being rebuilt, although it is not yet finished.’

5:17 “Now if the king is so inclined, let a search be conducted in the royal archives there in Babylon in order to determine whether King Cyrus did in fact issue orders for this temple of God to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us a decision concerning this matter.”

Darius Issues a Decree

6:1 So Darius the king issued orders, and they searched in the archives of the treasury which were deposited there in Babylon. 6:2 A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana which is in the province of Media, and it was inscribed as follows:

“Memorandum: 6:3 In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus gave orders concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: ‘Let the temple be rebuilt as a place where sacrifices are offered. Let its foundations be set in place. Its height is to be ninety feet and its width ninety feet, 6:4 with three layers of large stones and one layer of timber. The expense is to be subsidized by the royal treasury. 6:5 Furthermore let the gold and silver vessels of the temple of God, which Nebuchadnezzar brought from the temple in Jerusalem and carried to Babylon, be returned and brought to their proper place in the temple in Jerusalem. Let them be deposited in the temple of God.’

6:6 “Now Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar Bozenai, and their colleagues, the officials of Trans-Euphrates – all of you stay far away from there! 6:7 Leave the work on this temple of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this temple of God in its proper place.

6:8 “I also hereby issue orders as to what you are to do with those elders of the Jews in order to rebuild this temple of God. From the royal treasury, from the taxes of Trans-Euphrates the complete costs are to be given to these men, so that there may be no interruption of the work. 6:9 Whatever is needed – whether oxen or rams or lambs or burnt offerings for the God of heaven or wheat or salt or wine or oil, as required by the priests who are in Jerusalem – must be given to them daily without any neglect, 6:10 so that they may be offering incense to the God of heaven and may be praying for the good fortune of the king and his family.

6:11 “I hereby give orders that if anyone changes this directive a beam is to be pulled out from his house and he is to be raised up and impaled on it, and his house is to be reduced to a rubbish heap for this indiscretion. 6:12 May God who makes his name to reside there overthrow any king or nation who reaches out to cause such change so as to destroy this temple of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have given orders. Let them be carried out with precision!”

The Temple Is Finally Dedicated

6:13 Then Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates, Shethar-Bozenai, and their colleagues acted accordingly – with precision, just as Darius the king had given instructions. 6:14 The elders of the Jews continued building and prospering, while at the same time Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo continued prophesying. They built and brought it to completion by the command of the God of Israel and by the command of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia. 6:15 They finished this temple on the third day of the month Adar, which is the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

6:16 The people of Israel – the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles – observed the dedication of this temple of God with joy. 6:17 For the dedication of this temple of God they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and twelve male goats for the sin of all Israel, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 6:18 They appointed the priests by their divisions and the Levites by their divisions over the worship of God at Jerusalem, in accord with the book of Moses. 6:19 The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6:20 The priests and the Levites had purified themselves, every last one, and they all were ceremonially pure. They sacrificed the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their colleagues the priests, and for themselves. 6:21 The Israelites who were returning from the exile ate it, along with all those who had joined them in separating themselves from the uncleanness of the nations of the land to seek the Lord God of Israel. 6:22 They observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with joy, for the Lord had given them joy and had changed the opinion of the king of Assyria toward them, so that he assisted them in the work on the temple of God, the God of Israel.

Prayer

Lord, You decide when to revive drifted and stale believers, and when to bring spiritual awakening to the lost. May I never presume upon Your sovereign plan but rather invest myself in faithful obedience day by day, ready to celebrate Your miracles of revival and spiritual awakening when You bring them. You allow those who are Yours to choose obedience or disobedience, and those who do not know You to cooperate or to refuse to cooperate – and although You are patient Your sovereign will is always fulfilled. May I choose to be obedience and not become frustrated when others are disobedient and the lost temporarily interfere., Your temple was built because You declared that it would be so, and those who tried to resist were swept aside. May I never have a moment's doubt as to Your sovereign power to cause the continued unfolding of Your great plan.

Scripture In Perspective

King Cyrus of Persia obediently followed the prompting of the Lord God and granted permission to the Israelites to return and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.

Cyrus also instructed their neighbors to provide for the Israelites the resources of food, water, transportation, animals for food and work, silver, gold, and tools.

The valuables from the former temple that Nebuchanezzar had displayed among the other artifacts of his multiple false gods were entrusted to the Israelite treasurer.

The text recorded the families of the various cities and of the Levite priest who returned home.

The Israelites started the reconstruction of the temple with an altar constructed according to the instructions of Moses. Then, despite fears of attack from the non-Israelite population, they offered many traditional sacrifices.

Zerubbabel led the reconstruction of the temple in the second year of the edict of Cyrus and the Levites celebrated with praises as described by King David.

Enemies of Judah and Benjamin, brought to Jerusalem by the Assyrians, reported that they had been sacrificing to the Lord God since their arrival and asked to assist with the construction of the temple.

Zerubbabel refused to allow them to participate and so they began to harass the project in a variety of ways, finally filing a complaint that accused the Israelites of a plan to declare independence with the new king of Persia, King Artaxerxes, who called for a halt to the construction.

Although the reconstruction of the temple had been halted during the time of the Persian king Artaxerxes the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had, at the prompting of the Lord God, motivated the Israelites to begin again once Darius had assumed the throne.

The locals challenged their authority to engage in the reconstruction and Tattenai governor of Trans-Euphrates petitioned Darius for the truth of the Israelite's assertion that Cyrus had granted them authority and provided the resources.

Darius discovered the record from the time of Cyrus and not only did he forbid any interference he ordered that the tax collections of the Trans-Euphrates region be used to provide for every need of those doing the reconstruction. He made the seriousness of his orders exceptionally clear, writing “I hereby give orders that if anyone changes this directive a beam is to be pulled out from his house and he is to be raised up and impaled on it, and his house is to be reduced to a rubbish heap for this indiscretion. May God who makes his name to reside there overthrow any king or nation who reaches out to cause such change so as to destroy this temple of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have given orders. Let them be carried out with precision!”

The temple was completed in the sixth year of the reign of the Persian king Darius and the Israelites celebrated with many sacrifices and joyful praise and worship, including the celebration of the Passover.

Interact with the text

Consider

The rebellious Israelites, who refused the first opportunity to enter the promised land, spent forty years wandering in the wilderness until all of the adults had died. The rebellious Israelites who were kicked out of the promised land spent seventy years in Babylonian captivity, purging all but the youngest children, before they were allowed to return. The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the region worshiped many false gods and had been taught to include token worship of the Israelite God among them. They did not understand that He was the only true God. The Lord God is patient and flexible, the flow of created time seems like a big deal to mere humans but is nothing in His reality, so across the time of human kings and the span of human generations He guides His great plan of redemption.

Discuss

Would the Israelites, in captivity to a Persian king who listened to the Lord God, have learned to be themselves keen to listen and obey – unlike their previous generations under Israelite kings – prone to refuse to listen or to obey? Might it have seemed very odd to the people of that region for the Israelites to be permitted to return and to rebuild their temple?

Reflect

Just as when they left Egypt the host people gave to them many resources. The local inhabitants were being spiteful when they lied about the intentions of the Israelites but Artaxerses was ignoring the Lord God and was listening only to his fear of threats to his power. Since there was little to gain and considerable potential risk to Darius to allow the historically troublesome Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem it seems clear that it was the prompting of the Lord God that would have caused him to endorse, to fund, and to protect their enterprise.

Share

When have you experienced or observed a second chance after a time in discipline? When have you experienced or observed a new leader completely ignoring the commitments of a prior leader, and for apparently selfish reasons? When have you experienced or observed the support of a faith-based work from a highly unexpected source?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you and opportunity He is providing to rebuild His temple in your life, and a task which He has assigned to you – one which includes some risk of criticism from unbelievers (perhaps even immature believers).

Act

Today I will praise the Lord God for His prompting to rebuild his temple in my life. His expression of care and of love is exciting. His Word says that my body, perhaps my soul/spirit is the temple of His Holy Spirit. Rebuilding His temple means to cleanse myself of things that offend Him, fill myself with things that give Him joy, and taking care of my physical body supports those other activities. I will boldly obey the instructions of the Holy Spirit for the ministry to which I have been called and not fear the criticism of unbelievers (or immature believers). I will pause and give praise to the One true and sovereign God Whose great plan is being constantly worked-out and Who has chosen to include me as one small instrument in His work.

Be Specific ________________________________________________

Monday (Ezra 7-10, Psalm 137)

Ezra

The Arrival of Ezra

7:1 Now after these things had happened, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra came up from Babylon. Ezra was the son of Seraiah, who was the son of Azariah, who was the son of Hilkiah, 7:2 who was the son of Shallum, who was the son of Zadok, who was the son of Ahitub, 7:3 who was the son of Amariah, who was the son of Azariah, who was the son of Meraioth, 7:4 who was the son of Zerahiah, who was the son of Uzzi, who was the son of Bukki, 7:5 who was the son of Abishua, who was the son of Phinehas, who was the son of Eleazar, who was the son of Aaron the chief priest. 7:6 This Ezra is the one who came up from Babylon. He was a scribe who was skilled in the law of Moses which the Lord God of Israel had given. The king supplied him with everything he requested, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him. 7:7 In the seventh year of King Artaxerxes, Ezra brought up to Jerusalem some of the Israelites and some of the priests, the Levites, the attendants, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 7:8 He entered Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. 7:9 On the first day of the first month he had determined to make the ascent from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he arrived at Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 7:10 Now Ezra had dedicated himself to the study of the law of the Lord, to its observance, and to teaching its statutes and judgments in Israel.

Artaxerxes Gives Official Endorsement to Ezra’s Mission

7:11 What follows is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priestly scribe. Ezra was a scribe in matters pertaining to the commandments of the Lord and his statutes over Israel:

7:12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a scribe of the perfect law of the God of heaven: 7:13 I have now issued a decree that anyone in my kingdom from the people of Israel – even the priests and Levites – who wishes to do so may go up with you to Jerusalem. 7:14 You are authorized by the king and his seven advisers to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of your God which is in your possession, 7:15 and to bring silver and gold which the king and his advisers have freely contributed to the God of Israel, who resides in Jerusalem, 7:16 along with all the silver and gold that you may collect throughout all the province of Babylon and the contributions of the people and the priests for the temple of their God which is in Jerusalem. 7:17 With this money you should be sure to purchase bulls, rams, and lambs, along with the appropriate meal offerings and libations. You should bring them to the altar of the temple of your God which is in Jerusalem. 7:18 You may do whatever seems appropriate to you and your colleagues with the rest of the silver and the gold, in keeping with the will of your God. 7:19 Deliver to the God of Jerusalem the vessels that are given to you for the service of the temple of your God. 7:20 The rest of the needs for the temple of your God that you may have to supply, you may do so from the royal treasury.

7:21 “I, King Artaxerxes, hereby issue orders to all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates, that you precisely execute all that Ezra the priestly scribe of the law of the God of heaven may request of you – 7:22 up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of olive oil, and unlimited salt. 7:23 Everything that the God of heaven has required should be precisely done for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the empire of the king and his sons? 7:24 Furthermore, be aware of the fact that you have no authority to impose tax, tribute, or toll on any of the priests, the Levites, the musicians, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or the attendants at the temple of this God.

7:25 “Now you, Ezra, in keeping with the wisdom of your God which you possess, appoint judges and court officials who can arbitrate cases on behalf of all the people who are in Trans-Euphrates who know the laws of your God. Those who do not know this law should be taught. 7:26 Everyone who does not observe both the law of your God and the law of the king will be completely liable to the appropriate penalty, whether it is death or banishment or confiscation of property or detainment in prison.”

7:27 Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who so moved in the heart of the king to so honor the temple of the Lord which is in Jerusalem! 7:28 He has also conferred his favor on me before the king, his advisers, and all the influential leaders of the king. I gained strength as the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me.

The Leaders Who Returned with Ezra

8:1 These are the leaders and those enrolled with them by genealogy who were coming up with me from Babylon during the reign of King Artaxerxes:

8:2 from the descendants of Phinehas, Gershom;

from the descendants of Ithamar, Daniel;

from the descendants of David, Hattush 8:3 the son of Shecaniah;

from the descendants of Parosh, Zechariah, and with him were enrolled by genealogy 150 men;

8:4 from the descendants of Pahath-Moab, Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men;

8:5 from the descendants of Zattu, Shecaniah son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men;

8:6 from the descendants of Adin, Ebed son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men;

8:7 from the descendants of Elam, Jeshaiah son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men;

8:8 from the descendants of Shephatiah, Zebadiah son of Michael, and with him 80 men;

8:9 from the descendants of Joab, Obadiah son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men;

8:10 from the descendants of Bani, Shelomith son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men;

8:11 from the descendants of Bebai, Zechariah son of Bebai, and with him 28 men;

8:12 from the descendants of Azgad, Johanan son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men;

8:13 from the descendants of Adonikam there were the latter ones. Their names were Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men;

8:14 from the descendants of Bigvai, Uthai, and Zaccur, and with them 70 men.

The Exiles Travel to Jerusalem

8:15 I had them assemble at the canal that flows toward Ahava, and we camped there for three days. I observed that the people and the priests were present, but I found no Levites there. 8:16 So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were teachers. 8:17 I sent them to Iddo, who was the leader in the place called Casiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his relatives, who were the temple servants in Casiphia, so they would bring us attendants for the temple of our God.

8:18 Due to the fact that the good hand of our God was on us, they brought us a skilled man, from the descendants of Mahli the son of Levi son of Israel. This man was Sherebiah, who was accompanied by his sons and brothers, 18 men, 8:19 and Hashabiah, along with Jeshaiah from the descendants of Merari, with his brothers and their sons, 20 men, 8:20 and some of the temple servants that David and his officials had established for the work of the Levites – 220 of them. They were all designated by name.

8:21 I called for a fast there by the Ahava Canal, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek from him a safe journey for us, our children, and all our property. 8:22 I was embarrassed to request soldiers and horsemen from the king to protect us from the enemy along the way, because we had said to the king, “The good hand of our God is on everyone who is seeking him, but his great anger is against everyone who forsakes him.” 8:23 So we fasted and prayed to our God about this, and he answered us.

8:24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, together with Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brothers, 8:25 and I weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the vessels intended for the temple of our God – items that the king, his advisers, his officials, and all Israel who were present had contributed. 8:26 I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver vessels worth 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 8:27 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics, and two exquisite vessels of gleaming bronze, as valuable as gold. 8:28 Then I said to them, “You are holy to the Lord, just as these vessels are holy. The silver and the gold are a voluntary offering to the Lord, the God of your fathers. 8:29 Be careful with them and protect them, until you weigh them out before the leading priests and the Levites and the family leaders of Israel in Jerusalem, in the storerooms of the temple of the Lord.”

8:30 Then the priests and the Levites took charge of the silver, the gold, and the vessels that had been weighed out, to transport them to Jerusalem to the temple of our God.

8:31 On the twelfth day of the first month we began traveling from the Ahava Canal to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from our enemy and from bandits along the way. 8:32 So we came to Jerusalem, and we stayed there for three days. 8:33 On the fourth day we weighed out the silver, the gold, and the vessels in the house of our God into the care of Meremoth son of Uriah, the priest, and Eleazar son of Phinehas, who were accompanied by Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui, who were Levites. 8:34 Everything was verified by number and by weight, and the total weight was written down at that time.

8:35 The exiles who were returning from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel – twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs, along with twelve male goats as a sin offering. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord. 8:36 Then they presented the decrees of the king to the king’s satraps and to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, who gave help to the people and to the temple of God.

A Prayer of Ezra

9:1 Now when these things had been completed, the leaders approached me and said, “The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents who practice detestable things similar to those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. 9:2 Indeed, they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has become intermingled with the local residents. Worse still, the leaders and the officials have been at the forefront of all of this!”

9:3 When I heard this report, I tore my tunic and my robe and ripped out some of the hair from my head and beard. Then I sat down, quite devastated. 9:4 Everyone who held the words of the God of Israel in awe gathered around me because of the unfaithful acts of the people of the exile. Devastated, I continued to sit there until the evening offering.

9:5 At the time of the evening offering I got up from my self-abasement, with my tunic and robe torn, and then dropped to my knees and spread my hands to the Lord my God. 9:6 I prayed,

“O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God! For our iniquities have climbed higher than our heads, and our guilt extends to the heavens. 9:7 From the days of our fathers until this very day our guilt has been great. Because of our iniquities we, along with our kings and priests, have been delivered over by the local kings to sword, captivity, plunder, and embarrassment – right up to the present time.

9:8 “But now briefly we have received mercy from the Lord our God, in that he has left us a remnant and has given us a secure position in his holy place. Thus our God has enlightened our eyes and has given us a little relief in our time of servitude. 9:9 Although we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our servitude. He has extended kindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, in that he has revived us to restore the temple of our God and to raise up its ruins and to give us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

9:10 “And now what are we able to say after this, our God? For we have forsaken your commandments 9:11 which you commanded us through your servants the prophets with these words: ‘The land that you are entering to possess is a land defiled by the impurities of the local residents! With their abominations they have filled it from one end to the other with their filthiness. 9:12 Therefore do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons, and do not take their daughters in marriage for your sons. Do not ever seek their peace or welfare, so that you may be strong and may eat the good of the land and may leave it as an inheritance for your children forever.’

9:13 “Everything that has happened to us has come about because of our wicked actions and our great guilt. Even so, our God, you have exercised restraint toward our iniquities and have given us a remnant such as this. 9:14 Shall we once again break your commandments and intermarry with these abominable peoples? Would you not be so angered by us that you would wipe us out, with no survivor or remnant? 9:15 O Lord God of Israel, you are righteous, for we are left as a remnant this day. Indeed, we stand before you in our guilt. However, because of this guilt no one can really stand before you.”

The People Confess Their Sins

10:1 While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself to the ground before the temple of God, a very large crowd of Israelites – men, women, and children alike – gathered around him. The people wept loudly. 10:2 Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, from the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra:

“We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the local peoples. Nonetheless, there is still hope for Israel in this regard. 10:3 Therefore let us enact a covenant with our God to send away all these women and their offspring, in keeping with your counsel, my lord, and that of those who respect the commandments of our God. And let it be done according to the law. 10:4 Get up, for this matter concerns you. We are with you, so be strong and act decisively!”

10:5 So Ezra got up and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath to carry out this plan. And they all took a solemn oath. 10:6 Then Ezra got up from in front of the temple of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he stayed there, he did not eat food or drink water, for he was in mourning over the infidelity of the exiles.

10:7 A proclamation was circulated throughout Judah and Jerusalem that all the exiles were to be assembled in Jerusalem. 10:8 Everyone who did not come within three days would thereby forfeit all his property, in keeping with the counsel of the officials and the elders. Furthermore, he himself would be excluded from the assembly of the exiles.

10:9 All the men of Judah and Benjamin were gathered in Jerusalem within the three days. (It was in the ninth month, on the twentieth day of that month.) All the people sat in the square at the temple of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the rains.

10:10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have behaved in an unfaithful manner by taking foreign wives! This has contributed to the guilt of Israel. 10:11 Now give praise to the Lord God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the local residents and from these foreign wives.”

10:12 All the assembly replied in a loud voice: “We will do just as you have said! 10:13 However, the people are numerous and it is the rainy season. We are unable to stand here outside. Furthermore, this business cannot be resolved in a day or two, for we have sinned greatly in this matter. 10:14 Let our leaders take steps on behalf of all the assembly. Let all those in our towns who have married foreign women come at an appointed time, and with them the elders of each town and its judges, until the hot anger of our God is turned away from us in this matter.”

10:15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah were against this, assisted by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite. 10:16 So the exiles proceeded accordingly. Ezra the priest separated out by name men who were leaders in their family groups. They sat down to consider this matter on the first day of the tenth month, 10:17 and on the first day of the first month they finished considering all the men who had married foreign wives.

Those Who Had Taken Foreign Wives

10:18 It was determined that from the descendants of the priests, the following had taken foreign wives: from the descendants of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah. 10:19 (They gave their word to send away their wives; their guilt offering was a ram from the flock for their guilt.)

10:20 From the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah.

10:21 From the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah.

10:22 From the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.

10:23 From the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also known as Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.

10:24 From the singers: Eliashib. From the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.

10:25 From the Israelites: from the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malkijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malkijah, and Benaiah.

10:26 From the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah.

10:27 From the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza.

10:28 From the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai.

10:29 From the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth.

10:30 From the descendants of Pahath-Moab: Adna, Kelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh.

10:31 From the descendants of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malkijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 10:32 Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah.

10:33 From the descendants of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei.

10:34 From the descendants of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel, 10:35 Benaiah, Bedeiah, Keluhi, 10:36 Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 10:37 Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu.

10:38 From the descendants of Binnui: Shimei, 10:39 Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, 10:40 Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, 10:41 Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 10:42 Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph.

10:43 From the descendants of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.

10:44 All these had taken foreign wives, and some of them also had children by these women.

Psalm 137

137:1 By the rivers of Babylon we sit down and weep when we remember Zion.

137:2 On the poplars in her midst we hang our harps,

137:3 for there our captors ask us to compose songs; those who mock us demand that we be happy, saying:

“Sing for us a song about Zion!”

137:4 How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land?

137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be crippled!

137:6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, and do not give Jerusalem priority over whatever gives me the most joy.

137:7 Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell.

They said, “Tear it down, tear it down, right to its very foundation!”

137:8 O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated!

How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us!

137:9 How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!

Prayer

Lord, You bring blessing to the hopeless and the powerless as mercy is one of Your many attributes, and Your great plan includes keeping Your people connected to You through praise and worship no matter their worldly circumstances. May I recognize Your blessings in my life and never fail to respond with praise and worship and service. You chose to gather a remnant to rebuild Your temple, because You determined that a remnant was to be preserved. You also forgave them for yet another offense against You, committed even as You had gathered them, and You provided a way of redemption. May I never fear that there is no way back to You from sin – You are the way and You make a way. There seems to be no end to Your mercy, though we know it ends at the Final Judgment – where Justice takes it's final and full measure. May I never presume upon Your mercy but rather live in obedience to Your perfect loving will for my life.

Scripture In Perspective

While the Persian king, Artaxerxes, had earlier suspended construction in Jerusalem he was not entirely resistant to the prompting of the Lord God.

The prophet Ezra was called out of Babylon to Jerusalem to promote worship in Jerusalem and to draw other Israelites there.

Artaxerxes issued a decree permitting the travel of Israelites to Jerusalem and the exchange of funds to support the worship. The text does not mention new or renewed construction.

Ezra gathered many of the families of Israel to travel to Jerusalem. When they were gathered he discovered that there were no Levites to serve as priests among them.

When the Levites were located the Lord God blessed them with a family of Levite musicians.

Ezra had assured the king that they would be protected in their travels by the Lord God, so they stopped to fast and pray and ask His protection, rather than solicit the protection of Persian horsemen/soldiers.

The gold and silver was delivered to the priests already there in Jerusalem, weighed-out and distributed in the precise amounts with which they had begun.

The people stopped and gave thanks and presented sacrifices.

Ezra delivered the papers from the king to his local officials who then provided assistance to the Israelites in the reconstruction of the temple.

Ezra was informed by some of the leaders that many of their fellow leaders, and the general population of Israelites, had both intermarried with the local peoples and mixed their pagan religions in with their right-worship of the Lord God. He was shocked and tore his clothes, hair, and beard and then sat silent the rest of the day.

At the time for the evening offering Ezra cried-out to the Lord God his remembrance of all that He had done for Israel, the many offenses of Israel, His recent restoration of Israel to rebuild the temple, and now the latest offense of Israel against Him.

The high priest confessed the sin of the people to Ezra and proposed that they separate from their foreign spouses. All of those of Judah and Benjamin were required to gather within three days or lose fellowship and property. They gathered, trembling in a cold rain, and with an even greater trembling before an offended God.

Their leaders asked for time to make arrangements for their foreign wives and three months later the process had been completed.

Psalm 137 was an imprecatory prayer “O daughter Babylon, soon to be devastated! How blessed will be the one who repays you for what you dished out to us! How blessed will be the one who grabs your babies and smashes them on a rock!” The author was not identified in the text. It was a symbolic cry for vengeance.

Interact with the text

Consider

The residents in the region surrounding Jerusalem had included the worship of the God of the Israelites in addition to their many false gods, so this would have been an amplification of that worship, rather than something entirely new. Ezra was assembling a representative population from among the dispersed people of Israel. While the Biblical text records that many donated resources in support of the ministry – it was the faithful obedience of Ezra and others which resulted in the work really getting done.

Discuss

Might Artaxerxes have responded to the prompting of God from a fear-based motivation? Local history would have reported that the early non-Israelite re-settlers of the region surrounding Jerusalem had suffered calamity until they added worship of the God of the Israelites to the worship of their pagan false gods. Artaxerxes had stopped the reconstruction because the locals had appealed to his fear of conflict. Given all that they had experienced why would the Israelites have been so foolish as to mingle with the pagan locals, both with their false religion, and to marry them?

Reflect

The captive Israelites received favorable treatment from the Persians despite their own powerlessness – due to the irresistible prompting of the Lord God. The text still makes no reference to rebuilding gates or walls or any part of the city of Jerusalem; the emphasis of Ezra at this point was entirely on the temple. The text does not discuss what happened to the spouses, nor the children. It is left to one to presume that the request for more time was to make provision for them.

Share

When have you observed an apparently powerless person or group of persons receiving favor from an unexpected source? When have you sensed that the Lord God was calling you, or a fellowship with which you are/were associated, and you stepped-out with confidence as he provided along the way? When have you experienced or observed someone getting a second chance and still making the same old bad choices? When have you experienced or observed a very difficult choice being mandated to resolve a sin that was discovered in the fellowship of believers?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place and time in your life where He blessed you – when you were feeling hopeless and powerless, a place where you have been given a second chance but where you are repeating some of the errors of the past, and/or something that you need to deal with in your life which will require a painful choice.

Act

Today I will step out in faith, trusting in the Lord's provision, to serve in the ministry to which He has called me. I will give thanks for a second chance and I will confess and repent and receive the Lord God's forgiveness for repeating errors of the past. It may be financial assistance but I am still being careless financially, relationship restoration but I am still being careless relationally, it may be extra-credit to make up missing school work but I am not giving it my best effort, it may be a job when I had been fired or laid-off but I am being late or lazy or otherwise less-than-grateful and responsible to a Biblical standard. Whatever it is I will step-up to a Biblical standard, doing my best and giving my best, to bring glory to God. I will courageously and humbly confront the circumstance in my life where a sinful choice has created an environment which is unacceptable to the Lord God. Within the boundaries of Your Word and the limits of my capacity to do so I will make things right. As is appropriate I will consult one who meets the Biblical qualification of “elder” for prayer and counsel and accountability.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Tuesday (Haggai)

Introduction

1:1 On the first day of the sixth month of King Darius’ second year, the Lord spoke this message through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak:

The Indifference of the People

1:2 The Lord who rules over all says this: “These people have said, ‘The time for rebuilding the Lord’s temple has not yet come.’” 1:3 So the Lord spoke through the prophet Haggai as follows: 1:4 “Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins? 1:5 Here then is what the Lord who rules over all says: ‘Think carefully about what you are doing. 1:6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags.’”

The Instruction of the People

1:7 “Moreover, the Lord who rules over all says: ‘Pay close attention to these things also. 1:8 Go up to the hill country and bring back timber to build the temple. Then I will be pleased and honored,’ says the Lord. 1:9 ‘You expected a large harvest, but instead there was little, and when you brought it home it disappeared right away. Why?’ asks the Lord who rules over all. ‘Because my temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house! 1:10 This is why the sky has held back its dew and the earth its produce. 1:11 Moreover, I have called for a drought that will affect the fields, the hill country, the grain, new wine, fresh olive oil, and everything that grows from the ground; it also will harm people, animals, and everything they produce.’”

The Response of the People

1:12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, along with the whole remnant of the people, obeyed the Lord their God. They responded favorably to the message of the prophet Haggai, who spoke just as the Lord their God had instructed him, and the people began to respect the Lord. 1:13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s word to the people: “I am with you!” says the Lord. 1:14 So the Lord energized and encouraged Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the whole remnant of the people. They came and worked on the temple of their God, the Lord who rules over all. 1:15 This took place on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month of King Darius’ second year.

The Glory to Come

2:1 On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the Lord spoke again through the prophet Haggai: 2:2 “Ask the following questions to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the remnant of the people: 2:3 ‘Who among you survivors saw the former splendor of this temple? How does it look to you now? Isn’t it nothing by comparison? 2:4 Even so, take heart, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord. ‘Take heart, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you citizens of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and begin to work. For I am with you,’ says the Lord who rules over all. 2:5 ‘Do not fear, because I made a promise to your ancestors when they left Egypt, and my spirit even now testifies to you.’ 2:6 Moreover, the Lord who rules over all says: ‘In just a little while I will once again shake the sky and the earth, the sea and the dry ground. 2:7 I will also shake up all the nations, and they will offer their treasures; then I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord who rules over all. 2:8 ‘The silver and gold will be mine,’ says the Lord who rules over all. 2:9 ‘The future splendor of this temple will be greater than that of former times,’ the Lord who rules over all declares, ‘and in this place I will give peace.’”

The Promised Blessing

2:10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of Darius’ second year, the Lord spoke again to the prophet Haggai: 2:11 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘Ask the priests about the law. 2:12 If someone carries holy meat in a fold of his garment and that fold touches bread, a boiled dish, wine, olive oil, or any other food, will that item become holy?’” The priests answered, “It will not.” 2:13 Then Haggai asked, “If a person who is ritually unclean because of touching a dead body comes in contact with one of these items, will it become unclean?” The priests answered, “It will be unclean.”

2:14 Then Haggai responded, “‘The people of this nation are unclean in my sight,’ says the Lord. ‘And so is all their effort; everything they offer is also unclean. 2:15 Now therefore reflect carefully on the recent past, before one stone was laid on another in the Lord’s temple. 2:16 From that time when one came expecting a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty measures from it, there were only twenty. 2:17 I struck all the products of your labor with blight, disease, and hail, and yet you brought nothing to me,’ says the Lord. 2:18 ‘Think carefully about the past: from today, the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, to the day work on the temple of the Lord was resumed, think about it. 2:19 The seed is still in the storehouse, isn’t it? And the vine, fig tree, pomegranate, and olive tree have not produced. Nevertheless, from today on I will bless you.’”

Zerubbabel the Chosen One

2:20 Then the Lord spoke again to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 2:21 Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah: ‘I am ready to shake the sky and the earth. 2:22 I will overthrow royal thrones and shatter the might of earthly kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and those who ride them, and horses and their riders will fall as people kill one another. 2:23 On that day,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ says the Lord who rules over all.”

Prayer

Lord, we easily lose perspective, getting ourselves so focused on the day-to-day struggles that we forget the One who gives it any purpose and us any hope. May we lift our eyes to You frequently so as to never lose sight of Your presence and Your priorities.

Scripture In Perspective

The Lord, through the prophet Haggai, challenged the people to recognize that their efforts would be thwarted as long as they refused to honor His priorities for their lives.

Haggai was allowed to bring the message of chastising for their obsession with making their homes look nice while the temple lay in ruins, but to then also deliver the message of hope-in-immediate-obedience, and more hope in the future.

Interact With The Text

Consider

The Lord had repeated the message over and over and here it was again; one's worldly possessions are meaningless and temporary unless one is right with Him, and that includes not allowing the things of the world to interfere with our relationship with Him.

Discuss

As much as the temple was a symbol of faith and of national pride why would the people have thought it OK to make their homes more luxurious while allowing the temple to remain a mess?

Reflect

Zerubbabel was as culpable as anyone for the neglect of the temple but because he was repentant and responded rightly and actively was chosen by the Lord to lead in His new plan.

Share

When has it been apparent that the less-important was consuming your life and the more-important was being ignored?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place in your life where priorities are out of balance, especially where something worldly has displaced the priorities of the Lord God.

Act

Today I will humble confess, seek and receive forgiveness from the Lord, and repent, then act to restore balance – the Lord God first in all things.

Be Specific _________________________________________________

Wednesday (Zechariah 1-6)

Introduction

1:1 In the eighth month of Darius’ second year, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah son of Iddo, as follows:

1:2 The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 1:3 Therefore say to the people: The Lord who rules over all says, “Turn to me,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and I will turn to you,” says the Lord who rules over all. 1:4 “Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets called out, saying, ‘The Lord who rules over all says, “Turn now from your evil wickedness,”’ but they would by no means obey me,” says the Lord. 1:5 “As for your ancestors, where are they? And did the prophets live forever? 1:6 But have my words and statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, not outlived your fathers? Then they paid attention and confessed, ‘The Lord who rules over all has indeed done what he said he would do to us, because of our sinful ways.’”

The Introduction to the Visions

1:7 On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month Shebat, in Darius’ second year, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, as follows:

The Content of the First Vision

1:8 I was attentive that night and saw a man seated on a red horse that stood among some myrtle trees in the ravine. Behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.

The Interpretation of the First Vision

1:9 Then I asked one nearby, “What are these, sir?” The angelic messenger who replied to me said, “I will show you what these are.” 1:10 Then the man standing among the myrtle trees spoke up and said, “These are the ones whom the Lord has sent to walk about on the earth.” 1:11 The riders then agreed with the angel of the Lord, who was standing among the myrtle trees, “We have been walking about on the earth, and now everything is at rest and quiet.” 1:12 The angel of the Lord then asked, “Lord who rules over all, how long before you have compassion on Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah which you have been so angry with for these seventy years?” 1:13 The Lord then addressed good, comforting words to the angelic messenger who was speaking to me. 1:14 Turning to me, the messenger then said, “Cry out that the Lord who rules over all says, ‘I am very much moved for Jerusalem and for Zion. 1:15 But I am greatly displeased with the nations that take my grace for granted. I was a little displeased with them, but they have only made things worse for themselves.

The Oracle of Response

1:16 “‘Therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘I have become compassionate toward Jerusalem and will rebuild my temple in it,’ says the Lord who rules over all. ‘Once more a surveyor’s measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem.’ 1:17 Speak up again with the message of the Lord who rules over all: ‘My cities will once more overflow with prosperity, and once more the Lord will comfort Zion and validate his choice of Jerusalem.’”

Vision Two: The Four Horns

1:18 Once again I looked and this time I saw four horns. 1:19 So I asked the angelic messenger who spoke with me, “What are these?” He replied, “These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.” 1:20 Next the Lord showed me four blacksmiths. 1:21 I asked, “What are these going to do?” He answered, “These horns are the ones that have scattered Judah so that there is no one to be seen. But the blacksmiths have come to terrify Judah’s enemies and cut off the horns of the nations that have thrust themselves against the land of Judah in order to scatter its people.”

Vision Three: The Surveyor

2:1 I looked again, and there was a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2:2 I asked, “Where are you going?” He replied, “To measure Jerusalem in order to determine its width and its length.” 2:3 At this point the angelic messenger who spoke to me went out, and another messenger came to meet him 2:4 and said to him, “Hurry, speak to this young man as follows: ‘Jerusalem will no longer be enclosed by walls because of the multitude of people and animals there. 2:5 But I (the Lord says) will be a wall of fire surrounding Jerusalem and the source of glory in her midst.’”

2:6 “You there! Flee from the northland!” says the Lord, “for like the four winds of heaven I have scattered you,” says the Lord. 2:7 “Escape, Zion, you who live among the Babylonians!” 2:8 For the Lord who rules over all says to me that for his own glory he has sent me to the nations that plundered you – for anyone who touches you touches the pupil of his eye. 2:9 “I am about to punish them in such a way,” he says, “that they will be looted by their own slaves.” Then you will know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me.

2:10 “Sing out and be happy, Zion my daughter! For look, I have come; I will settle in your midst,” says the Lord. 2:11 “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on the day of salvation, and they will also be my people. Indeed, I will settle in the midst of you all.” Then you will know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me to you. 2:12 The Lord will take possession of Judah as his portion in the holy land and he will choose Jerusalem once again. 2:13 Be silent in the Lord’s presence, all people everywhere, for he is being moved to action in his holy dwelling place.

Vision Four: The Priest

3:1 Next I saw Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 3:2 The Lord said to Satan, “May the Lord rebuke you, Satan! May the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Isn’t this man like a burning stick snatched from the fire?” 3:3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood there before the angel. 3:4 The angel spoke up to those standing all around, “Remove his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “I have freely forgiven your iniquity and will dress you in fine clothing.” 3:5 Then I spoke up, “Let a clean turban be put on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood nearby. 3:6 Then the angel of the Lord exhorted Joshua solemnly: 3:7 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘If you live and work according to my requirements, you will be able to preside over my temple and attend to my courtyards, and I will allow you to come and go among these others who are standing by you. 3:8 Listen now, Joshua the high priest, both you and your colleagues who are sitting before you, all of you are a symbol that I am about to introduce my servant, the Branch. 3:9 As for the stone I have set before Joshua – on the one stone there are seven eyes. I am about to engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘to the effect that I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 3:10 In that day,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘everyone will invite his friend to fellowship under his vine and under his fig tree.’”

Vision Five: The Menorah

4:1 The angelic messenger who had been speaking with me then returned and woke me, as a person is wakened from sleep. 4:2 He asked me, “What do you see?” I replied, “I see a menorah of pure gold with a receptacle at the top and seven lamps, with fourteen pipes going to the lamps. 4:3 There are also two olive trees beside it, one on the right of the receptacle and the other on the left.” 4:4 Then I asked the messenger who spoke with me, “What are these, sir?” 4:5 He replied, “Don’t you know what these are?” So I responded, “No, sir.” 4:6 Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all.”

Oracle of Response

4:7 “What are you, you great mountain? Because of Zerubbabel you will become a level plain! And he will bring forth the temple capstone with shoutings of ‘Grace! Grace!’ because of this.” 4:8 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me as follows: 4:9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this temple, and his hands will complete it.” Then you will know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me to you. 4:10 For who dares make light of small beginnings? These seven eyes will joyfully look on the tin tablet in Zerubbabel’s hand. (These are the eyes of the Lord, which constantly range across the whole earth.)

4:11 Next I asked the messenger, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the menorah?” 4:12 Before he could reply I asked again, “What are these two extensions of the olive trees, which are emptying out the golden oil through the two golden pipes?” 4:13 He replied, “Don’t you know what these are?” And I said, “No, sir.” 4:14 So he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

Vision Six: The Flying Scroll

5:1 Then I turned to look, and there was a flying scroll! 5:2 Someone asked me, “What do you see?” I replied, “I see a flying scroll thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide.” 5:3 The speaker went on to say, “This is a curse traveling across the whole earth. For example, according to the curse whoever steals will be removed from the community; or on the other hand (according to the curse) whoever swears falsely will suffer the same fate.” 5:4 “I will send it out,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and it will enter the house of the thief and of the person who swears falsely in my name. It will land in the middle of his house and destroy both timber and stones.”

Vision Seven: The Ephah

5:5 After this the angelic messenger who had been speaking to me went out and said, “Look, see what is leaving.” 5:6 I asked, “What is it?” And he replied, “It is a basket for measuring grain that is moving away from here.” Moreover, he said, “This is their ‘eye’ throughout all the earth.” 5:7 Then a round lead cover was raised up, revealing a woman sitting inside the basket. 5:8 He then said, “This woman represents wickedness,” and he pushed her down into the basket and placed the lead cover on top. 5:9 Then I looked again and saw two women going forth with the wind in their wings (they had wings like those of a stork) and they lifted up the basket between the earth and the sky. 5:10 I asked the messenger who was speaking to me, “Where are they taking the basket?” 5:11 He replied, “To build a temple for her in the land of Babylonia. When it is finished, she will be placed there in her own residence.”

Vision Eight: The Chariots

6:1 Once more I looked, and this time I saw four chariots emerging from between two mountains of bronze. 6:2 Harnessed to the first chariot were red horses, to the second black horses, 6:3 to the third white horses, and to the fourth spotted horses, all of them strong. 6:4 Then I asked the angelic messenger who was speaking with me, “What are these, sir?” 6:5 The messenger replied, “These are the four spirits of heaven that have been presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth. 6:6 The chariot with the black horses is going to the north country and the white ones are going after them, but the spotted ones are going to the south country. 6:7 All these strong ones are scattering; they have sought permission to go and walk about over the earth.” The Lord had said, “Go! Walk about over the earth!” So they are doing so. 6:8 Then he cried out to me, “Look! The ones going to the northland have brought me peace about the northland.”

A Concluding Oracle

6:9 The word of the Lord came to me as follows: 6:10 “Choose some people from among the exiles, namely, Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, all of whom have come from Babylon, and when you have done so go to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. 6:11 Then take some silver and gold to make a crown and set it on the head of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 6:12 Then say to him, ‘The Lord who rules over all says, “Look – here is the man whose name is Branch, who will sprout up from his place and build the temple of the Lord. 6:13 Indeed, he will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed in splendor, sitting as king on his throne. Moreover, there will be a priest with him on his throne and they will see eye to eye on everything. 6:14 The crown will then be turned over to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. 6:15 Then those who are far away will come and build the temple of the Lord so that you may know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me to you. This will all come to pass if you completely obey the voice of the Lord your God.”’”

Prayer

Lord, Your great plan is a unique new “Jerusalem”, one without physical borders and one which has as its foundation Your truth. May I celebrate with a life dedicated to You what You have promised to those who are Yours. You control the ultimate fate of all, and You will purge Your creation of evil, and of the evil one. May I never doubt that victory belongs to the Lord.

Scripture In Perspective

Zechariah was a peer of Haggai, he prophesied about 520 BC, during the reign of Darius in Persia.

He was told to tell the rebellious people “Therefore say to the people: The Lord who rules over all says, “Turn to me,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and I will turn to you,” says the Lord who rules over all.”

Zechariah received several visions, the first was to explain that the prophesied time of seventy years of exile was about to end and Jerusalem was to be restored.

The second vision was to explain that the four nations who had been allowed to serve as the instruments of the Lord God's judgment would now themselves be punished.

The third vision was of the restoration of Jerusalem without walls due to the large numbers of the returning people, and a clarion call for the people to flee Babylon ahead of the Lord's judgment ot it – taking with them great resources.

The fourth vision was of a high priest, Joshua [Jehozadak, identified in Haggai 1:1 and Ezra], who would lead the people in righteous living and worship, he would have a major responsibility, but was to recognize that he was a place-holder for “the Branch” [the Messiah] Who was to come.

The fifth vision was of the Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel that he would be His instrument to build the new Jerusalem: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord who rules over all.”

[The NET Translator's Notes explain that the “two anointed ones” would have been Joshua and Zerubbabel as they were descended from king David and the high priest Aaron.]

Zechariah was shown a sixth vision where the law of the Lord God was rhetorically traveling across the earth to destroy all that was in violation; the laws against stealing and swearing falsely in His name were specifically mentioned.

The seventh vision was [from the NET Translator's Notes] of wickedness epitomized by a demonic counterfeit of divine omniscience and power, it was shown as symbolically-contained and relocated to a symbolic Babylon by two agents of the Lord God. The symbolic woman was to be placed in her own home there. A symbolic woman of Babylon appears in last days of end times prophesy.

[From the NET Translator's Notes] the eighth vision was of chariots and horses which at that historic time represented Persia conquering Babylonia bringing a sort of peace to the region and therefore to the exiled Jews there. The “peace” has a parallel imagery in last days of the end times when the Lord God conquers all.

Zechariah was told to create a crown and to temporarily place it on the head of Joshua the high priest as a symbolic representation of the coming “Branch” or Messiah. It was to be given to the four representatives of the people from among the exiles in Babylonia who would place it in the temple. People would come from many places to rebuild the temple, at the behest of Zerubbabel (and later Ezra and Nehemiah) in fulfillment of the prophesy.

The fulfillment of this was conditional “This will all come to pass if you completely obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

Interact With The Text

Consider

The Lord God again calls to the people to choose to turn to Him and then He will bless them. He was defining His omnipotence over all of creation, escalating the confrontation between the law and the law-breakers, isolating the powers of deception, and creating a pathway for redemption.

Discuss

Why would the religious leaders of the time of Jesus have missed Him given the clear evidence of the path to His identity and purpose?

Reflect

The religious leaders, who were supposed to serve the people for the Lord, to teach them of the coming messiah (the Branch), and to stand ready to step-aside when He arrived – chose to instead monstrously cling to power and to cause Him to be crucified. As with every prior covenant the fulfillment of this was conditional “This will all come to pass if you completely obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

Share

When have you experienced a success that was clearly ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’? When have you become profoundly aware of the hard boundaries of the law and that only Jesus saves?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a moment in you life where He blessed you and it was ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit’, and a place where you were deceived and now see clearly.

Act

Today I will give praise and thanks to the Lord God for His blessings and I will give Him praise for setting me free from the deception of the world.

Be Specific ________________________________________________

Thursday (Zechariah 7-10)

The Hypocrisy of False Fasting

7:1 In King Darius’ fourth year, on the fourth day of Kislev, the ninth month, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah. 7:2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melech and their companions to seek the Lord’s favor 7:3 by asking both the priests of the temple of the Lord who rules over all and the prophets, “Should we weep in the fifth month, fasting as we have done over the years?” 7:4 The word of the Lord who rules over all then came to me, 7:5 “Speak to all the people and priests of the land as follows: ‘When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months through all these seventy years, did you truly fast for me – for me, indeed? 7:6 And now when you eat and drink, are you not doing so for yourselves?’” 7:7 Should you not have obeyed the words that the Lord cried out through the former prophets when Jerusalem was peacefully inhabited and her surrounding cities, the Negev, and the Shephelah were also populated?

7:8 Again the word of the Lord came to Zechariah: 7:9 “The Lord who rules over all said, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. 7:10 You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’

7:11 “But they refused to pay attention, turning away stubbornly and stopping their ears so they could not hear. 7:12 Indeed, they made their heart as hard as diamond, so that they could not obey the Torah and the other words the Lord who rules over all had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore, the Lord who rules over all had poured out great wrath.

7:13 “‘It then came about that just as I cried out, but they would not obey, so they will cry out, but I will not listen,’ the Lord Lord who rules over all had said. 7:14 ‘Rather, I will sweep them away in a storm into all the nations they are not familiar with.’ Thus the land had become desolate because of them, with no one crossing through or returning, for they had made the fruitful land a waste.”

The Blessing of True Fasting

8:1 Then the word of the Lord who rules over all came to me as follows: 8:2 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘I am very much concerned for Zion; indeed, I am so concerned for her that my rage will fall on those who hurt her.’ 8:3 The Lord says, ‘I have returned to Zion and will live within Jerusalem. Now Jerusalem will be called “truthful city,” “mountain of the Lord who rules over all,” “holy mountain.”’ 8:4 Moreover, the Lord who rules over all says, ‘Old men and women will once more live in the plazas of Jerusalem, each one leaning on a cane because of advanced age. 8:5 And the streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing. 8:6 And,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘though such a thing may seem to be difficult in the opinion of the small community of those days, will it also appear difficult to me?’ asks the Lord who rules over all.

8:7 “The Lord who rules over all asserts, ‘I am about to save my people from the lands of the east and the west. 8:8 And I will bring them to settle within Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.’

8:9 “The Lord who rules over all also says, ‘Gather strength, you who are listening to these words today from the mouths of the prophets who were there at the founding of the house of the Lord who rules over all, so that the temple might be built. 8:10 Before that time there was no compensation for man or animal, nor was there any relief from adversity for those who came and went, because I had pitted everybody – each one – against everyone else. 8:11 But I will be different now to this remnant of my people from the way I was in those days,’ says the Lord who rules over all, 8:12 ‘for there will be a peaceful time of sowing, the vine will produce its fruit and the ground its yield, and the skies will rain down dew. Then I will allow the remnant of my people to possess all these things. 8:13 And it will come about that just as you (both Judah and Israel) were a curse to the nations, so I will save you and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid! Instead, be strong!’

8:14 “For the Lord who rules over all says, ‘As I had planned to hurt you when your fathers made me angry,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘and I was not sorry, 8:15 so, to the contrary, I have planned in these days to do good to Jerusalem and Judah – do not fear! 8:16 These are the things you must do: Speak the truth, each of you, to one another. Practice true and righteous judgment in your courts. 8:17 Do not plan evil in your hearts against one another. Do not favor a false oath – these are all things that I hate,’ says the Lord.”

8:18 The word of the Lord who rules over all came to me as follows: 8:19 “The Lord who rules over all says, ‘The fast of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months will become joyful and happy, pleasant feasts for the house of Judah, so love truth and peace.’ 8:20 The Lord who rules over all says, ‘It will someday come to pass that people – residents of many cities – will come. 8:21 The inhabitants of one will go to another and say, “Let’s go up at once to ask the favor of the Lord, to seek the Lord who rules over all. Indeed, I’ll go with you.”’ 8:22 Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord who rules over all and to ask his favor. 8:23 The Lord who rules over all says, ‘In those days ten people from all languages and nations will grasp hold of – indeed, grab – the robe of one Jew and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”

The Coming of the True King

9:1 An oracle of the word of the Lord concerning the land of Hadrach, with its focus on Damascus:

The eyes of all humanity, especially of the tribes of Israel, are toward the Lord, 9:2 as are those of Hamath also, which adjoins Damascus, and Tyre and Sidon, though they consider themselves to be very wise. 9:3 Tyre built herself a fortification and piled up silver like dust and gold like the mud of the streets! 9:4 Nevertheless the Lord will evict her and shove her fortifications into the sea – she will be consumed by fire. 9:5 Ashkelon will see and be afraid; Gaza will be in great anguish, as will Ekron, for her hope will have been dried up. Gaza will lose her king, and Ashkelon will no longer be inhabited. 9:6 A mongrel people will live in Ashdod, for I will greatly humiliate the Philistines. 9:7 I will take away their abominable religious practices; then those who survive will become a community of believers in our God, like a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites. 9:8 Then I will surround my temple to protect it like a guard from anyone crossing back and forth; so no one will cross over against them anymore as an oppressor, for now I myself have seen it.

9:9 Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Look! Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey – on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.

9:10 I will remove the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be removed. Then he will announce peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.

9:11 Moreover, as for you, because of our covenant relationship secured with blood, I will release your prisoners from the waterless pit. 9:12 Return to the stronghold, you prisoners, with hope; today I declare that I will return double what was taken from you. 9:13 I will bend Judah as my bow; I will load the bow with Ephraim, my arrow! I will stir up your sons, Zion, against yours, Greece, and I will make you, Zion, like a warrior’s sword.

9:14 Then the Lord will appear above them, and his arrow will shoot forth like lightning; the Lord God will blow the trumpet and will sally forth on the southern storm winds. 9:15 The Lord who rules over all will guard them, and they will prevail and overcome with sling stones. Then they will drink, and will become noisy like drunkards, full like the sacrificial basin or like the corners of the altar. 9:16 On that day the Lord their God will deliver them as the flock of his people, for they are the precious stones of a crown sparkling over his land. 9:17 How precious and fair! Grain will make the young men flourish and new wine the young women.

The Restoration of the True People

10:1 Ask the Lord for rain in the season of the late spring rains – the Lord who causes thunderstorms – and he will give everyone showers of rain and green growth in the field. 10:2 For the household gods have spoken wickedness, the soothsayers have seen a lie, and as for the dreamers, they have disclosed emptiness and give comfort in vain. Therefore the people set out like sheep and become scattered because they have no shepherd. 10:3 I am enraged at the shepherds and will punish the lead-goats.

For the Lord who rules over all has brought blessing to his flock, the house of Judah, and will transform them into his majestic warhorse. 10:4 From him will come the cornerstone, the wall peg, the battle bow, and every ruler. 10:5 And they will be like warriors trampling the mud of the streets in battle. They will fight, for the Lord will be with them, and will defeat the enemy cavalry.

10:6 “I (says the Lord) will strengthen the kingdom of Judah and deliver the people of Joseph and will bring them back because of my compassion for them. They will be as though I had never rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and therefore I will hear them. 10:7 The Ephraimites will be like warriors and will rejoice as if they had drunk wine. Their children will see it and rejoice; they will celebrate in the things of the Lord. 10:8 I will signal for them and gather them, for I have already redeemed them; then they will become as numerous as they were before. 10:9 Though I scatter them among the nations, they will remember in far-off places – they and their children will sprout forth and return. 10:10 I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to the lands of Gilead and Lebanon, for there will not be enough room for them in their own land. 10:11 The Lord will cross the sea of storms and will calm its turbulence. The depths of the Nile will dry up, the pride of Assyria will be humbled, and the domination of Egypt will be no more. 10:12 Thus I will strengthen them by my power, and they will walk about in my name,” says the Lord.

Prayer

Lord, the faithlessness and hypocrisy of the people continued, but You sought-out the faithful remnant for Your blessing and for the restoration of Your creation. May I grow in the direction of faithfulness rather than empty ritual and double-minded hypocrisy. You punish those who reject You and those who abuse Your people while they worship false gods. The “New Jerusalem” is where there will be no more sin – only perfection in Your presence. May I live with hope and joy in the future of Your promise, serving You today so that more may join me there.

Scripture In Perspective

Zechariah responded to the leaders of the people who requested a word from the Lord God as to their religious tradition of weeping and fasting on the fifth month, he challenged their integrity in so-doing for the prior seventy years [since the destruction of Solomon's temple], asking if they had ever truly done so with Him first in their hearts. They had not.

He shared the Lord's challenge to demonstrate their repentance “The Lord who rules over all said, ‘Exercise true judgment and show brotherhood and compassion to each other. You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.’” They refused, even covering their ears so that they could not hear His message.

Zechariah was blessed to share in prophesy the encouraging words of the Lord “I am about to save my people from the lands of the east and the west. And I will bring them to settle within Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.”

He then prophesied “As I had planned to hurt you when your fathers made me angry,’ says the Lord who rules over all, ‘and I was not sorry, so, to the contrary, I have planned in these days to do good to Jerusalem and Judah – do not fear! These are the things you must do: Speak the truth, each of you, to one another. Practice true and righteous judgment in your courts. Do not plan evil in your hearts against one another. Do not favor a false oath – these are all things that I hate,’ says the Lord.”

Zechariah continued his prophesy of the Lord's plans for the future of His people “‘It will someday come to pass that people – residents of many cities – will come. The inhabitants of one will go to another and say, “Let’s go up at once to ask the favor of the Lord, to seek the Lord who rules over all. Indeed, I’ll go with you.”

Zechariah declared the prophesy of the Lord God, first that the enemies of His people would be swept from their lands as they had exiled the Israelites, even Ashkelon would be populated by “a mongrel people” - those whom the Babylonians would re-locate there - and later in history Greeks, Romans, and Muslims. [The Muslims destroyed the city when the Crusaders arrived.]

He then spoke again of the promise of a distant time when the Lord God would restore peace and righteousness to the land though a king who would arrive on a donkey – the Messiah.

Zechariah continued his prophesy of promise “I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to the lands of Gilead and Lebanon, for there will not be enough room for them in their own land. The Lord will cross the sea of storms and will calm its turbulence. The depths of the Nile will dry up, the pride of Assyria will be humbled, and the domination of Egypt will be no more. Thus I will strengthen them by my power, and they will walk about in my name,” says the Lord.”

Interact With The Text

Consider

For seventy years the people had practiced their empty religious rituals and for all of that time their hearts were not committed to the Lord – so they had suffered exile. Those whose hatred of the Jews, and whose selfish desire for conquest, served as instruments of punishment and sifting were themselves not free from the Lord God's justice.

Discuss

Were the people asking if they should again practice the ritual because they were hoping to hear that they no longer needed to, or were they really seeking affirmation that it was of value? Isn't it amazing that the Lord God would implant a detail in the ancient prophesy of Zechariah, like that of the Messiah “Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey – on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey.”?

Reflect

Once again, consistent with His history, the Lord God required a proper response of the people “These are the things you must do ...” How interesting to note the specific history of Askelon where “a mongrel people” did indeed inhabit their precious city, in fact – to them – many different “mongrel” peoples.

Share

When have you experienced or observed a situation where a religious practice has become a tired and empty ritual and the lives of those engaged in it a terrible hypocrisy?When have you imagined the “New Jerusalem” and your heart was lifted in joy?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you something in your life that has become more of an empty ritual than a meaningful celebration to the Lord.

Act

Today I will prayerfully reassess all that I do, evaluating through a Biblical filter, why I do what I do when I do it the way that I do it – is it from my heart and to the Lord God? I will pause to praise the Lord God for His endless patience and for His powerful action to redeem and to restore His people. I will invite a fellow believer to join me in that.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Friday (Zechariah 11-13)

The History and Future of Judah’s Wicked Kings

11:1 Open your gates, Lebanon, so that the fire may consume your cedars.

11:2 Howl, fir tree, because the cedar has fallen; the majestic trees have been destroyed. Howl, oaks of Bashan, because the impenetrable forest has fallen.

11:3 Listen to the howling of shepherds, because their magnificence has been destroyed. Listen to the roaring of young lions, because the thickets of the Jordan have been devastated.

11:4 The Lord my God says this: “Shepherd the flock set aside for slaughter. 11:5 Those who buy them slaughter them and are not held guilty; those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich.’ Their own shepherds have no compassion for them. 11:6 Indeed, I will no longer have compassion on the people of the land,” says the Lord, “but instead I will turn every last person over to his neighbor and his king. They will devastate the land, and I will not deliver it from them.”

11:7 So I began to shepherd the flock destined for slaughter, the most afflicted of all the flock. Then I took two staffs, calling one “Pleasantness” and the other “Binders,” and I tended the flock. 11:8 Next I eradicated the three shepherds in one month, for I ran out of patience with them and, indeed, they detested me as well. 11:9 I then said, “I will not shepherd you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be eradicated, let it be eradicated. As for those who survive, let them eat each other’s flesh!”

11:10 Then I took my staff “Pleasantness” and cut it in two to annul my covenant that I had made with all the people. 11:11 So it was annulled that very day, and then the most afflicted of the flock who kept faith with me knew that that was the word of the Lord.

11:12 Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, pay me my wages, but if not, forget it.” So they weighed out my payment – thirty pieces of silver. 11:13 The Lord then said to me, “Throw to the potter that exorbitant sum at which they valued me!” So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the temple of the Lord. 11:14 Then I cut the second staff “Binders” in two in order to annul the covenant of brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

11:15 Again the Lord said to me, “Take up once more the equipment of a foolish shepherd. 11:16 Indeed, I am about to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not take heed to the sheep headed to slaughter, will not seek the scattered, and will not heal the injured. Moreover, he will not nourish the one that is healthy but instead will eat the meat of the fat sheep and tear off their hooves.

11:17 Woe to the worthless shepherd who abandons the flock! May a sword fall on his arm and his right eye! May his arm wither completely away, and his right eye become completely blind!”

The Repentance of Judah

12:1 The revelation of the word of the Lord concerning Israel: The Lord – he who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth, who forms the human spirit within a person – says, 12:2 “I am about to make Jerusalem a cup that brings dizziness to all the surrounding nations; indeed, Judah will also be included when Jerusalem is besieged. 12:3 Moreover, on that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy burden for all the nations, and all who try to carry it will be seriously injured; yet all the peoples of the earth will be assembled against it. 12:4 In that day,” says the Lord, “I will strike every horse with confusion and its rider with madness. I will pay close attention to the house of Judah, but will strike all the horses of the nations with blindness. 12:5 Then the leaders of Judah will say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are a means of strength to us through their God, the Lord who rules over all.’ 12:6 On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like an igniter among sticks and a burning torch among sheaves, and they will burn up all the surrounding nations right and left. Then the people of Jerusalem will settle once more in their place, the city of Jerusalem. 12:7 The Lord also will deliver the homes of Judah first, so that the splendor of the kingship of David and of the people of Jerusalem may not exceed that of Judah. 12:8 On that day the Lord himself will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the weakest among them will be like mighty David, and the dynasty of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord before them. 12:9 So on that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”

12:10 “I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn. 12:11 On that day the lamentation in Jerusalem will be as great as the lamentation at Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12:12 The land will mourn, clan by clan – the clan of the royal household of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the clan of the family of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; 12:13 the clan of the descendants of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; and the clan of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves – 12:14 all the clans that remain, each separately with their wives.”

The Refinement of Judah

13:1 “In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. 13:2 And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land. 13:3 Then, if anyone prophesies in spite of this, his father and mother to whom he was born will say to him, ‘You cannot live, for you lie in the name of the Lord.’ Then his father and mother to whom he was born will run him through with a sword when he prophesies.

13:4 “Therefore, on that day each prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies and will no longer wear the hairy garment of a prophet to deceive the people. 13:5 Instead he will say, ‘I am no prophet – indeed, I am a farmer, for a man has made me his indentured servant since my youth.’ 13:6 Then someone will ask him, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ and he will answer, ‘Some that I received in the house of my friends.’

13:7 “Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate,” says the Lord who rules over all. Strike the shepherd that the flock may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the insignificant ones.

13:8 It will happen in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds of the people in it will be cut off and die, but one-third will be left in it.

13:9 Then I will bring the remaining third into the fire; I will refine them like silver is refined and will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

Prayer

Lord, You choose for Yourself a remnant of the people who will respond to Your cleansing so that You may restore the planned kingdom of relationship between You and Your creation. May I daily respond to the cleansing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Scripture In Perspective

Zechariah recorded “The Lord my God says this: “Shepherd the flock set aside for slaughter.”, then he described the step by step process of His symbolic termination of covenants which the people had nullified through their disobedience and rebellion, leading to their punishment.

He then shared the word “The Lord – he who stretches out the heavens and lays the foundations of the earth, who forms the human spirit within a person – says, “I am about to make Jerusalem a cup that brings dizziness to all the surrounding nations ...”, which referred to the terrible judgment from the God of creation upon His rebellious people.

Zechariah then prophesied the last days of the end times when the newly re-assembled people of God would have a leader, in royal lineage from David through Solomon and in physical lineage through Nathan, who would rule with righteousness and without all of the sins of selfishness that He had warned would come when they had demanded a human king “like the nations around us”.

He prophesied further “I will pour out ... a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn ...”

Zechariah continued “In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.”

He concluded “It will happen in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds of the people in it will be cut off and die, but one-third will be left in it. Then I will bring the remaining third into the fire; I will refine them like silver is refined and will test them like gold is tested. They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

Interact With The Text

Consider

The Lord God never failed in His part of any covenant, it was always the people.

Discuss

Isn't it amazing how the Lord God inserted clear descriptions of the coming Messiah – and also clear evidences that they were One and the same “... so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced.”

Reflect

“They will call on my name and I will answer; I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

Share

When have you experienced the purifying of the Lord God?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you a place in your life where He is beginning a purifying work.

Act

Today I will humbly submit to the purifying of the Lord, surrendering the things of the world which interfere with His discipleship of me, clinging to the things that move me toward righteousness.

Be Specific _____________________________________________

Saturday (Zechariah 14)

The Sovereignty of the Lord

14:1 A day of the Lord is about to come when your possessions will be divided as plunder in your midst. 14:2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war; the city will be taken, its houses plundered, and the women raped. Then half of the city will go into exile, but the remainder of the people will not be taken away.

14:3 Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. 14:4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward. 14:5 Then you will escape through my mountain valley, for the mountains will extend to Azal. Indeed, you will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come with all his holy ones with him. 14:6 On that day there will be no light – the sources of light in the heavens will congeal. 14:7 It will happen in one day (a day known to the Lord); not in the day or the night, but in the evening there will be light. 14:8 Moreover, on that day living waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it will happen both in summer and in winter.

14:9 The Lord will then be king over all the earth. In that day the Lord will be seen as one with a single name. 14:10 All the land will change and become like the Arabah from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem will be raised up and will stay in its own place from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate and on to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses. 14:11 And people will settle there, and there will no longer be the threat of divine extermination – Jerusalem will dwell in security.

14:12 But this will be the nature of the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that have fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will decay while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot away in their sockets, and their tongues will dissolve in their mouths. 14:13 On that day there will be great confusion from the Lord among them; they will seize each other and attack one another violently. 14:14 Moreover, Judah will fight at Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be gathered up – gold, silver, and clothing in great abundance. 14:15 This is the kind of plague that will devastate horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the other animals in those camps.

14:16 Then all who survive from all the nations that came to attack Jerusalem will go up annually to worship the King, the Lord who rules over all, and to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. 14:17 But if any of the nations anywhere on earth refuse to go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord who rules over all, they will get no rain. 14:18 If the Egyptians will not do so, they will get no rain – instead there will be the kind of plague which the Lord inflicts on any nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. 14:19 This will be the punishment of Egypt and of all nations that do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

14:20 On that day the bells of the horses will bear the inscription “Holy to the Lord.” The cooking pots in the Lord’s temple will be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar. 14:21 Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah will become holy in the sight of the Lord who rules over all, so that all who offer sacrifices may come and use some of them to boil their sacrifices in them. On that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord who rules over all.

Prayer

Lord, the end will come as You have determined and a battle will be joined to begin the final cleansing of humankind, concluding at that stage with Your earthly kingdom in power and all others required to pay homage. May I recognize that now is my time to pay homage, now is my time to recognize that You are already on Your throne, and now is my time to tell Your story that many others will choose rightly for You.

Scripture In Perspective

Zechariah prophesied the coming of the last days of the end times battle of Armageddon.

He detailed the purging of Jerusalem and Judah, the subjugation of those nations who had been enemies of them, and the period of domination of the Lord's earthly kingdom.

All will be require to pay homage to the Lord God and any and all will be welcome to come to submit to Him in worship, to surrender to Him in faith, and there will no longer be [as Jesus the Christ would later refine it] “Jew nor Gentile”.

Interact With The Text

Consider

An end is surely coming when the Lord's patience has run out, when His time for the end has arrived, and that is when His final sifting of humankind will begin.

Discuss

Is it interesting to you that the Lord God would provide a time when unbelievers will be required to pay homage, that those who refuse will be punished with no rain, and that all will be welcome to come as surrendered-believers – regardless of nationality?

Reflect

The Lord God's covenant shifted from “the chosen people” to “the people who choose”.

Share

When did you experienced the change in yourself from that person who chose rebellion against the Lord God's gift of salvation to the person who then chose to receive His gift?

Faith In Action

Pray

Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of the moment of your surrender, to stir-up in you a more-profound sense of His presence, and to stimulate in you a desire to share your story about Him.

Act

Today I will joyfully recall my absolute surrender to the Lordship of Christ, I will celebrate anew His presence within me, and I will respectfully but resolutely share His story in my life with the one (or ones) to whom He directs me.

Be Specific _________________________________________________

All Bible text is from the NET unless otherwise indicated - http://bible.org

Note 1: These Studies often rely upon the guidance of the NET Translators from their associated notes. Careful attention has been given to cite that source where it has been quoted directly or closely paraphrased. Feedback is encouraged where credit has not been sufficiently assigned.

Note 2: When NET text is quoted in commentary and discussion all pronouns referring to God are capitalized, though they are lower-case in the original NET text.

Commentary text is from David M. Colburn, D.Min. unless otherwise noted.

Copyright © 2012 by David M. Colburn. This is a BibleSeven Study –“Genesis 3. Prepared by David M. Colburn and edited for bible.org in August of 2012. This text may be used for non-profit educational purposes only, with credit; all other usage requires prior written consent of the author.

Lesson 20: God Justifies the Ungodly (Romans 4:1-5)

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A faithful Catholic nun spends her life working in a slum in a poor country, feeding the poor, ministering to the sick and dying, and caring for the orphans. As she nears death, you ask her why God should let her into heaven. She replies, “Because I have devoted my life to serving Him. I have denied myself for decades. I hope that I have added enough merits that God will accept me.” She dies and faces God’s eternal wrath because her faith was in her own good works, not in the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone.

Meanwhile, on death row a serial killer awaits execution. He mercilessly tortured, raped, and murdered many young women. Their families mourn the tragic loss of their daughters. A chaplain visits this killer and finds that he has been reading the Bible. God has convicted him of his terrible sins, so that he despairs about dying and facing God. He knows that he deserves eternal torment in hell. But the chaplain shares that if he will believe in Jesus Christ, who died for the ungodly, God will forgive all his sins and credit Christ’s righteousness to his account. He does believe, is filled with joy, and goes to his execution at peace with God. He spends eternity in the unspeakable joy of heaven.

Do these two stories grate on your soul? Do you want to scream, “Wait a minute! That’s not fair! That sweet, selfless old nun deserves to go to heaven! That evil, depraved murderer deserves to burn in hell!” If that’s your reaction, then you may not understand the crucial, bedrock message that Paul sets forth in our text, that…

God graciously justifies the ungodly sinner who does not work for salvation, but believes in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 4:5, Paul makes one of the most outrageous claims in all Scripture: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” What a staggering verse! Surely, there must be a copier’s error in the text! Paul must have said, “God justifies the one who tries to do his best. God justifies the nice person who always meant well, who loved his family, devoted his time and money to help the needy, went to church, read his Bible, and prayed every day.” But Paul could not have meant, “God justifies the ungodly, could he? That’s unthinkable!”

In All of Grace [Ages Software], C. H. Spurgeon wrote about Romans 4:5,

I have heard that men that hate the doctrines of the cross bring it as a charge against God, that He saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. See how this Scripture accepts the charge, and plainly states it! ... You thought, did you not, that salvation was for the good, that God’s grace was for the pure and holy, who are free from sin? It has fallen into your mind that, if you were excellent, then God would reward you; and you have thought that because you are not worthy, therefore there could be no way of your enjoying His favor. You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” I do not wonder that you are surprised; for with all my familiarity with the great grace of God, I never cease to wonder at it.

My aim today is that all of you will understand this crucial doctrine that is at the core of the gospel and that you will join Spurgeon in worshipful wonder that God has justified you.

Paul is still hammering at the religious Jew (or any other religious person) who thinks that he qualifies for heaven because of his religion and good works. He brings up Abraham because the Jews revered him as the father of their nation and their faith. Many early Jewish writings put Abraham on a pedestal far higher than the way the Bible portrays him. For example, the Book of Jubilees (23:10), written about 100 B.C. states, “Abraham was perfect in all his deeds with the Lord, and well-pleasing in righteousness all the days of his life” (cited by Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 256). The Prayer of Manasseh (8), states that God did not appoint repentance for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “who were righteous and did not sin against Thee.” (What Bible were they reading?) Thus many Jews assumed that Abraham was right with God, at least in part, because of his life of obedience. It’s a short step from there to believing that any person who follows Abraham’s example of obeying God will be accepted by God.

But in Romans 4 Paul challenges that view head-on. The flow of thought in the chapter is as follows (from Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], pp. 210-211): In verses 1-8, Paul expands on and illustrates with Abraham and David the principle of 3:27-28, that we are justified by faith, not by our works, and thus we have no grounds for boasting. Verses 9-16 develop the theme of 3:29-30, that righteousness by faith applies equally to Jews and Gentiles. He proves this by showing that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. Thus God can justify uncircumcised Gentiles who follow the faith of Abraham. Verses 17-22 explain the nature of Abraham’s faith. Finally (4:23-25), Paul applies the lessons of Abraham’s faith to his readers.

It’s absolutely essential for you to understand the doctrine that Paul sets forth in Romans 4:1-5, that we are justified (declared righteous) by faith alone, apart from any works. It was when Martin Luther finally understood this truth that he was saved. He called justification by faith “the chief article from which all our other doctrines have flowed.” He said, “If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time.” He argued, “It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God, and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.” (James Boice, Romans: Justification by Faith [Zondervan], p. 126, citing from What Luther Says: An Anthology, compiled by Ewald Pass, [Concordia], 2:702-704.)

John Calvin called justification by faith “the main hinge on which religion turns” (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], 3:11:1). He explained (ibid.), “For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God.” In other words, this truth is foundational for your entire Christian life.

Thus it is not by accident that it always has been under fire. The Catholic Church launched the counter-Reformation and published The Canons and Decrees of Trent in large part to attack justification by faith alone (see my “Justification by Faith Alone,” Aug. 11, 1996, on fcfonline.org). In our day, the unity movement has sought to break down any divisions between Protestants and Catholics by advocating that we come together where we agree and set aside the things that divide us, including this doctrine. In the 1990’s, many evangelicals signed a document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” that would relegate justification by faith alone to the sidelines. The New Perspective on Paul also argues that the Reformers misinterpreted Paul regarding this doctrine.

But if the Reformers were right that this doctrine is the foundation of our salvation, then justification by faith plus works cannot be right. We cannot politely agree to disagree on the core of the gospel! Thus for your own salvation, for your being able to resist the winds of false doctrine blowing in our day, and for your being able to present the gospel clearly to those who are trusting in their good works to save them, you must be clear on this truth: God graciously justifies the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus Christ. Paul first demonstrates this truth in the life of Abraham (4:1-3). Then he illustrates it negatively by a common example (4:4) and states it positively in rather shocking language (4:5).

1. God justified Abraham by faith alone, not by his works (4:1-3).

Paul goes back to the theme of boasting (3:27), to argue:

A. If Abraham had been justified by works, he would have grounds to boast (4:1-2).

“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:1-2)

Some commentators argue that the phrase, “according to the flesh,” should not modify “forefather,” but rather, “has found.” Thus Paul would be asking whether Abraham found some way, according to the flesh apart from God’s grace, to be justified. Others argue that it should modify “forefather” (NASB & ESV). Paul is referring to Abraham as the Jewish forefather by lineage; but there may also be the hint that fleshly descent from Abraham is insufficient.

Verse 2 explains (“for”) verse 1, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Most commentators understand the last phrase to mean, “When God’s viewpoint is considered, Abraham has no right to boast at all” (Moo, p. 261). In other words, Paul does not mean that Abraham could have boasted before people, but not before God. Rather, he had no grounds for boasting at all.

But it seems to me that Paul could be conceding to his Jewish readers, “Okay, maybe Abraham has some grounds to boast before men. After all, he was a godly man. But when you bring God into the picture, Abraham’s boast vanishes.” It’s as if one bug was bragging to another bug, “I’m taller than you are!” just before a human comes along and squashes both of them. When you compare humans to humans, Abraham was a good guy. But when you compare humans to God, Abraham is just a bug along with everyone else.

Paul’s point in 4:1-2 is that if justification were by works rather than by faith alone, it would give us a ground for boasting. It would feed our pride. But such boasting is foolish, because we’re really just one bug boasting to another bug. What is the best of human righteousness when you compare it to God’s absolute righteousness? So Paul is attacking the popular Jewish views about Abraham in his day, saying, “He couldn’t have been justified by his works.” Then he supports his argument with Scripture:

B. Scripture clearly teaches that Abraham was justified by faith alone (4:3).

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” (4:3, citing Gen. 15:6)

Genesis 15:6 is the first time that the word believe is used in the Bible and it is also the first time that the concept of God crediting righteousness to anyone (justification) is mentioned. So it’s a very important text to understand. Paul not only cites it here, but also in Galatians 3:6, where he argues against the Judaizers, who said that we must add our works to faith in order to be saved.

The passage in Genesis raises the question, “What did Abraham believe and why did God credit it to him for righteousness then?” We know that he had believed God previously, when he left Ur and set out for Canaan (Heb. 11:8). Thus Abraham was already what we would call “saved” before this experience. So why does Moses mention in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed God and that God reckoned it to him as righteousness?

Martin Luther said that Abraham was justified by faith long before this time, but that it is first recorded in this context in a connection where the Savior is definitely involved in order that none might venture to dissociate justification from the Savior (cited by H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis [Baker], 1:479). John Calvin thought that it is mentioned here, long after Abraham was first justified, to prove that justification does not just begin by faith, only to be perfected later by works. Rather, justification is by faith alone, apart from works, from start to finish (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 1:408-409). So Genesis 15 ratifies Abraham’s earlier faith.

Derek Kidner (Genesis [IVP], p. 124) notes that Abraham’s faith was both personal (in the Lord) and propositional (the Lord’s promise concerning a son). Abraham knew that through his seed, blessing would come to all the families of the earth (12:3). In Galatians, Paul argues that seed is singular, not plural, thus pointing to Abraham’s one descendant, Christ (Gal. 3:16). So when Abraham believed in the Lord, he believed the specific promise that a Savior for all nations would come forth from his descendants.

How much did Abraham know about Jesus Christ, who would be born 2,000 years later? He knew more than we may assume! Jesus Himself said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Paul said that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham when He promised, “All the nations shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8). Though he didn’t know Jesus’ name and he had no evidence other than God’s promise, Abraham looked forward in faith to God’s Redeemer and thus God credited it to him as righteousness.

The word credited (Greek = logidzomai) is used 40 times in the New Testament, 34 times by Paul, 19 times in Romans, and 11 times in this chapter, so it is a key word. It’s an accounting term that means that God credited to Abraham a righteousness that did not inherently belong to him (Moo, p. 262). The word it does not refer to Abraham’s faith, as if God exchanged his faith for righteousness, in a sort of trade. That would give some sort of merit to faith, which cannot pay the debt of our sin. Rather, faith is the means by which we lay hold of God’s promise in Christ. Abraham believed God’s promise about the Savior who would come and God credited the work of the promised Savior to Abraham through his faith. Christ’s substitutionary death paid the just penalty for the sins of those who will trust in Him (3:25).

Having illustrated from Abraham’s experience as recorded in Scripture that God justifies by faith alone, not by works, Paul proceeds to apply it to every sinner who will believe in Christ:

2. God justifies any ungodly person who does not work for salvation, but believes in Jesus Christ (4:4-5).

“Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (4:4-5).

First (4:4) Paul gives a negative example from everyday life that we can easily understand. When you work and your boss pays you, he isn’t doing you a favor. (Favor is literally grace.) You don’t send him a thank you note, telling him how much you appreciated his kindness. No, he owes you the money. If he doesn’t pay, you can take him to court to make him pay. It’s a debt.

But the principle of grace is different (4:5). Under grace you do not work for justification. Rather, you believe God’s promise to declare righteous any sinner who trusts in Jesus and His shed blood as the propitiation for his sins (3:25). As the righteous Judge, God recognizes Jesus’ death as payment in full for all our sins. The instant we believe in Jesus, God bangs the gavel and declares, “Not guilty!” But He not only removes our sin and guilt. Also, He imputes the very righteousness of Jesus to our account.

Again, although Paul says here, “his faith is credited as righteousness,” in the context (3:24-26) he means that the guilty sinner’s faith has laid hold of Jesus Christ as the perfect and final sacrifice for sins. Faith is not a work that merits righteousness. If it were, verse 5 would be saying the opposite of what Paul is arguing! Faith does not merit God’s favor, or grace would not be undeserved. Rather, faith means not doing anything ourselves to earn salvation, but rather trusting what Christ did for us on the cross. God justifies us as a gift through faith (3:24). Faith is the hand that receives the free gift of right standing with God apart from our works.

Let me draw out four implications of this astounding truth:

A. To be justified, you must cease working for salvation.

Paul clearly spells it out, “to the one who does not work….” If you try to blend your works with God’s grace, you muddy the waters of pure grace. If you work to earn justification, then God owes you something. But God will not be a debtor to anyone.

If you feel bad about your sins and are trying to get them under control so that God will accept you, you have not ceased working. You do not understand God’s grace. If you think that maybe you should become a missionary or go live and work in a slum for years, depriving yourself of the normal comforts of life, so that God will overlook your sins on judgment day, you’re still working. You do not understand His grace. To be justified by God’s grace, you must stop working!

B. To be justified, you must see yourself as ungodly.

God justifies only one kind of person: the ungodly. There is debate among scholars as to whether Paul was referring specifically to Abraham or whether he meant to contrast a notoriously sinful person with the relatively good Abraham. While Abraham was relatively good when you compare humans with humans, in God’s sight we all have sinned and fall short of His glory. Abraham was as much in need of God’s perfect righteousness as were the wicked people of Sodom. In God’s sight (Rom. 3:10), “There is none righteous, not even one.” We’re all bugs!

So if you see yourself as a basically good person, you can’t be justified. If you see yourself as better than notorious sinners and thus somehow more deserving of salvation, you can’t be justified. To be justified, you must see yourself as ungodly and deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

C. To be justified, you must believe that God will justify you, the ungodly, through the propitiation of Christ’s blood.

Faith means taking God at His word when He promises to justify the one who has faith in Jesus (3:26). You acknowledge that the wages of your sin is death (Rom. 6:23), eternal separation from the holy God. But you trust God’s promise that “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Faith means taking the gift of Christ’s full payment for your sins, much as you would thankfully receive a check from a wealthy man who offered to pay a large fine that you couldn’t afford to pay. Faith means trusting Jesus to be your advocate in court, to plead His shed blood in your case before the bench of God’s justice.

D. To be justified means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to your account through your faith.

If justification were based on how righteous we were in actual conduct, then we could never be declared perfectly righteous in this life, because we always have some indwelling sin in us. We need Christ’s perfect righteousness credited to our account. We need our sin put on Christ’s account. That transaction takes place the instant that we believe in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21).

Conclusion

Spurgeon ended that chapter in All of Grace by telling a story about an artist in the years before photography who painted a picture of a part of the city where he lived. For historic purposes, he wanted to include in his picture certain characters well known in the town. A street sweeper who was unkempt, ragged, and filthy was known to everyone and there was a suitable place in the picture for him. So the artist found the man and told him that he would pay him well if he would come down to the studio so that he could paint him.

He came to the studio the next day, but the artist sent him away because he had washed his face, combed his hair, and put on a suit of clean clothes. The artist needed him as a poor beggar and he was not invited in any other capacity.

Spurgeon applies it by saying that even so, God invites sinners to come at once for salvation, just as they are. Come in your disorder. Come with your confusion. Come with your despair. Come filthy, naked, and dirty. Come with all of your sin. Come to Jesus, crucified for sinners! If God justifies the ungodly and you’re ungodly, there’s hope for you! The best news in the world is, God graciously justifies the ungodly sinner who does not work for salvation, but rather believes in Jesus Christ!

Application Questions

  1. What is wrong with the idea that good people deserve salvation, while evil people deserve hell?
  2. Is it fair (just) for God to forgive an evil murderer who trusts in Christ, but to condemn a loving person who didn’t trust Christ? Why/why not?
  3. Is it right or wrong to join with Roman Catholics in proclaiming our common faith in Christ when we differ over justification by faith alone? Why/why not?
  4. Why must I see myself as ungodly before I can be justified? Doesn’t this damage one’s self-esteem?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Regeneration, Justification, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 21: Forgiveness: The Supreme Blessing (Romans 4:6-8)

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Carl Hoefler (Will Daylight Come? [C. C. S. Publishing, 1979]) tells the story of a little boy who was visiting his grandparents. He was given his first slingshot and was having fun playing with it in the woods, but he never hit anything he was aiming at. But on his way home, as he cut through the back yard, he saw Grandmother’s pet duck. He took aim and let the stone fly. To his horror, it went straight to the mark and the duck fell dead.

The boy panicked. He quickly hid the dead duck in the woodpile. Then he saw his smirking sister Sally standing by the corner of the house. She had seen the whole affair.

They went in for lunch. Sally said nothing. After lunch, Grandmother said, “Sally, let’s clear the table and wash the dishes.” Sally said, “Oh, Grandmother, Johnny said he wanted to help you in the kitchen today. Didn’t you, Johnny?” Then she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!” So Johnny did the dishes.

Later in the day Grandfather called the children to go fishing. Grandmother said, “I’m sorry, but Sally has to stay here to help me clean house and get dinner.” Sally smiled and said, “That’s all been taken care of. Johnny said he wanted to help today, didn’t you, Johnny?” Then she whispered, “Remember the duck!”

This went on for several days. Johnny did all the chores, both his and those assigned to Sally. Finally, he could stand it no longer, so he went to his grandmother and confessed all. His grandmother took him in her arms and said, “I know, Johnny. I was standing at the kitchen window and saw the whole thing. And because I love you, I forgave you. And knowing that I loved you and would always forgive you, I wondered just how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”

Guilt makes slaves of us all. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they tried in vain to hide from God. Guilt makes us want to hide from His holy presence. It also alienates us from one another. We’re afraid that if others find out what we have done, they will either reject us or use the information to hold us hostage. “Remember the duck!” Because we all have sinned and because God knows all of our sins, even our secret sins, what we all desperately need is the supreme blessing of God’s forgiveness.

In our last study, we saw how Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith, was justified by faith alone, not by his works. To be justified is to be declared righteous by God. It is to be acquitted of all our sins by God’s judicial decree. In explaining this wonderful truth, Paul states (Rom. 4:4-5), “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” We saw that God does not justify the pretty good guy who tries to do his best. He does not justify the one whose good works outweigh his bad works. Rather, He justifies the ungodly sinner who has faith in Jesus.

But maybe Paul was stretching things a bit. After all, the Jews knew that Abraham was a good man. Maybe God justified Abraham because of his good works. So Paul brings in another witness, King David. The Jews also recognized David as a great man. He was the best of Israel’s kings. But as everyone knew, he also sinned greatly. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then tried to cover it up when she got pregnant by having her husband murdered. So Paul brings David in as a second witness to prove that God justifies sinners by faith apart from any good works.

Paul (4:7-8) cites David’s Psalm 32:1-2 (from the LXX): “Blessed are those who lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” The common thread between Psalm 32:2 (Rom. 4:8) and Genesis 15:6 (Rom. 4:3) is the word “credited” or “take into account” (Greek = logidzomai). It is an accounting term, meaning to enter something into a ledger. In Abraham’s case, God entered into the asset column, “Righteousness.” In David’s case, God did not enter into the liabilities column, “Sin.” He didn’t credit David’s sins against him.

But Paul says that it amounts to the same thing (4:6), “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” And so in Psalm 32 David extols the supreme blessing of God’s gracious forgiveness of all our sins. Paul uses these verses to teach us that…

The supreme blessing of God forgiving all your sins comes through faith apart from any works.

As we saw in our last study, this doctrine of God justifying the ungodly by grace alone apart from any good works grates against our fallen human nature. We instinctively want good people to go to heaven because of their goodness. We want terrible sinners to pay for their sins. They shouldn’t get off scot-free. But if that were true, then we would have grounds to boast in our own goodness as the reason for our salvation. And, there would be no hope for really bad sinners. There would be no good news. So if Mother Teresa is in heaven, it is because she saw herself as an undeserving sinner and she fled to the cross for mercy. And if a mass murderer is in heaven, it is because he saw himself as an undeserving sinner and fled to the cross for mercy. God only justifies the ungodly.

Do you remember the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 20? A landowner went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for their day’s wages, so they went to work. Mid-morning, he went out again and hired others and agreed to give them whatever was right. He did the same thing at noon and at mid-afternoon. Then, an hour before sundown, he found others and sent them into his vineyard.

When it was time to pay the laborers, those who came an hour before dark received a denarius. When those who had been working all day came, they expected to get more, since they had put in a long day’s work. But they also got a denarius. They grumbled about how unfair it was, but the landowner said, “I gave you what we agreed on, so take what is yours and go. But am I not free to be generous to these last men with what is my own?” That’s how God’s grace works. It is not dispensed according to merit. He gives it freely to whom He chooses. As Paul says (Rom. 9:16), “It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”

The point that Paul drives home from 1:18-3:20 is that we all are under sin. The pagans who do not know God are obviously under sin. But so are the religious folks (the Jews), who think that they are better than the pagans. All deserve God’s judgment and so all desperately need His grace (unmerited favor). The good news of the gospel is that God freely justifies and pardons every sinner who does not work, but believes in Jesus as the propitiation for his sins.

So in our text, Paul is reinforcing that point from David’s Psalm 32. The emphasis is on the blessing of God’s gracious forgiveness. (He uses “blessing” or “blessed” in 4:6, 7, 8, and 9.)

1. The greatest blessing of all is to have God forgive all your sins.

To appreciate the blessing of forgiveness …

A. We must feel the heavy burden of our guilt.

A cartoon pictured a psychologist saying to a patient, “Mr. Figby, I think I can explain your feelings of guilt. You’re guilty!”

Ever since the fall, sinners have instinctively responded to their guilt by blaming others. When God confronted Adam, he blamed his wife and he even implicated God for giving him his wife (Gen. 3:12): “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” In effect, he was saying, “It’s her fault or Your fault, but don’t blame me!”

But blaming others doesn’t alleviate the guilt. True, if a person keeps denying his sin and blaming others for it, eventually he may develop a seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), where he feels no guilt, even for horrific sins. I read that the Cambodian dictator, Pol Pot, felt no twinge of guilt for murdering over a million of his countrymen! But even if the sinner’s conscience is seared, it doesn’t remove the reality that he will answer to God for his many sins.

So a guilty conscience is a good thing. It’s like the pain sensors in our body, which alert us to a problem. A person with leprosy can’t feel pain, and so he can burn his finger off without knowing it. If we suppress our guilt, it often leads to other emotional, physical, and relational problems. But guilt should get our attention by shouting, “You’re not right with God!” David suppressed his guilt over his sin with Bathsheba for about a year until the prophet Nathan cornered him with a story and then directly said, “You are the man!” You’re guilty!

Puritan Robert Bolton, who at first resisted the gospel, but later came to Christ after deep conviction of his sins, wrote (Instructions for a Right Comforting Afflicted Consciences, cited by Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], p. 128):

A man must feel himself in misery, before he will go about to find a remedy; be sick before he will seek a physician; be in prison before he will seek for a pardon. A sinner … must be cast down, confounded, condemned, a cast away, and lost in himself, before he will look about for a Saviour.

J. C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], on John 4:7-26, pp. 204-205) put it,

Never does a soul value the Gospel medicine until it feels its disease. Never does a man see any beauty in Christ as a Saviour, until he discovers that he is himself a lost and ruined sinner.

Or, as C. H. Spurgeon put it when describing his own painful five years of conviction of sin before his conversion (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:54):

Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.

So for God’s blessing of forgiving all your sins to be the supreme blessing, you must feel to some extent the heavy burden of your guilt before Him. Then,

B. Forgiveness is the greatest of all blessings.

The Greek word “blessed” means “happy,” especially in the sense of being the recipient of God’s favor (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Walter Bauer, translated by William Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich [University of Chicago Press], 2nd ed., p. 486). John Piper (“When the Lord Does not Take Account of Sin,” on DesiringGod.org) defines it as “a condition in which you are deeply secure and content and happy in God.”

We might think that those who are rich in this world’s goods are blessed, but as you know, many rich people are miserable because they lack close relationships with others. They often have to keep others at a distance because they’re afraid that they will take their money. Besides, this world’s riches can disappear in a moment with a stock market collapse or war or some other disaster. And everything that we accrue in this life is instantly taken the moment we die. So the only true and lasting blessing is to be right with God by knowing that He has forgiven all our sins. What a great feeling to know that the burden of guilt is gone forever!

We need to understand that when God forgives all our sins, it does not mean that He removes all temporal consequences for our sins. God forgave David, but He ordained some rather severe consequences on David and his family for the rest of his life (2 Sam. 12:10-15). Sometimes God graciously softens the consequences, but at other times He uses them to teach us to hate our sin The fact that we experience difficult trials does not mean that God has not forgiven us. In fact, it is one evidence that He has forgiven us (Heb. 12:8-10).

Also, although many Christian authors talk about the need to forgive yourself, you won’t find that concept anywhere in Scripture. If we have sinned, we must seek God’s forgiveness and we must ask forgiveness of those we have sinned against. And if others have wronged us, we must forgive them. But the Bible never talks about forgiving yourself. Your need is to receive God’s forgiveness.

Before we leave this point, let me ask: Have you experienced this greatest of all blessings? Do you know that God has forgiven all of your sins? Are you sure that He will not take them into account on that day when you stand before Him?

In the context Paul is still talking about the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But we might wonder, how does forgiveness fit in with justification?

2. Justification means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to the guilty sinner and forgives all his sins apart from any good works.

John Calvin (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], 3:11:3, p. 727) summed up his understanding of justification, “that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

A. Justification means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to the guilty sinner.

As we saw in verse 3 (citing Gen. 15:6), “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” To justify is not to make righteous or to infuse righteousness into the sinner, but rather, to declare the sinner righteous. It is a judicial act of God, based on the satisfaction of God’s righteous penalty by the shed blood of Jesus Christ (3:25). Because Christ paid the penalty that our sin deserved, God can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).

B. Justification means that God’s forgives all of the guilty sinner’s sins.

Positively, God declares the sinner righteous by crediting to his account the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. Negatively, God does not credit the sinner’s sins to his account. Paul uses three somewhat synonymous phrases to describe this blessing of forgiveness:

First (4:7a), “Blessed are those who lawless deeds have been forgiven.” The Greek word for forgive means “to send away.” It is sometimes used of divorce, which means a permanent sending away of one’s spouse. It was used of forgiving a debt. The books were wiped clean as the debt was removed from the debtor. In the Old Testament ritual for the Day of Atonement, two male goats were selected. The high priest laid his hands on the head of one goat (the scapegoat), confessing the sins of the people. That goat was then sent away into the wilderness, taking away the sins of the people. Forgiveness means that God has sent away all of our sins. They are removed from us.

Second (4:7b), blessed are those “whose sins have been covered.” The word covered is used only here in the New Testament, quoted from Psalm 32:1. It also referred to the Day of Atonement when the priest took the blood of the other goat and sprinkled it on the mercy seat (or covering) of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, which God’s people all have broken. The blood of an innocent victim covered the sins of the people. Those repeated animal sacrifices postponed judgment until Christ offered Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice to cover all our sins (Heb. 9:11-15; 10:1-14).

Third (4:8), “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” This is the accounting term, used 11 times in this chapter (translated as “credited” in 4:3, 4, 5; “credits” in 6). God takes our debt of sin off the books. He wipes the slate clean. It means (Rom. 8:1), “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Also, since David was already a justified man when he sinned with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Psalm 32 shows that God’s crediting of righteousness and forgiving of sins is not revoked by a believer’s sins (Everett Harrison, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 10:49). Although as I said, God disciplines us for our sins and does not remove all of the consequences of our sins, He does forgive them so that we do not incur His eternal wrath and judgment. We must submit to His discipline, but we do not need to fear His condemnation.

C. Justification means that God credits Christ’s righteousness to the guilty sinner and forgives all his sins apart from any good works.

Paul says (4:6) that “David speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” If it’s apart from works, then how is it done? In verse 5 Paul says that the ungodly person’s faith (in Christ) is credited as righteousness. We must be clear that he does not mean that God views our faith as a work that merits righteousness. That would make verse 5 say the exact opposite of what Paul is saying! If faith somehow merited God’s favor, then grace would not be undeserved. Rather, faith lays hold of what Christ did for us on the cross (3:24-26). God justifies us as a gift (3:24), not as a reward or payment that our faith earns. Faith by definition looks away from oneself and to Christ. Faith is the hand that receives the gift of forgiveness through Jesus paying for our sins on the cross. Thus,

3. To obtain this blessing, we must cease from our own works and believe in God’s provision in Christ.

As we saw in verse 5, the only one God justifies is “the one who does not work.” In case we missed it, Paul repeats (4:6), “apart from works.” If you are trusting in any sense in your good works, you exclude yourself from God crediting Christ’s righteousness to your account. Paul plainly states (4:6), “God credits righteousness apart from works.” While you must repent of your sins, if you are trusting in your repentance, you exclude yourself from this blessing of forgiveness. And while you must believe in Christ, if you are trusting in your faith, you exclude yourself from God’s forgiveness. Your faith must not be in faith. Rather, your faith must be in Christ alone.

Conclusion

Some years ago, a 6-year-old Michigan boy could not be found. That night, 80 people frantically searched the woods near his home. By morning, more than 300 were looking for him. Then at about 10:30, he suddenly emerged from his bedroom. He had been hiding in a large drawer underneath his captain style bed.

It turned out that he hid himself in there because he was afraid. The evening before he disappeared, a policeman had asked him if he knew anything about a broken window across the street. He lied to the officer. A little later the officer turned on his flasher to stop a nearby motorist. The boy saw it and his imagination ran wild. He thought he would be locked up in jail. Fear and guilt drove him into hiding (from “Our Daily Bread,” Winter, 1980-81).

Guilt over your sins can cause you to keep your distance from others and to try to hide from God. If you are not in Christ, you have legitimate cause to fear His judgment. But God offers every sinner the supreme blessing: He will forgive all of your sins and credit the very righteousness of Christ to your account if you will cease from your own works and trust in what Christ did for you on the cross. Trust in Christ and you don’t have to “remember the duck.” The guilt will be gone and you will know the supreme blessing of having all of your lawless deeds forgiven.

Application Questions

  1. Should Christians feel guilty when they sin? What is the proper function of guilt? How can we recognize false guilt?
  2. How can we know whether our guilt is due to the Holy Spirit convicting us or Satan accusing us? What action should we take in either case?
  3. Some might argue that forgiveness by grace alone without penance on our part would lead to licentiousness. Your response?
  4. Genuine faith includes repentance, which includes “a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17). Some might argue that this then becomes a work that nullifies grace. Agree/disagree? Why?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Forgiveness, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 22: Religion Can’t Save You (Romans 4:9-15)

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If you’ve been tracking with this series in Romans, you may be getting to the point where you’re thinking, “Why does Paul keep hammering on the truth that God’s righteousness is credited to us by faith alone?” How many times does he need to say it? He states it in Romans 3:22, “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” He hits it again in 3:26, “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (To be the justifier means to declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.) He hammers it again in 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

He keeps going in 4:3 (citing Gen. 15:6): “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.” In case we missed it, he repeats it in 4:5: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” If you still didn’t get it, he comes at it again in 4:6, “just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” Not done yet, he says it again (4:8), “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (“credits” and “take into account” both come from the same Greek word).

But he still isn’t done! He anticipates the reaction of religious Jews who will still be thinking, “Yes, God credits righteousness by faith, but it is only for the circumcised who believe, not for uncircumcised Gentiles.” So in 4:9-12, he proves from the Old Testament that God credited righteousness to Abraham by faith while he was still uncircumcised. In proving this, he relentlessly beats the same drum. In 4:9, he cites again Genesis 15:6, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” In 4:10, he insists that it was credited to him while he was still uncircumcised. In 4:11, he repeats that the uncircumcised who believe will have righteousness credited to them. And in 4:12 he applies it to the circumcised Jews: They, too, must follow in the steps of the faith of Abraham which he had while he was still uncircumcised.

But Paul anticipates another objection from religious Jews: “Surely we become heirs of God’s promises to Abraham through the Law. Gentiles must keep the Law to come under these blessings.” This was the teaching of the Judaizers, who plagued Paul’s ministry (Acts 15:1, 5; Galatians). But Paul insists that the true heirs of the promises to Abraham are not those who are of the Law, but rather those who are of faith. He sums this up in 4:16 (which we will examine in more detail next time): “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

So why does Paul keep hammering on this truth that God’s righteousness is credited to us by faith alone? I think it’s because he knows how deeply embedded in the fallen human heart is the idea that we can do something to commend ourselves to God. The last two millennia of human history prove him to be right. All religions, including the major ones that go under the label of “Christian,” are works oriented. They teach what Paul explicitly and repeatedly denies here, that at least in part, we are saved by keeping religious rituals and by our good deeds.

For example, at the Council of Trent (in 1547), the Roman Catholic Church responded to the Protestant Reformation, including the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Canons and Decrees of Trent represent the official teaching of the Catholic Church to this day. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s declared these doctrines “irreformable.” The Council of Trent did not deny that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. But it added works to faith by combining justification (right standing with God) with sanctification (our growth in holiness subsequent to being justified) and by making justification a process that depends in part on our good works. To quote:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified, in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, ... let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 9, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Baker], 2:112.)

If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 12, in Schaff, 2:113.)

If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 24, in Schaff, 2:115.)

If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened [to him]: let him be anathema. (Session 6, Canon 30, in Schaff, 2:117.)

In other words, the Roman Catholic Church declares that we are justified before God by grace through faith, but not through faith alone. We must add our good works to that faith in order to obtain, preserve, and increase our right standing before God. This process is not completed at the initial point of faith in Christ, and not even in this life, but only, hopefully, in Purgatory. Thus the Catholic Church denies the sufficiency of the guilty sinner’s faith in Christ’s sacrifice as the means of right standing with God. (See Justification by Faith Alone [Soli Deo Gloria], ed. by Don Kistler, especially pp. 7-14, by John MacArthur, Jr.)

I do not point out these things to be unkind to Roman Catholics. Quite the contrary, I say it because I care deeply that Catholics come to understand what Paul teaches about this most crucial matter of how a person gets right with God. And, even if you are not from a Catholic background, because of the fall you are prone to trust in your religious activities and your good works as the basis of your standing before God. But Paul wants you to see that …

Salvation does not come through religious rituals or the Law, but through God crediting righteousness through faith alone.

“This blessing” (4:9) refers to the blessing of salvation, of God not counting our sins against us (4:7-8). First, Paul shows that Abraham was not justified after he was circumcised, but before:

1. The blessing of salvation does not come through keeping religious rituals, but through God crediting righteousness to us through faith alone (4:9-12).

We can apply this to any religious rituals, such as baptism, communion, going to mass, praying the rosary, or whatever. We can sum up Paul’s flow of thought under two headings:

A. God credits righteousness to the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus Christ.

This is the shocking point that Paul makes in 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” As I said when we studied that verse, most people would assume that it should read, “But to the one who tries hard and believes in Him who justifies all good people, his faith is credited as righteousness.” But Paul specifically states that on the one hand, this person isn’t trying hard; he does not work. On the other hand, he isn’t described as a good person, but rather as ungodly. He isn’t a religious person who tries to obey God. He isn’t a person who devotes his life to serving the poor. He isn’t a person who never deliberately hurt anyone. He is ungodly. God justifies the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus!

The Jews viewed Gentiles as ungodly, but they viewed themselves as godly people. Circumcision was the main religious ritual that distinguished them from the “Gentile dogs.” When Abraham was 99 years-old, God commanded him to circumcise himself and all the males in his household. He extended that command for all Jewish baby boys throughout all generations, that they be circumcised on the eighth day. It was the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham (Gen. 17:11-12).

But Paul here points out a simple fact of Old Testament chronology: God’s command to Abraham to be circumcised happened at least 14 years after the incident in Genesis 15:6 where God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. Thus Abraham was in effect still an uncircumcised Gentile! So Paul effectively turns the tables on the Jews who argued for circumcision as essential for salvation. He is saying that it is not for the Gentiles to enter through the gate of Jewish circumcision, but rather for the Jews to enter through the gate of Gentile faith apart from circumcision (Frederic Godet, Commentary on Romans [Kregel], p. 174)!

Or, to put it in more modern terms, you do not get saved (or justified) by being baptized (whether as an infant or an adult) or by taking communion. You do not get saved by going to church or by faithfully saying your prayers or by doing penance. Rather, you get saved when God credits the very righteousness of Christ to you the instant that you believe in Him. Salvation does not come through the performance of any religious rituals, but only through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25).

Well then, what is the role of religious rituals? Are they worthless? Should we just forget about them? No,

B. Religious rituals serve as signs and seals of the reality that comes through faith in Christ.

Paul (4:11) refers to circumcision as both a sign and a seal of the righteousness of the faith that Abraham had while uncircumcised. This makes him “the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.”

A sign is not the real thing, but it points to it. A sign that says “Flagstaff, 10 miles” is not the actual city, but it points you to it. Circumcision was a physical sign in every Jewish man’s flesh that pointed to the fact that he belonged to God. He was in covenant with God and God’s people. He was separated to God through the shedding of blood. It was a sign of purification from the flesh, so that both Moses (Deut. 10:16) and the prophets (Jer. 4:4) exhorted Israel spiritually to circumcise their hearts.

As Christians, baptism is a sign that your sins have been washed away through faith in Christ (Acts 22:16). It pictures the truth that you have been identified completely (immersed) with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). The Lord’s Supper is a sign of the New Covenant (1 Cor. 11:25), showing that you are a partaker in Christ’s sacrificial death on your behalf. The sign is not the reality, but it points to the reality. The reality is God’s promise to forgive all our sins and impute Christ’s righteousness to our account by faith alone. The “ritual” is a sign of the reality. If you don’t have the reality, the ritual is worthless.

Also, Paul refers to circumcision as a seal. A seal authenticates or attests to the reality of something. A notary’s seal on a document attests that it is the real thing. Circumcision attested to the reality of Abraham’s previous faith that justified him and to God’s covenant with him. But it was the faith that justified, not the act of circumcision. In 4:12, Paul applies this to the Jews, but then narrows it by saying that it does not apply to all Jews, but only to those “who also follow in the steps of the faith” of Abraham. He almost twists the knife when he adds, “which he had while uncircumcised.” He is saying that whether you are a Gentile or a Jew, the key thing is to believe God’s promise to justify the ungodly. The rituals follow as signs and seals, but the reality is through faith alone.

What then is the benefit of religious “rituals,” such as baptism and communion? Should we do them at all? Yes, because Scripture commands us to do them. But they should only be done after you have put your trust in Christ as your righteousness. They then become a sign pointing to that reality and a seal that attests to your faith in Christ.

I can only briefly deal with the fact that those who argue for infant baptism point to Romans 4:11 as a key verse. They argue that although for Abraham circumcision pointed back to his previous faith, for Abraham’s descendants, it was done for them as infants and thus pointed ahead to the faith they later would exercise. They argue that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant. Thus we should baptize infants.

How do we answer this? (For a more thorough treatment, see my sermon, “Why We Do Not Baptize Infants,” 9/8/96, on fcfonline.org). But, briefly: First, there is no New Testament example or command to baptize infants. Rather, every mention of baptism in the New Testament shows that it is the appropriate response to saving faith, not the precursor of it. Also, while the New Testament shows some correspondence between circumcision and baptism (Col. 2:11-12), it explicitly mentions faith in that context. It is an argument from silence, but it is a loud silence when in the many New Testament discussions about circumcision, there is absolutely no reference to it now being replaced by baptism.

There are some significant differences between circumcision and baptism. But even if we grant the parallels, then just as circumcision was administered to the physical descendants of Abraham in the age of type, so baptism ought to be administered to the spiritual descendants of Abraham in the age of fulfillment, namely, to believers. Old Testament Israel consisted of the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, and thus the sign was given to show that the males were children of the covenant. But the New Testament church consists of those who are the spiritual children of Abraham through faith in Christ (Gal. 3:7). Thus baptism should only be administered to those who give a clear profession of faith in Christ.

I should also point out that while some denominations (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran) teach that baptism imparts regeneration to infants, others that practice infant baptism (Presbyterians, the Reformed Church, and Methodists) do not. But I argue that even if a church denies that it imparts regeneration, to baptize infants is potentially damaging in that it later gives them false assurance that they are right with God through a ritual. But we are right with God through faith in Christ alone. (See also, John Piper, “How do Circumcision and Baptism Correspond?” on DesiringGod.org.)

But Paul anticipates that his Jewish readers will bring up the Law. Surely Paul wouldn’t throw out God’s Law! Don’t the Gentiles have to keep the Law in order to call Abraham their father?

2. The blessing of salvation does not come through keeping the Law, but through God crediting righteousness to us through faith alone (4:13-15).

The Jews would have not restricted the obedience which they thought necessary for salvation to circumcision, but would have expanded it to the whole Law (Acts 15:5). Paul could have countered their argument, as he does in Galatians 3:17, by showing that the Law, which came 430 years after the promise to Abraham, does not invalidate the previous covenant. But instead, he limits himself here to the argument of Galatians 3:18, that the concept of a covenant promise is fundamentally opposed to the concept of the Law.

He states the principle in 4:13: “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” Then he explains (4:14), “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified.” Thus he is saying,

A. If you seek to be justified by keeping the Law, you make faith void and you nullify God’s promises (4:14).

The principle of receiving a gift by faith is the opposite of receiving a reward that you work for (Rom. 3:24; 4:4). If you offer me a gift and I say, “Let me pay you back by working for it,” I have turned the gift into something that I owe you or you end up owing me. God promises to justify the ungodly person who does not deserve it, but who receives it freely by His grace. If you mix human works with God’s grace, then grace is no longer grace. The promise of salvation as a free gift received by faith has been nullified and turned into a debt for payment of services rendered.

B. If you seek to be justified by keeping the Law, rather than gaining the blessing of salvation you actually incur God’s wrath (4:15).

In 4:15, Paul explains why the attempt to gain salvation by the Law is doomed to fail: “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there is no violation.” The Law brings wrath because no one can keep it perfectly. To gain acceptance with God by keeping the Law, you have to keep it perfectly (James 2:10). Any failure makes you liable for God’s judgment. The second phrase does not mean that there is no sin when there is no law. As Paul previously stated, the Gentile who did not know the explicit commands of God is guilty of violating his own conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). But the Jew who knows the Law and violates it is going against what he explicitly knows to be right. The Law shows us what sin is (Rom. 7:7). Thus to know the Law and violate it incurs God’s wrath to a greater degree than not to know the Law at all.

Also, note that there are two and only two possible eternal futures for every person: either you are an heir of the world as a true descendant of Abraham (4:13) or you are an heir of wrath as one who sought to be right with God by keeping the Law (4:15).

The phrase, “heir of the world,” does not occur in those exact words anywhere in God’s promises to Abraham. Rather, Paul is probably summing up God’s promises that Abraham would have a large number of descendants from many nations (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:4-6, 16-20; 22:17); that he would possess the land (Gen. 13:15-17; 15:12-21; 17:8); and that he would be the channel of blessing “all the peoples of the earth” (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 274). Jesus Christ is the final “seed” (“descendant”) of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). If we are in Christ through faith, then we are fellow heirs with Him (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 3:6). As Paul puts it (Gal. 3:29), “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

Conclusion

In verse 9, as I said, “this blessing” refers to the blessing that Paul has enumerated from Psalm 32 (in Rom. 4:7-8), namely, the blessing of knowing that your lawless deeds have been forgiven, that your sins have been covered, and that God will not take your sins into account. Do you want that blessing?

You won’t get it by being born into a Christian home or by faithful attendance at a Christian church. You won’t get it by being baptized and partaking of communion. You won’t get the blessing of forgiveness by doing penance or devoting yourself to sacrificial service to the poor. In short, you won’t get the blessing of salvation through religious rituals or by keeping the Law. Rather, God forgives all our sins and credits Christ’s righteousness to us if we put our faith in Jesus and His shed blood. Religion can’t save you, but Jesus can. Trust in Him and instantly you become an heir of God’s promise of eternal life as His free gift!

Application Questions

  1. Some say that the doctrine of justification by faith alone should be set aside so that Protestants and Catholics can come together in the many areas where they agree. Your thoughts?
  2. Discuss: Do religious “rituals” convey grace to all who participate or only to those who participate in faith?
  3. Do you agree that infant baptism is potentially damaging? Why/why not?
  4. Why is the concept of approaching God by keeping the Law (or any good works) fundamentally opposed to “the righteousness of faith”?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 23: The Nature of Saving Faith (Romans 4:16-22)

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In 1947 a rumor spread that the Ford Motor Company would give a Ford in exchange for every copper penny dated 1943. The rumor spread so fast that Ford offices throughout the country were jammed with thousands of requests for information. The U.S. mint also received a large volume of inquiries.

It all turned out to be a hoax. The statistics of the mint show that in 1943 there were over one billion pennies minted from steel-zinc, but due to a copper shortage, the number of copper pennies was exactly zero.

There has been a rumor abroad in the human race for centuries that entrance into heaven can be obtained by good works. But it’s not true. The fact is, there are no works made on earth that are acceptable in heaven. All of our works are tainted by sin. The only righteousness that gains entrance to heaven is the righteousness of Jesus Christ graciously imputed to sinners who believe in Him (I adapted this illustration from Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell], p. 356).

Your eternal destiny depends on your understanding and personally believing the truth that Paul has been hammering on in Romans 4, that we are justified (declared righteous) by faith alone. We are not justified by works or by moral behavior, but rather by faith in the God who credits righteousness to the ungodly apart from works (Rom. 4:1-8). This blessing is not based on religious rituals (4:9-12) or on keeping the Law, which only serves to condemn us (4:13-15). Rather, as Paul now shows,

Saving faith is rooted in God’s grace, it rests on God’s promise, it revels in God’s glory, and it relies on God’s power.

Paul is arguing that Abraham, whom the Jews rightly extolled as the father of their faith, was justified by faith alone, not by being circumcised or by keeping the Law. And as such, Abraham is not only the father of believing Jews, but also of Gentiles who believe. So Paul now expounds on the nature of Abraham’s faith as an example for us all.

1. Saving faith is rooted in God’s grace, not in human performance.

After pointing out that the Law brings wrath, not salvation (4:15), Paul continues (4:16), “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

This verse is a summary of 4:1-15. “It” refers to the promised inheritance to Abraham, which was not promised on the basis of obedience to the Law, but rather through the righteousness of faith (4:13). The reason that this promised inheritance is by faith is so that it may be in accordance with grace. Paul explained this back in 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor [“favor” is the Greek word for “grace”], but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

The point is simple: if salvation comes to us as a wage that we deserve because of our good works, then it is not by grace, which is undeserved favor. God would owe it to us, and of course then we could boast in our own efforts which obtained it. Salvation would not be a gift, but a wage. But God only gives it as a free gift, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:27-31).

When Paul mentions in verse 16, “those who are of the Law,” he is referring to believing Jews, not to all Jews. If he meant all Jews, he would be contradicting what he has just said (4:15), that the Law brings about wrath. So he means that since the promise of becoming an heir of righteousness is by faith, it is available to all who believe. Gentiles do not need to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Rather, Jews and Gentiles alike must believe in Jesus to be saved.

Paul says that faith (as opposed to Law or human performance) guarantees this promise. If salvation were based on our good deeds, how could we ever know when we’ve done enough? As I pointed out in our last study, this is the problem with the Roman Catholic system of adding our works to faith in order to accumulate enough merit for heaven. When have you done enough service to the poor? When have you given enough money? When have you been honest enough? When have you demonstrated that your love for God is pure and fervent enough? When have you arrived at loving your neighbor as you in fact love yourself? If you base salvation on good works, you’ll always be plagued with doubts.

And so we must all come to God with “the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (4:16). This faith is rooted in God’s gracious promise to declare righteous all who believe in Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for our sin. It is available to all people, without distinction. Perhaps, like the Jews in Paul’s day, you come from a religious background. God must open your eyes to see that you are a guilty sinner who cannot earn salvation by your own efforts. If you respond to God’s gracious promise by faith, He will credit the righteousness of Christ to your account.

Or, perhaps like the Gentiles, you come from a pagan background. You have lived to pursue pleasure through sin. But if God opens your eyes to see that you are a guilty sinner and that He offers a full pardon to those who believe in Jesus’ death as the payment for sin, He will credit Christ’s righteousness to you the instant you believe in Jesus. The faith of Abraham guarantees the promise to all.

Paul goes on to expound on Abraham’s faith:

2. Saving faith rests in God’s promise, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

As indicated in the NASB, the citation from Genesis 17:5 is parenthetical (4:17a): “(as it is written, ‘A father of many nations have I made you.’)” In Genesis 17, Abraham was 99 years old. Although God had promised to give him a son through Sarah almost 25 years before, they still had no son. Now, the human prospects of having a son seemed impossible. Abraham was almost 100 and Sarah was about 90. She had been barren all her life and now both of them were past the age of conceiving a child.

At this point, the Lord appeared to Abraham and promised to establish His covenant with him, which included making him the father of a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:4). In light of this, God gave Abram (his name up to this point, which means “exalted father”) a new name, Abraham, which means, “the father of a multitude.” Then (in Genesis) the citation that is in our text follows (from the LXX), “A father of many nations I have made you.”

As Abraham stood there before God, although the promise was outside of the realm of human possibility, Abraham believed in God, whom Paul here (4:17) describes as the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” That faith was not without its struggles, as we will see. But the point is, Abraham believed God’s promise, even though the fulfillment of it was humanly impossible and seemed very unlikely.

To believe in God’s promise is the same as believing in God’s person. If I promise to do something for you, but you don’t believe my promise, in effect you’re calling me a liar. You’re saying that I won’t do what I’ve promised. If God promises something and we refuse to believe it, we’ve called God a liar!

Paul is emphasizing God’s promise (4:13, 14, 16, 20; the verb is in 4:21). Leon Morris writes (The Epistle to the Romans Apollos/Eerdmans], p. 212), “Abraham had nothing going for him except the promise of God. But for the man of faith that was enough.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it (Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], p. 211), Abraham believed “the bare Word of God” and “nothing else whatsoever.” He adds, “Faith is content with the bare Word of God, because He is God.”

It’s easy to sit here and think, “Well, I’d believe God, too, if He appeared to me as He did to Abraham and promised me something.” But, would we? The promise flew in the face of every human consideration. First, Sarah, who had been barren all of her life, had now gone through menopause. And Abraham was 100. So when God told him that he would be the father of a multitude of nations and that Sarah would be the mother of nations, Abraham laughed and asked God that Ishmael might be the heir. But God insisted that the heir would come through Sarah (Gen. 17:15-19).

Then there was this embarrassing matter of changing his name. Abram was embarrassing enough. When people met him they would probably ask, “Abram, ‘exalted father,’ huh? How many children do you have?” Abram would look down, clear his throat and say, “One.” He’d probably not explain that the one son was not through his wife, but through her servant. Abram probably saw a lot of people roll their eyes as they thought, “Exalted father, and he’s 99 and only has one child? Yeah, sure!”

But now, after God appears to him, the next day Abram announces, “I have a new name. God gave it to me last night.” Everyone is waiting, thinking, “Maybe he’s finally going to take a name that reflects reality!” Then Abram says, “My new name is Abraham, father of a multitude!” Maybe some of his servants turned their backs quickly and put their hands over their mouths to suppress their laughter. They thought, “The old man is losing it!”

But Abraham believed God and His promise, even though it was humanly impossible ever to be fulfilled. We look back in history and can see how the promise was fulfilled literally through the many descendants of Isaac and Jacob, Ishmael and Esau, and through Abraham’s sons through Keturah (Gen. 25:1-4). But the promise has been fulfilled even more so through the spiritual descendants of the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, with the gospel going around the world to every nation. But Abraham didn’t live to see any of this. He “died in faith, without receiving the promises” (Heb. 11:13).

John Calvin perceptively observes (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on Rom. 1:20, p. 180):

All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins: He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.

Before we leave this point, let’s apply it to God’s promise of salvation. He promises to justify and give eternal life to the ungodly person who believes in Jesus. Where do we learn about this promise? Our only source is the Word of God. You won’t learn how to have eternal life by studying nature. You won’t deduce it from philosophy or logic. You won’t learn it by studying human behavior. Rather, the only source is the written Word of God, conveyed to us by the apostles and prophets. Do you believe it? Have you put your trust for eternal life in God’s promise as recorded in His Word? If not, you’re calling God a liar!

Another application of this is: When you talk to people about the gospel, cite God’s Word and encourage people to read it, especially the Gospel of John. John tells us that he wrote his gospel (John 20:31), “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Word is powerful to save sinners (James 1:18).

3. Saving faith revels in God’s glory, not in human effort or will power.

Paul writes (4:20), “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God.” Abraham’s faith was solidly God-centered. He didn’t believe in himself. He didn’t have faith in faith. He wasn’t an optimist who practiced positive thinking. He didn’t think, “If Sarah and I just visualize the goal and try again, we’ll succeed.” Rather, looking away from the circumstances and away from himself, he believed God and His promise, so that God got the glory. In Romans 1:21, we saw that the fundamental sin of the human race was, “even though they knew God, they did not glorify [lit.] Him as God or give thanks.” But here, by way of contrast, Abraham grew strong in faith and gave glory to God.

This teaches us that our faith should grow. Weak faith (or little faith) is still faith, but we should grow strong in faith. The Greek verb is passive, “was strengthened in faith.” Although some scholars take it in an active sense, I think that Paul could have used the active verb if he had meant to; but he used the passive. It implies that faith must come from God. It is His gift to us. And yet, like so many gifts of God, we have a responsibility to appropriate it and grow in it.

How do we grow in faith? The key is to grow in your knowledge of the object of our faith, namely, God. Faith is only as good as its object. You can have strong faith in a faulty bridge and it will collapse under you in spite of your strong faith. Or, you can have weak faith in a strong bridge and it will hold you up, along with a semi-truck that rumbles over it next to you. But your weak faith does not glorify the strong bridge for what it is. The right way to have strong faith that glorifies the bridge is to know that the engineer who built it is competent and the company that constructed it has a solid reputation of not cutting corners. Your knowledge of that bridge would increase your faith in it, even though it may go over a frightening chasm below. Your strong faith stems from your knowledge that this is a trustworthy bridge. The bridge, not your faith, gets the glory.

To grow in faith, study God’s attributes and His ways as revealed in His Word. See how He has been faithful to His Word in the past. See how He has kept His promises to His people, even in the face of staggering odds against them. Read how He has acted in the history of the Bible. Read the history of His saints who have trusted Him. In some cases, He delivered them miraculously. At other times, they were tortured, thrown in prison, stoned, sawn in two, and put to death by the sword (Heb. 11:37). But in no case did God ever abandon His people or act unfaithfully to His promises. Revelation 6:9-11 tells us that He has a precise number of martyrs who will be killed before He finally judges the wicked. But the evil deeds of the wicked do not threaten God’s sovereign power or plan. Study His attributes and His ways and you will grow in faith.

Then, put your faith into action. As you act in faith and see God work, your faith is strengthened to trust Him the next time. We need to be careful not to misapply His promises. John the Baptist in prison was confused because he thought that if he was the Messiah’s forerunner and Jesus was the Messiah, then he should not be in prison (Matt. 11:2-11). Jesus gently assured John that He was indeed the Messiah, but as you know, John did not get out of prison alive. But even if God’s will is our death, we can glorify Him by dying in faith as we look to His promise of eternal life. Faith does not glory in human effort or human will power, but rather in God alone. Salvation is totally from God and so saving faith properly gives Him all the glory.

Thus saving faith is rooted in God’s grace. It rests on God’s promise. It revels in God’s glory. Finally,

4. Saving faith relies on God’s power to keep His promise, in spite of human inability.

These verses contrast Abraham’s hopeless inability with God’s mighty power. Abraham and Sarah were past their human ability to conceive a child, and even when they were in their prime, Sarah could not conceive. But God waited until they were clearly past all ability to conceive, so that the greatness of the power would be in God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (4:17).

Verse 19 says that Abraham “contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” The King James Version follows a textual variant that says that Abraham did not consider his own body, but the better reading (textually and contextually) says that he did consider it. In other words, he didn’t ignore reality. He didn’t close his eyes to the obvious and have blind faith.

Rather, he faced the reality of his and Sarah’s complete inability to conceive the promised son. When Paul says that Abraham did not waver in unbelief, he is looking at the overall pattern and final result, not at his momentary lapses in faith. He wavered in faith when he took Hagar, conceived Ishmael, and then asked God to make Ishmael the heir. The phrase, “in hope against hope” implies the struggle of faith that Abraham experienced and that everyone who walks by faith experiences. Circumstances often dash our hope, but against that, we fight back with hope. Our faith and hope are not in ourselves or our ability or in a positive attitude that everything turns out okay for good people in the end.

No, our faith and hope are in the God who gives life to the dead and who calls into being that which does not exist. He renewed Abraham’s and Sarah’s “dead” bodies to produce Isaac, the son of the promise. He said, “I have made you a father of many nations” before Abraham had Isaac. God’s word that said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3) is effectual. Paul applies this to our salvation when he says (2 Cor. 4:6), “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Saving faith relies on God’s power to keep His promise, not on any human ability.

Verse 22 gives the cumulative result of Abraham’s faith: “Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness.” Paul repeats that verse in 4:3, 5, 9, and now here. Plus, he alludes to it in 4:6, 8, 11, and 13. He has repeatedly mentioned “faith” or “believe,” often in deliberate contrast to human works (4:3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20). He wants us to see that we are justified (declared righteous) by faith alone in God’s promise, not by any works or merit added to it. Since God’s salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, we can join Abraham (in 4:21), “being fully assured that what God [has] promised, He [is] able also to perform.”

Conclusion

I’ve told you before about the granny who had never flown in an airplane, but she had to make a trip by air. Her kids and grandkids all tried to convince her that it was safer than riding in a car. Finally, with a lot of misgivings, she got on board.

When she returned safely, the family met her at the airport and asked, “How’d it go, Granny? Did the plane hold you up?” She reluctantly agreed, “Yeah.” But then she added, “But I never put my full weight down on it!”

Could your faith in Jesus Christ to save you be like that? You believe in Him, but you’re also keeping one foot in your good works to get you into heaven. Saving faith puts all its weight on Jesus Christ and His shed blood. It’s rooted in God’s grace, it rests on God’s promise, it revels in God’s glory, and it relies on His power. Make sure that your trust is in Christ alone.

Application Questions

  1. Some argue that if we are saved by grace through faith alone, it will lead to licentiousness. Your answer (with biblical support)?
  2. How can a person who struggles with doubt know if he has enough faith to save him?
  3. A skeptic asks, “If God is faithful, then why does He allow good Christians to be persecuted and martyred?” Your reply?
  4. Where is the balance between faith and using means? Are the two compatible? When do we cross the line?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Faith, Glory, Grace, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 24: What is a Christian? (Romans 4:23-25)

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A former secretary of mine told me about a doctor from Texas that she knew who owned a home in Mexico. He felt sorry for the poor people there, many of whom were often sick because they didn’t pasteurize their milk. So he bought them a pasteurizing machine. The villagers built a special shed to house the machine and had a big celebration when he brought it down and installed it.

A few months later when the doctor returned, the leading man of the village greeted him by saying, “Oh, doctor, good to see you! If we had known you were coming, we would have plugged in the pasteurizing machine.”

We chuckle at that story, and yet it describes the way that many Christians use their Bibles. They know that the truths of the Bible would be good for what ails them, but they only plug it in for special occasions, like when the pastor comes around. The rest of the time, it’s as useless as an unplugged pasteurizing machine.

D. A. Carson observed (Christianity Today [6/29/1979], p. 31):

The supreme irony is that most Christians hear best what the Spirit is saying to someone else. Speak to the fundamentalist about the truth, and he hears you, precisely because he doesn’t need to; it is the person with fuzzy notions about the eternality of the truth who will not hear. Speak to the genuinely broad-minded ecumenist about love, and he hears you, precisely because he doesn’t need to, but fundamentalists of a harsher variety will not. Speak to the Ephesian Christians about discipline, endurance, perseverance, and sound doctrine, and they will hear you—precisely because they don’t need to. But will they hear when you speak of lovelessness? The one who truly hears what the Spirit says to the churches will be the one who is receptive to the words of God that he least wishes to hear.

Paul has spent an entire chapter hammering home the truth that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, not by our good works, not by our religious rituals, and not by keeping the Law of Moses. He uses Abraham as the prime example of a man who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (4:3, 5, 9, 22). But now, as he wraps up this chapter, he wants us to plug it in personally. He doesn’t want us to cheer and say, “Brilliant argument, Paul! You really stuck it to those religious Jews! Nice going!” No, he wants each of us to apply it on the most fundamental level so that we, too, are sure that the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been credited to our account by faith. In applying this to us, Paul gives us a simple description of what a true Christian is:

A Christian personally believes in God who delivered over Jesus to pay for our sins and raised Him from the dead to confirm our justification.

1. A Christian personally applies the lesson of Abraham’s faith so that the righteousness of Christ is credited to him.

Paul writes (4:23-24), “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Note four things:

A. Our faith must be personal.

Verse 24 reads literally, “to whom it is about to be credited.” The verb, “is about to,” has a future reference from the standpoint of the Old Testament, looking ahead to God’s promise as fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 242). Schreiner paraphrases it (ibid.), “Genesis 15:6 was written for the sake of those who would in the future be reckoned righteous by faith.” In other words, Paul wants us to apply personally the truth of Abraham’s being justified by faith.

We can see this in the text by the fact that Paul uses the pro­noun “our” four times: “for our sake also”; “Jesus our Lord”; “our transgressions”; and, “our justification.” These truths must be ours personally. And as C. H. Spurgeon pointed out (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 48:560), “you can never truly say, ‘Our Lord,’ till you have first said, ‘My Lord.’” Is Jesus your Lord because you personally have trusted in Him for eternal life?

Paul’s point is that this chapter about Abraham and his faith is not just a quaint history lesson. We need to apply it personally. The Bible was written so that first we would understand it, but then so that we will apply it. The story of Abraham is for your sake also. Has the righteousness of Christ been credited to your account? Romans 4 won’t do you any good unless by faith you are a true son of Abraham, an heir according to God’s promise (Gal. 3:7, 29).

Also, Romans 4 shows the importance of understanding and applying the Old Testament. Paul built the entire chapter on the story of Abraham’s faith being credited to him as righteousness. If we do not understand the Old Testament, we will not properly understand the New Testament. Douglas Moo observes (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 287), “Paul’s conviction that the OT everywhere speaks to Christians is fundamental to his theology and preaching.” As Paul goes on to say (Rom. 15:4), “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (See, also, 1 Cor. 10:11.)

So before we leave this point I want to ask you two questions: First, do you regularly read and seek to understand and apply the Old Testament? Reading through the entire Bible in a year is a good plan. I try to read from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and the New Testament, each day. Don’t neglect the Old Testament.

Second, have you put your faith in Christ alone, trusting God to credit Christ’s righteousness to your account? If you have not done that, you are not a Christian in the most important sense of the word. A Christian personally believes in Jesus Christ.

B. Our faith must be like the faith of Abraham.

Paul’s emphasis here is on the continuity and similarity of Abraham’s faith with ours. As he said (4:12), we must “follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham.” And (4:16), we are to be “of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

Last week we saw the nature of Abraham’s faith, which is an example for our faith. Abraham believed God’s promise and so should we. In his case, it was God’s promise to give him an heir through Sarah, to give him the land, to make him the father of many nations, and to bless the nations through his “seed.” Those promises were ultimately fulfilled in Christ. But Abraham died in faith without receiving the promises (Heb. 11:13). In our case, we look back to God’s promise to justify sinners who believe in Christ.

Also, Abraham believed God’s promise in spite of circumstances that seemed to be to the contrary. He and Sarah were both beyond the years when they could physically conceive children. It required a miracle for God to fulfill His promise. But “in hope against hope he believed” (Rom. 4:18). As we look at our own hearts and realize how sinful we have been and how inclined toward sin we still are, it seems impossible for God to save us. But, like Abraham, we must believe God’s promise in spite of circumstances that seem to be contrary.

Abraham also believed that God is able to give “life to the dead” and to call “into being that which does not exist” (4:17). In Abraham’s case, it was his and Sarah’s “dead” bodies, which were incapable of conceiving a child. Later, Abraham’s faith focused on God raising Isaac from the dead after He commanded Abraham to sacrifice him (Heb. 11:19). In our case, we must believe that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead. And, we must believe that every time God saves a soul, He is giving life to the dead (Eph. 2:1-5) and calling into being that which did not exist (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17). In other words, the new birth is a miraculous, life-giving event.

Also, Abraham’s faith grew strong and gave glory to God, being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able to perform (4:20-21). Even so, our faith in Christ must grow stronger as we study God’s Word and learn more of His attributes and His ways. We don’t glory in our strong faith, but rather in our strong God. Our faith should point others to Him, because He is faithful.

Note also that in 3:26, Paul talks about God justifying the one who has faith in Jesus, but here (4:24) he talks about believing “in Him who raised Jesus from the dead,” namely, God the Father. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], p. 238) expresses his concern that some people speak only about Jesus, but never mention God the Father. Others put the emphasis on God, but don’t see their need for Jesus. And others put all their emphasis on the Holy Spirit, while some hardly mention the Spirit. Lloyd-Jones’ plea is that we maintain the balance of Scripture, where everything starts with God and ends with God. The work of Christ is designed to bring us to God and reconcile us to Him. The work of the Holy Spirit is to apply the work of Christ to us who believe. But it is all aimed at bringing us to glorify God.

Thus our faith must be personal. It must be like the faith of Abraham, although because of God’s promise being fulfilled in Christ, we have much more revelation than Abraham did.

C. Our faith must have specific content, namely, what Scripture reveals about God, sin, Christ, and salvation.

As we saw in our last study, Abraham didn’t have faith in himself or faith in faith itself or faith in positive thinking. Rather, he believed the specific promises of God. Even so, our faith must have the specific content of what the Bible teaches about God, who is holy, just, and loving. We must believe the biblical revel­ation about the pervasiveness of human sin, which renders us all incapable of seeking after God or pleasing Him. We must believe in the full deity and sinless humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to die as the substitute for sinners. And, we must believe that we are saved—rescued from God’s wrath—by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

It is important to say that our faith must have specific content because there are those who make the false distinction that our faith must be personal, but not propositional. They argue that we are to believe in Jesus, but not in specific doctrines about Jesus or about salvation. They contend that doctrine only divides us, so we should set it aside and just believe in Jesus without the doctrines. But clearly the apostle Paul didn’t spend an entire chapter arguing that we are justified by faith alone if that doctrine doesn’t matter for our salvation!

The Bible is filled not only with stories, but also with many doctrines that are vitally important to our salvation and our spiritual health. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons claim to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord, but their doctrines contradict and deny the Jesus and the way of salvation set forth in the Bible. There are many Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Protestants who believe in the Jesus of the Bible (not in the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon “Jesus”), but contrary to Scripture, they believe that we are saved at least in part by our good works. But Paul said that the Judaizers, who taught that to be saved we must believe in Jesus plus keep the Mosaic Law (especially circumcision), were damned (Gal. 1:6-9). So we must believe in sound doctrine, especially regarding doctrines related to salvation.

Of course, some doctrines in the Bible are more important than other doctrines are (Matt. 23:23; Rom. 14:17). We should not divide over minor doctrinal differences or even over more major doctrines (such as biblical prophecy) where godly men differ. So we need wisdom and discernment to major in the things that matter. We all need to be growing in our understanding of the content of the Bible so that we don’t minimize key doctrines or maximize minor ones.

D. Our faith must appropriate the righteousness of Christ as our own.

Paul keeps repeating the word “credited” (4:3, 5-6, 8, 9-11, 22, 23, 24) to hammer home the point that righteousness before God is a forensic matter. It is not a matter of God making us righteous or infusing righteousness into us, which is the process of sanctification. Rather, justification is God’s declaring us to be righteous based on Jesus taking all of our sins on Himself on the cross. God credits the perfect righteousness of Christ to every ungodly person who believes in Him (4:5).

I’ve said it before, but let me emphasize once more that God does not credit our faith as righteousness as if faith were a work on our part that God agrees to accept as payment for our sins. Our faith is not viewed as some sort of righteousness that is good enough to cover our sins. Rather, faith lays hold of Jesus Christ, who becomes the righteousness of God for us (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). By faith, God’s righteousness in Christ is applied to us (Rom. 3:22). So when Paul talks about faith being credited as righteousness (4:3, 5, 9, 22), it is the same thing as when he says that God credits righteousness to us apart from works (4:6, 11). The righteousness of faith (4:11, 13) is God’s righteousness that comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

John Piper devotes an entire message to explain this in far more detail than I can do here (“Faith and the Imputation of Righteousness,” on Rom. 4:22-25, on DesiringGod.org). He uses this illustration:

Suppose I say to Barnabas, my sixteen-year-old son, “Clean up your room before you go to school. You must have a clean room, or you won’t be able to go watch the game tonight.” Well, suppose he plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room. And suppose I discover the messy room and clean it. His afternoon fills up and he gets home just before it’s time to leave for the game and realizes what he has done and feels terrible. He apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences.

To which I say, “Barnabas, I am going to credit your apology and submission as a clean room. I said, ‘You must have a clean room, or you won’t be able to go watch the game tonight.’ Your room is clean. So you can go to the game.” What I mean when I say, “I credit your apology as a clean room,” is not that the apology is the clean room. Nor that he really cleaned his room. I cleaned it. It was pure grace. All I mean is that, in my way of reckoning—in my grace—his apo­logy connects him with the promise given for a clean room. The clean room is his clean room. I credit it to him. Or, I credit his apology as a clean room. You can say it either way. And Paul said it both ways: “Faith is credited as righ­teousness,” and “God credits righteousness to us through faith.”

So when God says … to those who believe in Christ, “I credit your faith as righteousness,” he does not mean that your faith is righteousness. He means that your faith connects you to God’s righteousness.

Thus Paul is saying that a Christian personally applies the lesson of Abraham’s faith so that the righteousness of Christ is credited to him. Have you done that? It is essential!

2. A Christian believes that God delivered over Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins.

Here we are focusing on the phrase, “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions” (4:25). “Delivered over” is passive, meaning that God delivered Jesus over to death. There is a sense in which Jesus voluntarily gave Himself over to death (John 10:18), but there is another sense in which the Father delivered over the Son (Rom. 8:32). Romans 4:25 is not a quotation, but it relies in substance on Isaiah 53:12 (LXX), which states of Messiah, “his soul was delivered to death: and he was numbered among the transgressors; and he bore the sins of many and was delivered over because of their iniquities.” Or, as it says just a few verses earlier (Isa. 53:6), “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Or, again (Isa. 53:10), “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, …” The last two phrases refer to the resurrection, which we will look at in a moment.

Peter mentions God’s delivering Jesus over to be crucified in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23): “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” He goes on to affirm that God raised Him up again.

But the point is, our salvation, which includes at its center Jesus’ death on the cross, was not an unfortunate moment in history when evil men gained the upper hand. Although they were fully responsible for their sin, the crucifixion was God’s prede­termined plan to give His eternal Son to pay the penalty for our sins. A Christian believes that salvation is from the Lord so that it all is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). Finally,

3. A Christian believes that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead to confirm our justification.

Paul emphasizes Jesus’ resurrection from the dead twice here: “Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24); and, Jesus “was raised because of our justification” (4:25). As Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to our faith and our forgiveness. And, it is based on solid, varied eyewitness testimony. He says there (1 Cor. 15:17), “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” In Romans 1:4, Paul says that Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection puts God’s stamp of approval on the death of Jesus as payment in full for the sins of all who believe.

The phrase, “Jesus our Lord,” emphasizes both His deity and His humanity. Jesus took on human flesh so that He could bear our sins, but He did not give up His deity. He is the Lord. But as I said, we must trust in Him as our Lord personally.

The phrase, “raised because of our justification,” is a bit difficult. It is parallel with the phrase, “delivered up because of our transgressions.” Perhaps the simplest way to understand it is that Jesus was delivered up to death as a consequence (“because”) of our sin; He was raised as a consequence (“because”) of our justification, which He achieved by His death (Rom. 5:9). In other words, when God raised Jesus, He put His seal of approval on Christ’s death as obtaining our justification (Murray J. Harris, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. by Colin Brown [Zondervan], 3:1184). So the resurrection confirms that our justification was valid and acceptable to the Father.

Conclusion

Note carefully that not everyone is justified. Jesus’ death only justifies “those who believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead” (4:24). In other words, this truth that God delivered Jesus over to pay for our sins and raised Him from the dead to affirm our justification will save you only if you personally believe it. The pasteurizing machine only benefits you if you plug it in and actually use it to pasteurize your milk. This wonderful doctrine of justification by faith that Paul has spent an entire chapter hammering home was not written as a quaint history lesson about Abraham. It was written for your sake. God will credit the righteousness of Christ to your account the instant that you believe in Him. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead affirms that it is true!

So what is a Christian? A Christian is a person who personally believes in God who delivered over Jesus to pay for our sins and raised Him from the dead to confirm our justification. Make sure that you are a true Christian through faith in Jesus Christ!

Application Questions

  1. Much of the Old Testament is hard to read and understand. Why should we read it? How can we understand it better?
  2. Since it is possible to “believe in vain” (1 Cor. 15:2), how can we make sure that our faith is genuine?
  3. Why does doctrine matter? How can we hold to sound doctrine without being needlessly divisive? What guidelines exist?
  4. Is the substitutionary atonement essential for salvation? Why?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Regeneration, Justification, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 25: The Blessings of Justification (Romans 5:1-2)

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If you were to ask many Christians what words they associate with “doctrine,” you would probably hear, “boring,” or “irrelevant.” We tend to be pragmatists who view the doctrines of the Bible as something that interests theologians or seminary students, strange breed that they are. But we want something practical. We want to know how to deal with the problems we face every day. So we tend to skip the doctrine and move on to the how-to’s.

The apostle Paul would be baffled by that approach. He would view it as building a house without a foundation. In all of his letters, he first sets forth the doctrine and then draws the practical applications from it. In Romans, he spends 11 chapters laying the doctrinal foundation before he gets really practical. But even within the first 11 chapters, he can’t resist drawing out the practical implications of the doctrines that he sets forth. So in chapter 5, he gives us some wonderful blessings that flow from the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which he has laid down in 3:19-4:25.

Some scholars argue for a major break between chapters 4 & 5, so that chapters 5-8 form a unit that sets forth the hope and assurance of believers. Others understand chapter 5 as concluding the section that began at 3:19, dealing with justification by faith. Still others make the break at 5:12. I would not be dogmatic, but I am comfortable viewing chapter 5 as the conclusion of the earlier section dealing with salvation, with chapter 6 beginning to deal with sanctification. But however you outline it, the themes of hope and assurance certainly are prominent in chapters 5-8.

In 5:1-11, the word “exult” occurs three times: Paul exults in the hope of glory (5:2); he exults in his tribulations (5:3); and he exults in God (5:11). The theme of reconciliation with God (5:10-11) ties back in to the opening theme of peace with God (5:1). So we could view the entire section as “exulting in the blessings of justification.” Today we can only look at 5:1-2, where Paul sets forth three blessings that come from justification:

Justification by faith gives us peace with God, access to His grace, and the joyous confidence that we will share His glory.

1. Justification by faith gives us peace with God.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). Before we go farther, I should mention that there is a textual variant consisting of a single letter in the Greek text which would make the verse read, “let us have peace with God.” It is an unusual situation in that the strongest manuscripts support “let us,” but almost all scholars argue on the basis of the flow of thought that Paul wrote, “we have peace with God.” There are no other exhortations in 5:1-11. Rather, Paul sets forth the wonderful blessings that flow from the fact of our justification. So it is almost certain that Paul wrote, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).

Peace with God is the most wonderful gift that anyone can possess! This does not refer to the feeling of inner peace, but rather to the objective fact of peace. People may feel at peace with God when in fact they are in danger of His judgment (Jer. 6:14). Genuine peace with God means that we are truly reconciled with Him. We are no longer enemies with God, but friends with Him. We do not need to fear His judgment.

Because of the universality of sin, the human race is by nature at war against God. Many may feel at peace because they do not comprehend God’s absolute holiness or their own sinfulness. But because of sin, the wrath of God abides on all who do not believe in and obey Jesus Christ (John 3:36). As Paul wrote (Rom. 1:18), “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

This means that unless people come to peace with God on His terms, when they die they will face His eternal judgment. They may be the world’s greatest philanthropists, who have given millions to help the poor. But philanthropy will not atone for their many sins. They may be the nicest, most loving people you could know. But all the niceness and love that anyone can show will not atone for the many sins that we all commit. They may be fastidious about their religious duties, but the most religious people in the world cannot gain an entrance to heaven by their religious observance. None of these things gain genuine peace with God. So, how do we get it?

A. To have peace with God, you must be justified by faith.

If you do not know what it means to be justified by faith, please go back to the previous seven messages from Romans 3:21-4:25, where we covered this in depth. It means that God declares an ungodly person to be righteous based on that person’s trusting Christ’s death as the payment for his or her sins. It is not something that we earn or deserve. It is a gift of grace alone (4:5).

Paul’s statement implies that we can know for certain that we have been justified by faith and that we now are at peace with God. If we’re justified by adding our good works to what Christ did on the cross, we can never know that we’ve done enough. When have you done enough penance to be justified? When have you served enough or given enough money to the church? When have you been good enough? The system of works keeps everyone uncertain about whether they are saved or not and it keeps them dependent on the church. But Paul implies here that we can know that we are justified by faith alone. We trust in Christ’s death on our behalf to pay for our sins. As a consequence, we do not need to fear God’s judgment. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). But note:

B. To have peace with God, you must have the Lord Jesus Christ as your Redeemer and Mediator.

“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). This means that peace with God is not due to any merits or efforts on our part, but rather through what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. Douglas Moo observes (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 300):

That all God has for us is to be found “in” or “through” Jesus Christ our Lord is a persistent motif in Rom. 5-8: peace with God comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1); our boasting in God is “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:11); grace reigns through righteousness, resulting in eternal life “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21); the gift of God bringing eternal life is “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23); thanks for deliverance are due to God “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25); the love of God, from which nothing can ever separate the believer is “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39). When we consider that these phrases occur in only one other verse in Romans (15:30), and that every chapter in this part of the letter concludes on this note, a very definite focus on this matter is evident here.

The full title, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” looks at all that He is for us. First, He is our Lord, which focuses on His deity and His sovereign authority. We are His subjects or slaves. When you become a Christian, there is no option to believe in Jesus as your Savior, but to wait before you submit to Him as your Lord. He is both Savior and Lord, which means that you begin the Christian life by submitting all of yourself that you are aware of to all of Christ that you know. As you grow in Him, you learn more of who He is and what He commands and you see more areas in your life that you need to submit to Him, including your thought life. Jesus is the only rightful Lord of everything.

As Jesus, He is fully human. He took on human flesh in the incarnation, yet apart from sin. He lived in perfect dependence on the Father, in perfect obedience to His will. He went to the cross to atone for our sins (Rom. 3:24-26).

As Christ, Jesus is God’s Anointed One, the promised Messiah (“Christ” is Greek and “Messiah” is Hebrew for “Anointed One”). As such, Jesus is God’s appointed prophet, priest, and king. As God’s anointed prophet, Jesus spoke the very words of God to us (John 8:16-17). As God’s high priest, Jesus offered Himself once for all to atone for our sins. Now He lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:24-28). As God’s anointed king, Jesus is the rightful Sovereign over our lives. He is coming again to rule the nations with a rod of iron and to tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Rev. 19:15).

This means that the only way to have peace with God is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way of salvation (Acts 4:12).

2. Justification by faith gives us access to our standing in the riches of God’s grace.

Paul continues (5:2), “Through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Some early manuscripts omit “by faith,” but the context makes it clear that we receive all of God’s benefits through faith in Christ. Two things:

A. Our access to God comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Through whom” refers to Christ. “Introduction” may point to our initial introduction into the sphere of God’s grace. The word is used in extra-biblical Greek for introducing someone to royalty (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans [Westminster Press], rev. ed., p. 73). Other New Testament authors use the verb to refer to bringing someone into another person’s presence (Matt. 18:24; Luke 9:41; 1 Pet. 3:18). So it could refer to our initial introduction to God’s grace when we first believed.

Or it may refer to our ongoing access to the treasures of grace. Paul is the only author to use the noun and both of the other times, he uses it to refer to ongoing access. In Ephesians 2:18, he says, “for through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have our access in one Spirit to God the Father.” In Ephesians 3:12 he adds, “in whom [Christ Jesus our Lord] we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” I lean towards this idea here. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can come again and again into the presence of Almighty God to receive grace for every need!

This means that we do not need another way of access to God. Jesus is the only way (John 14:6). We do not need to pray to Mary or the saints or to go through a priest. Rather, we come directly to the Father in the name of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. That gains us access, any time and anywhere.

The late Donald Grey Barnhouse (Epistle to the Romans [Bible Study Hour], Part 19, p. 1007) told a story about Abraham Lincoln that illustrates this point. A Southern soldier who had been freed from a prison camp because he was too wounded to return to active duty was seeking access to the President to intercede for his brother in a prison camp who was the sole support of their mother. But the White House guards would not let him in to talk to President Lincoln. He had no access.

One day the President’s young son, Tad Lincoln, was walking near the White House and saw the wounded veteran crying as he sat on a bench. The boy went up and asked him what the matter was. The soldier explained that he wanted to get in to see Mr. Lincoln to tell him about his brother, but the guards would not let him in. The President’s son took the man by the hand, led him past the guards, who all saluted, and brought the man into the presence of his father.

Barnhouse says that the story may be apocryphal, but it illustrates what the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, has done for us. We were desolate and alone, wounded by our sin. We had no way to come into God’s holy presence. On the cross, Jesus tore the veil into the holy of holies. When we come in faith to Him, He clothes us with His righteousness.  Now He takes us by the hand and leads us again and again, at any time we have need, into the presence of His Father. What a wonderful blessing to have access to God!

B. Our access to God puts us in permanent standing in the riches of God’s grace.

Paul pictures God’s grace as a realm in which we stand. The verb tense of “have obtained” and “in which we stand” implies past action with ongoing results. In other words, we have gained entrance and now have ongoing standing in this realm of God’s grace. “Stand” implies a place of solid footing, or a place where we belong by right—not in ourselves, but by our union with Jesus Christ, the rightful heir.

In Ephesians 2:7, Paul says that in the ages to come God will “show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 3:8 he describes it as “the unfathomable riches of Christ.” It will take all eternity for God to show us the various treasure rooms, loaded with all of the blessings that come to us by free grace through Jesus Christ! It’s as if we’ve been given unlimited blank checks to the bank account of a billionaire like Bill Gates and told, “Use it any time you have a need.”

Either you relate to God by trying to earn His favor by keeping the Law, which only brings His wrath when you disobey (4:15); or by receiving His undeserved favor through all that Christ did for you on the cross. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? When you trust in Christ, He becomes your way of access into the presence of God, who now relates to you as a loving Father. Some of you may have had angry fathers who seemed to be against you and who always said “no.” But listen to how Paul describes the riches of God’s grace in which we stand (8:31b-35a):

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?

Again, the way to gain access to permanent standing in God’s grace is by being justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Justification by faith gives us peace with God and access to the surpassing riches of His grace. Finally,

3. Justification by faith gives us the joyous confidence that we will share His glory.

Paul concludes these two packed verses (5:2), “and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” Note two things:

A. Sharing in God’s glory is our certain future.

Hope in the New Testament is not something uncertain, as when we say, “I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow.” Rather, it is absolutely certain because it is based on the sure promises of God, who never fails. But we hope for it because we have not yet received the promise (8:24-25). It’s as if when you were a kid your dad promised, “For your birthday, I’ll give you a new bike.” You know that your dad does not lie or tease you on something like this. You know that he has plenty of money to keep his promise. It’s just that your birthday is still a month away. The bike is yours and it’s certain, but you don’t yet have it; so you hope for it.

What does Paul mean when he says that we hope in the glory of God? It means in part that he eagerly looked forward to seeing the glory of God. God’s glory is the radiant splendor of His being. It is the visible manifestation of all of His perfect attributes. It was what Moses asked to see, but God told Him that He would show him His back, because no man could see God’s face and live (Exod. 33:18-23). But in heaven, we will see God (Matt. 5:8). It will be the most beautiful, stupendous sight that we’ve ever seen!

Paul also means that he hopes to see the glory of Christ. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus asked that His disciples might see His glory (John 17:24). Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2; 2 Pet. 1:16-18). John saw it again in Revelation (1:13-17). Paul was blinded by the heavenly vision on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-6). He saw it again when he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:1-6). But in heaven, we will see the glory of the risen Lamb who was slain (Rev. 7:9-17).

But beyond seeing the glory of the Father and the glory of our Lord Jesus, we are promised that we also will share in His glory! We lost that glory as a race when Adam sinned (Rom. 3:23), but when we see Jesus, we will be fully conformed to His image, free from all sin and from every shortcoming (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2). And thus we will be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17). It’s our certain future! But this isn’t just a truth to grasp with our intellects.

B. The confidence of sharing in God’s glory causes us joyous exultation right now.

“We exult in hope of the glory of God.” “Exult” is a favorite word with Paul that means literally, to boast or glory in. It contains the idea both of confidence and joy, so that it can be rendered, “we are joyfully confident of” (Moo, ibid., pp. 301-302). While it’s wrong to boast in man, it’s right to boast in God, because it brings Him the glory He deserves (1 Cor. 1:31; Gal. 6:14; Phil. 3:3).

But—and I admit that I fall far short here—to exult in hope of the glory of God is not just an intellectual truth to affirm. It’s also an emotional response that we should have even, as verse 3 shows, in the face of trials (see, also, 1 Pet. 4:13). In my case, as perhaps you will admit for yourself, I just don’t spend enough time meditating on the hope of seeing and sharing in the glory of God.

Dr. Barnhouse (ibid., Part 20, pp. 1037-1038) illustrated the joys of heaven by picturing a soldier in a cold foxhole, eating K-rations. He has to stay there day and night to hold his unit’s position against the enemy. Then one night he hears a voice call out his name and serial number. It’s another soldier telling him, “I have orders to replace you. You are to go out on the next Red Cross flight. An order has come for you to go home. You have to go back to your mother’s house. They’re going to give you a hot shower and clean clothes. You have to go home and eat your mother’s Southern fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, with apple pie and ice cream for dessert.” And the soldier replies, “Oh! You don’t mean that I’m going to have to leave this nice foxhole and give up my K-rations, do you?”

Barnhouse says, “We smile at the absurdity of the idea, and yet there are some believers, perhaps some of you … who are unwilling to leave your foxhole in this life to go to the Heavenly home to sit down at the banquet table of our God and to fellowship with Him in [the] joys of Heaven ….”

Conclusion

So to conclude, I ask you three questions:

         Have you been justified by faith so that you enjoy peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ?

         Do you frequently utilize your access to God and the riches of His grace through our Lord Jesus Christ?

         Do you exult in your certain future of sharing God’s glory?

These are just a few of the blessings of being justified by faith in Jesus Christ!

Application Questions

  1. If peace with God is not primarily a feeling, but a fact, how can you know if you’ve got it?
  2. Why does justification by works (even in part) completely undermine the possibility of assurance of salvation?
  3. Some argue that if God’s grace is completely undeserved, it will lead to licentious living. How would you refute this?
  4. How can a Christian who does not exult in the hope of God’s glory grow in this area? Why should we?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Glory, Grace, Regeneration, Justification, Soteriology (Salvation)

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