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Lesson 13: Ritual Versus Reality (Romans 2:25-29)

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Who are the most difficult people to reach with the gospel? I realize that only God can save a soul and that nothing is too difficult for Him. But, from a human standpoint, some types of people seem to be more difficult to bring to saving faith than others are (Luke 18:24-27). The Bible shows us that the most difficult people to reach are religious people who trust in their religion. They relish their rituals and religious traditions. They don’t see their need for a Savior from sin because they view themselves as pretty good people. They think they are right with God because of their religious performance (Luke 18:11-12).

They may be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Baha’i, Mormon, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. They can even be Baptists! They think that their performance of their religious rituals will somehow commend them to God. But they lack reality with the living God on the heart level.

Paul knew that the most difficult people to reach with the gospel were not the pagans whom he described in Romans 1:18-32. Like Matthew or Zaccheus (Luke 5:27-32; 19:1-10), the tax collectors, or like the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50), many obviously wicked people know that they are sinners. They may not be sure that God could ever forgive them. But they welcome that news when they hear it.

But the religious Jews didn’t see themselves as sinners and so they didn’t see any need for a Savior. They trusted in their Jewishness, in their possession of God’s Law, and in their conformity to the prescribed religious rituals, especially circumcision. Why did they need the gospel? Why did they need to get right with God? Didn’t Paul know what kind of people they were?

Yes, Paul knew. He was one of them. At one time, he had taken great pride in his circumcision, his Jewishness, and his zeal for the Jewish religion (Phil. 3:4-6). But he didn’t know Christ. He didn’t have his sins forgiven. He wasn’t reconciled to God. So now he wants his fellow Jews who trusted in their religious rituals to see their need for the gospel. So he hits them with what would have been a shocking argument: the obedient Gentile will fare better on judgment day than the disobedient Jew. Paul is trying to strip every religious person of his religiosity as the basis for acceptance with God, so that he will be driven to the cross of Christ for mercy. He wants us to see that…

Reality with God is not a matter of outward conformity to religious rituals, but rather of obedience that results from God changing your heart.

Paul here hits the first and third reasons why the Jew would claim to have exemption from judgment. The first was, “I am a Jew, a son of Abraham.” Second, “We have the Law given to our chosen nation.” (Paul dealt with that in 2:17-24.) Third, “I have been circumcised, unlike those unclean Gentiles.” But Paul shows that being true Jew and being truly circumcised are not outward matters, but matters of the heart.

1. Reality with God is not a matter of outward conformity to religious rituals (2:25).

“For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25).

God instituted the practice of circumcision (the removal of the male foreskin) as a sign of His covenant with Abraham, over 500 years before He gave Moses the Law (see Genesis 17). It symbolized moral purity and separation from the world unto God. Under the Law of Moses, it became a sign of membership in the covenant community. So as a God-ordained ritual, circumcision was of value to the Jews as a reminder of their covenant relationship to God and of the need to be morally set apart to God.

When Paul says that circumcision is of value, he is speaking to the Jews as Jews. When he addresses those who are in Christ, he says (Gal. 5:6), “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Circumcision was a Jewish sign of the covenant that ended when Jesus instituted the new covenant. Except for hygienic reasons, it holds no value for believers in Christ.

Also, when Paul says, “circumcision is of value if you practice the Law,” I do not understand him to mean, “if you practice the Law perfectly.” Some think that when Paul mentions keeping the Law in this section (2:25, 26, 27), he is speaking hypothetically of perfect obedience, which no one can do. But I understand him to be referring to a lifestyle of obedience to God’s Law, which is possible for those who have been born again (Luke 1:6; 2:25). For such Jews before the cross, circumcision was of value.

But the perpetual danger of religious rituals, even of those that God commands, is that they become external only. Thus from the earliest times Moses exhorted Israel (Deut. 10:16), “So circumcise your heart….” Later (Deut. 30:6), he again gave the ritual a spiritual meaning when he promised, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” Later, the prophet Jeremiah preached with similar imagery (Jer. 4:4), “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”

Moses and Jeremiah were making the point that the physical ritual of circumcision had to be accompanied by its spiritual meaning, namely, holiness and obedience to God on the heart level. Without such reality with God, the ritual had lost its essential meaning and was virtually worthless.

But by Paul’s day, the Jews had come to put great stock in the ritual itself. Several of the Jewish rabbis taught that no circumcised man will go to hell (Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 63). So Paul is standing in line with Moses and Jeremiah when he tells the Jews that if they do not obey God’s Law, their “circumcision has become uncircumcision.” They might as well be pagan Gentiles if they lived in disobedience to God. Their circumcision meant nothing.

How do we apply Paul’s words to Christian “rituals”? Do the rituals of the ancient Christian church have spiritual value for us today? Many who were raised in evangelical circles have moved to Episcopal, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox churches because they felt that the rituals and liturgy made them feel closer to God. Are we missing something if we abandon these rituals?

First, we need to be clear that there are only two “rituals” (or “sacraments” or, better, “ordinances”) prescribed in the New Testament: baptism and communion. To add other rituals, or to invest those two rituals with meaning that is not taught in the New Testament, is to worship God falsely. In New Testament terms, every believer is a priest (1 Pet. 2:9), and so we do not need a human priest, dressed in special robes and vestments, offering the sacrifice of the mass or performing rituals on our behalf. Jesus is our high priest and He offered Himself as the complete and final sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:1-14).

Also, the New Testament is clear that being baptized or partaking of communion are of no spiritual value, unless you do them out of faith in Christ. Baptism, whether performed on infants (which I believe is wrong) or on those old enough to understand what it means, does not convey salvation or forgiveness of sins. Neither does partaking of the Lord’s Supper. If the baptized person acts in obedience to Christ as a confession of saving faith in Christ, then baptism is of great value. If we partake of the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of His death on our behalf and of all that that means to us, it, too, is of great value. We should not minimize or abandon these rituals. But there is no spiritual benefit conveyed just by going through these religious rituals, apart from reality with God through faith in Christ. So Paul’s first point is that reality with God is not a matter of outward conformity to religious rituals.

2. Reality with God is a matter of obedience that results from God changing your heart (2:26-29).

At this point, Paul would have shocked his Jewish readers. He makes the point that…

A. God regards obedience that results from a changed heart as righteous, apart from religious ritual (2:26-27).

Paul writes (2:26-27), “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?”

He means, “If a Gentile obeys the moral requirements of God’s Law, God will count him as righteous, even though he is uncircumcised!” And, even more shocking, “The obedient, but uncircumcised Gentile some day will condemn you who have the written Law and have been circumcised, but are disobedient to that Law.” He does not mean that obedient Gentiles literally will act as judges against the Jews, but rather that they will “be a witness for the prosecution in the sense that the Gentiles’ obedience will be evidence of what the Jew ought to have been …” (C. E. B. Cranfield, cited by Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 139).

There is debate about who is the uncircumcised man who keeps the requirements of the Law. Is this merely hypothetical? Does Paul mean that no Gentile has ever kept the Law or could do it, but if he could, he would be counted as circumcised and thus condemn the Jew? Or, could Paul be referring to unsaved Gentiles like Cornelius (Acts 10), who were devout, God-fearing men? Or, is he referring to Gentiles who really do obey the Law because God has changed their hearts?

As I’ve already said, it seems to me that Paul is talking about genuinely converted Gentiles, who keep God’s Law because God has circumcised their hearts through faith in Christ. Paul will explain this in verses 28 and 29, where he says that being a true Jew (which means, one who is in right relationship with God) is not a matter of external circumcision, but of internal circumcision of the heart, brought about by the Holy Spirit. Thomas Schreiner (who gives much more support for this point than I can cite here, The Law and Its Fulfillment [Baker], pp. 197-201), states (p. 198), “Paul’s main point in this section is … that no one can be saved and observe the law without the Holy Spirit. Those who have the Spirit are empowered to observe the law (8:4), but one only receives the Spirit by believing in Jesus, whom God has set forth as a propitiation for sin (3:21-26).”

So Paul’s point in 2:26-27 is that God regards obedience that results from a changed heart as righteous, apart from keeping the external ritual of circumcision.

B. Reality with God depends on His Spirit changing your heart, not on the performance of religious rituals (2:28-29).

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (2:28-29).

Again, this would have been shocking to the Jew of Paul’s day, who took great pride in being a circumcised son of Abraham. The Jews despised the “unclean” Gentiles and took great pride in their Jewish lineage and religious rituals. But they wrongly were concerned more about outward matters than about their hearts before God. As Jesus said (Matt. 23:25), they cleaned the outside of the cup, but inside they were full of sin. So Paul cuts through all of the external privileges and practices and says that the main thing in God’s sight is not the outward, but the inward. Reality with God is a matter of the Holy Spirit changing your heart, not of your performing religious rituals.

Paul uses four somewhat overlapping contrasts to drive home this point: (1) not outward, but inward; (2) not the flesh, but the heart; (3) not the letter, but the Spirit; and, (4) praise not from men, but from God.

(1). Reality with God is not an outward matter, but inward.

Jesus made this point in the Sermon on the Mount when He pointed out that you have committed murder in God’s sight if you’ve been angry with your brother. You’ve committed adultery in God’s sight if you’ve lusted in your heart after a woman, even if you’ve never touched her. God looks on the heart. You can impress people with polished prayers, powerful sermons, generous gifts to the church, and all sorts of religious activities. But all the while you’re impressing people, God is looking at your heart. What was your motive when you did those things? And, what kinds of thoughts were you entertaining? You can take the communion elements while you’re lusting after the girl sitting nearby or while you’re angry with your mate. To have reality with God, you’ve got to focus on the inward. Of course, if you’re right inwardly with God, it will express itself properly in outward deeds. But the outward must begin with the inward.

(2). Reality with God is not a matter of the flesh, but of the heart.

Paul says (in line with Moses and Jeremiah) that true circumcision is not a matter of the flesh, but of the heart. This means that we must deal with sin on the heart or thought level. We must put to death or cut off the deeds of the flesh when they occur in our minds. Paul says (Rom. 8:12-13), “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

This means that the second you are tempted, turn from it, cry out to God’s Spirit for the strength to run from it, and fill your thoughts with Christ (Rom. 13:14; Col. 3:1-4). If you develop that habit, you will not fulfill the deeds of the flesh by outward sins.

(3). Reality with God is not a matter of trying to keep the letter of the Law in your strength, but of God’s Spirit changing your heart by faith in Christ.

In Ezekiel 36:25-27, God promised a spiritual revival for His sinning people: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” While those promises will still be fulfilled with the Jews in a future revival (Rom. 11:2-32), they also now apply to all who believe in Christ. Ezekiel was talking about the new birth, which Jesus told the religious Nicodemus he needed (John 3:1-16). Nicodemus’ observance of religious rituals was not enough. He needed God’s Spirit to give him a new heart by faith in Jesus’ death on the cross for his sins.

The “letter-Spirit” contrast is a salvation-historical one (Schreiner, Romans, p. 142; Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 175). The letter refers to the past age of the Law and its many commandments. The problem was, the Law combined with sinful human flesh, resulted in disobedience and death (Rom. 7:5-6; 2 Cor. 3:3-11). The Law by itself did not give the power to obey it. But now that God’s Spirit has been poured out on His people and He has changed our hearts, we are able to obey God from the heart (Rom. 6:17; 8:1-4; 13). Reality with God means that His Spirit has changed your heart so that now you are able joyfully to obey Jesus Christ.

(4). Reality with God means that you do not receive praise from men, but from God.

This refers ultimately to the rewards that we will receive from God when Christ returns. In 1 Corinthians 4:5, Paul says that when the Lord comes, He “will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

This means also that those whose hearts the Spirit has circumcised live with a new focus. Rather than seeking to impress others with their religious activities, as the Pharisees did, they seek to please God from the heart. Instead of focusing on what others think of us, we focus on what God thinks of us. As Paul said when he contrasted himself with the Judaizers, who focused on the ritual of physical circumcision (Phil. 3:3), “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

This final phrase, “his praise is not from men, but from God,” is a word play that the Jews would have picked up on. Although Paul wrote in Greek, his Jewish readers would know that in Hebrew, Jew comes from Judah, meaning, praise (Gen. 29:35; 49:8). So Paul has a double meaning: “his Judaism/praise is not from men, but from God.” In other words, the one who has experienced the circumcision of his heart by the Holy Spirit is the true Jew. He hasn’t just gone through a religious ritual, but he is now pleasing God, who gave him a new heart through faith in Jesus Christ. He isn’t practicing his religion to get the praise of men (Matt. 6:1-6). Rather, he lives before God, so that one day he will hear, “Well done.” His praise will be from God.

Conclusion

If you had asked one of these religious Jews, “Are you going to heaven?” he would have been offended. He would have said, “Of course, I’m going to heaven!” If you had pressed him for the reasons that he was going to heaven, he would have said, “I’m a Jew. I’ve been circumcised.” In other words, he would have had absolute assurance of his salvation, but it was false assurance!

Why should God let you into heaven someday? “I was raised in a Christian home.” That doesn’t matter. “I believe in God and I’ve always gone to church.” Nope! “But, years ago I invited Jesus to be my Savior and was baptized.” But, has God changed your heart so that you now seek to love Him, obey Him, and please Him on the heart level? Do you live to know Christ more deeply? Are you growing in victory over the deeds of the flesh and in habitually displaying the fruit of the Spirit? If your honest answer is, “Well, not really,” you may be into ritual, not reality with God.

In the fall of 1999, I stepped inside of the Orthodox Church at the town square in Timisoara, Romania. The architecture was beautiful. Icons were everywhere. Candles floating in water lit up the dimly lit sanctuary. My eye was drawn to a woman, seductively dressed, who was kneeling before an icon, praying with tears running down her cheeks. A priest with his full beard and long robe walked by and looked approvingly at her. I wanted to grab him by his robe and shout, “Tell her about the blood of Jesus that cleanses from all sin!” The woman was going through the prescribed religious rituals. Only God knows her heart, but my guess was, she didn’t have the reality of knowing Jesus.

Reality with God is not a matter of going through religious rituals or of a general belief in God. Rather, reality with God means having a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Reality with God means that He has changed your heart and you now see the evidence of that change by a lifestyle of obedience to His Word. Don’t substitute religious ritualism for true spiritual reality with the living God! Following religious rituals has never saved anyone. True religion is a matter of God changing your heart.

Application Questions

  1. How can we keep the biblically-prescribed “ritual” of communion from becoming a meaningless repetition? Are we free to abandon rituals that have lost their meaning?
  2. Why does the fallen human heart gravitate towards ritual over reality? What are the spiritual benefits and dangers of rituals?
  3. Jonathan Edwards’ thesis in Religious Affections was that “true religion, in great part, consists of holy affections.” How can we cultivate such “holy affections,” or heartfelt feelings?
  4. Since the fallen human heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9), how can we guard our hearts so that we walk in reality with God?

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: Law, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Lesson 14: Objections Answered (Romans 3:1-8)

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If you share the gospel with unbelievers, you will encounter a number of common objections: Why does a good and loving God allow so much suffering in the world? Why is Jesus the only way to God? Will God send good, sincere people from other religions to hell? What about all the people who have lived and died without ever hearing about Jesus? Will they be punished eternally in hell even though they never had the chance to believe? Is this fair? What about all the errors and contradictions in the Bible? What about the contradictions between science and the Bible? Etc.

I gave two messages last summer dealing with these and other objections, so I’m not going to speak directly to these questions today. (See “Witnessing: Answering Questions and Objections,” Parts 1 & 2, June 27 & July 4, 2010, on the church web site.) But our text shows the apostle Paul responding to questions and objections that he anticipated in response to his teaching in chapter 2. These were probably questions that he had often encountered when he preached the gospel in Jewish settings. He knew that religious Jews would challenge his statements (2:28-29) that being a true Jew and being truly circumcised were not external matters, but rather, matters of the heart. His aim is to show that even the most religious of Jews, like the Gentiles, are all under sin and thus need the gospel (3:9-20).

So in rapid fire he raises and answers a series of questions that Jewish critics would have fired at him. If you find it difficult to track with the flow of Paul’s argument in these verses, you’re in good company. Many commentators admit that these are the most difficult verses to interpret in Romans. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Righteous Judgment of God [Zondervan], p. 174) says that many say they are not only the most difficult verses in Romans, but also in the whole of Scripture! John Piper devoted an entire sermon on these verses to answer the question, “Why God Inspired Hard Texts” (on desiringgod.org). John Bunyan (cited by William Newell, Romans Verse by Verse [Moody Press], p. 74) composed a little ditty: “Hard texts are nuts—I would not call them cheaters: whose shells do oft times keep them from the eaters.” So to eat the meat of this “nut,” we have to work hard to crack the shell.

First I want to try to explain the text, because we cannot properly apply any Scripture unless we understand what it is saying. Then I will offer some practical applications. First I will give an overview; then we’ll work through the text more carefully.

The first question Paul anticipates in response to his comments that being a Jew or being circumcised physically are not what matter is (3:1), “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” These are the same question stated in two ways to correspond to Paul’s assertions in 2:28-29. To paraphrase, Paul’s Jewish readers would have objected, “Paul, if being a physical descendant of Abraham and receiving the sign of circumcision are of no value, then you’re throwing out the entire Old Testament! What good are God’s promises to Abraham? What good was God’s choice of the nation Israel?” Paul replies (3:2), “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

That leads to a second objection (3:3): “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” Does Jewish unbelief negate God’s promises? Paul responds with horror to the thought that God might be unfaithful (3:4): “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.” Then he cites David from Psalm 51:4 to show that God is faithful whether He keeps His promises or whether He judges guilty sinners. He is glorified in both instances.

This leads to a third objection (3:5): “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.)” If our sin glorifies God’s righteousness in judgment, then isn’t God unrighteous to punish us for it? Paul apologizes for even stating such an ungodly thought and then adds (3:6), “May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?”

But the objector isn’t silenced yet. He restates the objection of verse 5 (in 3:7): “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?” The absurd idea is, if my sin brings God glory when He judges me, then He should thank me, not judge me! Paul takes it further by alluding to some slanderous charges that had been leveled against his teaching (3:8), “Let us do evil that good may come.” He replies tersely, “Their condemnation is just.”

Now let’s work through this dialogue more carefully. I will paraphrase the critic’s challenge, followed by Paul’s response.

1. “Doesn’t your argument about being a Jew inwardly imply that there is no advantage in being a Jew?” “No, because God entrusted His Word to the Jews.” (3:1-2)

The Jewish critic is saying, “Your view, Paul, takes away all the advantages that the Old Testament promised to the Jews. In effect, you just wiped out the entire Old Testament!” Because of what Paul said in 2:28-29, you would expect him to answer, “You’re right! Being a Jew or being circumcised doesn’t get you anywhere.” But instead, he surprises us by saying, “Great in every respect.” He then says, “First of all,” but he doesn’t list a second or third. Much later (9:4-5), he gives a list: “who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” All of Romans 9-11 is devoted to answering the question of whether the unbelief of the Jews somehow nullified the promises of God.

But in Romans 3:2, Paul only lists one great advantage of being a Jew: “They were entrusted with the oracles of God.” This refers to the Old Testament as a whole, with special reference to God’s promises of salvation (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 182; Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 149). God had not revealed Himself in this specific way to any other nation on earth (Deut. 4:8; Ps. 147:19-20). God promised through the Jewish prophets, as recorded in the Old Testament, to send the Savior of the world through them (John 4:22). Through the symbolic significance of the Temple and of the laws and sacrifices, the Jews uniquely had God’s revelation about the coming Messiah and Savior. All the other nations were left in spiritual darkness. God entrusted the Jews with His very Word!

This was a great privilege, but also a great responsibility. To have the light of God’s Word and yet to reject it means that you are more accountable than the person who had no light except the general revelation of creation (Rom. 1:20; Matt. 11:21-24). During two thousand years of human history from Abraham to Christ, the pagan nations worshiped their false gods, offering sacrifices to appease their anger, living in fear and confusion, with no hope of salvation. But the Jews knew how to approach the living and true God, maker of heaven and earth. They had His promises to send the Savior. The godly in Israel were looking for the fulfillment of that promise (Luke 2: 25-32). What an unspeakable privilege!

But the fact that many in Israel did not believe in God’s promises of salvation leads to the second objection:

2. “But doesn’t the unbelief of many Jews nullify God’s promises?” “No, Jewish unbelief does not nullify God’s faithfulness to them or His right to judge their sin.” (3:3-4)

“What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You judge’” [most scholars agree that the last verb is active in meaning, in line with Ps. 51:4].

Paul answers this more thoroughly in Romans 9-11, where he shows that the widespread Jewish unbelief did not thwart God’s sovereign election of a remnant. There is still a future widespread conversion of the Jews, when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). But here, he first gives some grace to his critics by asking (3:3), what if some did not believe? Actually, most of the Jews did not believe. Only a few were faithful. But Paul probably is being gracious so as not needlessly to offend his Jewish critics.

But then he takes it farther by arguing that even if every person in the world were unfaithful and accused God of being unfaithful to His promises, it would only mean that they all are liars and God is true. God’s faithfulness to His Word is a necessary attribute of His being. If He were not faithful, He would not be God, but a liar. But it is a given that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). If there seems to be a discrepancy between His promises and what we perceive, the fault always lies with us, not with God. In any contention, He is right, even if the whole world lines up against Him.

Paul backs up his assertion by citing Psalm 51:4, “That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You judge.” Psalm 51 is David’s confession and plea for mercy after his sin with Bathsheba. He agrees that God is justified in every word that the prophet Nathan spoke to David about the consequences of his sin. David has no excuses and no grounds to complain. He deserved death, but God mercifully spared his life. But God also pronounced a series of judgments against David. David is saying, “God, You are completely right in Your judgments and I am completely wrong and guilty before You.”

Paul uses this quote to show that God is just as faithful when He judges His people for their sins as He is when He saves them according to His promise. If sinners repent, God mercifully forgives the guilty, but He never treats them unjustly, even if He judges them. We all have sinned many times, so we all deserve His judgment. If He judges the guilty, He does not cease to be faithful to His promises to save those who repent and trust in Him.

At this point, those who object to Paul’s reasoning move into the realm of the ridiculous. They are showing what William Barclay (The Letter to the Romans [Westminster Press], rev. ed., p. 54) calls their “amazing ingenuity” in justifying their sin. But Paul had no doubt heard this objection when he preached in the synagogues:

3. “But if our sin demonstrates God’s righteousness, how can He judge us for it?” Paul replies, “But that argument would mean that God can’t judge even the Gentiles.” (3:5-6)

“But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?”

To paraphrase: “Paul, if you’re saying that God’s righteousness shines through when He judges us, then He would be wrong to judge us because we would actually be instruments for His glory! How can God judge us for something that He turns to His own advantage?” It’s an outrageous argument, but when people start to rationalize their sin, reason goes out the window, replaced by “amazing ingenuity”!

Paul answers this objection first by apologizing for even stating it (“I am speaking in human terms”). Then he gives the strong negative, “May it never be!” Then he asks a question that he knows his Jewish opponents would not want to concede: “For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” The Jews wanted God to judge the Gentiles for their many gross sins, but they thought that the Jews would get a free pass. But Paul is saying that their line of reasoning would prohibit God’s judgment on anyone. If the sins of the Jews bring God glory and thus should be exempt from His judgment, then the sins of the Gentiles would also merit exemption. Their argument proves too much.

But Paul’s critics are not ready to concede defeat, so they rephrase the objection of verse 5 again in verse 7:

4. “But your teaching, Paul, implies that if my sinning abounds to God’s glory, not only should I not be judged; also, I ought to sin all the more.” “That’s ridiculous! You just hung yourself!” (3:7-8)

Paul shifts here to the first person. Some (John Piper, “Let God Be True Though Every Man a Liar,” on desiringgod.org; the following is my summary) think that Paul is using himself to refute the critic by saying, “Take me, for example. If you think that what I’m teaching here is false, but my lie results in greater glory for God, then how could God judge me?” In other words, “The argument that you’re using to prove that God should not judge you (3:5) applies to me, also. If God shouldn’t judge you for your sin, then neither should He judge me if I’m lying.” Or, Paul may be using the first person to individualize his critics’ argument by bringing it home to the individual’s conscience. In this case, verse 7 should be in quotes, as the critic asks, “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner?”

Paul adds a logical extension of this retort (3:8), “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? Their condemnation is just.” In other words, Paul’s critics accused him of teaching that if our sin magnifies God’s grace, then let’s sin a lot so that God will be more glorified! The end justifies the means. But Paul has shown that his critics have just hung themselves. If they accuse Paul of arguing that we should sin more to bring more glory to God, they accuse themselves, because that’s where their excuses for their own sin lead (3:5, 7). So Paul refutes them with a terse, “Their condemnation is just.” Their absurd conclusions reveal that they are under God’s righteous judgment.

Although Paul’s argument in these verses is not easy to follow, his bottom line is pretty clear:

If you contend with God, He will win and you will be condemned.

Paul’s bottom line is, you can raise all the objections you want against God, but in the end, He wins and you lose. You will end up under His just condemnation.

Conclusion

Now (hopefully) that we understand the text, let’s apply it:

1. Spiritual privileges do not give you any advantage with God if you do not respond in faith and obedience; rather, they increase your accountability to God.

Israel as a nation was given amazing spiritual privileges. They were the only nation on earth entrusted with the very words of God. But rather than responding in faith and a life of thankful obedience to God, most of the Jews rebelled against Him and worshiped the idols of the pagan nations around them.

If you grew up in a Christian home, you have an amazing spiritual privilege. Your parents taught you about God and the way of salvation that He provides in Jesus Christ. They took you to a church where you could hear God’s Word explained and applied. But, have you responded with faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior? Have you repented of your sins? Do you seek to walk in obedience to God’s Word? If not, on judgment day growing up in a Christian home will prove not to have been a blessing, but a curse, because it increased your accountability to God.

2. The Bible is a great treasure that God has entrusted to us. Therefore, we should study it and seek to obey it as the only wise way to live.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones applies this point this way (ibid., p. 171): “So the point, therefore, at which you and I start is this: we say, ‘This is no ordinary book, this is the Word of God.’ Do we show that we realize that and what a privilege it is, by reading it, studying it, delving into it, spending our time praying over it?” He continues by saying that we should not just quickly read over a few verses as a matter of custom in the morning before rushing off to more important things. Rather, we should say, “Here God is speaking to me, …” He says that if we really believed that the Bible is God’s direct word to us, we would not spend more time each day reading the newspaper and other things than we do seeking to understand and apply “the oracles of God.”

John Wesley, the great 18th century evangelist, wrote about the Bible (cited by James Boice, Romans: Justification by Faith [Baker], pp. 279-280):

I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God, just hovering over the great gulf ’till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing—the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!

If God has entrusted us with His very word, then surely it must be the foundation of our life and the light for our path in this dark world! Do not neglect your Bible!

3. If you are fighting against God, you are fighting a losing battle. The only way to win is to give up and submit to Him.

There are many things in God’s Word that are difficult to understand, such as the doctrine of God’s sovereign election. There are things that are difficult to rejoice in, such as the doctrine of eternal punishment. There are matters that are hard to understand: Why does God allow little children to suffer terrible things? Why does He allow many to live and die with no gospel witness? Why doesn’t God tear down the satanic strongholds of false religions that deceive millions? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t wrestle with these hard issues and try to think them through more carefully.

But, there are two ways to approach these hard matters. You can come as a submissive child, asking the Father to give you more light, so that you will know Him and His ways more accurately, so that you can obey Him more fully. Or, you can come as a critic, demanding that God give you answers, as if He owes it to you.

If you try to prove that you’re right and God is wrong, you’re on thin ice! Even though you may not understand God or His ways, you have no right to contend against Him or accuse Him of wrong. The Book of Job shows that even the most righteous man on the face of the earth has no grounds to contend with God and demand answers, even if he feels that he is suffering unjustly. Learn from Job to slap your hand over your mouth, admit your own insignificance in God’s presence, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 40:4; 42:6). If you fight against God, you lose. If you submit to Him, you win. So wrestle with your questions in a spirit of submission, not defiance.

4. Be careful not to use your questions and objections as an excuse for not repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ.

It’s easier to rationalize sin rather than to repent of it. It’s easy to latch on to some objection about God or the Bible, use that objection to dodge the clear truth of the Bible about Jesus Christ, and then justify your own sin. The Lord Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of God’s Word. If He is true, then every objection against Him is a lie. God will prevail when He judges all sin. Make sure that you have repented of your sin and taken refuge in the Lamb who was slain for sinners! Jesus Christ and Him crucified is God’s final answer to every objection!

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important to approach difficult spiritual questions with a submissive attitude? Does this mean setting aside your reason or logic? Why/why not?
  2. What spiritual privileges has God given to you? How have you responded? Do you need a course correction? How?
  3. When you’re sharing Christ with a person raising objections, how can you know whether he is trying to dodge his sin or whether he is sincere? How should you respond in either case?
  4. Was there any basis for the criticism that Paul taught, “Let us do evil that good may come”? See Rom. 6:1. Does a proper view of God’s grace perhaps open one up to that criticism?

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: Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 15: All Under Sin (Romans 3:9-18)

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The late well-known preacher Harry Ironside once asked a man after a gospel meeting, “Are you saved, sir?”

“No, I really can’t say I am, but I would like to be.”

“Why would you? Do you realize you are a lost sinner?”

“Oh, of course, we’re all sinners.”

“Ah! But that often means little or nothing. Are you a sinner yourself?”

“Well, I suppose I am, but I’m not what you could call a bad sinner. I am, I think, rather a good one. I always try to do the best I know.”

Ironside went on to tell the man that there was little use in showing him the way of salvation. Good sinners are like honest liars and upright thieves: they are far from ready to admit that they are vile, hell-deserving sinners who need God’s grace to be saved (Illustrations of Bible Truth, H. A. Ironside [Moody Press], p. 71).

Most people view themselves as “good” sinners. They would say, “I know I’m not perfect. I’ve got my share of faults. But I’m not a murderer or terrorist or child molester. I’m a decent person. So, yes, I’m a sinner, but I’m a good sinner.”

“Good” sinners, especially religious ones, are the most difficult to reach with the gospel. They faithfully attend church. They give money to the church. (The stained glass window has a plaque commemorating their generous gift!) They serve on the church board. Their family has been a mainstay in the church for many generations. “Who do you think you are, preacher, to call me a sinner? I’ll get you fired if you keep talking like that!”

But Paul, like Jesus before him (see Matthew 23), talked like that to the most religious people he knew, the Jews. Paul knew that if the Jews trusted in their religiosity and good works, they would not see their need to trust in Jesus as their Savior. If they did not feel the condemnation of their true moral guilt before the holy God, they would not sense their need to be rescued from the coming judgment. Even if they professed to trust in Christ, but thought that He had forgiven them just a little, they would only love Him a little (Luke 7:47).

So as Paul comes to the conclusion of this section showing why everyone needs the gospel, namely, because everyone is under God’s just condemnation, he strings together a number of Old Testament texts to show the Jews (who professed to believe those Scriptures) that he wasn’t making this up. Through machine-gun fire repetition, Paul shows that…

Since all people are under sin, they all need the good news that God has provided a Savior from sin.

First (3:9), he summarizes the charge which he has leveled (1:18-3:8), “that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” Then (rallel, Ps. 53:1-3). Scripture also shows that all of us are guilty of sins of speech (3:13-14). Verse 13 quotes from Psalms 5:9 and 140:3. Verse 14 comes from Psalm 10:7. Also, we all have committed sins that destroy harmonious relationships (3:15-17). These verses cite Isaiah 59:7-8. The root cause of our sinful behavior comes back to our relationship with God (3:18): “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (citing Psalm 36:1). The quotations are not in every case verbatim from the LXX, which may mean that Paul was either citing from memory or translating from the Hebrew into Greek. But this rapid-fire string of quotations shows that the Bible clearly establishes that everyone is under sin.

But some may think, “Now wait a minute! I’ve got my faults, but I’m not nearly as bad as this description! I’ve bent the truth at times, but verses 13 & 14 do not describe my speech. And I’ve never murdered anyone as verse 15 alleges. Unlike verse 17, I’m a peaceable man.”

But like the list of sins in 1:29-32, Paul isn’t saying that every sinner does all of these sins all the time. Rather, he is saying that the seeds for all of these sins are planted deeply in every fallen human heart. Through His common grace, God prevents sinners from being as terrible as they would be if He didn’t restrain them. But if you can read this description of human nature and think, “Thank God I’m not like that,” then God has not opened your eyes to the true condition of your heart. As Jesus pointed out, if you have ever been angry with another person, in God’s sight you are a murderer. If you’ve ever lusted, you’re an adulterer. By nature, your heart is “under sin.” If you had been reared in less favorable circumstances and had not met Christ, there is no limit to the sins to which you would be enslaved (see Eph. 4:17-19).

If we don’t understand how bad the disease is, we won’t seek the cure, whether for ourselves or to share with those who outwardly seem to be “good” folks. So let’s examine Paul’s penetrating analysis of sin.

1. All human beings, with no exceptions, are under sin.

Paul begins by summarizing his charge (a legal term; 3:9), “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.”

Scholars debate how to translate the first three phrases. Without getting into all of the technical arguments, I think that the way the NASB translates it is probably the best: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all….” But, you still have to determine, who is “we” and who are “they”? Again, without delving into the various arguments, I think it’s best to understand “we” as “we Jews” and “they” as the Gentiles. But, that seems to make Paul contradict in verse 9 what he said in verse 1, that the Jews have many advantages over the Gentiles. But he is considering two different issues. In verse 1 he is saying that there are many spiritual advantages to being born a Jew, if the Jew will take them. But in verse 9 he is coming back to what he argued in 2:17-29, that the Jews are just as much under sin and in need of God’s salvation as the Gentiles are.

And so in verse 9 he restates his charge that the entire human race (“Jews and Greeks”) is under sin. This is the first occurrence of sin in Romans. Paul goes on to use that word nearly 50 times from here through chapter 8. He is charging that both religious people and raw pagans are under sin. Relatively “good” people and rotten scoundrels are under sin. As an ancient Chinese proverb observed, “There are two good men—one is dead and the other is not yet born” (cited by S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. “Studies in Romans: Part IX: The Universality of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 131:522:164).

Then, to show that he didn’t make up this charge, Paul cites Scripture. Verse 10b, “There is none righteous, not even one.” is not verbatim from Psalm 14:1, which reads, “There is no one who does good” (or, LXX, lit., “kindness”). Paul may be blending Ecclesiastes 7:20, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” with Psalm 14:1.

But whatever the source, verses 10-12 drive home the fact that every human being, without exception, is under sin: “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.’”

Paul hammers the lid with so many nails that you cannot pry it open: none righteous; not even one; none who understands, none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one! Paul does not let anyone slip under the radar! We all have sinned.

To be righteous means to be blameless with regard to God and to our fellow man, to live in perfect conformity to God’s law (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The Righteous Judgment of God [Zondervan], pp. 197-198). So Paul means “that there is not a single person who, apart from God’s justifying grace, can stand as ‘right’ before God” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 203).

When Paul says (3:9) that all are “under sin,” he means that everyone is under the guilt of sin. This is not to say that everyone feels guilty. A mafia hit man may not feel the slightest twinge of guilt after shooting a man in the face. Afterwards, he goes to dinner with his friends and jokes about the look of horror on the victim’s face just before he blew him away. But although he doesn’t feel guilty, he is truly guilty of murder in God’s sight. To be “under sin” means that we are truly guilty of violating God’s holy law. We will be condemned when we stand before Him for judgment, unless our sins are atoned for through Christ’s blood.

Also, to be “under sin” means that outside of Christ, we are under the power of sin. It dominates our lives so that we obey its lusts. Paul refers to this as being slaves of sin (Rom. 6:6, 16-22). Again, this does not mean that unbelievers are as wicked as they possibly could be. Nor does it mean that they are incapable of being kind or doing good deeds. Rather, in God’s sight and by His perfect standard of righteousness, even their good deeds are as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). They do them ultimately to exalt self, not to glorify God.

Also, note that being “under sin” means that sin, like a disease, affects their entire being. Acts of sin are the symptoms of the underlying disease. Their understanding or mind is darkened (3:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 4:18). Their motivation is warped, so that they do not seek God or fear Him (3:11, 18). Their speech, which comes out of their heart (Matt. 12:34), is corrupt (3:13-14). Their behavior is selfish and destructive (3:15-17). Their entire way of life (“path”) is misdirected (3:16, 17). So all human beings and all parts of all human beings are under sin.

2. Sin negatively affects our relationships with God and with other people.

The two greatest commandments are to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). Sin sabotages both relationships.

A. Sin negatively affects our relationship with God.

God warned Adam and Eve that in the day they sinned, they would die (Gen. 2:17). This referred to the curse of physical death, but also to spiritual death, being cut off from the life of God in their souls. Since their original sin, the entire human race is born in sin, alienated from the life of God. Hence, no one is born righteous, not even one. No one, apart from God’s saving grace, is able to seek or attain righteousness in God’s sight, because we all sin often in many ways. The assessment of Genesis 6:5 is not limited to the human race just prior to the flood, but is true of all who are outside of Christ: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

When Paul says (3:11a), “there is none who understands,” he is referring to moral and spiritual understanding (see 1:31; Matt. 13:14, 15, 19, 23, 51). Outside of Christ, our minds are darkened with regard to spiritual truth, as we’ve seen. As Paul explains (1 Cor. 2:14), “But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

“There is none who seeks for God” (3:11b) means that, apart from God’s drawing the sinner to Himself (John 6:44, 65), none could or would seek for Him. As Jesus said (John 3:19, 20), “Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Furthermore (3:12a), “All have turned aside.” As Isaiah 53:6 puts it, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way….” We deliberately tossed aside God’s roadmap to heaven and took what we thought would be a shortcut. But it got us hopelessly lost.

Also (3:12b), “Together they have become useless.” The word useless is used of sour milk or of rotten fruit. Our lives are useless to God because of our sin. Then (3:12c, d) Paul repeats verse 10 with a slight variation, “There is none who does good, there is not even one.” Since “good” in God’s sight means to do what we do for His glory, no one outside of Christ does good. Everything we do before we come to Christ is tainted by the disease of sin.

At the end of this section (3:18), Paul comes back to another sin issue that negatively affects our relationship with God, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is the root problem. Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), the one who does not fear God is a fool. He hasn’t even entered the kindergarten of wise living, because he does not revere God. He does not bow in awe before God’s sovereignty, majesty, and glory. He does not fear God’s judgment on his sins.

Since the fear of God is not “before his eyes,” it means that God is not at the center of his thoughts. The sinner does not live with the awareness that he is accountable to God and dependent on God for all things. He does not think about the fact that God could easily say (Luke 12:20), “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” Sin negatively affects our relationship with God.

B. Sin negatively affects our relationships with others.

Sin prevents us from obeying the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We’ll look at these destructive behaviors more in just a moment, but here I just want to point out the obvious, that people who use deception and abusive speech (3:13-14) do not have harmonious relationships. People who use anger and threats of violence are on the path of destruction and misery, not on “the path of peace” (3:15-17) They shred harmonious relationships.

3. Sin always has destructive results.

Again, I am stating the obvious, but it needs to be stated. Why do we fall into sin? Because we wrongly think that it will bring us the happiness and satisfaction that we long for. True joy and lasting pleasure is found only in God. As David wrote (Ps. 16:11), “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

But maybe you aren’t experiencing God’s joy and the pleasures of His presence. Maybe you’re in a difficult marriage. You know that you ought to obey God by being faithful to your mate and by loving her as God has commanded. But it’s not easy. Along comes a seductive woman at work who shows an interest in you. She seems as if she will give you the happiness that your wife is not providing. So you give in to temptation, fall into adultery, get a divorce, and marry the new “Ms. Right.” Will you be happy?

Not for long, because sin is like buying stuff on credit. For a short while, you can live like a king. Travel wherever you want, stay in five star hotels, and eat in the finest restaurants. What a great life! But then the bills start coming due, and life isn’t so great anymore! Sin provides short term pleasure, but long term pain. Obedience is often difficult in the short term, but it yields pleasures forever at God’s right hand.

Also, note how sin destroys relationships. Paul (3:13a) describes the throat of sinners as an open grave. The idea is that the stench of a corpse belches out. The person who gets near such a place will be defiled. Also (3:13b), the tongues of the wicked “keep deceiving.” They use smooth speech to beguile you, but all the while they are trying to use you for their own evil advantage. “The poison of asps is under their lips” (3:13c) just waiting to strike and kill their victim. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness (3:14). They not only take the Lord’s name in vain, but they use curses to get power over their enemies. They are bitter, unforgiving people. They seek to destroy others, and the result is misery and no peace (3:16-17).

In some cases, sin destroys the sinner himself by driving him to suicide. His sin has alienated him from God and from all human relationships to the point that he loses all hope. He has no peace with God, no peace with others, and no peace in his own soul. In despair, he destroys himself. Sin always has destructive results.

So Paul’s picture of the human race, fallen in sin, is pretty grim. First, he allows no exceptions: all people, even so-called “good” people, are under sin. Second, their sin negatively affects their relationships with God and others. Third, sin always has destructive results. It never gets us where we hope it will take us. It leaves a trail of destruction and misery.

If I stayed strictly with our text, I’d end the message here and say, “Have a great week!” There isn’t much hope in these verses. And, he’s not quite done. Next time, we’ll look at verses 19 & 20, which close his case. But Paul knows that unless you feel the despair of the awful disease of sin, you won’t take the cure. But rather than end on a downer, let’s briefly look at verses 21 and following, where Paul gives us the cure:

4. All people need to hear the good news that God has provided a Savior from sin.

Paul breaks in with one of the great “buts” of Scripture (3:21, 22): “But now apart from the Law [which we could never keep perfectly] the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” He is going back to 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Or, as we saw, the last phrase may be translated, “But the righteous man by faith shall live.”

The greatest news in the world is that although we all are under sin’s condemnation, by faith in Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty we deserved, we can receive God’s gift of eternal life. As Paul says (Rom. 3:24), “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Have you received that gift?

Conclusion

There are modern preachers, some with huge, “successful” churches, who would never preach the message of Romans 3:9-18. It’s too negative. It puts people down. It tears down their self esteem. It makes them feel terrible about themselves. It sounds harsh, not loving.

But Paul knew that the most loving doctor will tell you the truth about your disease. If he knows that you’re terminally ill and he has the cure, but he just hugs you and tells you that you’re wonderful and sends you out the door, he doesn’t love you. Or, if he doesn’t tell you the bad news that you’re terminal, he knows that you would not take the chemotherapy that could cure you. If you don’t think you’re sick, you won’t take the medicine.

In love, God (through Paul) tells you the grim truth: you’re terminal under sin. You’re headed for eternal condemnation. But then He gives you the good news: God will justify the guilty sinner who puts his trust in Jesus Christ and the redemption He secured on the cross. It’s not a dreadful cure, like chemo. It’s a wonderful cure! Believe in Him today and you will be freed from the curse of sin and death!

Application Questions

  1. Why are “good” sinners the most difficult to reach with the gospel? What is their root sin?
  2. If no one can seek for God unless God first seeks him, is it futile to exhort sinners to seek the Lord? Why/why not?
  3. Some professing Christians argue that fearing God is an Old Testament concept, but that the New Testament emphasizes His love. What Scriptures would you use to refute this?
  4. How would you answer someone who claims that his sin (immorality, drugs, lying, etc.) has brought him happiness that he lacked when he tried to obey God?

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: Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 16: Why God Gave the Law (Romans 3:19-20)

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Have you ever noticed how prone you are to excuse yourself and blame others? This especially comes out when I’m driving. The driver who whizzed past me is a maniac. The granny in front of me holding up traffic by her slow driving is a road hazard. But me? Hey, I drive just right!

The guy who spends less than I do is a tightwad. The guy who spends more is irresponsible. But me? I’m a careful manager of what the Lord gives me.

We chuckle at these examples, but if we go through life justifying ourselves and blaming others, the day will come when we won’t be laughing. We’ll be standing before God, all of our excuses will evaporate, our mouths will be closed, and we will hear the Sovereign Judge pronounce, “Guilty as charged!” At that point, it will be too late to plead for mercy.

As we’ve seen in recent messages, the most difficult people to reach with the gospel are relatively “good” people, especially religious “good” people. They go to church. They are outwardly moral. They take pride in their good deeds. They think, “Sure, I’ve got my faults. Who doesn’t? But, God knows that I’m a basically good person. Criminals and terrorists may deserve hell, but I’m not like they are.” Filled with self-righteousness, they trust in their good works to justify them on judgment day. They don’t see their need for a Savior from sin. And so they never repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ.

Paul is like a prosecuting attorney, summing up his case. He’s still aiming at the self-righteous Jews. In Romans 3:9, he sums up his case, “for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” Then, to cinch his case with the Jews, he cites from their own Scriptures to prove that there is none righteous, not even one (3:10-18).

But he’s not quite done. Paul realizes that religious, “good” sinners are very difficult to convince of their sin. He knows that they still may be thinking, “The passages you just quoted, Paul, refer only to wicked Jews or to the Gentiles. But I’m a good, law-keeping Jew. Those verses don’t describe me!”

So Paul shows (“we know” appeals to something that is common knowledge, which even the religious Jews would agree with) that the Law speaks to all who are under it. Yes, God’s Law condemns the Gentiles, too, so that “the whole world may become accountable to God.” But the Law speaks to those who are “in the Law” (literal translation), namely, to the Jews. He is showing that their own Law, in which they boasted, condemns them. They will not be justified by the Law unless they have kept it perfectly, which no one has. We can’t expect to be justified by a law that we have only kept occasionally and have broken often. That is his closing argument before resting his case.

But this raises a question: Then why did God give the Law? Paul shows,

God gave the Law to reveal His standard of absolute righteousness to convict us all of our true guilt before Him, so that we would see our need for the gospel.

We all need to understand and apply this text personally, so that we abandon any attempt to justify ourselves. We need to trust in Christ alone. Also, we need to understand these verses so that we can use them to dislodge the propensity of others toward self-righteousness, so that they will see why they need to believe in the gospel. This is by far the most common problem that you will encounter when you talk to others about their need for the Savior. They’re blind towards their own sin. They wrongly think, “God will let me into heaven because I’m a good person.” They can’t imagine how a loving God could damn them eternally for their “few” faults. These verses show God’s standard of absolute righteousness and how that standard will convict everyone who trusts in his own righteousness. To be acquitted, we need the perfect righteousness of the Savior credited to our account (3:21-28).

1. God gave the Law to reveal His standard of absolute righteousness.

When you tell people that they have sinned against the holy God, you will often hear, “God knows that I’ve done the best that I could. I believe in the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. I try to live by the Sermon on the Mount.” They seem to think that if you try to do your best, even if you fail thousands of times, God will let you off on judgment day. He will reward your effort, not penalize your failures. Besides, if He demanded perfection, no one could be saved! Precisely!

But James 2:10 points out, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” We don’t like to admit this, but if you think about it, you have to admit it. If a man stole your credit card and used it to buy thousands of dollars of purchases, he is guilty of stealing. What would you think if, when he came to trial, he argued, “But judge, I didn’t commit adultery with his wife”? “I didn’t steal his car or burn down his house. I didn’t lie to him. I didn’t molest his children. And, besides, I try to live by the Golden Rule. I do the best that I can.” All of that is irrelevant to the main issue: “Did you steal his credit card and use it to buy thousands of dollars of goods?” If so, he is guilty in spite of all the other bad things he didn’t do and in spite of all the good things that he may be doing. He’s a law-breaker.

Let’s look for a moment at the absolute righteousness of God’s Law (Paul means the whole Old Testament), which gives us “the knowledge of sin” (3:20).

A. The two great commandments sum up God’s absolute standard.

Jesus said (Matt. 22:37-40) that the entire Law rests on the two great commandments: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Who can possibly claim even to have come close to keeping the first great commandment? Have you, from your earliest memory, always loved God completely, with all your heart, soul, and mind, every day all day long? This would mean that you have always obeyed Him, because if you don’t obey Him, you don’t love Him. It would mean that He always has been the center of your waking thoughts. His will has been at the center of every decision that you have made. His glory has been your supreme desire and aim in whatever you think, say or do. You begin every day by worshiping Him. You love His Word more than food and meditate on it day and night. Who in his right mind can say, “You’ve just described me”?

We don’t fare any better on the second great commandment, to love our neighbor just as much as we in fact love ourselves. Did you always gladly share your toys as a toddler? In school, did you always put others ahead of yourself? Have you given generously and sacrificially to help the needy? Have you always put your mate’s needs ahead of your own? Have you always treated your children with love and kindness, even when they were disobedient? At work, did you rejoice when your co-worker got the promotion that you thought you deserved? Again, who in his right mind can say, “You’ve just described me”? What about the Ten Commandments?

B. The Ten Commandments elaborate on the two great commandments.

Surveys have shown that even though many people say that they try to live by the Ten Commandments, few can name them all. So it’s hard to imagine how anyone can keep commandments that he doesn’t even know! The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20:1-17 (also, Deut. 5:6-21). The first four commandments elaborate on our love for God. (1) “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (2) “You shall not make for yourself an idol….” (3) “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain….” (4) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy….”

There is a debate about whether Christians under the New Covenant are under the Ten Commandments and especially about how the sabbath command applies to believers in Christ. But all of the Ten Commandments, except for the sabbath command, can be found in the New Testament. So even if we say that you are free to watch a football game on Sunday afternoon, have you perfectly kept the first three commandments? “Yes, I’ve never had any other gods before the Lord, or made or worshiped any idols.” Really? You’ve never usurped God’s rightful lordship over your life? You’ve never put your money or possessions or some pastime ahead of the place that belongs to God alone? And, you didn’t mention the third command. Have you never carelessly said, “Oh, my God”? Or, “Oh, Jeez”? Most of us have said far worse in a moment of anger!

Skipping how you have violated the Lord’s Day, let’s move on to the other six, which focus on your love for others: (5) “Honor your father and mother.” (6) “You shall not murder.” (7) “You shall not commit adultery.” (8) “You shall not steal.” (9) You shall not bear false witness….” (10) “You shall not covet….”

None of us have made it through childhood by always honoring our parents. As for murder and adultery, let’s wait until we come to the Sermon on the Mount. But, what about stealing? Have you never taken what does not belong to you? Have you always claimed all of your income on your tax forms and never fudged on a deduction? What about lying? Have you always told the truth, even if it made you look bad? And have you never coveted something that belongs to someone else?

“But I’m a Christian. I try to follow Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.” Really? You just jumped from the frying pan into the fire!

C. The Sermon on the Mount reveals that God judges us on the heart level, not just on external obedience.

As I just alluded to, Jesus brought up the command about murder. While the self-righteous Pharisees were congratulating themselves that they had never killed anyone, Jesus nailed them (and us!) by saying that if you’ve ever been angry with your brother, you’re guilty of murder in God’s sight and deserving of “the fiery hell” (Matt. 5:21-22). He did the same thing regarding the seventh commandment against adultery. He said that if you’ve ever lusted in your heart after a woman, you’re guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:27-30). He sums up the requirement (Matt. 5:48): “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How can anyone claim, “I keep the Sermon on the Mount”?

The so-called Golden Rule is a part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:12), “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Again, it’s a noble goal, but who can claim that they’ve done it perfectly? If you say that you have, you just broke the commandment about lying!

So Paul’s point is that God’s Law reveals His standard of absolute righteousness. As a result,

2. God’s Law convicts us all of our true moral guilt before Him.

This is Paul’s point when he says (3:19b-20), “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

These verses re-emphasize the universality of sin, which verses 10-12 established so forcefully. Paul makes three points:

A. The Law closes every mouth.

The picture is of an accused person standing before the judge to present his case. But in this case, the judge is the Sovereign, holy God, creator of heaven and earth! Here comes the proud atheist, who wrote books arguing that God is not great or that He is a delusion. What will he say when he stands before the blinding glory of the holy God? Nothing! His mouth will be stopped. He has no more arguments.

Or, here is the person who often complained about how unfair God is. If He were a God of love and power, He would not allow all of the suffering that we see in this world. If He would just run the universe differently (as I would!), it would be a much happier place. Now he stands before the Almighty. What does he say? Nothing! He has no defense.

Even godly men have had their down times, when they questioned God. God allowed Satan to attack the righteous Job by taking his possessions, killing his ten children, and then covering his body with painful boils. Job wanted to argue his case before God that he was being dealt with unfairly. But when God appeared and gave Job a glimpse of His power and wisdom, Job’s response was to slap his hand over his mouth, to be silent, and to repent in dust and ashes (Job 40:4-5; 42:6). Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-5), Habakkuk (Hab. 3:16), and the apostle John (Rev. 1:17) were also silenced when they got a glimpse of the glory of the Lord. The point is, when you stand for judgment before God on His throne, you won’t have anything to say. Every mouth will be closed.

I read about a woman who got a traffic ticket. She was guilty, but she thought that she had some excuses that might get the charges dropped, so she arranged to argue her case before the judge. In her mind, she imagined how the judge would ask if she was guilty. She would say, “Yes, but I want to explain why.” She would proceed to convince the judge that what she did could hardly be avoided and so the ticket should be excused. She had her argument ready.

“But,” she said, “when I came into that court and stood up there all alone, and the judge was on the bench, dressed in his black robe, and he looked over his glasses at me and said, ‘Guilty or not guilty,’ all my arguments faded.” Her mouth was stopped.

If that happened in a traffic court with a human judge, how much more will we be silenced when we stand before the Sovereign of the universe! Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed (Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], p. 19), “You are not a Christian unless you have been made speechless! How do you know whether you are a Christian or not? It is that you ‘stop talking.’”

B. The Law makes us all accountable to God.

“Accountable” is a legal term that occurs only here in the New Testament. It means that we are guilty and liable for punishment. It’s not that we are accountable in a human court, but to God Himself! He knows every evil thought that we’ve entertained. He knows every secret sin that we’ve committed. All things are open and laid bare before Him (Heb. 4:13). We’ve all broken His holy Law, not just a few times, but thousands and thousands of times. How could we possibly hope that all charges will be dropped?

But, you may wonder, how can the whole world be accountable to God through the Law, since it was only given to the Jews? Paul has already pointed out that even the Gentiles, who did not have the Law, had the work of the Law written in their hearts and consciences (2:15). But here, Paul does not seem to be referring to that, but to the Law that God gave in written form to the Jews. He is arguing from the greater to the lesser: If the Jews, who were God’s covenantal people, could not even keep His Law, then it follows that no one else could keep it either. The failure of the Gentiles is obvious (1:18-32), but here Paul is indicting the self-righteous Jews. If they are guilty, then the whole world is also accountable to God. None will escape His judgment.

C. Keeping the Law cannot be the way to justification.

Back in 2:13, Paul said, “It is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” As I explained when we studied that verse, some understand it in a hypothetical sense, that if anyone can keep the Law, he will be justified, but none can. Others (and I lean this way) say that in the context there, Paul was not speaking of hypothetical perfect obedience, but rather to the general obedience that some, by God’s saving grace, are able to perform. He was not looking at the front end of how one attains justification, but at the pattern of life of those who have been justified by faith.

But here Paul is looking at how one attains justification in the first place. It is not earned by keeping the Law, because no one can keep it perfectly. If we could earn right standing with God by our perfect obedience to God’s Law, salvation would not be by grace alone and we then could boast. Nothing that we do by way of obedience (here called, “the works of the Law”) will ever be good enough, because we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (3:23). As we’ve seen, God gave the Law to reveal His standard of absolute righteousness, not to be the way of salvation. J. B. Phillips (The New Testament in Modern English [Geoffrey Bles], p. 314) paraphrases the last clause of verse 20, “it is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.” Thus,

3. Our utter failure to keep God’s Law should drive us to the gospel for salvation.

Paul has been laying the foundation for this point from 1:18 through 3:20. We will study it in 3:21-28, but briefly notice (3:21-22): “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” As he goes on to say (3:24), we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” That’s the greatest news in the world: Even though we are all guilty of breaking God’s Law, He offers a pardon to all that trust in Jesus and His substitutionary death on the cross!

Conclusion

Years ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, the pastor for many years of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, used to ask those with whom he shared the gospel, “When you die and God asks, ‘What right do you have to come into my heaven?’ what will your answer be?” He was trying to get people to understand that their only right to heaven had to be that they were trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the cross to pay for their sins.

On one occasion, an Arthur Murray dance instructor had been out late on a Saturday night. In the early hours of the morning, he stumbled back to his hotel room and fell into bed. The next morning, he was jolted awake by his clock radio, where the speaker asked, “If in the next few moments some great disaster should happen and you should be killed and if you should find yourself before God and he should ask you, ‘What right do you have to come into my heaven?’ what would you say?”

The question amazed and confounded the dance instructor. He had never heard such a question before. He realized that he didn’t have an answer. His mouth was stopped. He sat silently on the edge of his bed while the speaker, Dr. Barnhouse, explained the answer. The dance instructor put his trust in Jesus Christ that day in his hotel room.

His name was D. James Kennedy. He went on to become the pastor for many years of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He also developed the Evangelism Explosion program that has led thousands to Christ by asking that question: “If you were to die today and God asked you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?” (This story related by James Boice, Romans [Baker], 1:326-327.)

“Lord, I’ve tried to be a good person; I’ve done my best to keep the Golden Rule,” won’t cut it. “Lord, I’m a guilty sinner, but I put my trust in Your Son Jesus who died to pay my penalty,” is the only answer that will be accepted. Make sure that your trust is in Christ alone!

Application Questions

  1. Someone asks you, “Is God fair to punish sincere, relatively “good” people forever in hell?” How would you answer?
  2. Is it enough to explain in general terms that we all have sinned? How can we properly use God’s Law to show lost people their true guilt before God?
  3. Can a person be saved by believing in Christ as one who will give them a better life, without realizing his guilt? Or, must he be convicted of sin before he can trust in Christ as Savior?
  4. An atheist tells you, “I don’t believe in God and so I don’t believe that I will face Him in judgment.” How would you answer him?

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: Law, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 17: How Can I Be Right With God? (Romans 3:21-24)

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Marla and I spent the infamous Y2K, when the calendar turned to January 1, 2000, in a remote village in the Czech Republic, ministering to a group of college students. One day during a break, we were walking around the village when we met a friendly local man, who took us on a nice hike and showed us around town. We told him what we were doing there.

The next day, I was in the middle of a question and answer time with the students when someone ushered in this man. He raised his hand and asked, “What is the difference between Christianity and the other religions of the world?” I thought, “What an opportunity! I get to share the gospel with this man, plus all of these students can listen as I do it!”

I then explained that all religions, including some Christian ones, such as Roman Catholicism (the Czech Republic used to be mainly Catholic, but now is largely atheist), believe that the way a person gets right with God is through good works. Every religion is man’s effort to be reconciled to God by earning His favor. But biblical Christianity is God’s reconciling sinful man to Himself apart from our good works. God sent His eternal Son to pay the penalty that we deserve so that we can be right with Him through grace alone by trusting in Jesus Christ.

I don’t know whether God used my words to open that man’s heart to the truth or not. His English was broken enough that I was not able to follow through with him via email. But his question was a vital one that leads to what is the most important question that any person can ever ask: How can I be right with God? Or, more specifically: How can a sinner such as I be right with God, who is absolutely righteous?

This is the question that Paul finally answers in our text and the following verses. I say finally because from Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul forcefully drives home the point that all people, whether the pagan Gentiles or the religious Jews, are under sin. He spent so long on that subject, especially hitting the religious Jews with their self-righteousness, because he knew that unless we feel the weight of our own sin and condemnation, we will not appreciate our need for the gospel. We need to understand the bad news before we will welcome the good news.

Paul had referred to the gospel in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Now, he comes back to that theme, mentioning “the righteousness of God” being “manifested,” that there is “no distinction” (between Jew and Greek), and the need for everyone to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Coming after the inescapable condemnation of 1:18-3:20, “But now” is one of the greatest contrasts in the Bible. He uses the same phrase later when he contrasts our past as slaves of sin, headed for death (ving been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” He is fond of making this same dramatic contrast in other places, also (1 Cor. 15:20; Eph. 2:4, 13; Col. 1:22). Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out (Romans: Atonement and Justification [Zondervan], pp. 24-25), “No man can be a Christian without realizing his utter hopelessness.” He goes on to say (p. 26) that the answer to whether you are a Christian or not hinges on your answer to this question, “Is there a ‘But now’ in your experience?”

In our text, Paul answers the age-old question asked several times in the Book of Job (4:17; 9:2; 25:4), “How can a person be right with God?” This is such a profound text that Leon Morris (The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 173) calls verses 21-26, “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.” Alva McClain (Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace [BMH Books], p. 101) says that if he could only have six verses out of the entire Bible, it would be Romans 3:21-26. Lloyd-Jones (p. 31) says, “It is no exaggeration to say of this section that it is one of the greatest and most important sections in the whole of Scripture.” These and other similar comments make me feel wholly inadequate to preach on it! We desperately need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand and apply these crucial verses!

Paul shows here that if salvation depends on our works, we face two impossible barriers: the righteousness and glory of God. How can we who have sinned be reconciled to the righteous God of all glory? How can we who have dishonored Him enter His holy presence? The great news is:

Sinners can be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ and His gracious sacrifice to redeem us.

It is crucial to understand three main things in our text:

1. We all need to be right with God because we all have sinned and fall short of His glory.

After spending two and a half chapters hammering home this point, why does Paul bring it up again? He writes (3:22b-23), “for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” He says it again because he knows how prone we all are, especially those of us from religious backgrounds, to minimize our sin and to justify ourselves by our good deeds. But …

A. The main issue that we all must face is how to be right with a righteous God.

When we present the gospel, we’re apt to talk about God’s love and mercy. But Paul is mainly concerned here to talk about God’s righteousness and our sin, or lack of righteousness. He mentions righteousness in verses 21, 22, 25, and 26, plus “justify” in 24 and 26, and “just” in v. 26. In Greek, all of these words come from the same word root. God’s righteousness refers to His absolute holiness or separateness from all sin and all that is wrong. But in this context, Paul is especially referring to how sinners may be justified or declared righteous in God’s sight (3:20).

“But now” (3:21) certainly must be applied personally as Dr. Lloyd-Jones brought out, but in the context, it refers to the contrast in salvation history between the era of the Law of Moses and the grace that comes through Jesus Christ. As we saw in our last study, God’s Law is not able to justify us. Rather, it condemns us by pointing out the many ways in which we have violated God’s holy standard. Since we’re all guilty of breaking God’s Law, we all must face the crucial question, “How can I get right with the righteous God in view of my many sins?”

B. Both pagans and the religious have sinned and need to be right with God.

When Paul says (3:22b) “for there is no distinction,” he means, “no distinction between Jew and Gentile.” The religious Jews would have agreed wholeheartedly with Paul that the Gentiles are under sin, but he has labored through chapters 2 and 3 to show that even the carefully religious Jew is guilty of not keeping God’s holy Law. When Paul says, “all have sinned,” he uses the Greek aorist tense. This leads some commentators to argue that he is referring to our identification with Adam in his original sin (in 5:12 he uses the same tense), which may be true. But the aorist tense may also be used to look at the fact or reality of the action itself (“constative” aorist). So Paul means, “Look around, look at yourself, and you will see that all without exception have sinned.” “Fall short” is in the present tense, meaning, we are consistently sinning and falling short of (or, lacking) God’s glory.

C. The essence of sin is to fall short of God’s glory.

What does this mean? John Piper (The Pleasures of God [Multnomah Publishers], revised and expanded edition, p. 158, note 1) explains that we were created to reflect God’s glory. He says, “We reflect his glory as we cherish it and keep it ever before us and make it the treasure and the goal of our lives.” Then he refers to Romans 1:23, where Paul says that sinners “exchanged the glory” of God for idols. He continues,

Thus we have traded treasures. We prefer other things in life to the delights of seeing and knowing the God of glory. This is the sense in which we “lack” the glory of God. We lack it as the treasure of our lives. We lack it as our passion and goal. We lack it as our all-satisfying vision. This is the essence of sin: preferring other things to the glory of God.

Of course, this is bad news, as we’ve seen. We “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But, there is a hint of good news even in Paul’s stating this bad news. If God’s Law condemns us all as sinners, how can we possibly get around it and get right with God?

2. Sinners can be right with God apart from the Law.

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (3:21). As we’ve seen, the Law cannot put anyone in a right relationship with God. Rather, the Law reveals God’s holy standard, which convicts and condemns us for our sin.

But this new way of gaining right standing with God is apart from the Law. He means, it is apart from keeping the Law perfectly as an attempt to be right with Him. It is a completely different approach. But then, is it in opposition to the Law? No, it is “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (which means, the whole Old Testament). Paul adds this phrase to show his Jewish readers that he is not overthrowing the Scriptures. He reinforces this in 3:31 when he says, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

He goes on to illustrate this in chapter 4 with the example of Abraham, who was justified by faith, not by his works. He backs this up with Psalm 32, where David exults in “the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works” (4:6). So we would be mistaken if we thought that the Old Testament taught that sinners get right with God by keeping the Law, whereas the New Testament overthrows that and says that we get right with God by faith. In the Old Testament, God credited His righteousness to sinners who by faith looked ahead to the promised Savior. In the New Testament, that Savior has been revealed and has given Himself as the sacrifice for sinners.

To paraphrase Paul’s flow of thought here (3:20-24), “Trying to keep God’s Law will not get anyone into right standing with Him. Rather, the Law just shows us how sinful we are. So now, apart from the Law, but in line with what both the Law and the Prophets pointed to, God declares sinners righteous when they believe in His final sacrifice for sins, Jesus Christ.” That leads to…

3. All sinners can be right with God through His free grace by trusting in Jesus Christ and the redemption in Him.

Since “all have sinned,” it would be pointless for Paul to write about a way of being right with God that did not apply to all sinners. But, ironically, it is those who do not see themselves as sinners who miss God’s way of righteousness. If you don’t think you’re sick, you won’t go to the doctor or take the medicine. We have to accept the diagnosis that we’re sinners before we will welcome the cure of God’s free grace in Christ.

To understand this good news is both simple and yet profound. It’s easy enough for a child to grasp and yet deep enough to evoke thousands of pages of deep theology. In these and the following verses Paul uses some important theological words. In verses 21-24, we need to understand four terms: justification; free grace; redemption; and, faith.

A. To be justified means that God declares us to be righteous.

To justify does not mean to make someone righteous, but to declare him to be righteous. It is a forensic or legal term that means to obtain the verdict of acquittal. Charles Hodge defined it (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 102), “Justification is pronouncing one to be just, and treating him accordingly, on the ground that the demands of the law have been satisfied concerning him.” For example, Deuteronomy 25:1 talks about judges deciding a case where “they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.” They pronounced the verdict, “not guilty,” on the righteous and “guilty” on the wicked. They did not make the accused righteous or wicked. Rather, they pronounced them to be such.

In Romans 3:24, the verb is passive. It is something that God does to us, not something that we do for ourselves. It is not a process, but a judicial action. The process of becoming righteous in character and behavior follows the judicial act of God declaring us to be righteous.

B. God justifies sinners freely by His grace.

Note (3:24), “being justified as a gift by His grace ….” The single Greek word translated “as a gift” means, “freely.” Jesus used it to say (John 15:25), “They hated Me without a cause.” Read that sense into Romans 3:24, “being justified without a cause.” Paul uses the word to say that he did not eat anyone’s food “without paying for it” (2 Thess. 3:8). Again, we can say that we are justified “without paying for it.” It is used in Revelation 22:17, where the thirsty soul is encouraged to “take the water of life without cost.” We are justified “without cost.” It’s completely free!

As if that word alone were not enough to convey this astounding news, Paul adds one of his favorite words (which should be your favorite word, also!), “by His grace.” Grace is God’s favor shown to those who deserved His wrath. It is completely unmerited. You can see this by looking at Romans 4:4, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.” The word translated “favor” is the Greek word, “grace.” When you work, you don’t get grace; you get wages. Your boss owes it to you and he must pay you or you can file legal charges against him. But grace is the opposite of working and receiving what you’re owed. With grace, you get undeserved favor. You deserved to get fired because you messed up, but your boss gave you a huge bonus instead. That’s grace. God justifies sinners who deserve His wrath freely by His grace. The bonus is eternal life!

That’s terrific news if you are the guilty sinner who is declared innocent freely because of grace. But, frankly, it doesn’t seem right! If an earthly judge declares a guilty murderer “not guilty” and in addition awards him a healthy judgment and then says, “I wanted to give him what he did not deserve,” we would say, “That’s unjust!” So how can God be just when He declares guilty sinners to be justified when they don’t deserve it?

C. God justifies sinners through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

“Redemption” means to buy something back by the payment of a price, or to release someone by the payment of a ransom (see Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross [Eerdmans], for an in depth study of redemption, justification, and other biblical terms for salvation). In Paul’s day it referred to freeing prisoners of war and slaves by paying the required price (Morris, pp. 12-13). Jesus used the word “ransom” (which is the root for the word “redemption”) in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Through His death, Jesus paid the price or penalty that God righteously imposed for our sins. Thus God’s justice was satisfied. Jesus was our substitute, paying what we should have paid, so that we go free at His great expense. Thus, justification is completely free for us, but it was costly to Jesus who redeemed us with His own blood.

In the Old Testament, the chief picture of redemption was Israel’s being freed from slavery in Egypt. To avoid the deaths of their firstborn sons, the Jews had to kill a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts and lintel of their houses. God saw the blood and passed over those homes. Jesus is our Passover lamb, slain to redeem us from our slavery to sin. He paid the price that God required. In that way, God can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). That leads to the last word, “faith” (or “believe”). This word is the key to the question, “How can I be right with God?”

D. God justifies sinners through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul says (3:22a), “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (The KJV adds the phrase “and on all”; but most commentators agree that it is not original.) Scholars debate whether the Greek phrase, which is literally, “through faith of Jesus Christ,” refers to Jesus’ faithfulness or to our faith in Him (the Greek grammar can be taken either way). I agree with those who argue that it means “faith in Jesus Christ” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], pp. 224-225; Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], pp. 181-186). He is the object of our faith. It is not enough to have a general faith in God. You must specifically put your trust in Jesus Christ and what He did for you on the cross.

But then is Paul being redundant when he adds, “for all those who believe”? Paul knows that our fallen human tendency to want to be justified by our own supposed righteousness is so strong that he repeats it to make sure we don’t miss it. The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and it is for all who believe. The first phrase, “through faith,” shows that faith is not something that merits salvation, but rather it is the hand that receives the gift. The last phrase, “for all those who believe,” underscores the universal offer of God’s grace. No sinner needs to despair that he is too far gone. All who believe are justified by God’s free grace.

Conclusion

So how can you and I as sinners be right with a God who is absolutely holy? It’s impossible to be right with God by striving to be a good person or by attempting to keep God’s Law. As we saw last week, the Law only reveals how far we fall short of God’s glory. To be right with God by our good deeds would be like lining up at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and trying to jump across to the North Rim. An Olympic broad jumper might get 25-30 feet from the edge before he went down. I’d get maybe 8-10 feet before I would go down. A person with infirmities would only step off the edge and plummet to his death. But no one could leap the ten miles to the other side. It’s impossible!

On judgment day, the question will not be, how far did you jump before you went down? The only question will be, did you get to the other side? You either will be lost by trying to get to heaven by your good deeds, or justified by trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf. The great news is that although we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, freely by His grace He declares righteous all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice to redeem us. To be right with God, make sure that your trust is totally in Jesus Christ! If you have put your trust in Christ alone to carry you across the chasm between you and God, you know that there is a huge “but now” in your life!

Application Questions

  1. Why are we all so prone to try to get right with God by our own good works? What sin is at the root of this?
  2. The Roman Catholic view is, “Faith + Works = Justification.” The Protestant view is, “Faith = Justification + Works.” Why is this distinction crucial? How would you defend it biblically?
  3. What practical blessings result from the biblical view that justification is God’s judicial action, not a lifelong process?
  4. Someone argues, “It’s not just for God to declare the guilty as innocent with no promise or effort to change on their part.” How would you answer him from Scripture?

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, Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation)

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)

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