The King’s Prophecy

I. Introduction

We’re continuing our chronological study of the bible; last week, Chris brought us into the time of David and the end of King David’s life.  Throughout David’s life, he was a man after God’s own heart, even though David was an adulterer, murderer, deceiver.  Yet, God rescued David, just as He rescues you and me.
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Man is corrupt; we have a fallen nature.  God gives us free will to choose Him, and also gives us an opportunity not to choose Him.  Beginning in the Garden of Eden, Adam was in God’s perfect will, and Adam still chose to rebel.  And each one of us have had an opportunity to be in God’s perfect will, and yet we can all look at aspects of our lives and say, you know, I made choices contrary to God’s plan, and those poor choices led me here.
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There is an opportunity for each person to be righteous in the eyes of the Lord.  If we are perfect, as He is perfect, God says we qualify to be in His presence in heaven.  And that’s what heaven is, isn’t it?  Perfection with the Lord?  Heaven isn’t a place of “good enough.”  That wouldn’t be heaven.  That’s hardly an improvement over this world.  No, heaven is perfection, and God’s perfect justice will destroy all evil and sin and “good enough”.  All it takes to enter heaven is to be free of sin.  And throughout history, do you know how many men and women have succeeded in living a life free of sin?
David’s son Solomon tells us centuries ago in Ecclesiastes 7:20,
Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
no one who does what is right and never sins.
And centuries later, Paul repeats in Romans 3:10,
As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one.
That’s right.  Nobody.  No one is righteous, no not one.
And King David, a man after God’s own heart?  He wasn’t perfect.  Oh no, he set all sorts of bad examples of how to fail spectacularly.
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But God didn’t wind up this planet, stick a bunch of people on it, give the world a spin and say, “well, Good luck.  Hope to see you again sometime.”  God’s justice is perfect, sure, and perfection is required to enter into His presence, but God also has perfect love for us and He doesn’t condemn us to destruction with no hope.
All the way back in the garden of Eden, God tells of a coming Seed who will redeem man.  God amplifies this promise to following generations by promising Abraham that his descendants will be a blessing to the nations, and by providing a substitute for Abraham’s son Isaac.  He continues to layer that promise with clearer pictures of redemption by accepting the blood of the lambs on the doorposts in the Passover, by establishing the Day of Atonement, and by giving Israel the sacrificial system.
In the book of Numbers, 24:17-19. Balaam blesses Israel,
“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel…
Out of Jacob One shall have dominion.
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And Isaiah writes full chapters of prophecy about the coming redemption of man through a Messiah who will win the victory for us sinners, including the entire chapter of Isaiah 53 which reads in part, verses 2-6,
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Because King David was a man after God’s own heart, God blesses David with details about the King and Messiah yet to come: the Messiah’s life, His death, His Resurrection and His Reign forever.
David wrote in Psalm 25:14,
“The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, and He shall show them His covenant.”

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II. The Messiah’s Life

God reveals details of the Messiah to David.  In Psalm 69:8-9, David describes the life of his future savior like this –
I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
This prophecy is fulfilled many times in the life of Jesus, such as in John 7:1-9.  Jesus’ brothers taunt Him and try to get him to go up to the Feast of Tabernacles, where the Jews want to kill Him.  Verse 5, John writes,
For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
In Mark 3, Jesus gathers His disciples and gives them power to drive out demons, but in verse 21-22, his family thinks he’s lost His mind and the rulers think Jesus serves the devil –
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

III. The Messiah’s Death

David also writes about the death of Jesus on the cross.  In Mark 15:34 as Jesus was being crucified,
And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Jesus is specifically directing us to read David’s words in Psalm 22, which begins,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
Psalm 22 is incredibly specific in describing the suffering and death of Jesus, including ridicule, abandonment by His friends, being surrounded by enemies, even His thirst, Psalm 22:15,
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
One of the soldiers gave Jesus vinegar to drink, a rag tied to a stick, but Jesus refuses it.  And David even prophecies the soldiers gambling for His clothing in Psalm 22:16-18,
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
In John 19, Jesus’ own executioners end up wearing His clothing, His righteousness clothing sinners.

IV. The Messiah’s Resurrection

David write about the Messiah’s resurrection in Psalm 16:9-11
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Both Peter and Paul cite this Psalm as a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection, noting that not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but He would rise before any bodily decay.

V. The Messiah’s Reign

Then the triumph of Jesus shines through the last part of Psalm 22, verse 27-28,
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
Israel’s unique relationship with the Lord will expand to all nations and opens God’s grace to the gentiles.

VI. The Messiah’s Prophecies Fulfilled

God has built a careful plan of both prophecy and fulfillment of His prophecy to demonstrate His truthfulness, and yet, many Christians are unaware of the great lengths God went through to demonstrate His fulfilled promises.  And if Christians aren’t confident in the truth about salvation through Jesus, how can nonbelievers be confident in the truth?
This is important – to know that Jesus lived and died, rose again on the third day, and sits at the right hand of the Father.  In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul reminds us that our entire faith rests on this point –
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
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In a recent study only 92% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was a real.  Less than half of Millennials believe that Jesus was God, preferring to think of Jesus as either a spiritual leader or something else, or not sure.
Like many of you, my wife and I pray for family members who do not know Jesus.  My wife’s family can be very ugly when she talks about her faith.  Imagine her joy when her sister called one Easter morning and left a voicemail that said she believed in Jesus!  But when my wife called her back, her sister hadn’t come to faith.  She was only agreeing that Jesus was a real person.
This shouldn’t even be a question – of course He existed.  There is more documentation about the life of Jesus than about any other historical person.  But when a non-Christian asks this question, they usually mean “not counting the bible”.
But there are multiple secular historians that wrote about an amazing man in a relatively unimportant small corner of the Roman Empire.  Roman Tacitus, considered one of the most accurate historians of the first century, wrote about Jesus.  So did Suetonius, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian.  Julius Africanus.  Pliny the Younger.  Lucian of Samosata.  Mara Bar-Serapion.  We can nearly reconstruct the life and ministry of Jesus from non-biblical sources.  Of course Jesus existed.
One of the most important external sources about the life of Jesus is Flavius Josephus, a famous Jewish historian for the Roman Empire.  Now, as a Jew and a Roman, Josephus would have been strongly opposed to the ministry of Jesus, but instead, Josephus wrote in Antiquities –
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats….He was [the] Christ…he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
And –
“At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”
Yeah, but was Jesus the son of God?  Certainly King David Isaiah wrote prophecies about the coming Messiah, and prophecies were written hundreds of years before Jesus –
OT Prophecies About Christ
Prophecy Scripture Years in Advance
Manner of Birth Isaiah 7:14 700 years
Place of Birth Micah 5:2 700 years
Nationality Numbers 24:17 1400 years
Tribe Genesis 49:10 1800 years
Time of & Response to His Messiahship Dan. 9:25-26 600 years
Crucified Between Thieves Isaiah 53:9 700 years
Pierced Isaiah 53:5 700 years
No Broken Bones Psalm 22:17 1000 years
Gamble for His Clothing Psalm 22:18 1000 years
Buried in Rich Man’s Tomb Isaiah 53:9 1000 years
I read a list of 355 separate prophecies in the bible about Jesus, and Jesus fulfilled every one.  A mathematical impossibility.  In a book called “Science Speaks,” they calculated that the odds of one man fulfilling all the prophecies was one in 10^17 power.  To put it in perspective, imagine the entire state of Texas covered in silver dollars two feet thick, and only 1 of those silver dollars is marked.  Now imagine a blindfolded man, heading out of Dallas by foot, would manage to pick out that silver dollar on his first try.  That’s the equivalent odds of one in 10^17th power.
I read that in a debate with an atheist, the atheist claimed that the only reason Jesus fulfilled those prophecies was because Jesus set out intentionally to fulfill those prophecies in order to deceive people.  So the Christian asked him, “So how did Jesus choose to be born in Bethlehem?”
If that wasn’t enough proof, Jesus made His own short term prophecies that were fulfilled –
Christ’s Short-Term Predictions
Prophecy Scripture
Betrayal by a Friend John 13:21
Three-fold Denial by Peter Matthew 26:34, 75
Manner of His Own Death Matthew 20:18-19
Manner of Disciples’ Deaths John 21:18-22
AD 70 Events Luke 19:41-44
When Jesus said in Matthew 24:2 that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed,
Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
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The Jews looked at the massive temple and scoffed.  But the temple in Jerusalem had a fortune in gold and silver inside for safekeeping, but during 70 AD the Romans set fire to the temple and the gold and silver melted and ran between the stones.  The Roman soldiers tore each and every stone out and threw it over the temple mount wall trying to retrieve the gold and silver.
Well, ok, so there’s proof Jesus existed and fulfilled prophecy, but maybe Jesus was just a great spiritual leader.
Well, Jesus was indeed a great spiritual teacher.  He never claimed to be God, did He?
That’s a narrow minded view of the life of Jesus.  Jesus never used the words, “I am God,” but He claimed to be God nonetheless.  In John 10:30, Jesus says,
I and the Father are One.
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The Jewish leaders understood that to mean Jesus and God were the same.  And when Jesus said to the Jews in John 8:58,
“I tell you the truth … before Abraham was born, I am!”
The Jews then took up stones to kill Jesus for blasphemy as the Mosaic Law commanded.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is quite unlike the Ten Commandments, it is the most amazing spiritual and prophetic sermon, and absolutely impossible for us to fulfill unless we allow Christ to remake us in His image.  So could Christ both claim to be God and teach this Sermon and be wrong?  C.S. Lewis grappled with this very subject and developed the Tri-Lemma.
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If Jesus claimed to be God and knew it to be false, then he was a liar.  But His teachings are those of compassion and love and truth.  Or maybe Jesus claimed to be God and didn’t know, which means He was a lunatic.  Hard to square that with the Sermon on the mount.
Or Jesus claimed to be God and knew it to be true.  Then the choice becomes ours on whether to accept Jesus as Lord.
But great spiritual leader that wasn’t God?  Jesus did not intend to leave us that option.  Liar, lunatic, or Lord are the only options.
Well, ok, he fulfilled prophecy and was the Son of God.  That doesn’t mean He was raised from the dead, does it?
Again, we have to look at the facts.  In 1 Corinthians 15:6-7, Paul says,
“After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles…”
Paul is telling the church of Corinth something they had seen for themselves, Jesus walking among them after His death on the cross.  They had eyewitnesses living among them.  It could not have just been a lie, because the witnesses still were around.
Let’s say I told you that I remember when Hillary Clinton won the Presidential election in 2016, or Hurricane Harvey slamming California, or the Texans winning with Superbowl.  You know those statements aren’t true – you remember the news.  And even if you weren’t in Houston, you can ask witnesses who remember.  In other words, there are people still alive who remember the truth.  A story like a dead man rising from the grave was believable precisely because so many saw Him, and Paul said those witnesses are still alive and you can question them about the life and resurrection of Jesus.
Some skeptics might then admit all of this was true so far, but maybe Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, maybe He was only wounded, or perhaps somebody stole the body.  There are lots of theories, but none of them make sense, especially in light of all the witnesses that saw Jesus.  Here are some of the theories –
  • Swoon theory.  This theory suggests Jesus didn’t actually die, he survived the crucifixion.  They put Him in a tomb, wrapped Him in linens like He was dead, but then He recovered and got up and walked around.  But the Roman guards who crucified Jesus were very good at their jobs of torture and death, and their own lives depended on it if they failed.  The Romans pieced him through the side with a spear and blood and water came out indicating hypovolemic shock followed by pleural effusion, the water from the lungs settling into the heart area, something that only occurs after death.  Jesus was most certainly dead.  And after having his skin flogged and beaten and tortured and hypovolemic shock and crucified, it’s not possible that being stored in a tomb for 3 days without food or water that a nearly dead Jesus could get up, untangle the linens that wrapped His body in a cocoon, and then walk around and mingle with His disciples and nobody notice that He was near death.  If He had survived – which He couldn’t and didn’t – then He would have been in ICU for months.
  • Ok, so He died on the cross.  Maybe his body was placed in the wrong tomb.  But that doesn’t make sense – there was again a Roman guard stationed outside the tomb.  Both the Sanhedrin and the Romans were trying to destroy early Christianity, and Romans making a mistake like that would have been punishable by death.  Besides, when the Christians claimed Jesus lived, the Jews or the Romans could just present the body to prove He was dead.
  • Maybe somebody stole the body.  But who would have done that?  The Romans?  No, that was punishable by death and they wanted Jesus dead.  The Jews?  They also wanted Jesus dead.  Besides, when the disciples and the 500 started walking around the streets and word got around that Jesus was alive, again, all the Jews or Romans had to do was produce the body.  That would have killed Christianity instantly.
  • That only leaves the disciples themselves who had motive to steal Jesus’ body.  But that doesn’t hold up, either – every one of Jesus’ disciples were tortured and killed for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus.  Maybe one person could survive torture and maintain a lie, but all twelve, enduring torture and prosecution and still proclaiming Christ lives?  They all died proclaiming Christ, and I just can’t imagine they would all do that for a lie.  No, they believe Christ died and rose again.
  • Mass Hallucination.  No really, that’s a theory.  Not a good theory, but hey, I included it on the list.

VII. Conclusion

Every person must make this decision about Jesus.  Did Jesus live?  Did He die?  Did He rise from the grave?  Is He a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord?  The evidence is overwhelming, from a biblical view, a logical view, an historical view.

In John 20, Jesus has been crucified and raised to life, but Doubting Thomas won’t believe it unless he puts his hands in the holes left by the nails in Jesus.  And Jesus appears and lets Thomas do exactly that, telling Thomas to stop doubting and to believe.  Thomas’s reaction in John 20:28-29,

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

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God has given us hundreds of fulfilled prophecies so that we may believe.  Those of us that have already placed our trust in Jesus probably also have a personal testimony of Jesus in our lives to help eliminate all doubt.  Jesus is real, our Messiah, our salvation, our rock and our fortress, and our redeemer.   As King David writes in Psalm 22:29-31 –
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
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To God be the glory.
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Bike for MS

First post in a long while that wasn’t a bible study. 🙂

I’m riding a bicycle for 150 miles in two day for a fundraiser, the MS150, benefitting Multiple Sclerosis.  I also set a goal to raise $1000, and I am oh so close.  Won’t you consider donating?  Here is my fundraising link:

Michael’s MS150 Fundraising Page

non-Facebook Michael’s MS150 Fundraising Page

The King Israel Wants

I. Introduction

We’ve been studying the bible chronologically this year, and we’ve covered a lot of ground.  God desires a relationship with man, but Adam sinned against the Lord and was cast out of the Garden of Eden, demonstrating man’s fallen nature.
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God continually reaches out toward man, but man continues rebel.  Cain slew Abel.  Men were so evil, the Lord flooded the earth and began again with Noah.  The Lord promised Abraham his children would be as numerous as the stars, but Abraham got impatient and slept with his maid.  Jacob was thrown into a well and sold into slavery, and the Lord reached out to rescue His people from Pharaoh through Moses.
And the people wandered in the wilderness until the unfaithful generation died off, then the people enter the Promised Land and begin the cycle that Chris taught about last week – rebellion leads to ruin, leads to repentance, leads to rescue, then repeat.

II. God’s Word about a King

All the way back in Deuteronomy, Moses gave the word of the Lord to the people that the day will come that they will need a king.  Deuteronomy 17:14-20,
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.  The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”  He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
In other words, the king should not build an army of horses which may give the people a false sense of security, nor build wealth.  He wasn’t to have multiple wives so as not to turn his heart from the Lord.  In short, this king was to be chosen by God from the people and lead by example of how to be a model follower of Yahweh.

III. The People’s Word about a King

So in 1 Samuel 8, the people finally ask the prophet Samuel for a king.  The Lord tells Samuel this is a bad idea – a king will take their sons and make them join the military, he will force them to serve the king with weapons and food and the best of their flock and their grain and the people will become slaves.  And the people will cry out to the Lord to be saved, but the Lord will not answer.
The people’s response?  “All the cool nations have kings, we want one, too!”
Samuel: “What about Deuteronomy 17, about a humble king chosen by God?”
The people: “Pfft.”
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The people wanted a king for all the wrong reasons, a king to lead them and fight battles.  The Lord pointed out to Samuel that the people were turning from their true, heavenly King to a human king.  But like so often happens between us and the Lord, I mean, between Israel and the Lord, the Lord gave them what they wanted, not what they needed.
The people chose Saul to be their king.  Not because Saul was devout, or humble, or obedient to the Lord.  No, the people chose Saul because he looked good.  1 Samuel 9:2 says,
Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
Instead of being the model servant of God, the people chose the man on the cover of the Israeli GQ magazine.
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Well, like I said last time I taught, if you can’t be a good example, then try to be a horrible warning.  What did Saul do wrong as Israel’s first king?  And if we study Saul as a horrible warning, what lessons can we draw that would help us live as good examples?

IV. Failure to Follow God’s Commands

First, Saul fails to follow all of God’s commands.  In 1 Samuel 15, the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amalekites.  Who were the Amalekites?  We have to go all the way back to the Exodus era in Exodus 17 to understand who the Amalekites are.  They’re one of the many -ites that trouble Israel over the centuries.  The Amalekites, the Amorites, the Canaanites.  The Meteorites.  The Snakebites.  The Parasites.  The Kryptonites.  Oh and the Off-whites.
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So the Israelites, led by Moses out of Egypt through the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amalekites who are killing women and children that are straggling at the rear of the line.  You may recall Joshua led a battle against the Amalekites while Moses held his hands in the air.  Moses’ arms get tired so his arms are held up by Aaron and Hur.   Joshua wins that battle, but our God isn’t pleased that while leading His people to freedom that they are attacked.  In Exodus 17:14-16,
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.  He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
God’s justice will remove the Amalekites and blot out their memory.  Anybody here know any Amalekites?
So after Israel asks for a king, God chooses their king Saul to wipe out the Amalekites; 1 Samuel 15:1-3,
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.  This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'”
The time for justice to be delivered to the Amalekites has come, but listen to how Saul carried out these instructions in 1 Samuel 15:7-9 –
Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt.  He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.  But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.  (April 13th, pg. 402)
In 1100 BC, capturing the king during a war meant riches for the winner.  The king could be ransomed off for a handsome profit.  And it would be a shame to kill all the animals, too, when there were so much better uses for them.
God sent a clear command to Saul through Samuel to completely wipe out the Amalekites and King Agog as an act of judgement.  Completely, in their entirety, leaving nothing.  Instead of obeying the Lord’s command, Saul keeps the spoils of war for himself.
Saul displayed a key character flaw during his time as king: he failed to fully obey the commands of God.  Saul had a habit of listening to God’s commands, and only following them halfway or sometimes not at all.  If Saul thought that he knew better than God, then he would do as he pleased.  Saul did this multiple times in key moments of his rule over Israel.  This disobedience from Saul grieved the heart of God so much so that God began to regret ever allowing Saul to become king over Israel.
Before we judge Saul too harshly, every one of us is tempted to disobey God.  There are many times that the commands of God and the teaching of Scripture will seem inconvenient, untenable, or unpalatable to us.  I see it in the news and it grieves me when entire churches decide which of God’s laws are acceptable and which ones are optional.  When we come across a truth from God that doesn’t make sense to us, we become tempted to either ignore it or only partially obey it.  We do this at our own risk.  God’s laws are not given to us to be restrictive or to make life difficult, but they are given to protect us, to help us thrive and become the people that God made us to be.  When we ignore God’s laws or pick and choose which law we will obey, it leads to destruction and pain for ourselves and those around us.

V. Giving Praise to Ourselves instead of to God

The second character flaw that Saul exhibited was his pride instead of humility.  Saul believed it was all about him.  In 1 Samuel 15:10, the Lord tells the prophet Samuel that the Lord is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His command to wipe out the Amelekites, so Samuel goes to see Saul.  Let’s see what Saul is up to, 1 Samuel 15:10-12,
Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel:  “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.
Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”  (April 13th, pg. 402)
Samuel went to Saul find out how the battle with the Amalekites ended.  Samuel found out that Saul had won the battle and then built a monument to himself instead of worshipping God.  Saul awarded himself a participation trophy.
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We get another glimpse into Saul’s character flaws as a leader.  Not only did Saul not fully obey the command of the Lord, but he also had the gall to build a monument to himself after his disobedience.
Saul’s priorities were not with following the Lord or honoring Him.  Instead, Saul wanted to lift himself up to increase his own esteem and notoriety in the world.  Saul was overtaken by the deadliest of sins: pride.  Saul’s role king made him think that he was more important than anyone else in the world, and it is clear from his actions that he actually thought himself more important than God.  His first instinct was to do what he wanted to do and to have people honor him.  Saul wanted to worship himself instead of the God who gave him every good thing in his life.
Pride and self-importance are perhaps the deadliest traps for any of us who find ourselves in a place of leadership.  A true leader looks to the best of others and seeks to accomplish the task at hand.  An ungodly leader uses his status to elevate himself above others.
This trap lies in wait for any of us.  Why do we serve?  The bible has specific warnings to teachers who elevate themselves and who like to hear themselves talk, but the warnings are applicable to anybody who serves.  If we serve because we think we will gain the recognition and approval of others, then our service to the Lord actually offends the Lord.  Jesus tells us the same thing in Matthew 6:1-4,
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
In other words, it’s not about you.  We must all learn to walk in humility and do everything possible to avoid the trap of pride.

VI. Failing to Acknowledge Mistakes

Does Saul have any other character flaws we can learn from?  I’m glad you asked.  Remember, the Lord’s instructions to Saul were to utterly destroy the Amalekites.  Leave nothing.  And instead, Saul captured King Agog and kept the best livestock as spoils of war to make himself rich.  In 1 Samuel 15:13-15 –
When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”
Or in other words,
Samuel: So Saul, did you obey the Lord?  Did you destroy all the cattle?
Saul: Why yes, I did.  Completely.
Cow: Moo.
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Saul refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his disobedience to the Lord.  First, he told Samuel that he had obeyed the Lord, and he said that he only kept the animals in order to sacrifice to God.  Saul’s denial is a form of “partial obedience.”
But did Saul obey?  Saul is in denial about his obedience.  “The Lord bless you, I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” he says.  As Christians today, we have specific instructions, too.  But partial obedience is the same as disobedience.
If you told your child to do the dishes, how many dishes would he have to do for you to consider him to be obedient?  One?  Ten?  Or all of the dishes?
How faithful does a spouse have to be to be considered faithful?  Most of the time?
The scripture says we are to abstain from sexual immorality.  And yes, that includes weekends.
Scripture says God hates gossip.  God says we are to be patient.  God says we are to be kind.  God says to forgive one another.  Not occasionally, not sometimes, not unless we have a good excuse, but all of the time.
Samuel’s question to Saul – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one.  First Saul denies he was disobedient, then Saul justifies to Samuel that partial obedience is more than enough.  1 Samuel 15:20 –
“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.”
That last sentence is almost incoherent.  I obeyed except when I didn’t.  The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said of course he destroyed them except their king.
But you know what?  If we want to live a godly life, if we want God’s blessings to flow, if we want to avoid sabotaging God’s plan for our lives, we will read the scripture, we will put on the whole armor of God daily, we will do our best to be obedient without excuse.  We all have Amalekites of sin in our lives.  Yet, too often, we believe that we can pick and choose among God’s instructions, and then we act as though God should be appreciative of the bits and pieces that we do.  God defines obedience as total obedience.  We obey mostly, but we leave entire Amalekite kingdoms of sin in our lives.
Colossians 3:5-6 says –
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
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When Samuel further confronted him, Saul then shifted the blame to the men who fought with him, saying that they kept the animals.  1 Samuel 15:21,
The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.
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Saul thought he could appease the Lord by giving Him sacrifices, and then when that explanation didn’t fly, he decided to blame those under his leadership.  Worse, he claims his disobedience is actually for the Lord’s benefit.  But if we are not careful, we can blame our own disobedience on others.  I did obey the Lord, but the soldiers didn’t do right.   I had this great plan to serve the Lord, but somebody else messed it up.  Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but you don’t know my spouse.  Of course I can forgive my friend as soon as she asks for forgiveness. Sometimes we even blame God.  I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.
This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book.  Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve.  “It’s her fault!” And the Eve blamed it on the serpent.  The serpent, of course, didn’t have a leg to stand on.  But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else.  God will see through that every time.
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I was recently reminded that this temptation to avoid taking responsibility and lay blame on others is ever present.  Last week, I returned from a business trip to Japan.  It was almost entirely business, but the weekend did have its benefits.
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But eventually it was time to return, and that morning, I was responding to last-minute emails since I would be traveling for the next 14 hours or so.  Then I shutdown, pulled the power plug (I always do that first since I read that is the most common thing left behind at hotels) and put it in my backpack.
Diane asked for some last minute assistance, a lidocaine patch for her shoulder to minimize pain on the return trip, and I was happy to help.  Then grab our bags, then catch a taxi, then transfer to an airport bus, then the airport ticket counter, then customs and immigrations, then security.  And if you have a laptop, you have to take it out of you bag for separate screening.
Imagine my shock when I opened my bag and there was no laptop.  Did somebody somehow steal it?  No, it was in my possession the whole time.  I looked in every section of the bag, and resisted the urge to check even the tiny pockets on the side that were too small anyway.
I called the hotel, who transferred me to housekeeping, who confirmed I had left my laptop in the hotel room.  Nothing that a dozen emails over the weekend and a credit card charge for a $200 to DHL couldn’t fix.  Definitely not a laughing matter, but my laptop was returned to me within the week.
But when I told co-workers – and in a situation like this, you *must* tell co-workers, unless you can explain why you’re just sitting at your desk and staring at a blank wall for the next 3 days – I was surprised at some of the reactions.  One person bluntly told me I should try to keep it a secret and not let anybody know I made a mistake.  That never even crossed my mind, I never claim to be mistake free.  I only claim to learn from my mistakes.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never leave a laptop behind again.
But when they asked me why I left it behind, I found I was tempted to say it was because I was distracted.  I was out of my routine.  I was helping my wife.  I felt the urge to find an excuse.  Certainly those things were true, but the mistake was entirely mine, and the right thing to do was to own up to it.  To be that horrible warning.
Saul, as our horrible warning today, first tried to claim he was obedient.  And when that explanation didn’t fly, he threw others under the bus.  If he failed, Saul reasoned, it was because of others.
God expects better of us.  God wants our heart.  1 Samuel 15:22-23, Samuel tells Saul what God thinks of Saul’s disobedience:
But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

VII. Conclusion

In the life of Saul, we see an example of someone who wasted the opportunities given to him by the Lord.  Saul had all the natural tools to successfully lead the people of God, but he failed because he did not obey the Lord.  But we can use Saul as an example of a horrible warning because we are all capable of ignoring the Lord.  God has a calling for each one of us, and if we are obedient and trusting and loving, then we can experience fulfillment and joy.  However, if we are stubborn, selfish, and disobedient to the Lord, then we will lose our way and our walk with Him, just as Saul lost his opportunity to be a successful king of Israel.
Look to the Lord for His guidance, trust in His leadership, and be obedient to His Word.
To God be the glory.

 

People of Unbelief and Rebellion

I. Introduction

Today’s bible trivia question:  Why is our study book called the Book of Numbers? Slide3.JPG

The Book of Numbers is of great historical significance because the Lord ordered the first census of the Israelites.  Numbers chapters 1-10 have an awful lot of “begats” – that’s when most people, reading the bible in traditional sequence, get bogged down, or should I say begatted down – but the book of Numbers also gives us historical and genealogical record of the Israelites.

As the book of Numbers opens, the Israelites have been camped near Mount Sinai for more than a year.  Moses has brought all the laws and regulations recorded in the book of Leviticus, the tabernacle has been built, priests are busy doing priestly things.  The Israelites are well-equipped to be a new nation of God’s chosen people.  It is now time to move into Canaan and take the land.

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To prepare for Canaan, Moses and Aaron were told by God to take a census, number the men who were able to serve in the army, get the people organized by tribe.   This book is named for this census, or numbering of the people.  But the book of Numbers could just as well been named the Book of Grumpiness.  From the beginning of Numbers to the end, it tells the story of rebellion, unbelief, and grumblings.

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As the Israelite set out from the wilderness of Sinai on their journey to the Promised Land, silver trumpets were used to coordinate their stopping and going. God’s presence was always with them – a cloud of shade by day and a pillar of fire as their night light. They were literally guided one step at a time. Each time the cloud or pillar signaled a move, Moses prayed to God for guidance and victory, each time they were signaled to stop, he asked for God’s presence to rest with His people. No matter how many times they started or stopped, Moses would repeat these prayers. Let’s look at the end of Chapter 10:

Numbers 10:33-36, (Chronological Bible page 227, March 1)
So they departed from the mountain of the LORD on a journey of three days; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them for the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them.  And the cloud of the LORD was above them by day when they went out from the camp.  So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: Rise up, O LORD! Let your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.”  And when it rested, he said: “Return, O LORD, To the many thousands of Israel.”

Moses feared and worshipped the Lord above everything else and put Him first in the life of the people.  The people of Israel?  Not so much.

Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, man has struggled to live by faith in the goodness of God and by the Word of God.  Instead, we continue to live by sight, trapped in our fleshly existence, blind to spiritual truth and spiritual reality.  In the book of Numbers, Israel has the promises of God regarding their existence and their land, plus the very presence of God in their midst.  But still they walk in rebellion and unbelief.  Today’s lesson will focus on four scenes from Numbers 11-16 that illustrate the depravity of the human heart.

Why do we study the Old Testament?  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 that specifically this Book of Numbers is a warning to believers.  In 1 Corinthians 10:6, 10-11 Paul says:

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted… nor complain and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now all these things happened to them as examples and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

We are to note what God’s people did in the past and how their decisions affected their relationship with Him, in order to move forward with our own faith in the present. So, in looking at our passages for today, we are going to look at what NOT to do as God’s chosen people.  I’m reminded of some sage advice my grandfather gave to me.  He’d say, “Son, if you can’t be a good example, then do your best to be a horrible warning.”

II. #1 on the List of Things Not to Do: Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings

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Let’s look at Numbers 11:1-2 (Chronological Bible page 228, March 2) –

Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.  Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched.

Did your parents ever same something like, “quit whining or I’ll give you something to whine about.”  That is exactly what the Lord did.  Whatever they were complaining about was so insignificant that it wasn’t even recorded.  The Lord send a warning of fire, and the people cried out to Moses and Moses interceded on their behalf.

What did the Israelite do in response?  The continued to complain. Numbers 11:4-6:

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: Who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and then garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!

Whaaaah.  All we have is this stupid manna.  When we are discontented with our current situation, we have troubles remembering how blessed we are.  The Israelites “forgot” they were in bondage and slavery in Egypt and only remembered the “flesh pleasing” things.

Though manna was miraculously provided and was healthy nourishment, they tired of this provision from the Lord and lusted for other things.

Numbers 11:10-11,13-15, page 228:

Then Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families; everyone at the door of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was greatly aroused; Moses also was displeased.  So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you have laid the burden of these people on me? … Where am I to get meat to give all these people? For they weep all over me, saying “Give us meat that we may eat.” I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me.  If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now- if I have found favor in your sight- and do not let me see my wretchedness!

The people were complaining and Moses was complaining about their complaining! “Just kill me now,” he tells the Lord. “This job is too hard!”  And yet Moses is humble and realizes that he is no better than they are!

It takes faith to accept God’s guidance and Israel’s faith wasn’t very strong. Among other things, mixed in among them during their journey were unbelievers that God had warned them about.  The Israelites listed to these unbelievers who convinced the Israelites that maybe God wasn’t all good, maybe God was withholding something good from them.  The people stopped appreciating their blessings and instead focused on what they didn’t have.

Even God’s people too easily forget what God has done and we grumble and complain about what we don’t have.  Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:14-16:

Do some things…. No wait, do a few things… no, Paul says…

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Complaining is contagious. Discontentment is at the top of the slippery slope of sin. When we rebel against Him, God often gives us our own way, which can lead to our destruction.

Let’s continue in Numbers 11:31-33, page 229

Now a wind went out from the LORD, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground.  And the people stayed up all that day, all night, and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers), and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.  But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was aroused against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague.

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The Lord gave them what they wanted, and it killed them.  Moses called the place “the graves of lust.”  It served as a reminder to the danger of asking for “my will be done” over “Thy will be done.”  In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Lord warned Israel that the way they treated the daily manna would be a test of their obedience to His Word.  By rejecting the manna, by rejecting the blessings, Israel really rejected the Lord and it was this rebellious attitude that invited the judgment of God.

III. #2 on the List of Things Not to Do: Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You

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Everyone in Israel knew that Moses, Aaron, and  Moses’ sister Miriam were God’s chosen servants, but that Moses was designated by God as the leader. This had been evident from before they were brought out of Egypt.  God had used Miriam to save Moses’ life and to lead women in worship.  Aaron was the older brother chosen to help Moses with Pharaoh and to serve as the first High Priest.  But Moses was the one to whom God spoke to and spoke through as the leader of Israel.   But even among spiritual leaders, the sin of envy is ever present.  “Envy” says, “that’s not fair! Why not me?” and it can affect anyone at any time

Numbers 12: 1-10 (Chronological Bible page 229, March 2).

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.  So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.  (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)

Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So the three came out.  Then the LORD came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward.  Then He said,

“Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.  Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house.

I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?”

So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed.  And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper.

Slide18.JPGDespite the Lord clearly talking to Moses, Miriam attempts to be the boss, and convinces Aaron to join her in this rebellion.  The Lord was angry and deals swiftly with her.  At this point Aaron begs Moses to intercede, and Moses cries out to the LORD, saying, “Please heal her, O God!”  So the LORD tells Moses to basically lock her outside the camp for a week and then the Lord will heal her.
God made it very clear that He was in control, God selects the leaders and the people were to respect their authority.  Rebelling against His appointed leaders is the same as rebelling against the Lord.

When you review the history of Israel and their journey from Egypt to Canaan, you see that every time they resisted the Lord’s selected authority, it caused them great trouble.  As the Lord sought to bring them through difficult situations and build their faith, they rebelled against His authority, blamed those He put in charge and made plans to return to Egypt.  No society can function without authority and submission.  God’s plan wasn’t just to free them from slavery but to establish Israel as a nation.

IV. #3 on the List of Things Not to Do: Doubt God’s Plan

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Israel had journeyed from Mount Sinai on their way to Canaan.  Just before they get to the Promised Land, Israel sent out spies to look over the land which they were to possess.

Numbers 13:1-3 (page 230, March 2):

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a leader among them.  So Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the children of Israel.

Notice that the Lord’s promise: I am giving this land to the Israelites.  No conditions attached, it’s yours.  Moses selects twelve men to travel to Canaan to survey the land in Numbers 13:4-16, way too many names to read, but this is where we first meet Caleb.  Joshua we met earlier in Exodus 17 as one of Moses’s generals and Joshua also went up Mount Sinai with Moses in Exodus 24.

Moses sends the twelve spies to the land of Canaan on a reconnaissance mission.  You know, check out the schools, the cost of living, local museums, that sort of thing.  The spies are told to bring back evidence that this is indeed the land of milk and honey.  In Numbers 13:21-25,

So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin […]  When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs.  […]  At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

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Can you imagine a single cluster of grapes so large that two men have to carry it on a pole between them?  At the end of 40 days, the spies return to Moses and say in Numbers 13:26-29,

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.

But…. You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?

But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.

Caleb demonstrates his faith in God’s promises by saying in verse 30,

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

It’s ours.  What are we waiting for?

The other 10 spies begin to spread a false report out of fear.  The land isn’t good anyway and we can’t move in.  They’re asking for 1st and last month’s rent in advance.  The people doubt God’s plan out of fear.

Which brings us to a question.  Where is your faith?  Is it in God’s promises, or is it your own eyes?  Let’s same your name is John Ruiz, you’re a boxer from the USA, and your opponent on December 7, 2005 is Nikolai Valuev, nicknamed “the Beast from the East.”

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Nikolai is 7’ 2” and weighs 323 pounds.  You look at him like one of the giants from Canaan and you feel like you have zero chance.  You are like a grasshopper in his eyes, and worse, you look like a grasshopper in your own eyes, too.

John Ruiz wasn’t afraid to take the fight to Nikolai.  In that way, he was like Caleb.  I love what John Ruiz said the night before the fight, “I plan on taking the fight to him.  His head is the size of a Volkswagen.  I can’t miss.”

Twelve spies went into the Promised Land. Ten saw obstacles, and two saw opportunities.  It’s a matter of perspective, and it’s the difference between fear and faith. Ten spies looked up and saw giants, Joshua and Caleb looked up and saw God.  And what did the people do?

They freaked out.

In chapter 14 it says they wept all night, then complained against Moses and Aaron. They cried out, “We are going to die!  It would have been better if we had died in Egypt, or in the wilderness.”  And then they started planning to select a new leader and go back to Egypt.

Fortunately, God’s selected leaders stood up to speak in verse 5:

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.

But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land.  If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’  Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”

And what was the people’s response? Were they supportive?  Humbled?  Agreeable?  No, verse 10:

And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.

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After hearing the criticism, the doubts, the fears, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the Lord and prayed for them.   Joshua and Caleb try to encourage the multitude and inspire their faith. “The Lord will do it,” they proclaim. “The Lord is with us!”  But no, fear and rebellion ran deep.

Then the Lord spoke, verse 11

… “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?  I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

Once again Moses prays,

And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying,  ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’  Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

Moses appeals to the Lord based on the Lord’s attributes, reputation, and character.  Moses fights his battles from his knees.
And so, the Lord determined that they would wander in the wilderness until all this faithless generation perished, those 20 years and older, except Caleb and Joshua. Only these two would be able to enter the Promised Land. Why? Because Joshua and Caleb followed the Lord with complete faith and trust.

This story tells the story of many of our lives. It was God’s plan that the children of Israel should go straight into the land He had promised them, the land of Canaan, but the people would not. We can put difficulties between ourselves and God like the people of Israel or put God in between ourselves and our difficulties like Joshua and Caleb. The Lord wanted them to enter the Promised Land, but their fear and unbelief kept them out. Their faith failed. They doubted God’s plan.

Is your fear keeping you from all that God has for you? Fear can paralyze even the bravest of hearts. Joshua and Caleb weren’t blind to the giants in their lives.  They just remembered God’s promise, and God was bigger than any giant.

V. Conclusion

God demonstrated His goodness, grace, and mercy by choosing Abraham and His descendants as His own special people, rescuing them from Egypt and leading them to the Promise Land. And yet, Israel’s response to God’s favor reflects the proud, stubborn, rebellious heart of all humanity.  People haven’t changed in thousands of years.  We continually question whether God is good and whether God keeps his promises.

In our lesson today, we have learned that indeed, if one cannot be a good example than one can be a horrible warning.  To stay on the path of the righteous, to walk in the way of the Lord, avoid these horrible warnings:

• Grumble and Complain about God’s Blessings
• Tell God He’s Not the Boss of You
• Doubt God’s Plan

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Or if you want to walk in the way of the Lord, do the opposite –

• Give Thanks and Praise
• Submit to God’s Love
• Trust in the Lord’s Promises

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To God be the Glory.  Amen.

The God People Want

I.      Introduction

So this week’s lesson finds God’s people in the wilderness worshipping a golden calf. If you’ve been reading along in the chronological bible, you might wonder how we have strayed so far from God’s plan for us in the Garden of Eden. What was God’s plan for Israel?

  • God’s plan: Garden of Eden
  • Israel’s plan: Desert

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II.      Background

But God is faithful and continually rescues us from our own choices.

After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, we then read about the sons of Adam and how they continually chose sin. God literally washed away their sins in the age of Noah, bringing a flood, but even Noah’s children and grandchildren strayed from God’s plan.

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Then we get to Abraham, Adam’s 17th generation grandson. The Lord told Abraham in Genesis 15:3-18 that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than stars in the sky, but first, due to man’s choices, they would live as captives in a foreign land for 400 years before God would rescue them, deliver them, punish their captors, and return Israel to the land of Canaan.

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Joseph, through the actions of his jealous brothers, is sold into slavery to the Egyptians, but God brings him through the pit, the prison, the palace, and makes him Pharaoh’s prime minister, second in command. Through famine, Abraham’s family relocates to Egypt. Over the next 400 years, they lived with Pharaoh’s blessing and grew from 70 people of Abraham’s family to a nation of several million people.

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But eventually Joseph dies. The Egyptians forget what Joseph and the Israelites have done for them. Pharaoh enslaves the people of Israel. The people cry out to God for salvation.

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God answers. God raises up a deliverer, Moses, to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham, to bring His people back to the land of Canaan after 400 years. To save His people, God provide amazing miracles. Turning a staff into a serpent, bringing the plagues to Egypt, turning the Nile into blood, parting of the Red Sea. God will do anything to deliver His people.

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The walk from Egypt to Canaan isn’t far. From Cairo to Jerusalem is about 300 miles. At 20 miles a day, should take about 2 weeks to walk there. Or an hour and 20 minutes if you fly Turkish Air. But due to Israel’s unbelief and rebellion, instead of 2 weeks to cross the wilderness, it takes 40 years. Not one man stopped to ask for directions. I just wonder how long it took for one of the wives to say to their husband, “Seriously? You’re not going to pull over and ask for directions?”

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The rest of Israel’s children weren’t any better. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I wanna go home!” Instead of acting in faith and trust, instead of being grateful for their freedom, Israel whined, complained. They blamed God and Moses for their circumstances. They even threated to turn this car around right now and go back to Egypt and live in slavery again.

As we read along in our Chronological bible, this is what’s happened this week –

  • Saturday – Tuesday: God frees the Israelites from slavery after the ten plagues
  • Wednesday: God provides their daily needs, mana and quail, on the journey
  • Thursday: God establishes the Ten Commandments and other parameters for being a free people
  • Friday: God makes a Covenant with Moses which is accepted by the Israelites
  • Saturday: God gives plans for the Ark of the Covenant, the Table, Lampstand, Tabernacle; all items that will point Israel to worship the One True God, Jehovah. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Sunday (today): God is very specific on the elements, craftsmanship, and reverence for the Tabernacle, worship and observing the Sabbath.

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Today’s lesson will actually cover tomorrow’s daily scripture reading. Some of you have asked me how the lessons line up with the reading, so I make this list for this week. Sometimes our lessons will be based on what we just read the previous week, sometimes the lessons will be for the same weekend, and sometimes it will be the day after or even the week after bible study. Don’t let that discombobulate you.

During this week, all of God’s directions, promises, blessings are communicated to the people in specific ways. God spoke to Moses on the mountain, and the people below could hear thunder, see lightening and even smoke coming from the mountain.

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And it becomes a regular pattern. Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God. Moses goes down from the mount to talk to the people. Moses goes up the mountain, comes down the mountain. He goes up the mountain…

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III.      The God People Want

Where is Moses? Why didn’t he come down from the mountain? And that brings us to today’s bible study of Exodus 32. Moses went up the mountain to talk to God. The expectation of the people was that Moses would come back at a specific time. They expected God to do something on their schedule. But Moses is still on the mountain.

This is the same mountain where they had seen fire and smoke, thunder and lightning. They knew God was at work on the mountain in a significant way and been delivering messages, guidance, instructions for a tabernacle and an ark.

They also knew that Moses had a connection with God that was unique and powerful. They had seen this first-hand as they crossed the Red Sea and received water and manna from heaven. They were standing where they were, at the foot of the Mountain, because of the leadership of Moses under the guidance and authority of God.

Not that I am ever impatient when waiting on the Lord.

God to me: Me to God:
Psalm 46:10a Psalm 83:1
“Be still, and know that I am God.” “O God, do not remain silent.”

What was God doing? Exodus 31:18 –

When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

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After all the instructions for building a temple, the ark, the commandments, God write Moses a personal letter. With God’s own finger. From our perspective, maybe not as big as parting the red sea, but God stepped out of heaven to take action in our world and created a miracle and engraved the Ten Commandments into stone.

The fingers of God have been at work since the beginning of creation. We saw it in the Creation Era. And now the finger of God has given us solid instructions in stone on how to live as a covenant people in the Patriarch Era. And Moses was holding that personal letter of stone. Moses was intimate with God; God spoke to Moses in a unique, personal, intense, and extraordinary way.

So, Moses was still on the mountain and the people were down below in the wilderness. We know from Exodus 24 that Moses was up on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights. Before the 40 days were over, the people became impatient that God wasn’t following the expected timetable. The people has become impatient with God.

If you’ve been a Christian a long time, this has probably happened to you. You have a difficult decision to make or a need for an answered prayer. You pray and you study, and God answers. The next time you have a difficult decision or a need for an answered prayer, you pray and you study…

Nothing but silence. Stillness. Quietness. God is not responding the way you expect. God is still on His mountain, and all you hear is the silence.

And the people of Israel waited for Moses and in Exodus 32:1,

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

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Sometime before the 40 days were up, the impatience of the people reared its ugly head. Notice how it says, “as for this Moses.” Not, “I hope that man who led us out of Egypt is ok.” It’s “this Moses. Yeah, I know we saw the fire on the mountain and heard the thunder, but hey. Now it’s this Moses.” What has he done for us lately?

The people “gathered together;” God is too slow, let’s take action. And they didn’t ask Aaron, they demanded, “Come and make us a god.” Exodus 32:2,

And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Slide15.JPGWhere did they get all this gold? Exodus 3:21-22 as Moses was getting ready to lead them out of Egypt, God says,

I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.”

In order to prepare the Israelites for the journey through the wilderness, the Lord provided everything they needed, and the gold had come from their captors. The Lord has provided these blessings to the people, and the people used these blessings to fashion an idol and blaspheme the Lord.

The people wanted a man-made god. A god that they would have to pick up and carry. A convenient god, there when they need it. One that they could see and feel, perhaps rub it for luck. And lest we think the Israelites are idiots, that’s exactly what we the people crave today. A convenient god, there to fulfill our wishes. A god who has eyes, but cannot see, like Adam and Eve who didn’t want God to see them in their nakedness and sin. A god who appears strong, a mighty bull, but in reality lacks power, unable to punish our sins. A god who is here before us but demands nothing of us. In other words, a god who doesn’t interfere with our lives.

The people want a god that allows them to express themselves sexually, immorally, and without restraint or judgment. A god who only appears powerful.

Not even Christians are immune to this. Many Christians are only familiar with a couple of verse – God makes all things good, God has plans to prosper you, Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. Truth is, though, is that God is far more complex than that. Last month when we studied Job, we studied how God can lift his hand of protection, and God has a purpose for everything, including suffering.

Truth is, not every verse found in the bible can be embroidered on a pillow. Certainly not Judges 19:29,

When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.

Or Psalm 38:7,

For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease, and there is no soundness in my flesh.

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And yet, we just skip over uncomfortable verses because we want to believe our God is only a God of love and mercy, but not a God of wrath and justice. And yet we cannot truly understand His love and mercy without also understanding God’s wrath and justice and how he saved us from our sins.

Aaron was the brother of Moses, a leader of the people, the first priest of the Israelites. And on his first day of the job has already broken the first three commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” and “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Three strikes, you’re out.

Exodus 32:5,

So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

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Now this is a god the people like. So the people rose up to eat, drink, and party.

How long did it take for the people to go from following God out of Egypt to making a false idol and partying? Less than 40 days, barely a month.

Did God notice? Our God sees everything.   Our God is not the God we want Him to be. Our God is the God who is.

IV.      The God Who Is

Exodus 32:7-10,

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now, therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”

God did indeed notice, and God’s holy response to sin is wrath. In barely a month, after all that God had done for His people, they had forsaken God’s commands.

The people are described as “stiff-necked”. It’s two Hebrew words, qasheh `oreph (קָשֶׁה עֹרֶף). It’s literally “hard of neck,” a phrase all-too-familiar to the Israelite. They used an ox for plowing, and the plowman used one hand to guide the plow, and the other hand held an “ox goad,” a light pole with an iron spike on the end of it. He would use the ox goad to tap the ox on the neck to turn it. If an ox was hard to control or it was stubborn, it was “hard of neck.” In scripture, this means the “stiff-necked” people were stubborn and non-responsive to God’s guidance. Oh yes, God knew these people. And He knows you and me. God’s response to sin is not to destroy the calf, but to destroy the idol worshipper.

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And Moses is still up on the mountain, Exodus 32:11-14,

Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Moses’ prayer is not bargaining, it’s intercession. He prays for the people. Verse 11 says Moses “pleaded” and the Hebrew word is חָלָה châlâh and very difficult to translate. Often used to indicate illness or wounded, these are various translations –

  • NASB – Entreated
  • NIV – Sought
  • NLT – Pacify
  • ESV – Implored
  • KJV – Besought
  • HCSB – Interceded

So Moses interceded in prayer for his people. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” something I didn’t really understand until I spent some time with that phrase. The bible itself defines what “type of Christ” means, but there are 4 different words used,

  1. typos “type” (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6,11);
  2. skia “shadow” (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1);
  3. hypodeigma “copy” (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23); and
  4. sémeion “sign” (Matthew 12:39).

Some Old Testament stories are shadows of prophecy and truth yet to come about our Savior. Moses is considered a “type of Christ,” and as special as Moses was with his relationship with God, Moses himself says a greater prophet will arise. Moses delivered the people from Egypt, but Christ will deliver the people from our sin. And so Moses intercedes on behalf of his people, pleading for their lives. And prayer changes God’s mind.

That always amazed me, that prayer can change the mind of God. But Moses was a high priest, a type of Christ! Well you know what? So are you. And so am I, and all believers. We are the priesthood of Christ, we are to show the light of Christ within us. 1 Peter 2:9 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

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James 5:16 says

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

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It amazes me that the God of the Universe loves my prayers and God acts on those prayers.

But the caveat is that it’s the effective prayer of a righteous person. Righteous in Jesus Christ, asking for things that are in God’s will… and I probably resemble Aaron more than I’d like to admit, more than I resemble Moses or Christ. After pleading to God, Moses finally goes back down the mountain, and in Exodus 32:21-24,

And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this person do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

So Moses pleads for his people. Aaron says, “those people are evil. Me, I just threw a bunch of gold in the fire. Whoa, look, a cow came out.”

V.      Conclusion

While we are called to be a royal priesthood, sin is always crouching at our door. We must be vigilant, on guard, and patiently waiting on the Lord.

Remember this?

  • God’s plan: Garden of Eden
  • Our plan: Desert

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Let’s update this photo for today’s world.

  • God’s plan: Heaven
  • Our plan: golden calf

Slide30.JPGThe god people want is a god that tolerates everything the golden calf stood for. Immorality. Selfishness. Irreverence. Impatience. Rejection of God’s teaching so that they can mold a god that is less judgmental and more tolerant of their lifestyle. A god that only appears powerful but cannot see any wrongdoing. A god that answers every sin with, “God just wants me to be happy.”

But we can’t make God into something. God is who He is. He is fire, He is wrath, He is mercy, He is love. He is faithful, He is mighty, He is strong, He is power, He is God of all the ages, He is the truth, He is the light out of the darkness, He is Holy, He is Holy, He is Holy. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord and who God truly is, and not a golden calf representing our desire to eat, drink, and party.

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After we leave this classroom, after we leave this church, and we return to the world and the worldly ways, don’t let the world tell you who God is. Study the bible, put on the whole armor of God, and let God tell you who He is.

To God be the Glory. Amen.

Faith and the Revelation of God

I. Introduction

A guy named Pete gets a job as a switchman with the railroad, and undergoes weeks of training. The supervisor then takes him into the switch booth to test his readiness. The following exchange takes place:

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Supervisor: “Imagine you were sitting here alone and you learned there was a train coming from the North on that track, and another coming from the South on the same track. What would you do?”

Pete: “I’d throw this switch right here and put one train on the other track.”

Supervisor: And what if that switch didn’t work?”

Pete: “I’d go down to the track and throw that big switchlever there, putting one train on the other track.”

Supervisor: “And what if that switchlever didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d come back here and call the dispatcher to stop both trains.”

Supervisor: “And what if the phone didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d go to that gas station across the street and use their phone.”

Supervisor: “And what if their phone didn’t work?”

Pete: “Then I’d go get Uncle Joe.”

Supervisor: “Uncle Joe??? What would he do?”

Pete: “Nothing, but he ain’t never seen a train wreck.”

Many of us, though, have seen a trainwreck in our lives or the lives of somebody close to us.  Something terrible, something awful, that left us with a feeling of “why me?”  When I was young, and I’m fortunate that I don’t remember this traumatic event, I’m was told that a man in a mask burst into my room, grabbed me by my ankles, lifted me up, and while I hung there naked, he smacked me on the bottom.  They told me he was the doctor, I certainly hope so.  As a newborn, I was already having a hard time maintaining my dignity.  I mean, really, what did I do to deserve THAT?  And it seems sometimes that some people have been trying to smack me around ever since.

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Perhaps you’ve been smacked around, too.  A marriage that failed, a mother or father that died.  I have a friend up in Conroe who has a granddaughter that’s permanently brain damaged since the age of 8 months because of a tragic home accident.  When calamity happens, we want to ask why, we want to question God.  Some may want to step away from their faith in anger at God.  Why do bad things happen to good people?

There are lots of possibilities.  For the unbeliever, God will use pain and suffering to turn the unbeliever away from evil ways.  Repent, turn from sin, and face God.  For the unbeliever, God has only 1 instruction: Believe in Him.

For one who professes Christ but leans on men or perhaps lean on their own understanding, God sometimes uses calamity to strengthen faith.  If a Christian leans on money, God sometimes takes that crutch away through a family emergency, perhaps loss of a job.  If a Christian leans on his own works, God may allow health issues to make him dependent on God.  For a strong, upright and faithful Christian, God uses calamity to sanctify him, to bring him closer to God.

And then sometimes, we don’t have any idea why we suffer.  We look at ourselves for unrepentant sin, something we’re doing wrong, we think God’s trying to tell us something, and we just can’t figure it out.  It’s undeserved.  We’ve been smacked on the bottom and been through a trainwreck, and we don’t know why.

II. The Book of Job

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The book of Job is an illustration of undeserved suffering.  Job is a prominent and wealthy servant of God, and in a matter of minutes, Job loses everything.  Financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, all took a beating.  To Job, it might appear that God had deserted him and offered him no comfort or explanation.  Yet through all of his suffering, Job remained faithful to God and even stopped to worship Him in the midst of suffering.  That’s inspirational, a perfect example of how God wants us to respond in everything.

Let’s walk through Job’s life and see what happens.  If you have your bibles, let’s turn to the chapter on Quality.  You know, Quality.  Quality is Job 1.

Job 1:1 –

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

Job was “blameless and upright.”  He was morally sound, mature, full of integrity.  The Hebrew word for “blameless” is “תָּם tâm” and also means “perfect.”  Job walked the straight and narrow path.
Job “feared God and shunned evil.”  This doesn’t mean he was a coward; a healthy fear and respect of the power of God is necessary for good spiritual discipline.  Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

I think the phrase “feared God and shunned evil” together are interesting – “feared God” meant Job always did the right thing, but more than that he shunned evil, or also avoided the wrong thing.  He was a complete man of God, not one who did good when people were watching and evil when people were not.  Job was not a hypocrite who said one thing and did another, he was a man of perfect integrity, doing what was right and avoiding what was wrong.

He was also a very wealthy, prosperous man.  Let’s look at his tax return –

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  • seven sons, 3 daughters.  Excellent, so he had a lot of deductions for dependents
  •  7000 sheep.  Enough wool to make something good.  Or at least something baaaad.
  • 3000 camels (For the record, I don’t own *any* camels!)
  • 500 oxen (I don’t own any cows, though I’ve eaten a few)
  • 500 donkeys (I don’t own any donkeys either.  True story: my brother once gave his wife a donkey for Mother’s Day.  His life is very different than mine.)
  • and a large number of servants.

Job was like sort of a cross between Billy Graham and Warren Buffett.  In verse 4 through 5, we also learn that Job was blessed not only with material wealth and public prestige, but also a loving family.  Seven sons and three daughters that regularly broke bread together and Job would pray for them and offer sacrifices on their behalf.

Now, in verse 6, we step away from the human world and into the spiritual world where there is some sort of conference going on in Heaven.  The angels of the Lord are presenting themselves before the Almighty, and Satan also arrives in heaven.

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“Where have you been?” says God.

“Checking things out, wandering around, looking for some mischief.”

God says, “Have you considered Job?  He’s the best of the best, blameless and upright, fears God and shuns evil.”

This disturbs me.  I’d like to avoid the devil and stay as far away from him as I can.  Yet here God is saying to Satan, “Dude, are you bored?  Check out my man Job.”  Why would God do this?

The short answer is, we don’t really know.  No one can truly know the mind of God.  Here’s a few things we do know, however – we know that Romans 8:28 says

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

All things, including what’s about to happen to Job.  How could calamity be considered good?  Well, Job wouldn’t know this of course, but he turned out to be an example for thousands of years of God’s power and absolute control.  That’s good for us to know, even if Job didn’t.

We also know that God promises not to give us more than we can handle.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

God will not permit anything to come into our lives that we are not capable of withstanding.  That doesn’t mean tragedy won’t come our way – only that when it does, we’ll either be able to stand up under it or provide a way out.

Job 1:9-11,

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

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I’m not surprised Satan cops an attitude with God.  Satan says that the only reason Job fears the Lord and is a man of perfect integrity is because God pays Job to be a great guy.  God has built a hedge of protection around Job and blessed Job abundantly.

Have you ever prayed for a hedge of protection?  It’s a good prayer, to protect ourselves from evil.  But this verse shows that the hedge of protection is taken down as easily as it is put up, either by God or by a very aggressive landscaping company, but more importantly, if the hedge of protection is taken down, it may not have anything whatsoever to do with our morality.

Are we shallow Christians that believe that if we are doing God’s will, God will bless us?  That’s what the heresy of the Prosperity Gospel teaches, a “name it and claim it” attitude.  Are we making some sort of bartering agreement with God?  OK God, I mowed my neighbor’s yard this week.  I helped a little old lady across the street.  I said, “God bless you” when somebody sneezed.  Now listen God: you owe me.  That is a shallow Christian that misunderstands the will of God.  We do not do God’s will in order to receive blessings.  We do God’s will so that God may do His will.  We may or may not receive blessings on this earth.  In my experience, we all receive an abundance of blessings that we take for granted, but earthly blessings are fleeting.  God’s blessing to us is His son Jesus, sacrificed for our sins and shortcomings so that we may have life everlasting with our Savior.  That’s our blessing.

And yet, on this earth, God *is* a God of blessings, but He is not *only* a God of blessings.  He’s not some magician we produce at parties to pull a rabbit out of a hat for us.  I’ve heard some people give an excuse for their behavior by saying, “God just wants me to be happy.”  That is not God’s primary desire.  The gift of joy comes from the Lord, but God’s primary goal is for us to bring glory Him, to worship He who created us and to point others to the good news.  We cannot excuse your behavior by saying, “God wants me to be happy.”  When you read about the disaster about to befall Job, can you still say God wants Job to be happy?  No, God wants Job to glorify God.

We also know here that Satan badly misjudges Job, and God is perfectly right and accurate.  Satan believes that if Satan is allowed to wreak havoc in Job’s life that Job will renounce God and curse God to His face.  God knows Job, though, just as He knows you and me.  God will be able to use Job’s calamities for God’s purposes.

Job 1:12,

“The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”  Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”

What would happened if this exchange was about you?  What if God and Satan were talking about you in heaven?  “Have you considered my servant Michael?  Have you considered my servant Gene?  Have you considered my servant Elizabeth?  Put your own name in the blank.  God knows where you are spiritually, and He promises not to give us more than we can handle, but how would you feel about God talking about you with Satan?

God is sovereign, all powerful.  We like to believe that God is all good and nothing evil comes from Him, but that’s an incomplete picture.  God *is* all good, but He is also sovereign, in charge of everything.  Notice Satan has to ask God’s permission before he is allowed to mess with Job.

The humans in us would like to say God’s answer should be, “Nope, don’t mess with Job, he’s mine.”  We like to think of God and Satan as being the great generals of a massive battle between good and evil, battling it out in the heavens and on earth.  Obi Wan Kanobe versus Darth Vader.  Professor X versus Magneto.  Captain America verses Thanos.  Aslan versus the White Witch.

We think Satan is reeking his havoc on Earth from Hell, but that’s not quite right.  From the book of Job and in 1 Peter 5:8, we know that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and Revelation 20:10 tells us that Satan will not be cast into the Lake of Fire before Judgment Day.  God isn’t battling Satan, God is sovereign.  God is referred to as “The Almighty” in the book of Job 31 times.  When Satan wants to do evil, he has to ask God’s permission.  This is true in the New Testament, too, by the way.  In Luke 22, the disciples are squabbling over which one of them will be considered the greatest in Heaven, and Jesus rebukes them and tells them to be more concerned about serving.  Then he says in Luke 22:31:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.”

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Look, Satan is asking for permission again.

Does it bother you that God gives permission for suffering?  A big mistake in our Christian walk is to misunderstand what “God is in control” means.  We think that since God is in control, we have a right to expect Him to keep bad things from happening to us.  We want to think that because we want to keep bad things from happening to our friends and family, and if we think that, God should think that.  We are children of God, are we not?  How could God let something bad happen to us or our loved ones if He is in control?

But let me ask you some blunt questions.  Did God have a son?  And did that son suffer?  And did that suffering work for God’s glory?  God does have a plan, God is in control, and it is human folly to think that God’s plan does not include suffering.  As Christians, we know that our suffering will be used by God for His purposes.  We know that it is our response to disappointments in life that makes us stronger in our faith to our almighty God.  The sinner doesn’t have this comfort.  To the sinner, suffering is pointless.  Suffering makes a sinner bitter.  Suffering makes a Christian better.

Let’s see what sort of things we’ve learned so far about God.

Lessons Learned about God:
– God is sovereign over all, good and evil.
– God provides hedges and removes them according to His will.

We’ve learned a few things about Satan during this exchange.  I learned Satan has access to God in Heaven.  I read this exchange and thought, Holy Smoke, how did Satan get in there?  That’s not allowed!  But it’s true, Satan has access to God, and must ask God for permission before he can do evil.  We learn that Satan is evil, but not sovereign over evil.  Satan has to ask God’s permission.

Lessons Learned About Satan
– Satan has access to God’s throne in Heaven.
– Satan has to ask God’s permission before he can touch God’s people

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What happens to Job after this?  Satan may not lay a finger on Job – God set that boundary and Satan must obey – but Satan sends destruction.  Job 13-19, the Sabeans steal the ox and donkeys, then kill all the servants.  Then lightning strikes and kills the sheep, then the Chaldeans steal all the camels, and then a mighty wind collapses his son’s house and kills all of his children.  In a matter of minutes, Job loses everything.  Everything.

Now I know that in this room, we all have tragedies in our lives.  Death.  Divorce.  Pain.  Unemployment.  Why do we have to suffer?  When we’re facing a calamity, the first thing as Christians that we must do is self-reflection.  We must look inside ourselves for unrepentant sin.  The Old Testament is replete with examples of God sending His perfect wrath in order to turn His people away from evil and toward Him.  We’ll never be 100% righteous, but we know when we are sinning and it feels too good to stop.  God will get our attention one way or another.

But what if we’ve examined ourselves for unrepentant sin and find none?  God did not allow Satan to bring harm to Job just to say to Satan, See, I told you.  God’s not trying to prove a point.  God knew Job’s faith was real, and God knew this before he allowed Satan to do what he did.  God’s purposes in allowing suffering are complex and it is not possible to reduce the purpose of suffering to some simple explanation.  But our response to that suffering illustrates our faith.

I know how I have reacted to suffering in my life.  Anger.  Depression.  A mix of both.  Sometimes it’s been directed at God, how could you do this?  How could you let something like this happen?  But let’s see how a faithful man of God reacts, see what he does and does not do.  Job 1:20,

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground in worship.

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Instead of tearing robes we wear black, but ancient signs of grief included tearing his robe and shaving his head.  It is ok to grieve.  It is ok to cry.  We are commanded to love one another, and I’ve discovered that love means emotional risk.  The loss of love is most certainly a time for grief.  God gave us emotions, and it’s ok to have those emotions.  But Job didn’t stop at the crying and wailing about his calamities.  Job said,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Job fell to the ground and worshipped God.  An amazing response.  A teachable lesson to me.

As Christians, we can recognize that everything in this life is a gift from God.  Our possessions, sure, but our relationships, our children, our very breath of life.  We came into this world naked, slapped on the bottom by a strange man in a mask.  We come into this world with nothing.  And when we leave, we take nothing with us.  The Lord gives it all to us, and the Lord takes it all away again.  “May the name of the Lord be praised.”  It is easy to praise the name of the Lord when he gives.  When he takes away, can we still praise the name of the Lord?  Are we only thankful for things he gives?  He may have many reasons for taking away, all according to His purpose.  Can we give thanks to God for taking it away?
How do we remain thankful while suffering?  Rather than blame God for what he doesn’t have, Job thanks God for what he does have.  In 1 Thessalonians 16:18, Paul tells us,

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We recognize that it is God’s will for us to be thankful in all circumstances.  Job could thank God because Job realized that everything Job had didn’t belong to Job; it all belonged to God.  God owns everything.  Job had the privilege of managing it for a little while.  And in Job’s careful stewardship and praise, we learn one more thing about God: When Satan attacks, God uses it for His own good and His glory.  Job 1:22,

“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

It’s ok to be angry.  It’s ok to be depressed.  Our emotions are something God gives us.  Job certainly had intense feelings of grief.  But Job did not sin because he didn’t say God was wrong.  He didn’t say God was neglectful.  He didn’t say God has bad intentions.  Through all Job’s grief, he said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job stayed strong.  He didn’t whine, “Why meeeee?”  His character remained that which God approved, even in the midst of suffering.  Job was strong, patient, even resigned.  And Satan must have been disappointed.  Here was a man who loved God more than money, more than his earthly possessions, more than his family.  Job’s relationship with God was not dependent on his circumstances, his position in society, or his stuff.

In Chapter 2, Satan goes back to God and says, “well, ok, so that didn’t work, but you didn’t let me touch him.  He’s still a healthy person.  Let me take away his health.”  I don’t know what this illness was, maybe he had more than one thing.  In chapter 2, we know he has boils from the sole of his foot to the top of his head, and they itch.  In Chapter 7 through 30, we learn that it also includes a haggard appearance, running sores, loss of sleep, depression, severe weight loss, acute pain, darkened and peeling skin, and fever.  Oh, and bad breath.  In verse 7, Job sits down in the ashes of his life and scrapes himself with a piece of broken pottery.  Sort of symbolic, like his life had now become a piece of broken pottery.

His wife was less than helpful.

“Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die already.”

Slide21.JPGBefore we pick on Job’s wife too harshly, let’s remember that she, too, was intensely affected by all of this.  She, too, had lost all of her children, she’s lost any importance she thought she had in the eyes of the community, and her husband is some foul-smelling creature sitting in a garbage dump scraping sores with a piece of pottery.  So Job’s wife was certainly under a lot of stress.   It’s easy to pick on her, but she’s in pain.  Perhaps she thought her own pain would end if Job would just die.  Perhaps she just loved Job and wanted his suffering to end.

Job still didn’t sin; sometimes it’s easier to remain faithful to God when you’re alone, but remaining faithful to God when you’re with others is harder.   Job tells her that she’s talking foolishly, that her faith is not wise enough.

“Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

We do not always have a choice in our circumstances, but we do have a choice in how we respond.  Job’s wife responded first with her emotions.  Job responded with his faith.

Job’s closest friends were more helpful.  What did they say when Job first lost everything?  Nothing.  When they came to visit, they were shocked, they cried with him, then sat on the ground with him for 7 days and said nothing.  Nothing.  Just sat and grieved.  Sometimes there’s nothing you can say, so there’s no need to try.  Just be there.

III. Conclusion

I want to close with a few examples.  How many here saw the movie “United 93” about the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania because of the terrorist attack of 9/11?  It’s a powerful movie, mostly for what it doesn’t say.  There’s no commentary explaining people’s motives, just a real-time account of people’s actions.  We see the confusion of the people at the FAA, the hysteria of the passengers, the evil of the terrorists bound on killing as many people as they can.

Many of us have heard of Todd Beamer, who uttered the famous, “Let’s roll” during the passenger’s revolt against the terrorists in an attempt to regain control of the airplane.  What a lot of us may not know is Todd Beamer’s family were devoted followers of Christ.  Can you identify with Todd’s wife, Lisa, the grief she must have suffered?  She turned her faith in God into a powerful testimony and wrote a book that encourages people to build their lives on a firm foundation of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Here’s what she wrote about 9/11:

We all have the choice to look at the things we’ve lost or to look at the things we have, to become bitter or to become better, to live in fear or to live in hope.  I’ve chosen to live in hope, not because I’m a strong person but because of the heavenly, eternal perspective that God has given me.  Lately I’ve been trying to look at the bigger picture, to discover what I’m supposed to learn from all this.  Probably the most important truth is that my security must be in God rather than in anything or anyone in this world.
Think about it: the World Trade Center represented economic power, success, and security; yet it was shaken and destroyed in less than an hour. The Pentagon is the symbol of our nation’s military might; yet it, too, proved vulnerable. Where can we find true security these days?

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I have found safety and security in a loving heavenly Father, who cannot be shaken, who will never leave me or forsake me, and in whom I can trust completely. For those looking for hope, I recommend grabbing the hand of your heavenly Father as tightly as possible, like a little child does with his parent. God is a hero who will always be there when you need him.

And Joni Eareckson Tada who has founded a ministry on sharing the gospel and equipping churches with the tools to evangelize and disciple people affected by disabilities.  Joni said that when she gets to heaven she is going to fold up her wheel chair hand it to Jesus and say, “thanks, I needed that.”

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There’s our example.  Thanks, Jesus.  To truly worship you and bring you glory, I needed that.

To God be the Glory.  Amen.