The Story of Jonah

I. Introduction

The Book of Jonah is one of the most famous bible stories. Children learn it, atheists scoff at it.  The basic story is well-known – Jonah is on a ship, gets tossed overboard, then he is swallowed by a whale where Jonah lives for 3 days, then the whale spits him out. Lots of lessons can be learned from the book of Jonah, including obedience… and fishing, but after spending the week studying the book of Jonah, I came away with a different lesson I’d like to share with you.

But first, we’re going to correct whatever misconceptions you may have about Jonah and the Whale because we’re not going to study the children’s fairy tale, we’re going to study scripture.

II. Jonah

Jonah is the fifth minor prophet in our bible and the book is almost completely a narrative, a story. Jonah lived after Elijah and Elisha and we are first introduced to him in 2 Kings 14:25. King Jeraboam did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and Jonah was his prophet.

Slide2.JPGThen we get to the book of Jonah that’s unique because, even though Jonah was a prophet, there are no prophecies in the book of Jonah. Just a story. But an important story, because Lord Jesus affirms that Jonah was a prophet and spent 3 days in the belly of a great fish.

And then…

III. Jonah 1 – Running from God

Jonah 1:1-3,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

In Jonah chapter 1, Jonah attempts to flee from the Lord. I thought it odd that he’s physically fleeing from the Lord, as though Jehovah is only the God of Israel and not the rest of the world.

Jonah is comfortably at home when God speaks in his hometown of Gath Hepher in the region of Galilee. The LORD speaks to Jonah abruptly – the book opens with the Hebrew word for “Now” even though many translations omit it. God wants Jonah to go 550 miles to Nineveh preach “against” some of the most vicious people on earth. How vicious?

There are historical records from the kings of Nineveh that kings boasted of their atrocities – I pulled up an ancient stone relief from the British museum showing two Ninevite soldiers erecting a stake with an impaled, naked man on it. And here’s some translations from Ninevite records from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and I’m not even going to read the worst –

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me and draped their skins over the pile of corpses; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I captured soldiers alive erected them on stakes before their cities. … I flayed many right through my land and draped their skins over the walls.” … I cut off the heads of their fighters and built with them a tower before their city. I burnt their adolescent boys and girls.”

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So Nineveh was beyond nasty. It was evil. And Jonah wasn’t being asked just to go down to Nineveh and start a ministry, the Lord told Jonah to preach “against” them.

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Jonah immediately arose as the Lord commanded, but that’s about as far as his obedience went. Jonah went to the nearby town of Joppa and found a ship headed 2500 miles in the opposite direction. Jonah purchased his ticket and sailed away from the Lord’s direction.

I’m not exactly sure what Jonah was thinking here, running away from God. Certainly he was scared, but maybe he thought God lived in Israel and he could sail away. But maybe you and I have the same thoughts sometime, that maybe God won’t notice our sin. Maybe we can hide it. Maybe we can run away from it. Maybe God only sees us when we’re outside of our house or apartment. Let’s see in verses 4-6 how that worked out for Jonah –

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

But God’s power is not limited to Israel’s borders. God sends Hurricane Harvey directly at the ship, terrifying the sailors. The sailors start dumping cargo to make the ship lighter and they start praying to *other* gods.

Talk about a witnessing opportunity here. A prophet on the ship full of sailors that are looking for God. But Jonah is sleeping, oblivious to the tragedy going on around him. And I cannot help but draw a parallel – we live in a world that is being torn apart by cultural storm and we, the adopted children of God, have a perfect opportunity to share the message of God’s love, but instead, so many of us are asleep while those around us are perishing.

I know my own actions this month are not enough. All month long I’ve been seeing “gay pride” advertisements, as if either sexual deviancy or lack of humility was something to be proud of. And every time I see a product that sports that deviant rainbow in blatant disregard for God’s promises from Noah, I cross another product or company off my list of places I’ll do business with. But it’s not nearly enough.

Jonah 1:7-9,

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

So the sailors have prayed to every god they know of, and Jonah just stands there silent. The sailors are like, “Who is responsible for all this calamity?” And Jonah just stands there. The sailors are like, “Let’s throw lots to find out who is responsible!” And Jonah just stands there. Then they all cast their lots, and it points to Jonah. And Jonah is like, “,,,, [pause] … Ok, it was me.”

The sailors discover that the LORD is not just a local god or the god of the sea or even just the God of Israel, but the God. The God who made the sea. Their fear is real; even today, many peoples of the world hold the idea that all misfortune comes from some offense to some god. Jonah tells them the truth and tells them about Jehovah God.

Verse 10-12,

This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

When the sailors try to make things right, Jonah tells them to pick him up and throw him overboard. The next verses show the sailors instead try to return to land, but God whipped up the waves even more. So the sailors tossed Jonah over, the sea grew calm, and the sailors praised Jehovah God.

And Jonah? Verse 17,

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

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If this was a made for television movie, we would break for a commercial here. Maybe for a seafood restaurant.

IV. Jonah 2 – Repenting toward God

In Jonah chapter 2, Jonah has a lot of time on his hands. Probably a lot of fish, too. Before being tossed overboard, the captain of the ship told Jonah to call on his God, but nowhere in chapter 1 does it say Jonah called on God. He acknowledged God, but didn’t pray to God. In the belly of the great fish, however, Jonah’s finally hit rock bottom. Well, not rock bottom. Ocean bottom. You know what I mean.

Jonah finally calls out to God in chapter 2 because Jonah is in trouble. When the Ninevites were in trouble, Jonah was silent. When the crew of the ship was in trouble, Jonah was silent. When Jonah’s in trouble oh man does Jonah remember to pray.

Jonah realizes how serious his condition is; he is in deep water. Physically and spiritually, and Jonah tells God that he feels far away from God. Jonah is in trouble, yet he also feels banished from God’s presence.

Jonah remembers the promise of God through Solomon in 1 Kings 8:46-49a,

“When [Your people] sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, . . . and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul . . . and pray to You toward the land which You gave to their fathers, and the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name; then hear.”

Slide10.JPGJonah turns toward the temple of God and prays, claiming God’s promise. In the belly of the fish, Jonah comes right up to the precipice of death, but God answers him in time, hearing his prayer and sparing his life. Why did God allow Jonah to experience the fear of death and the sensation of drowning? So that Jonah may empathize with the people of Nineveh.

Then at the end of Jonah chapter 2, Jonah realizes that God is showing him mercy and grace, Jonah promises to fulfill his calling from the LORD in verse 9 –

But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’

And the Lord’s response in verse 10 –

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah declares that salvation is of the LORD, and God speaks to the great fish to spit Jonah up on the shore.

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Two things here – one, the Lord spoke to Jonah, and the Lord spoke to the fish. Only the fish was obedient. And second, the Lord’s will be done, despite Jonah’s disobedience. But if Jonah had been obedient, he wouldn’t smell so much like fish.

V. Jonah 3 – Revival from God

So, laying on the shore, smelling like fish, what is the command from the Lord? Jonah 3:1-2.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

The word of the Lord that Jonah hears in Chapter 3 is almost identical to the word Jonah heard in Chapter 1. God gives a second chance to Jonah. God often gives second chances, amen and amen. No person can ever live fully in God’s will. We all fail, we all fall down. And God provides all of us that second chance. God is not obligated to use Jonah; this second chance is a precious gift.

So Jonah finally begins his mission trip. He arrives at Nineveh and begins preaching against the city for 3 days and proclaiming the message of the LORD to every area of the city. The city of Nineveh was laid out in a great square with twelve gates that was used for town meetings. It’s likely Jonah went to each gate and proclaimed the word at each gate and each marketplace.

His message is harsh and brief:

“In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Jonah offers no grace, he promises no deliverance, he proclaims swift and impending judgment.

Slide14.JPGAnd Jonah’s message is effective. The entire city believes this message from God and repents in sackcloth and ashes. Even the king of Nineveh got up off his throne, put on sackcloth and sat down in the dust.

God has been probably preparing the city for a long time, working in the hearts of the people. God just wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah and give the final word. Some scholars believe that just prior to Jonah’s arrival were two famines plus a total solar eclipse that occurred on June 15, 763 BC.

Whatever circumstances God used, their hearts were ready to hear this message of judgment.

And while Jonah’s message promised no mercy, the king of Nineveh looked to the God of heaven for mercy in Jonah 3:9, the king said,

“Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

And then in verse 10, God provides second chances:

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Nineveh is spared from destruction until the time of the prophet Nahum around 612 BC. This repentance also spares Israel, for this entire generation of Ninevites does not invade Israel again for many years.

VI. Jonah 4 – Resentment toward God

And how does Jonah feel about the city being spared? You would think Jonah would say God’s will had been done and offer thanks for saving the lives of so many people. Jonah 4:1-3,

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

The story of Jonah closes in a surprising way. Jonah isn’t joyful. Jonah confesses to the Lord that the real reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh was because Jonah wanted the town to be destroyed, and he’s frustrated that God showed mercy to them.

Jonah 4:5 says Jonah had gone east of the city and sat down to wait for the fireworks to start, and then, when the Lord turned out to be a forgiving God, Jonah expresses resentment toward God.

And God then provides a lesson to Jonah. While Jonah is sitting on the hill to watch the fireworks, God provided some sort of leafy plant to grow and give Jonah shade so he’d be comfortable.

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The next day, God provided a worm to eat the plant, and then God provided a heat wave to beat down on Jonah so hard Jonah wanted to faint. Jonah was bitter and said, “Ok, God, just kill me now.” In Jonah 4 verses 9 and 10,

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

God responds with a question to Jonah to illustrate God’s lesson. Verse 6 said Jonah was very happy about the plant. But then, when the plant was gone, Jonah says, “just kill me now.” And God exposes Jonah’s self-pity for a plant that grows up and dies in a single day, even though Jonah didn’t plant it, water it, or cared for it in any way. God asks Jonah if you can pity a plant, why can’t you pity a city of 120,000 souls in Nineveh? God used a fish to teach Jonah obedience, and God used a worm to teach Jonah compassion.

God cares about the children of Nineveh – He counts their number and He sent Jonah to bring His Word to their door. He pities the cruel people of Nineveh because all of them belong to God by virtue of creation, and He is a God of love and grace and second chances. God is slow to anger, slow to judgement, and rich in mercy.

VII. Conclusion

So today we studied a wee bit more depth the story of Jonah, and it turns out to be much more than deep sea fishing tips. There are lessons in the book of Jonah about obedience, God’s will, God’s judgment and God’s mercy.

But I think it’s more than that. Jonah learns what God wants all of His children to learn. God loves people. He knows where they live, He knows how many there are, He knows their spiritual emptiness.
God calls each and every one of us to share His message, but I think too often we’re too scared to share God’s message to those we love. We all have friends and family we love that, let’s be honest, we are not brave enough to tell them how much God loves them. And we will sleep in the bottom of the boat like Jonah did while the Day of the Lord and the Trumpet Judgements get closer every day.

And that’s for those we love. What about those we hate, and those that hate us? The Ninevites in our lives? If we don’t see God’s hand of judgement on our enemies, do we resent God for not making things right today?

So who are the Ninevites today? John 8:44, Jesus said,

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.

You were once a Ninevite, an enemy of God. I was once a Ninevite, an enemy of God. And yet, God didn’t hate us. In fact, Romans 5:8,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And those that are Ninevites to us? God loves them, too. God wants nothing more than to be reconciled with His children. God is calling you and me to bring God’s message of love and forgiveness to a dying world, not just to those we love, but to those we do not like and those that hate us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

Slide22.JPGTurns out the book of Jonah isn’t just about obedience or fishing.

The book of Jonah is about love.

To God be the glory.

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Kingdom Wisdom

Introduction

Two weeks ago, Jim Armstrong visited our class and taught about Solomon’s wisdom.  I loved his story about his wife’s dress; when she asked if it made her look fat, his answer showed he lacked wisdom.

So you’ll excuse me if I was a little confused when I started looking into my bible study assignment for this week and realized it was about Solomon’s wisdom.  Again.  I saw Jim Armstrong in the elevator a couple of weeks back and asked to just borrow his notes and teach the same lesson again.  It would save me a lot of time.

So recently my wife bought a new dress….

No, I’m just kidding.  Jim’s lesson was excellent, but we are going to have a very different lesson on wisdom.  Whereas Jim taught us the difference between knowledge and wisdom and focused on 1 Kings 3, today we’re going to talk about how the best wisdom also depends on knowledge, how the bible provides both wisdom and knowledge, and that the wisdom in the bible provides not only spiritual wisdom, but also worldly wisdom.  As we continue our study of what makes a Godly leader, we include Godly wisdom as a key attribute of a Godly leader.  We are going to spend some time on the proverbs that Solomon wrote.

God has placed each and every one of us on this world for a purpose.  To love God with all our heart, our soul, our strength, our mind, and also to love one another.  That means we must learn to live in this world and live with one another in a way that brings glory to God, letting our light shine so others may see the truth and light that dwells within us.  But navigating this world can be hard.  While we know the source of all truth begins with God’s word, applying those truths to a fallen world or around people that have rejected God aren’t always so easy to do.  We need wisdom.

What is Wisdom?

So what is wisdom?  Is it the same as education?  I have a short educational video that examines the importance of education.

Or maybe it’s a college diploma?  Having a diploma is definitely an indicator of wisdom.

So maybe a diploma isn’t what makes somebody smart.  Nope, a godly leader exhibits wisdom, and wisdom is composed of three parts –

  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Application

Knowledge

This world is a dangerous place, not just spiritually but mentally and physically and every way you can imagine.  We need wisdom to live and we need wisdom to thrive, and we need this wisdom every day and in every aspect of our life, in relationships, in finances, in sex, in work, in discipline, in parenting, and more.  Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs to give his people, and us, guidance we need for life, because our lives are complex.  Not every decision has a clear black and white answer.

Lets start be offering a definition of wisdom:

Wisdom is the ability to skillfully navigate the world God created.

And as long as we are studying definitions, let’s examine the definition of the word “Proverb.”

A proverb is a verb that has lost its amateur status.

Most of the book of Proverbs is written by King Solomon. Solomon was considered the wisest man of all time.   And when Solomon ascended to the throne of David, God offered Solomon anything he wanted.  Solomon could have asked for gold, power, fame, long life, anything at all.  The treasury of heaven was opened wide and Solomon went shopping with a credit card that had no limit.  Anything.

But Solomon did not ask for gold, or power, or fame, or long life.  Solomon knew he could not rule Israel without God.  Instead of asking for gold or power or fame, Solomon asked for the ability to skillfully navigate being the king of Israel.

In 1 Kings 3:7-9, Solomon said,

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David.  But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

In other words, Solomon asked for Wisdom.

The Lord’s response in 1 Kings 3:10-14,

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.  So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.  Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for – both wealth and honor – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.  And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

This response reminds me of God’s promises to us.  Are we to seek fame or fortune, wealth or power?  In Matthew 6, Jesus provides a lot of information on how to live our lives – without worry, don’t brag, give to the needy, don’t store up treasures on earth – but then in Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Whatever our desires are, don’t chase after our desires.  Chase after Jesus, and He will give us our desires.

So Solomon received Wisdom and all of God’s other blessings, and then Solomon with his God-given wisdom wrote down the Proverbs so that we, too, may learn to become wise.  The Proverbs are lessons and principles given to us by God to help up navigate His world successfully.  Wisdom is the foundation for successful living.  Solomon tells us in Proverbs 8:35-36,

For those who find me [wisdom] find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”

So if we want to find life and receive favor from the Lord, then we must follow God’s wisdom.  If we want to walk in pain, disappointment, and continuous frustration in life, then all we have to do is ignore God’s wisdom.

To gain wisdom, we start with a good foundation of knowledge.  Solomon wrote Proverbs to the people of Israel so that they could sail the sea of life without crashing into the rocks and sink.  Many of the young Israelites were establishing their independence, moving out of adolescence and into adulthood.  They were and age where they’d get married and begin their careers.  They needed a handbook to navigate the world.

The book of Proverbs provides many simple truths like Proverbs 12:22 –

The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

Simple to understand.  Thou shalt not lie, and keep your promises.

Proverbs 10:4 –

A slack hand causes poverty but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

In other words, work hard.  You cannot succeed if you don’t work.

Proverbs 12:4 –

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.

I’m not sure if this is advice given to the men or the women.  Let’s say it’s for both.  Men, your wife is a crown, like precious jewelry, so take care of them.  Women, you can either be a crown or you can be rotten, your choice.  Either way, I’ve met some singles over the years that are so desperate to find a spouse, they’ll marry anybody without first asking God if it’s God’s plan.  Marrying a godly spouse doesn’t eliminate marital strife, but it makes solutions to arguments so much easier.

Proverbs 18:6 –

A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.

In other words, just watch your mouth.

And Proverbs 22:11,

He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king as his friend.

None of these truths are difficult to understand.  They are not secrets to cheat at the game of life. They are simply truths, rules that God has established for us to have success in life.  Honesty is better than lying. Work is better than laziness.  Select a spouse based on their heart.  Don’t keep talking when you don’t know what you’re saying.  If you’re kind and gracious you will befriend influential people.

But knowledge alone doesn’t make us wise.  Over the years, I’ve met some very educated people that don’t seem to have a lick of common sense.  God didn’t just lay out a bunch of rules and say, “Do this and don’t do that.”  If we look at the people Jesus had the most difficulty with, it was the Pharisees who could quote all 613 mitzvots in the Torah but didn’t understand *why* God established all those mitzvots.  Knowledge without understanding is foolishness.

Understanding

What good is knowledge unless you have understanding?  Proverbs doesn’t teach us to be an engineer, a painter, or an accountant.  Proverbs teaches us to master life.

Superficial knowledge produces a shallow life and foolish living.   God’s goal in the book of Proverbs is not for us to just possess the facts, but for us to grasp the reality of what lays beneath the surface of the facts. To comprehend that below the surface of reality, God created His world with the understanding that wisdom works. Wisdom is woven into the very fabric of our reality. Life operates best when we live wisely.

Solomon writes about Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31,

“I [Wisdom] was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.

Understanding helps us to push past the “what” and peer into the “why.” Understanding helps the information and the informed work together for good.

Choosing God’s path of wisdom means that we don’t endure the heartaches of sin now.  The person who chooses the world’s path may enjoy temporary pleasures, but these pleasures often have consequences that follow.  When a Christian chooses what is right, he has no shame, no heartache, and no fear that the consequences will catch up and overtake him, Proverbs 3:13-14 –

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

Application

So the book of Proverbs has so much wisdom to teach us, but also how to apply it to our lives –

  • A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.  (Proverbs 25:28)
  • It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.  (Proverbs 21:9)
  • The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.  (Proverbs 22:7)
  • Do not toil to acquire wealth be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.  (Proverbs 23:4-5)
  • Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.  (Proverbs 11:28)
  • When a man walks in integrity and justice, happy are his children after him.  (Proverbs 20:7)
  • Truthful lips endure forever, the lying tongue, for only a moment.  (Proverbs 12:19)
  • A mild answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)
  • He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.  (Proverbs 14:31)
  • Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.  (Proverbs 10:12)
  • The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.  (Proverbs 18:10)
  • Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.  (Proverbs 11:17)
  • A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.  (Proverbs 14:30)
    When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.  (Proverbs 29:2)
  • In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  (Proverbs 3:6)
  • The whole point of Proverbs is to make us wise. Wisdom is evident in our lives when we exhibit knowledge, understanding, and application.

Tony said something last week – remember the aunt that was in heaven on her own little tiny cloud?  Tony also said he met somebody that told him, “you don’t know what the bible says, let me give you this pamphlet that will help.”  That is blatantly untrue.  The bible explains itself and provides all the wisdom anybody needs to understand the bible as well as life, love, work, finances, everything.  It’s all in there.

How Do I Get Wisdom?

1. Recognize where wisdom comes from.   Listen to Proverbs 1:7 –

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Ultimately, the fear of the Lord means that believers understand that they shall stand before the Lord Jesus one day and give an account; those who choose the way of death will be ashamed, while those who choose life will rejoice.

All throughout Proverbs we see the repeated phrase “The fear of the LORD”.

The fear of the Lord is not a terrifying fear that God is going to punish me if I disobey. The fear of the LORD that Solomon mentions throughout Proverbs is a reverence for God and a respect for His power.

Remember wisdom is the ability to skillfully navigate the world God created. We become wise when we recognize this is God’s world and His approach to life works best.  We are not naturally wise people. Wisdom comes supernaturally through our response to God.

2. Listen, Keep, and Do Not Neglect

Then, in Proverbs 8:32-33, Solomon writes –

And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.

A three step process:  Listen, Keep, and Do Not Neglect

Listen – Solomon wants us to be aware that wisdom will only come through active listening for God’s instruction.  We must study what God says about living a wise life.  Proverbs is 31 chapters long, one for every day of the month.  It’s almost as if God is telling us that we have a need for wisdom every day and an opportunity to receive wisdom every day.

Keep – Wise living only occurs when we keep His ways. The word “keep” here means to obey.  Foolish living occurs when we recognize God’s wisdom but reject it.  But those who are truly wise will keep the principles of a wise life laid out in the book of Proverbs.

Do not neglect – Wisdom is a lot like physical fitness. A lot of us start the fitness journey in the same way, we realize our current health isn’t what it used to be.  We are more winded going up the stairs, our pants don’t fit as well as they used to, and the scale keeps climbing up and up.  So, what we do is we begin to research. We look up plans to improve our fitness. We look at all the benefits of various healthy diets.  We talk to people who are in better shape than us, possibly a trainer. We get an app to track our fitness progress and goals.  We even buy a new pair of shoes.

But that isn’t enough to make us physically fit.  All the research and planning isn’t enough if we have neglect to, you know, actually work out.  We have to apply what we learned.

At any point in time in our physical fitness journey, we can become unfit.  We can neglect the gym.  We can neglect stretching.  We can neglect healthy eating.  A life of fitness can start and stop at any time.  Most of us have started a diet, broken our diet, and restarted our diet, sometimes in the same day.

A life of wisdom is a life of persistence. It takes continual discipline and hard work to build a wise life.  If we want to possess the skills, we need for navigating the complexities of life, then we can’t afford to neglect wisdom.

It comes down to our choice to put into practice that which is revealed.

Conclusion

Wisdom helps us steward our lives well and provides a life that may influence others in order to bring glory to God.

Do you want wisdom?  James 1:5,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

So be smart.  S-M-R-T.  Ask God for His wisdom.

To God be the glory.

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.

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.