This audio teaching is in partnership with the progression of posts entitled The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation Session #10.
The air was crisp and the sun was just rising as a golden eye taking a peek at the residents of the hill country of Bethlehem. From my bed, tucked in the window ledge of the small arabic home, I peered out over the rolling micro-mounts of Palestine. I only had a sheet to cover me during those last six hours and I had been a little cold albeit the middle of June. I rubbed my eyes and recounted the dream which I had awoke from, dropped my feet onto the cold marble floor before making my way to the bathroom. Careful not to use the wrong water, I began the monotonous practice of teeth brushing as my eyes stared into through the wall, past the neighboring houses and back into the dream. God was speaking to me and I was all ears.
I was in Bethel, or Beit-El in Hebrew, meaning House of God (It has kept its distinct name since Jacob laid his head on that ancient rock pillow and stared into the very throne room of God atop the heavenly stair). I had slept that night on a true pillow, and I had most definitely not seen into heaven, but I had seen something that awoke my senses. I had seen a person.
I had come to consciousness in the dream overlooking a wall unmistakably aware that I was in Beit-El. I knew that I had been led to the very place where I now stood with a wall in front of me, and I knew that I was to look over the wall. Peering over I saw a host of pedestrians crowding a street. Amidst the hustle and bustle of people-traffic there was a particular individual shining in gold. Not golden clothing, or weirdly sparkling either, he just appeared to be gold. He stuck out like a mole in a freshly mowed lawn and I knew I had to talk to this man. And that’s when I woke up.
Finishing my teeth and looking into the mirror the dream seemed so vivid and real. I was ecstatic to share with the team and soon the other guys began to stir from their own dreams and with excitement my extroverted personality took over. Before long the house was abuzz with fresh anticipation for the day. There was a divine expectation taking form and hope was glistening upon the cerebral heart of the team.
The night before we had had a meeting and picked our partners and discussed where we felt led to go the next day. Months prior in a prayer meeting Bethel had been highlighted on the map to our team. My partner and I both We were going to do what we call a Matthew 10. Very simply, in Matthew 10 Jesus sends His disciples out into towns and cities of Israel to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.
“These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give… 11“And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. 12“As you enter the house, give it your greeting. 13“If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. 14“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15“Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”
And that’s what we were doing… repeating His instructions in the very land He had roamed with His apostles some two-thousand years ago. This was my first time in Israel… this was my first time to speak to the people of the cevenant… this was the first time I was even attempting to do a Matthew 10. You might call me naiéve and you’d be right. Fortunate for my small thirty year old mind, Jesus has chosen the foolish things to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27).
My partner was a several month old friend who was as sharp as a bedouin’s sword, and as blunt as an irishman’s club. I was very glad that he was my partner. The day before he had asked a German man on the bus in Jerusalem, “What do you think it was that led your people to agree to the mass genocide of the Jews?” The German traveler, who had walked from Germany to Jerusalem to find out the answer to this very question, was stunned at the candor of my friend. Despite him basically stumbling off of the bus and running away, their conversation ended ok.
My partner was uniquely excited that I had the dream and soon we were all headed out the door to catch the 8:15 bus to Jerusalem. The bus seemed to be running late as usual, yet soon it crested the hill that comes from Bethlehem and was roaring towards us, its air-brakes hissing. As is the normal procedure we stood at the curb waiting for it to stop as it had done the days prior. But, as he neared it became obvious that he had no intention of normal procedure that day and without a second glance at the six americans standing non-inconspicuously at the only bus stop in sight, he zoomed past with us waving our arms wildly. What in the world?! Why didn’t he stop? I wondered. My very next thought was I have to get to Bethel! This is ruining everything!
All of us surprised at what had just happened, our team leader made an unforgettable decision. “I’d like to talk to you guys about something anyway,” he said “Let’s all open our Bibles to Deuteronomy 30 while we are waiting.” As we waited, the conversation for the next 30 minutes revolved around the subject of the restoration of Israel and what it looks like when God Himself restores His chosen to their land. Needless to say, as we stood in the Palestinian streets just shy of where the Lord Himself was born, it was easily discernable that what we were seeing in Israel was not that. Before long the next bus came and without a single qualm his bus hissed to a stop to pick up the six americans standing non-inconspicuously at the only bus stop in sight.
The ride into Jerusalem usually takes about forty-five minutes to an hour even though though it is only five miles away. You have to first pass through a checkpoint going from Palestinian territory into Israeli, and then pass through a tunnel burrowed into the main mountain dividing Bethlehem and the city of the great King. I could never help thinking about that fact that Jesus would’ve skirted these hills himself on the back of a donkey––not once, but twice! First, in the womb of his mother, and secondly in the triumphal entry. We descended the final hill making the one hundred-eighty degree turn to join the main traffic heading that direction. And that’s when we saw the gridlocked traffic.
I moaned internally You’ve got to be kidding me! How in the world am I ever going to get to Bethel? The devil is trying to stop me! We soon learned that there was a wreck inside the tunnel leading to Jerusalem which had in turn shut the whole tunnel down until further notice. I was incredibly frustrated inside since this had been the second delay already in our journey towards Bethel. Yet, as the traffic started slowly creeping through the tunnel my partner began talking about the issue of death before resurrection. We opened our bibles in the conversation and began discussing Ezekiel thirty-seven’s valley of dry bones. The conversation was clear in that the the restoration of Israel talked about in thirty-six, was performed by the catalyst of the resurrection in thirty-seven. This all radically connected to our talk earlier that morning regardin Deuteronomy 30. In that conversation my spirits were again lifted and I heard the Holy Spirit clearly say, “I have orchestrated everything perfectly today. Be at rest.” From that moment on I had a different mentality about what was happening and a growing confidence that YHWH was on my side… nothing could make His plan fail, in fact, these two apparent mistakes had been ordained by His very own hand.
When we finally got into Jerusalem and took the overground train to the main bus station it was past eleven o’ clock. My partner and I had such an overwhelming peace from the Lord after I shared with him what the Holy Spirit had spoke that we decided to let the day just play our normally and allow God to lead us. We surrendered the day to God. At that moment we realized we were hungry, so we decided to take a break and casually eat some shwarma before heading towards Bethel. We even took our time, and I think I had a coke which I never do, before checking the bus times. Truly, we felt free in Christ Jesus and confidence in His ability to perform His will.
When we entered the bus station we couldn’t find the ticket counter and so we stopped a young Israeli man wearing army fatigues. He kindly pointed us towards the counter where we bought our tickets. As we went back to get in the correct bus line the same man we had spoken to was there waiting as well. His name was “Hi” which felt welcoming and a boldness rose up in my friend and I to speak to him about Jesus being the Messiah of Israel. We probably had close to a half hour exhilarating conversation with Hi before it was time for his bus to leave. We gave him all that we had leading from the passover to the crucifixion and he was as wide eyed as a wildebeast in a spotlight. My partner was so bold in regards to the crucifixion and talked about how he and his sin had crucified the Messiah of Israel. The conversation went so well that we actually thought we might ought to go somewhere and finish the gospel with him and he could potentially be baptized that very day. However, his bus was about to leave and I felt the Holy Spirit say “I will take it from here.” So, we gave Hi a Hebrew New Testament. His final words to us were, “I have so much time on the base to read, I will read every single word of this book.” He thanked us and got on his bus never to be seen by us again.
With the adrenaline of such success in the gospel, since this was an odd happening indeed within the boundaries of Israel, we got on our bus ready to preach the whole bus to repentance in Christ Jesus. We divided up with my partner taking the back and me sitting in the middle thinking the whole bus would be saved on this journey… (insert record scratching noise). The next ninety minutes danced between clear frustration and faces of just shut up already! as there was a total and complete rejection of the gospel by the people we spoke to. I went ahead and moved to a seat where my partner and I met back up. “How was it?” I asked him. “Horrible,” he said, “The guy just turned his head away from me in the middle of talking and closed his eyes.” My experience was similar and we kind of laughed it off. We were affected, but not deterred. Just then we entered through the checkpoint leading into Bethel.
Suddenly we were overwhelmingly dumbstruck with reality–– We had never been here before! We had no idea where we were, or where to go in this city. The puzzled look on both of our faces was a very clear “Oh Crap!” moment. We went to the front of the bus to try and ask some questions to the driver.
Earlier that morning when I had shared the dream, our team leader who had been to Bethel before said that he remembered a tall prayer tower and that maybe we should try that location to see if it fit the description with the dream. That was all we had to go on! Now we were trying to explain in English to a Hebrew bus driver what we were looking for. As the bus swerved and jerked we were thrown around a little trying to stand in the front of the bus and communicate our point. The other passengers became curious as to what we were asking about but no one understood what we were saying. Tower is probably not a easily distinguishable word in english. The bus driver then shouted back to the other passengers something in Hebrew as he came to a stop. We were caught off guard when a woman just behind us suddenly began shouting at us in in thick Hebrew accented English, “Here! Here! Get off now! You need to get off right here!” as she frantically pointed outside. Before the bus driver closed the doors we just hopped out not even thinking.
As the bus disappeared in the distance we very quickly realized we were not in the right place. There was a tall building to the left and we thought that this lady must’ve mistakenly thought we were talking about it. Moreover, there was not a single soul anywhere to be seen. It was as if Bethel was a ghost town or we were in a weird sci-fi novel. There was literally not a single soul in sight. But, since the building to our right was tall we decided to just go towards it. We trotted down some stairs that led its direction and then I noticed something. In front of us was a wall. “Hey,” I said to my partner, “That looks like the wall in my dream.” He looked at me with sincere surprise and said, “Well, let’s look over it.” With eager expectation of what was just on the other side of the wall we walked down and peered over (insert second record scratch sound with strong echo reverb). Just over the wall was nothing but an empty alleyway and the only living thing there was a cat digging in a trash can. My heart sank.
I looked at my partner and both of us had no idea what to do next. We were standing at the end of a street lined with newly built jewish homes. There was not a living thing visible and part of me began to wonder if we should preach the gospel to that trash-digging cat! Feeling a little hopeless my friend suggested that we walk down the empty street. Oddly I felt that he was wrong and that we should go the other way, but I just went with it. The sun was beaming now and it must’ve been around one o’clock. Lord, you must have a plan I thought. Here we are, in the middle of a city we’ve never been to. You gave me a dream last night about being here, we found the wall, and the golden person that should have been there has turned into a black cat! Witchcraft is happening!!!
Just then a car turned onto the street and came towards us. My heart lept! Since we were the only people on the street it seemed an odd game of chicken as we were walking right down the middle. I can imagine what the driver must’ve been thinking. Here are two, very obvious gentiles, lost and out of place, walking down the middle of their street. I’m sure our eyebrows raised and the corners of our lips went up as she came near, and then just as quickly dropped as the car passed us. However, she then turned around and pulled in front of the house directly opposite where we were standing. An orthodox jewish lady got out of the car, of which we knew we were not allowed to speak to, and went up the small stairway that led to their flat. Not a word or glance from her, I got that sinking feeling again.
Suddenly, the door smashed open and a tall dark haired ultra orthodox jew with glasses descended the stairs and opened the car trunk. We stood in awe… he appeared to me to be shining gold. You could tell he was half trying to not overtly figure us out, but was also very interested in what these two men were doing outside his house. After digging around in his trunk he finally looked at us with a certain concern. How conspicuous we must’ve seemed… but his look also contained intrigue. Two white americans standing on his doorstep! “Um… excuse me, do you speak english,” I asked him. “Yes. What are you doing here?” he responded in a distinct Hebrew accent. “Um… we are looking for a prayer tower…” I managed to utter, “we believe Hashem has sent us here” hoping to at least give a credible enough response to keep the conversation going. “Oh, you’re not even near there!!” he said. “It’s about a thirty minute walk that way,” and he pointed down the street the direction we had come. He then tried to explain to us how to walk there which ended in him just saying, “You know what? I’ll just take you. Let me just finish taking these groceries into the house.” (Insert blaring warning sound) “Carry the groceries for him!” the Holy Spirit was shouting inside of me. “Here, let us help you with that,” me and my partner almost said simultaneously. We then followed him up the ten stairs and were welcomed straight into his house.
Walking into his house was like reliving a dream. The first things that caught my attention in the humble jewish home was an entire wall lined with black books in a prestigious wood book shelf. I quickly understood they were all rabbinic writings on the Tanakh. We weren’t inside the home of just any man––this man was exceptionally well read and educated in Judaism. However, it was not intimidating in the slightest, it was exciting. I knew the Holy Spirit had ordained this setting perfectly and now we just needed to let him lead. “Do you want a glass of water?” he said, after telling us his name was Nathaniel. When he said that I knew that we were inside the home of a real person of peace, just like Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke. I don’t even remembering responding and I can’t imagine what I might have looked like to him. Here we were, two gentiles, inside the house of an orthodox jewish scholar in the city of Bethel. And while we were in his house, we were also in the House of God. How ironic.
Nathaniel showed us his bookshelf and commented a little on it. He also showed us the scraped off rectangle near the door and explained to us that every jewish person had this in their homes as a sign that the temple will be rebuilt. I was internally combusting with emotions I had never felt as conversed with him. Finally, he turned to us again and said, “So what exactly are you doing here?” I took advantage of his question and I told him the truth. “Nathaniel, we believe Hashem has sent us here today. We would like to talk with you about the Scriptures. Do you have time to speak with us?” “That’s funny,” he said. “Maybe Hashem has sent you here! I am the only person in all of this area that I know speaks english, and you just happened to come to my house!” With this word I was boiling on the inside with expectation, but what he said next stunned me. “Every morning I go into Jerusalem for work, but this morning I woke up and thought to myself ‘I’m going to take the day off today!’ So, I usually would not be here now, but today I can sit down and talk with you about the Scriptures.”
I think I was about to just burst into tears and didn’t know what to say at this point. He motioned for us to sit down at his table where we had sat the groceries. He said, “Do you have your bibles?” to which we heartily responded, “Yes, of course.” It was odd to me that he even knew we called it the bible, and yet this whole situation was so dumbfounding that I felt like a child playing hide and go seek with my father. He knew where everything was and I was just trying to find Him. The next thing that happened still sticks in my mind as the most amazing thing I have ever heard or witnessed.
Looking directly at us he said, “Would you mind opening your bible to Deuteronomy 30?” I melted in that chair right there. I was as a blob of putty in the hands of God, wanting to shout and scream out loud, “The God of Israel is alive and has ordained everything perfectly!” As I was marveling at the impossibility of him wanting to talk to us about the very passage we had read that morning as we waited for the bus we had missed, it became clear that Nathaniel thought Hashem had sent us to him that he might correct us regarding our beliefs, and possibly be evangelized to judaism.
We talked about this passage in detail and the rich conversation cannot be put into words here. Suffice to say that he did not feel that he had convinced us of Israel’s current restoration, and that he also seemed as if he wasn’t convinced himself as well. My partner in this stage was so precise with his words concerning the restoration of Israel. “Nathaniel,” he said, “Do you really believe that the whole nation has returned the Lord as the passage says here.” Nathiniel reeled from the simple assessment of things. “No,” he said, “Over half of our nation is now secular,” he told us truthfully. But flipping through the pages of his Tanakh he came to his next point.
“But even if the nation isn’t fully turning back to Him… Well, look at Ezekiel 36.” That’s when my jaw literally dropped off of my face… and I looked at my partner who kept asking him superb questions in a very non-threatening way, who mirrored my expression. This was his chapter preceding the resurrection of Israel described in Ezekiel 37 which we had again discussed in the bus while we were waiting for the wreck to be cleared. God had prepared us with perfect words and insight directly from His Scriptures that very morning through the very events which I had thought were hindering our journey.
Our conversation went on for about an hour with his children slowly trickling in from school one by one, all of them with the tassels under their shirts and the slim locks of curled hair framing their faces. This was a quintessential ultra orthodox jewish family–– and gentiles were sitting at their table discussing their Scriptures! The children, although puzzled at who we could be, were not shy and several times they were climbing on their father in frenzied play.
The feeling I was experiencing seemed to be a mixture of total euphoria meddled with a creeping sour stomach. The whole situation was remarkable. Nathaniel was such a likable guy. We were able to talk upfront and honestly to him… however, in the midst of such beautiful, exciting, and exhillirating things,
“the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2“Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, ‘If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, 3and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people, 4then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head,” (Ez. 33:2-4).
I had a distinct sobriety that these feelings were good, and the Lord loved them, but this conversation was meant to go much deeper. The Holy Spirit said that we must Warn this man regarding the coming of Jacob’s Trouble. I was to to sound the alarm as the watchman does in Ezekiel 33. Just as I asked Nathaniel if he was familiar Jeremiah 30 and the topic of Jacob’s Trouble, his wife shouted something in Hebrew from the kitchen area. Suddenly it seemed things became chaotic in the house. The kids were frantic, and his wife was displeased. We realized that they were about to eat, and it is not kosher for them to eat with gentiles, so Nathaniel told us that we needed to go. No! We are losing our chance here… I thought …we can’t leave! But, there was nothing I could do. He stood up to grab his keys, keeping his promise to take us to the tower. I looked at the grocery bags sitting on the table next to me, slipped something under them unseen, and we walked out the door.
As we descended those ten steps the Holy Spirit spoke the clearest phrase to me, “You have four minutes, preach Christ Crucified unashamedly!” We got into his compact car with me riding in the front. The ride was an acute four minutes, and I went for the jugular. “Nathaniel, we are Christians and we believe that Yeshua is the true Messiah of Israel.” And the mention of Jesus’ name he cursed his name with the hebrew acronym of ‘let his name forever be accursed.'” I didn’t skip a beat but vulnerably shared my testimony with him, “I believe this because when I was twelve years ago Yeshua appeared to me and I saw Him hanging on the Cross, and I was also hanging on the cross with Him. He showed me who He is and I know that the Scriptures also confirm that He is the true Messiah of Israel.” At this Nathaniel stopped. “Only prophets have experiences like that,” he said. “Hashem only gives things like this to prophets.” I now wish I could’ve taken advantage of him saying that but in the moment I didn’t realize how significant what he was saying was. In effect, he confessed with his own mouth that Hashem had spoken to me a gentile.
I tried to get through to Christ Crucified and that the passover had prophesied of atonement and that people were saved through the sacrifice of a blameless lamb. In the four minutes I must’ve been talking as fast as a bullet train. He finally interrupted me as we pulled up to the prayer tower, “You said you would tell me of this Jacob’s Trouble.” A bomb went off inside of me in that very instant and I blurted out, “Nathaniel… Jacob’s Trouble isn’t a story or fairytale, it is near, it is on the horizon!”
When I said these words I erupted in uncontrollable weeping, half-screaming and groaning right there in the front seat of his car. It was something I have never experienced, and the only word I can use to describe it being travail, I was literally making noises as a woman in labor with my head in my lap. Internally the Lord was thundering a phrase over and over, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” As I drowned there in my own tears I could hear Nathaniel asking my friend, “What is happening? What is wrong with him?” My partner responded simply, “I think he’s crying. Maybe God is moving on him.”
What was happening to me was so intense that I wanted it to stop so that he wouldn’t feel so embarrassed. I now regret this and wish that I could’ve just stayed there with the Lord weeping and weeping for hours. Here it only lasted for a couple minutes before I looked up and directly into Nathaniel’s deer in the headlight eyes blurted out what was roaring in my mind. “Nathaniel, Hashem has longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you are a stubborn and obstinate people!”
I had not intended to say this at all and it is the only time in my life that I can really say I think the Holy Spirit took control of my tongue in that moment.
Nathaniel looked at me in total disbelief. I had just quoted to him a line from Ezekiel 2:4 that I was not previously familiar with. “I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ Isaiah also uses this same language once, saying, “For I know how stubborn and obstinate you are. Your necks are as unbending as iron. Your heads are as hard as bronze.” The look in Nathaniel’s eyes told me that he was familiar with the passages I was quoting, and he was keenly aware that they were not presenting his people in a positive light.
This is why the Holy Spirit is able to perform tasks far beyond our imagination. If I was jewish and a gentile was in the front seat of my car telling me that, I would’ve probably punched him! But something amazing happened in that moment… something that only God could’ve done. Nathaniel’s heart softened.
The only way that I can describe what happened next is that it was like a veil that covered Nathaniel’s eyes was drawn back. He was puzzled. There is a gentile in his car that has had experiences that only God gives to prophets. The gentile just erupted into an uncontrollable weeping and groaning. The gentile just quoted to him scripture from the prophets. The gentile is prophesying that judgment is coming to Israel.
It is my belief that Nathaniel knew he was witnessing the Ruach Ha Kodesh upon a gentile and he didn’t understand how this was possible.
For about five minutes God opened a window of mercy for me to go from the passover to the Cross, talking about how Hashem had hidden the crucifixion of the Messiah in His wisdom. I said things that could’ve never come from my own mind, and used analogies that I had never thought of, and it seemed to possibly be going into his heart. He just looked at me with mouth partly agape at this stage and let me talk through the whole thing. And then something happened that still brings me to tears. As the last act of a play closes, the curtain was slowly drawn back over his eyes. He looked at me and said, “I want you to get out of my car now… I have to leave.” We gave one last stab wanting to leave him with something tangible. We told him that he would see three things in the future. One, a man who was not the Messiah would bring peace in Jerusalem between arab and jew. Two, the third temple would be built in Jerusalem. Three, this false Messiah would stand up in the temple declaring himself to be YHWH. We told him that when he saw these things happening to flee from Israel. He looked at us with such great confidence and said, “I am a settler here. I will never leave.”
I stumbled out of his car feeling heavier than I ever had in my life. I felt like my blood was syrup and my bones iron. I wanted to collapse on the ground and just cry. His car pulled away from us and we just watched as he left. Suddenly, his car made a loop and came back our direction. “What in the world?!” I thought. He pulled up next us and I thought that this was it, he was going to give his life to Jesus. “When you leave…” he said, and proceeded to give us directions to how to take the bus. Without giving us a chance to respond he pulled away again.
My partner and I went up on that prayer tower and I fell to my knees. I did not know what had just happened and every ounce of energy was zapped from my entire being. I just closed my eyes. The prayers I prayed over those next few minutes were those of the desperate sort. We just sat there together wondering what to do, looking into the distance at Ramallah set upon the hill. I knew I had just experienced what God said to Isaiah,
“He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.”
I knew that I had just witnessed the curses spoken of in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. I knew that Nathaniel had been given over to this condition by God Himself, and that it was a judgment against His precious, unfaithful, firstborn people. I was overwhelmed with the grief Paul speaks of in Romans 9. At that very moment I also felt that I could’ve wished myself cut off from Christ for the sake of Nathaniel.
As my friend and I finally prepared to make the journey back to Jerusalem I told him something that he didn’t know. It was the only thing that kept a glimmer of hope in my mind and what still keeps a light at the end of the Nathaniel tunnel in my heart. “You know… when we were sitting in Nathaniel’s house?” I said. “Remember how the grocery bags were sitting on the table?…” he nodded. “…just before we left I slipped a Hebrew Gospel of John underneath them.”
That day ended the way it had began. With everything planned so precisely by the Lord–– from the missed bus, to the blocked tunnel, to meeting Hi in the bus line, to the woman screaming for us to get off the bus, to the particular moment we stood in front of Nathaniel’s house and he walked down the stairs, to the Holy Spirit coming upon me unaware––everything could not have been more perfectly ordained. As I told my friend about leaving the book on his table I heard the Holy Spirit say what He had said earlier with Hi. He said, “I will take it from here…” and there was not a bone in my body that distrusted Him.
Ever since that day when I think about Nathaniel an indescribable peace washes over me. I remember the events of that day and I marvel. I literally came to tears at several points just recalling this story! I stand in awe that God used us that day to do something miraculous. I have a story that literally reads like the book of Acts and no one can take it away from me. I experienced the Bible, the covenant, and the Holy Spirit alive that day as I looked into the eyes of the Holy People and saw their blindness staring back. I understood that if gentiles would understand their place in the story God is willing to go to great lengths to lead you to His people that you might give testimony of Christ and Him crucified. You may be despised in their eyes. They may curse the name of Jesus. But you my friend will be partaking in the storyline of the everlasting gospel, and you might just be provoking His people to jealousy. Let it be. Amen.
I wrote this so that you the reader would be encouraged that the story of the Bible is true. God is on the move and Jesus is truly coming soon. Have faith! Take heart! And as Daniel says, remember, the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do great exploits. Lets have faith for things like this and be available for the Holy Spirit to use us.
The view of the settlements from the tower in Beit-El
A form is there before you and you gaze upon it. Though your knees may not bow your heart does internally. You want it… and you want it to want you. Yet, it may not even be just that you want it, there is something deeper happening… something stronger than just a desire or want. You may have written it off just as, “humans are sexual creatures”, and that modern psychological form of deception is the puppet string causing your eyes to bob up and down upon different bodies throughout the day. Then, you go home, go into your room, close the door, and defile yourself with the unsatisfied fulfillment of selfish intimacy.
The secret place has become defiled and shameful. I know this firsthand…
Jesus says, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Yet, there is no reward for this other kind of secret place. The Father is indeed watching… and weeping. There, your act is worship to an unseen demon… a creature that hates you and wants to murder you despite your awareness of its presence. The place in your mind where you are supposed to “love the Lord Your God with all of” has been tyrannically ruled by lizards of lust for decades– their constant flicking tongues hitting the cerebral with a bombardment of sexualized emotion.
We live in a culture that is perpetually “turned on”–– driven to find release.
But, can we actually be released from it? I wasn’t sure until the last couple years.
You give in again and again and you don’t know why. You feel trapped in your mind. You have bowed before the idol of sex so many times to your own shame and you just want it to stop. You feel defeated, guilty, and ashamed of yourself. You feel a fake because you can’t speak to someone about the Lord while this hides just behind your eyes. But the truth is that you do love the Lord! This is why you feel so ashamed. You want to please Him, but you’re caught in failure. Can we transition to loving the Lord more than this lust and overcome it? Can we live whole-heartedly and self-controlled before Him and resist these horrific temptations?
Can we actually love the Lord God of Israel with all of our mind?
My first sexual experience was with a woman in her thirties when I was six. I still remember the “funny feeling” in my stomach and being very uncomfortable as she asked me to come into the dark room dressed in an open robe with only lingerie on. To worsen the situation, a pornographic vampire movie was playing on the TV in her dark room… Then I black out and only come to as I leave the room feeling sick to my stomach. My mind still doesn’t know whether this is one or multiple experiences merged into one. It was during those young years I was also exposed to hardcore pornography for the first time. It was in a large meeting in the auditorium of my elementary school in the second or third grade… the crinkled up piece of magazine paper being secretly passed from small innocent hands to another was engrained upon my mind as the unforgettable snapshot. I didn’t want to see it, but I wanted to see it. When I was nine or ten my cousins introduced me to their father’s Playboy and Hustler collection that led to an insatiable addiction even though we didn’t know what we were doing. We were so young we only said that we got “that funny feeling in our stomachs.” Around that same time a male teacher at my elementary school began putting his hands on my body after school hours. My brother had the same teacher and experienced the same things and we would only come to know this many years later… Within those same years my cousin forced me to watch him masturbate, making it the only condition by which he would allow me to play video games in his room. I still remember hating it, and yet him saying over and over “LOOK! WATCH!” I was instructed in evil that day, and I followed suit soon thereafter. All these things led me to have an addiction to pornography in my young teens that provided the context to be molested by a male neighbor in exchange for pornography as a teenager, to have my first consensual sexual encounter with a woman when I was sixteen, and to fully lose my virginity by age 19. It was all downhill from there – an unquenchable slide towards immorality and disregard of my own purity as well as others’.
Many can empathize with this story. It is a very sad and grieving empathy we share…
Many, if not darn near all of us, were taught sex outside the covenant of marriage. Those illicit encounters, that I am so sorry we have experienced, undoubtedly created our “worldview” and perspective of sex. Such small minds and innocent bodies should never have had to endure the torture of others’ negligent promiscuity; and yet those very others most likely endured the same abuses themselves by their own perpetrators in a perpetuation of this gross cycle. Who is to be blamed with so many variables in play and with the detrimental effects of sin snowballing upon the children of this age? The Lord will surely judge on the day of His appearing. I know that the Father has wept many tears for the children that have fallen victim to such events – and this means He has wept over what happened to you.
Can the cycle be broken?
Our wounds are very real, and I was recently awakened to the reality of just how deep these things can affect a person especially later in their adult life. As the childhood mind forms, the pathways it is taught to think in become highways by which information travels into the mind and is interpreted. Many of these paths were defiled for many of us as children which taught us to think sexually therefore – even about the things that are innocent and pure. But friends, there is hope! I will address victory, but we first must handle the other side of the coin.
Our minds being given to sex is not purely because of wounding. Although it started there, we must also admit the truth––we have surrendered to our wounds and allowed our minds to wave that white flag instead of fighting the good fight. We have allowed our wounding to become the scapegoat for sex being our idol.
The sin of idolatry is rarely equated to sex today. We look on every corner of our western worlds and there is sex, and yet somehow we are removed from the idea that it might be an idol. Instead we call it a “struggle.” To put all of the blame on wounds is to not admit the truth of our love of sex. This is a reality that must be addressed by believers.
We love sex. But can we love the Lord our God above it?
If on the corners of western streets there were enormous golden idols with many arms covered in snakes and a Christian were seen on that corner bowing down before the golden creature, and later say in his accountability group, “I was struggling with idolatry today,” who would scoff? That man would be rebuked! Yet, we passively distinguish. This is the clever reality of billboards, magazines, tv, and movies––although it is that same type of foul false-god receiving attention and worship, it has learned to disguise itself well and mask its agenda. This idol has learned to charade itself as another thing altogether…
Idolatry is so easy to label in nations like Nepal and India because of its blatancy. It still happens there in the flagrant fashion of bowing down before golden statues. This form of idolatry manifests mainly in external form. Not so in the west. On the contrary, idolatry has become a predominantly internal practice. Indeed, with both forms the heart is what is engaging in the idolatry, but I am primarily speaking of the practice. With Nepal, there is a daily practice of going to the temple and touching, kissing, and bowing down before physical idols. With the West, there is a daily practice of opening up magazines, watching movies, checking out people as we check our social media, and then touching ourselves. Within all of those spheres there is a driving relentless agenda of sexualized content which in turn turns the heart, and moreover keeps the heart constantly swamped with erotic material even if you’re not looking for it.
Does the mind bow to the image?
Is this idolatry?
This is not loving the Lord with all of our mind. But can it be overcome?
Yes! But we must be sober minded!
Think about ancient cultures. Sex is often a part of the rituals contained within the programs of idolatry. The false gods have always had sex within their scheme of worship because they themselves are un-pure, and defiled––apostate from what is holy. Behind the false gods however are very real creatures, demons, who hate humanity and exist for the purpose of deceiving us. They long for the worship that belongs to Jesus…
Have you ever considered the pagan god statues of greco-roman culture? They are typified as naked and sexualized, and yet powerful and secure. Surely that has some odd effect on the psychology of humans. Sex and power is embodied in the pagan gentile gods because they are actually unholy and powerless demons. This is the paradox.
Temple prostitutes are a character we’re familiar with from the Bible. Sex and idolatry went together throughout the bible, likewise in this modern era. The forces of darkness understood long ago that sex was an integral part of idolatry and it has been incorporated into their worship for millennia.
We must open our eyes to the truth of what’s happening!
The same idolatry is in fact still happening today. When sex has been equated and related to idolatry of all sorts for history past, then it should inform us of something deeper than a struggle taking place today. We must have this foundational understanding of the roots of idolatry and its application to sex if we are to ever see it for what it is and overcome the temptation to bow down to its idol. We must see it as turning away from the Lord God of Israel and worshiping another god.
It is idolatry.
In stark contrast to the pagan gods of the nations, YHWH––the God of Israel––has always maintained a standard of beautiful and undefiled purity. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5). He commanded that no form of Him ever be made because he knew what was in men’s hearts. I think He foreknew that men would inevitably portray Him the way the Greeks and Romans did their gods. The Greeks and Romans are case and point of what man believed the “gods” were doing––partaking in drunken orgies! The God of Israel wanted no such gross portrayal of Himself. He has kept Himself and His form more pure than the god-concoction man could have thought of. Even today, His main expression is seen not in a powerful deity seated on a throne with naked women surrounding Him and lightning bolts being thrown from His hand–– but in the glory of a weak man hanging upon a Cross!
Oh the depths of the wisdom of the knowledge of God!
The wisdom of man is there confounded and the glory of YHWH is magnified. This is the God that we worship. This is the God we long to be faithful to! There on that crossbeam is
“…Christ, in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Col. 2
YHWH’s biblical worldview presents the context of sex as a life giving act that affirms and validates the covenant between a man and a woman every time that it takes place. In that holy act, the man and the woman are one flesh, testifying of their vow and the day that they left their father and mother, joined themselves to each other and forsook any chance in the future of doing that act with another person. In this light, the act of sex within covenantal marriage is worship unto the Creator who thought of this and created it for the purpose of purity. It is in fact the only act that humans partake in which is directly creational–– a life is made by the act and a person is born. It is remarkable that something that is so exploited today as filth in the industry of pornography, is actually so filled with light and truth within the marriage bed!
I see your point, but why is the struggle so deep?
Recently it all just seemed so simple to me. Wounds and idolatry––
We are broken, and sex is worshiped…
Adultery is the anti-climactic end of the idolatry of sex. After having worshiped this filthy idol for so many years it is the fatal outcome and the very reason why so many succumb to its trap.
Upon the first act of adultery the biggest deception of having believed that it would be fulfilling becomes plain. I doubt that any man thinks to himself just moments after the first act of infidelity, “This was worth it!” At that very moment the woman who has carried his seed in her womb for nine months enduring the pain of childbirth multiple times out of love for him–– the very woman who has endured the in-laws and attempted to overcome the hurdles out of love them for years, the same woman that has spent endless hours of working through problems and coming to resolution with him, the only woman who has fallen asleep next to him in bed for many years is not there in the bed with him––she is at home alone with their children! The adultress, with whom he just defiled himself, has endured nothing for him except her own driving lust and brokenness that produced this horrible outcome. His true lover, His own flesh, the one who bears the vows of their wedding day in her heart and on her ring finger lies helplessly alone at home with their kids wondering why he had to work late again. She will almost certainly, very soon hear the crushing words of, “There’s someone else.” What a tearful, grievous outcome, and yet is one that is now commonplace.
The weighty implications and perspective of such a scenario when viewed outside the “hot perspective” of those within the deception of adultery is staggering. Adultery is the most paradoxical conclusion a person in the covenant of marriage can make. What great betrayal it is that takes place in total contradiction to the covenant between the husband and the wife!
In reality, separated from the gross fantasy the adulterer has now lived out, he is simply worshipping the idol of self-indulgent sex. He is actually worshipping himself even though he might not ever be conscious of it. It is controlling him and driving him. It is possessing him and usurping worship that belongs to Jesus, and praise that belongs to his wife, his flesh, his covenant. Oh what a great devastating lie this one has believed. It is no wonder the God if Israel has such strong regard toward this sin.
All of the men reading this now will secretly attest to this truth: our hearts are incredibly adulterous. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and an unrelenting cry before the throne of God to keep us pure that we do not commit adultery. I know this because I am a man, and I’ve walked in total transparency with a lot of men. I’ve also grown up in a church where a fair percentage of the men therein committed adultery in some way or another. I praise God that I have an earthly father who has remained faithful to my mother for these 41 years and never given in to this horrific sin––keep up the good fight dad!
The bombardment will soon find its end!
The Lifestyle of Praise
By the time I reached my thirties, the abusive events of my childhood had taken a detrimental toll on my mind. I did not feel that I could love the Lord with all of my mind many days, because my mind interpreted simple everyday events and interactions as sexual. A mere compliment from a woman could filter through the sexualized pathway created in my six year old mind and turn into something it was not. A simple smile or introduction could lead my mind to immediate improper thoughts. It seemed adultery was creeping closer and closer to me and I feared being the man that would let his wife and family and most of all, the Lord Jesus, down.
This is about as raw and transparent as it gets.
I would hear about other people’s struggles and it never seemed to be at nearly the same level of intensity as mine. I wasn’t intending to peg myself as unique, but the battle that I experienced was very different from others’ I knew. There were times when I would have demonic dreams, intensely pornographic and defiling, for weeks on end––waking up gasping for air and wondering how to escape the trial. I would fight the desire of lust, and keep my eyes on the Cross as much as I knew how. I would cry out to the Lord, I would remain in prayer and the Scriptures, and yet about every six months I would finally come to a place of feeling overwhelmed and give in to pornography. Even though I had previously been free of pornography for a 5 year period, this took place for the last 3-4 years. With this as the reality, loving brothers encouraged me to step down from leadership for a while and seek healing. This is when this blog was put on hold.
Making myself idiotically vulnerable did not come without a cost. I made it my devastating goal to tell all the details to other brothers of every sin I would commit. This transparent sharing of struggle with other brothers seems to often be the first step that is neglected by other Christians I know who have fallen into adultery.
Whether deeply wounded, or giving into the worship of sex, we, brothers, cannot afford to hide our sin!
I am convinced that the Lord Jesus carried me through the hardest of trials because of His great mercy, and because I was willing to embarrass myself over and over before other brothers with the truth of my darkest sins. If you are in that place of hiding in your sin, HUMBLE YOURSELF AND COME INTO THE LIGHT. Boldly I would like to ask you to come out and tell someone what’s happening before it’s too late and you really mess up. This pre-strike mentality does something in the Spirit that certainly thwarts the enemy. If you keep hiding he will prevail over you and it is only a matter of time. This isn’t pessimism, this is honesty based on 35 years of personal experience and observation.
When it all peaked for me, our family was still overseas as missionaries in Nepal. There was a lot of deliberation with my leadership over what was happening. The demonic dreams got to a place where I was overwhelmed, very discouraged, and tired of enduring such horrible nights. I would fast and pray, and remain in the Scriptures, but it would not cease. By the grace of God, our mission in Nepal was in a place where it was time to turn things over to the indigenous leaders we had discipled. It was their turn to run with the torch. Even the guys we discipled knew my weakness and walked with me through it. How could I hide it from them? This also led the way in vulnerability being part of the gospel witness in showing our need for the Cross.
In November of 2016 I officially posted the message that has been on my blog static page since. I wanted this open confession to be the help others might need to break free. I wanted my tiny candle of light to pierce the great darkness of this world wide web with a brutal confession of weakness that I might boast in Christ alone. I also wanted to be completely transparent with those who have read this blog and received encouragement from it, or help in the Scriptures. It needed to be known that the man writing these things was broken, and that He wanted to give himself to this time of consecration so that with purity he could be a faithful witness for the future. I didn’t want to be a fake.
Although I do believe that I will be partially broken until the resurrection of Christ, and that my mind will not be fully sanctified until it is completely changed on the day of His appearing, I can tell you that this time has taught me many things and matured me in the faith in many ways. Having undergone 12 weeks of counseling sessions, prayer, and deliverance the first couple months of this year, there were many things that were “gotten to the bottom of.” I steadily emerged to a new place in my mind where I felt space to “love the Lord.” A new strength arose in my spirit that loved the Lord deeper and more fiercely than the lust of the flesh and its temptations. For the first time in many years I felt strength to overcome the sin of lust.
It has now been over two years since I have given into pornography! I have resolved to never return to its vomit.
The Lord’s work is not finished, and yet I am finding new strength to love with Him with all of my heart. The despair and embarrassment that I and my family underwent as we submitted to the consequences of my sin has born fruit that I would never take back. Submitting to the discipline of the last two years was well worth it.
This is likely where many will stop reading. Oh how sad and detached we are from this beautiful Man! This is the only place to find freedom and hope so please keep reading!
Yes, there is a living Man who has never worshiped the idol of sex! Oh, how often we forget this! Jesus walked this earth for 30 odd years and never bowed his knee, mind, or heart to lust! The great Conqueror of wounds, sex and idolatry we worship! We often do not remember that this Man was killed because of our idolatry though He was infinitely pure, and then He rose from the dead, passed through the heavens and is seated at the right hand of God as our Great High Priest living to make intercession for us! If this reality were not true then the climax of this post would have been set upon that horrible hopelessness of us “just doing better in our own strength.” Yet, because of the sureness of this reality we can lift our eyes to the hope of glory and find the reason for choosing willful sanctification and worship no matter the cost.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
This biblical reality is stunning. The Man Christ Jesus never bowed his knee or his heart to idolatry of any sort, and yet He became those nasty things on our behalf, so that we are no longer in ourselves, but we are IN HIM––trapped in the glorious bosom of His righteousness, pure children of God destined to inherit glory and a kingdom with Him forever. The Father looks at us and sees His Son’s blood and righteousness, and He smiles with acceptance at our union to His Son.
This reality empowers us to abstain from sin as worship of Him.
What a testimony He has, and what authority Jesus’ prayers have before His Father to guard us, protect us, and deliver us from the temptations of the evil one. His vascular arms, pumping the very blood that was poured out on Calvary will carry us through to the day of His appearing!
We have very clear evidence of the strength of Jesus prayers in Luke 22:31-32. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Oh the power of the prayers of God the Son! As satan prepares the wheat sifter, Jesus is there before the father crying out that Peter would stand firm. On the hem of those prayers Jesus knows the outcome because Jesus prayers get answered! There is no one with more authority to pray for you then our High Priest, For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Hb. 4:15).
It must’ve affected Peter deeply to hear the cock crow and know that the Son of Man had been on His knees for him. But the power of Jesus prayer is revealed not in Peter succumbing to the pressure of denial, but in the restoration that takes place as Jesus restores him. The power of Jesus prayers led the traitor to become the leader who was crucified upside down. We also, upon the failure of our sin, must remember that His prayers have prayed beyond the sin that just consumed us and will carry us through to the end. Take heart!
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
This passage is immensely powerful. We fix our eyes upon Jesus so that we do not grow weary in striving against this idol of sex that so easily entangles us in our culture. He is the author of our faith because He walked it out perfectly, and will complete it in us!
In this cultural inundation of idolatry we do not lose heart because Jesus didn’t. Even in failures amounting seventy times seven, and in the grief and shame and remorse of our sexual deviances, we continue to try to lay aside every encumbrance. We do this by His Holy Spirit which He has given us to forsake the idols of our lives, the lust of the flesh, to turn away from her sexualized corners and fix our eyes upon Jesus! We must keep trying to cast down that idol of sex by the power of His Holy Spirit, and walk in His Spirit for you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). We must be willing to crucify those desires because those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires knowing that the Bible is clear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10).
Our desire to enter the kingdom of God must be stronger than our other desires so that we might overcome the lust of the flesh.
Beloved friends, let us take up that Cross together, giving Jesus a fragrant life of praise instead! Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1). Let us worship Him by continuing to sacrifice those evil inclinations to His Cross and letting praise ascend in their place. That Jesus may receive in our life the reward of His suffering, let us press on towards the day that His and our joy are fulfilled together in the consummation of the ages when His kingdom comes and every idol is abolished and our heart is renewed in the New Covenant of His Holy Spirit dwelling in us in fullness. That is the end-game, let us not forget!
We will be fully delivered! Our mind will be fully pure! Our heart will once again be fully innocent!
We can make it with our eyes fixed upon Him! So, let us un-fix our eyes from anything that would hinder the glory He deserves.
Can we do it?
He is worth it.
Even so, Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!
Our placement in the diagram above is in the second vertical pillar titled Covenantal. On the third line of this pillar we identify Exodus 20-24. In the previous post we covered several details of these chapters, however there are a couple more events left remaining which need appropriate attention. If you have not read the previous posts (#7 and #8) then you may have missed some critical information and context regarding where we are in the large story of Exodus and Sinai. The aim of this post is to help us understand in a simple way the following two things:
- Israel’s Agreement to the Sinai Covenant
- Identifying the “remnant” in Scripture
Israel’s Agreement to the Covenant
Now that we have sought a proper understanding regarding the importance of the Ten Words, we can observe the final stages of this Exodus in chapter 24.
The divine Creator has just stepped into human history in the most dramatic way possible. Even with this statement our propensity can be to theologically jump ahead to God in the flesh in His Son Jesus as when He enters human history in the most dramatic way imaginable, but we must not do this… yet! This is when our theology can become a stumbling block and often make us blind to the foundational layers that provide the context for Messiah. As humans, we are often times drawn to the biggest event and thus lead ourselves to believe we understand everything else because the biggest event is in sight. Yet thus far in our story, Sinai is the biggest event in sight and we must process it accordingly.
I know many people, myself included, that never watch soccer/football. Every four years however, these same ones gather together and dedicate many hours to watch the World Cup. Why? Because the World Cup is the grand event! However, one cannot watch the World Cup and actually understand what has taken place the previous four years. Yes, we understand the game of soccer, but of the painstaking amount of hard work, training and preparation that have led these few choice teams to the World Cup we are completely unaware. Before the grand event there are many formulative events, and it is within the context of these events that we ought to understand the grand event.
Likewise, too often a person’s theology begins at the Cross even though this grand event is 2/3 of the way through the story. In such cases one might be able to understand simply the idea of salvation, for God has made it very easy to grasp––repent, believe in Jesus, and let your life reflect His waiting for the hope of His second coming. However, the long and grueling process that has unfurled since creation until the time of the Cross is the story that belongs to Israel and their history. This is why we must stop here and revel in the astonishing events of the Exodus and let them inform our understanding of what will come thereafter.
After God speaks the Ten Words and the ordinances, the people heartily confirm with their own mouths that they will obey what He has said.
“Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!’… Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words,” (Ex. 24:3-8).
The all powerful God of the heavens and the earth spoke words from heaven in a conversation with Israel and the people responded to Him. Does this strike you as incredible? This is not a section of Scripture that can be overemphasized. As I’ve encouraged us many times, we must re-sensitize ourselves to these great events of Scripture. At Mt. Sinai Moses recounts the words of YHWH and all the people answer with one voice before YHWH, saying, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do!” Moses then takes the book of the covenant and reads it aloud in all of their hearing and the people respond, “All that YHWH has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” The implications of this conversation are astounding.
The Creator of the heavens and the earth is purposefully continuing the promises He previously made to Adam, Noah and Abraham by making a covenant with their direct lineage at this mountain. He is remaining infallibly faithful to His previous words to those men because His words are covenantal in nature as we’ve already discussed many times. What is noteworthy here is that whereas YHWH had been their God previously, in these Words He becomes the God of this great slave-people, turned free-men, at the mount. In this covenant, the people are taking responsibility upon themselves to uphold all of the words God spoke. In effect, Israel is now saying their vow to YHWH to become His wife, and He their Husband.
Words from Numbers 30:1-2 come to mind here:
“Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the word which the Lord has commanded. If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”
Israel has admittedly made a binding vow to the Lord to keep His words, which by relation make them His people––His possession. We discussed in the creational pillar that the original Creator owns His possessions, which are the heavens, the earth, and man. We also discussed in the bottom portion of that pillar that the only other thing given creational language in the Bible is when God speaks about Israel. He emphatically says,
“But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel,” (Is. 43:1).
Quite literally the former lineage of Abraham were a no people living in the quagmire of slavery, confined to hard labor within the borders of Egypt. This was not a nation, this was an oppressed slave-people. Yet this was the wisdom of God. His miraculous deliverance of Israel from their bondage is what creates the nation that is standing before Him at the mountain. They had been led through the womb of the Red Sea, and being birthed through God’s very own hand they now stood as His newborn child at Sinai as a fulfillment of what YHWH had spoke to Abraham. He created Israel through this deliverance, and He plans on being faithful to her as the remainder of the above verse says,“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” It is important for us to keep the creational idea at the forefront of our understanding of the people Israel because this is how God identifies Israel in Scripture. The nation of Israel is quite literally God’s treasured possession.
Deut. 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
Sinai is also a covenant of blood as was the case with the covenant with Abraham where the animals were cut in half and the pieces laid on opposite sides for God to pass through.
“So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words, (Ex. 24:8).
Then another amazing thing happens:
Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.11Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.
Wow. The elders of Israel ate and drank with God. There is a lot one could say about this, but we must refrain at present. God is seemingly making the covenant official by eating and drinking with His new people – a glorious testimony of the event in the future when Jesus returns––the wedding supper of the Lamb. In the midst of this event the Lord calls Moses to come up to where He is.
12Now the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.” 15Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. 18Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
I feel like saying, “It was finished,” here in regard to the truth of the covenant made between God and Abraham’s lineage, Israel. It actually happened in the blazing glory that is described. YHWH Himself, who sits in the heavens, who formed the very earth we live on chose this people to be His own that day and nothing has changed in the days that have passed between then and now. I cannot fathom why or how we could ever arrive at the New Testament and think that all of these passages we have belabored no longer mean anything because they were subsumed in Jesus’ life. The only change I can identify is the tragic loss of reality with regard to what happened that day, and what people, yes even Israel itself, believes happened. We must continue fighting the good fight and recover this truth!
The Golden Calf
It’s only shortly after this covenant is affirmed by the people that we hang our heads in disbelief at the speed with which the people turn from God and His commands to worshiping the golden calf. So often the brazen nature of Israel’s actions can cause us to point the finger at her failure.
After hearing the voice of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth speak from within the fiery, quaking, and thunderous storm that engulfs the mountain, and only days ago having vowed to be obedient to His words–while Moses is atop that very same mountain meeting with their God and speaking in their stead because the people had beheld His power and thought they might die if He kept speaking–– the people renege on their promise and create a golden idol there in the immediate sight of YHWH, breaking the very first Words that had come out of His divine mouth. OMG.
4″You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments,” (Ex. 20:4-6).
The golden cow formed by the hands of man must’ve been so measly compared to the power emanating from Sinai’s summit! Again, it seems so terribly preposterous to consider how these people bow down to something formed of yellow metal when the One true God is seated up there in majesty! But here is man at his finest, and we must not accuse them.
In such an instance we cannot point the finger and wag our heads in disbelief, without first seeing ourselves there also participating in the gross absurdity and atrocity of worshiping this golden beast. We must admit that it would have been us drunken-dancing about the desert bush intoxicated with laughter and immorality. If we deny this, then we are deceived about our own hearts and Jeremiah 17:9 is calling out wisdom to our ear: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? May the lingering blindness to our own condition be recognized as we look upon Israel in hindsight, and let us grieve there with God over what happened to them on that fateful day.
What we should see in this instance follows the very vein of the previous post: Man is totally unable to deliver himself from his own deep rooted depravity and sinful nature. We are incapable of carrying within us the knowledge of good and evil and choosing good apart from Him! It’s only just after the encounter that we are found bowing down to the golden idols. His voice was just heralded through the heavens, yet shortly after drowned out by our befuddled laughter and idolatrous howling. In Israel we clearly see the condition of man and His need for the redeemer promised in Genesis 3:15… and even there in such great loss that promise shines through as the rainbow after a great storm.
Nevertheless, we emphasize again that God did not have an unrealistic expectation concerning Israel and their perfection regarding the covenant. His anger indeed burns against them and Moses intercedes on their behalf before the Lord relents. Moses later recounts this story of Mt. Sinai in Deuteronomy 5:29 relaying to us that when the people said, “We will keep this covenant and be obedient,” then God cried out in response,
Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever! (Deut. 5:29).
The overflow of God’s heart here is not exaggerated! He is not deceived about their inability to keep His commandments on their own. As we discussed, it seems that God in His great understanding and mercy would have looked ahead to the future fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 when the head of the serpent is finally crushed and He puts His Spirit within Israel forever enabling them to keep His commandments perfectly.
“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”’ 18“When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God,” (Ezek. 11:17-20).
“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances,” (Ez. 36:27).
We strengthen ourselves with the continual reminder of this apocalyptic hope and long for this eschatological reality to come to pass in the physical land of Israel!
The Birth of the Remnant
The idea of the remnant in Scripture is defined from the very beginning of our Bible and traces the veins of Scripture all the way to Revelation. It is something that we must be well acquainted with so that we might understand how God’s plan of salvation functions and how the good news in our Bible comes to fruition. We can simply begin with the flood.
In the flood judgment we see a principle instituted by God: 8 people are saved out of the judgment upon the whole of the earth. Though this may initially offend us, the right response rather would be to ask, ‘Why were 8 even saved?’ God could’ve ended the whole thing at the flood if He had chosen. As we’ve discussed however, it would have broken His promise which He will not allow. It was His mercy to save 8 and continue His promise which would save many more.
Moving forward to Joseph at Pharaoh’s right hand in the midst of the great famine of Egypt, the idea of the remnant is directly articulated by Joseph, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” Again, in the context of judgment a remnant is preserved––this time the direct lineage of Abraham. It should be noted that God Himself is divinely preserving a posterity in order to bring about His original promise of Genesis 3:15–this Seed must be born as a man to crush the head of the serpent and this is done through the preservation of a physical remnant in Noah and his family, and in Joseph saving all of Jacob/Israel’s lineage.
There at Sinai in the midst of gross idolatry there is called out from the midst of the assembly the ones who have not joined themselves to this defiling act. We know that Joshua and Caleb must’ve been among these ones since they are praised by the Lord for their faithfulness to Him, and we also see 3000 Levites come to Moses. Let’s read:
“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— 26then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. 27He said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’”28So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. 29Then Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves today to the LORD—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.”
Surely as soon as Moses appeared in the camp there would have been an outcry of surprise, utter shock, and dreaded fear of the imminent consequence. They had figured him dead! In the passages just before they had petitioned Aaron saying “We don’t know what happened to this Moses, make us a god to worship!”, and now here was this Moses filled with the fury of YHWH, the stone tablets that had been written by the finger of God leaving his tired hands and flying through the air in protest of their abdication. The face that still shone from its mountaintop experience would’ve certainly held a long scowl of anger and grief as he commanded the Levites who crossed onto his side to slay each one’s brother, friend, and neighbor. A great loss occurs as the correct response to a great sin. Then, he commands them to grind the beast into dust and mix it in the community stream for them to drink as a punishment. While the bitter taste of their idolatry lingers on their thirsty tongues they bury their families in the sands of that great desert. The metallic remnant in their mouths reminds them of their error with each shovel full of dirt covering the corpses of those they loved most. The Prophet whom God had chosen to lead this people then hikes the same trail back up the mountain where he will double-down on the forty-day fast in the glory of God.
Enter the Remnant.
The Levites, you could say, were the first identified remnant called directly out of the new nation of Israel because it is in the context of necessary judgment that some are preserved from the judgment. This is a principle that YHWH will use from this time forward throughout the journey of Scripture with regard to His mercy and kindness in saving as many wicked men as possible from required judgment or punishment. The Levites who are just as carnal and possess the same heart condition as the others present in the camp make a righteous decision and then become protected from the judgment that Moses declares upon Israel. However, we are told that they fall in the wilderness with the others, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun,” (Num. 14:30). Six-hundred thousand men left Egypt in the Exodus and two crossed the Jordan into the promised land of that entire generation. Remarkable. It is not by exaggeration that Jesus says, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it,” (Matt. 7:14). It is with the remnant that we identify the original context of such a powerful statement.
To be brief and to stay on point, let’s evaluate the idea of the remnant by simply looking at a couple passages of Scripture whilst remembering that the linear trajectory of our Gospel is pushing all things to an apocalyptic end. What I mean in other words is that the idea of the remnant may be found here and there but the idea finds its fulfillment at the very end. Let’s look at a few examples.
Isaiah 10:20-24 Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord GOD of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land.
In this passage Isaiah is prophesying of the Babylonian Exile of Israel, and that after that captivity a remnant will return to the land. Although this prophecy finds partial fulfillment in the context of Isaiah’s day, it also looks towards its final fulfillment out of the final judgment since the context is that they will never again rely upon the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord. This is clearly yet to be the case. We will do well to understand this regarding the prophets: Their words are ultimately prophesying about the end times and millennial fulfillment. Many will disagree with this view but my solace lies within YHWH, His Bible, and a method of interpretation that is consistent from Genesis to Revelation, seeking to let it stand upon itself.
“As for you, son of man, take a sharp sword; take and use it as a barber’s razor on your head and beard. Then take scales for weighing and divide the hair. 2“One third you shall burn in the fire at the center of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. Then you shall take one third and strike it with the sword all around the city, and one third you shall scatter to the wind; and I will unsheathe a sword behind them. 3“Take also a few in number from them and bind them in the edges of your robes. 4“Take again some of them and throw them into the fire and burn them in the fire; from it a fire will spread to all the house of Israel… (Ch. 6) However, I will leave a remnant, for you will have those who escaped the sword among the nations when you are scattered among the countries. 9“Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations. 10“Then they will know that I am the LORD; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.”’
In Ezekiel, this idea shines forth over and over but here is one of the clearest pictures of what we are trying to define. The remnant are the hairs tucked into Ezekiel’s robe signifying that the Lord draws the few to Himself (that have sought to be faithful) and protects them for survival in the midst of judgment. The idea is the same in Ezekiel 9 with the men who have their heads marked by the Lord:
The LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.”5But to the others He said in my hearing, “Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. 6“Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.”
I would argue that this is the same marking that is seen in Revelation 7 with the 144,000:
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel (v. 2-4).
I believe these two to be the same event of marking in the end-times. It may have also happened in Ezekiel’s day, but the point of the idea is again pushing towards the apocalyptic revelation and fulfillment of what the prophet saw. There will be a very literal number of 144,000 Jewish persons saved/preserved in the land of Israel as the remnant that is present to receive their Jewish Messiah when He returns on the clouds of heaven. This is clearly seen in Zechariah as well:
“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate,” Declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; And I will turn My hand against the little ones. “It will come about in all the land,” Declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; But the third will be left in it. “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’
Here we see that 2/3 of the people of Israel will eventually be cut off from the land but the Lord will bring 1/3 through the fire of tribulation, at the end of which they cry, “The Lord (YHWH) is my God!” Again we are seeing the Lord’s principle of preserving a remnant. This remnant is the same remnant that is literally in the land crying out when Jesus returns:
“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn,” (Zech. 12:10).
This is the same event that Jesus mentions in Matthew 23, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”
It is the remnant of Israel that sees Him and it is a very literal seeing since He is descending on the clouds of heaven. It is these ones who are mourning over the One who comes to deliver them out of the great fire of tribulation – the One whom their ancestors crucified on the Cross.
I firmly believe that the Bible presents a final time of judgment which will come upon the house of Israel because of covenantal unfaithfulness stemming back to Sinai. This is known as the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer. 30).
7‘Alas! for that day is great,
There is none like it;
And it is the time of Jacob’s distress,
But he will be saved from it.
As in the judgment that proceeded from Sinai when Joshua and Caleb were preserved to be able to enter the promised land, during this final judgment a few are preserved as the hairs tucked into Ezekiel’s robe, as the 1/3 that passes through the refiner’s fire in Zechariah identified as an actual number of 144,000 Jewish people living in the land during the judgment in Revelation 7 and Ezekiel 9. They are the very ethnic jews who will look upon Him whom they’ve pierced and be saved out of Jacob’s Trouble with Messiah’s return.
The idea of the remnant is also prevalent in the New Testament. Paul says in Romans 11, “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.” It is actually the very first verse we mentioned in Isaiah that Paul bases this idea off of starting in Romans 9:27, “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED.” So we see that even to the chief apostle the idea of salvation for Israel exists in the form of a remnant being saved.
God has preserved a remnant from man since Adam left the garden with the promise of Genesis 3:15 and that concept translates to the stock of Israel since He made His promise continue in Abraham. Whether Noah’s family, Joseph’s family, Joshua and Caleb, Nehemiah and Ezra, the apostles and the early Jewish church, even to Messianic Jewish believers today, God has preserved a remnant because His promise will not fail. He will continue to do so, even through the coming climactic judgment of Jacob’s Trouble. We will of course take a thorough look at this subject in another post.
The covenant that was confirmed that day at Sinai was with the ethnic lineage of Abraham–his seed. It really happened! Israel has carried these promises for roughly 4000 years, all the way through to Messiah, and rest assured they will carry them into the millennium. Let us not forget their sacrifice and their striving to obey the Lord all those years of their wandering. It is their journey, although feeble and rebellious at times, that has brought about the Messiah Himself, and will bring about His future Kingdom. Yes, even the entire fulfillment of God’s promises depends upon them – the very restoration of the earth and our bodies!
15For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom 11:15)
Indeed, all of our hope as gentiles is attached to the promises of passages such as we’ve examined here, and my prayer is that those promises are beginning to become your hope as well. We press on together in this glorious Gospel, stewarding it as faithful shepherds, and regarding it as holy unto the Lord.
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter,” (John 13:1-7).
In John 13 one of the greatest dichotomies in Scripture takes place. The God who appeared atop Mt. Sinai in a furnace of blazing thunderous glory kneels on the earth in His human frame and cleans the dirty feet of men. The event is enough to meditate upon for hours and bring us to our knees again and again at the servility of Jesus – God in the flesh, yet tragically, this glorious paradox rarely affects us enough. Often times it is not the misunderstanding of what is happening in this extraordinary story that leads to a lack of praxis, but rather a failure to ground this story to the electrical lines of our theology as their primary energy source. With such demonstration from God in the flesh, the power plant of John 13 ought to electrify our theological drive with the true power of weakness, and show us the course of God’s own wiring. Yet, somewhere along the way it seems the wrong line has been snipped by the church, and its subsequent explosion has resulted in the leaders of the body of Christ taking the place of the Pharisee standing in the temple a mile away, confident in his ministry, while the Lord of glory continues to model His methodology on His knees in the lowest part of Jerusalem. A rewiring must therefore take place to reroute our electricity back to the source of life.
The command to deny ourselves is not one that the human sympathizes with so easily. It strikes a chord within us that is not indigenous of the flesh, nor does it occur naturally, but is one that must be tilled into our soil with ox and cart until it produces the fruit God desires–– complete and utter surrender. It is timely, and it hurts, and it could be thought of as a miniature ox dragging a plow across our skin and through our hearts with the unceasing intent of breaking up the fallow ground, so that fruit might eventually be born. When we look through the veil behind our eyes and into our own minds we must admit that in the core of our beings we despise the pain of this reality. This is precisely why it must be the work of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes such things. Needless to say, the continual “Yes” in our hearts is what allows him to kill the poisonous seeds of self-righteousness and give way to the seedlings of humility.
There is nothing within a man that rises up in joy at the words from our Saviour’s mouth. “Deny yourself,” seems to be more of a curse than a blessing––yet properly so. We might call it: the ‘curse’ of the kingdom. In the world’s eyes throughout this age we are quite literally to be perceived as the cursed ones. They look upon you in last place and despise you. There, the least honored in the room of achievers, you sit facedown, the one who has lost all things in this life to gain Christ and yet to them you seem a total failure. Sadly, this is also the case with many Christians and their theology today. But it is in the sacrifice of living as one who is ‘cursed’ in this age, that is, in the intentional placing of yourself last and least of all, that a great retaliation of this formula takes place in the age to come with the ultimate reward that has only been earned from self denial: entrance into the kingdom of God! Indeed, we cannot move on from this “deny ourselves” for this is the very essence of the salvation we see Jesus embody in His life which apexes in His death on the Cross. In fact, self-denial is a sort of precursor to taking up our Cross. If taking up the Cross is the mountain that must be climbed by Christians, then denying ourselves is the base camp before the climb. The longer we camp there, the bigger the mountain may look, but the more acclimated we become to the challenge ahead. Tragically, we will never summit if we do not first make base-camp.
Let us consider the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ main exhortation on the denial of self. If the Sermon on the Mount is a sort of base camp, it may well be the place where the most careful predictions about the journey ahead are calculated, and where who is able to continue the climb is determined. I continually find the nine verses of the Beatitudes specifically to be the darnedest verses because of their efficacy in revealing my lack of self denial. Nevertheless, I want my life to be in agreement with Jesus’ own exhortation in Luke 14:27-32:
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29“Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31“Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32“Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
In this case, the Everest before us is the Sermon on the Mount. It is the summit we aim for. It is the war we prepare for, and the tower we are seeking to build. The person who is unwilling to accept these chapters as the aim for his life is unfit to be a disciple of Jesus. Saying yes to Jesus as our Lord and Savior inadvertently means saying yes to the Sermon on the Mount. Those few chapters are the very practical essence of what self-denial is, and the how to of laying down our lives. We are not believing we will perfect these chapters in our lifetime – for we only make it to the summit in the resurrection by His Holy Spirit! But we ache for them to be walked out daily by His grace, and each step uphill towards the summit reveals our hardened hearts that are desperate for that day. We must allow that ox and cart to keep plowing that hardened soil. We hate it, but our skin and hearts become fertile in the process and the seed of the inspired Word falls into them producing the fruit of the vessel that is meek and the life that seeks to be laid down.
Oddly enough, I seem to mostly find myself beneath this base-camp, wondering about the forest of my own issues. I will gladly lay down my life for myself in this forest, but I might never see the needs of others nearby. Indeed, I am the focus of the journey there, and I have no concept of base-camp, nor the peak that I should be climbing. Either this, or I have deceived myself into thinking I have already climbed that peak, and that the forest is prettier anyway. It’s a deception of the strangest kind, like the man who looks at himself in the mirror, turns around, and immediately forgets what he looked like.
My best friend used to have John the Baptist’s declaration written in green marker upon a cardboard sign that hung over the doorway to his room. Though it was such a simple reminder, he passed under its words every day so as to state, “I will submit to this reality!” That affected me so deeply that when he incidentally left the sign with me when he joined his wife in marriage I also put it over my door. I still have that piece of cardboard today and its words resound in my ears regarding a man’s simple mission in this life. He must become greater and I must become less.
Let us not over-complicate such matters, but let us rather submit to them and join Jesus there in the grit of servanthood, in the dust of self-denial, girding ourselves with the power of weakness, anchored to the truth of Christ Crucified. Let the world be stupefied that we would choose such lowly decor as the hallmark of our lives in this age.
This is our eleventh post as we continue to establish a chronological and consistent biblical theology that I am terming a Layman’s Biblical Theology. Throughout these posts it is my goal to avoid theological jargon as much as possible so as not to confuse or overcomplicate these matters, while still employing some terms that are very helpful for understanding.
The diagram above is our map, which is slowly moving us forward on the timeline that is time as we know it. This diagram has been created to define all of existence––the sum total of our reality––according to the Bible. The Scriptures on the diagram serve to give us the true context of what the Bible emphasizes as a whole, unique story. The simple purpose is that a true biblical theology seeks to present an understanding of the big picture of the bible, which I am hoping this diagram does. My goal was to create one picture, only one page with Scriptures, that can holistically cover the details of our Bible and give a person a framework to understand it much more simply than before. Over the last several years I have seen this work in many different settings. Hence, we finds ourselves in this blog series trying to more exhaustively breakdown this one, word-picture.
We have successfully worked through all the Scriptures in the first “pillar” and now we are in the second “pillar” entitled Covenantal looking at the covenants YHWH has made with men in order to bring about His ultimate purpose of “summing up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth,” which is “according to His purpose” as He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:9-11). We know this because “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Jesus” because Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven,” (Col. 1:15-20).
Surely this is the testimony of the New Testament, and yet it is intrinsically attached to the good news of the Old Testament that many are so unfamiliar with. How is YHWH accomplishing His will as mentioned above? Why is He doing this a very specific way? How will everything be summed up in Christ? These are the details we are gathering in order to form our biblical theology that we might perceive the story of Genesis to Revelation in a coherent manner. By God’s will we will achieve such by His glorious Holy Spirit who is the very Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation.
In the last several posts we have given much time to the Sinai covenant and the details surrounding it, and in this post we will broadly define the nature of Torah, Genesis-Deuteronomy, before giving more articulation to Deuteronomy specifically.
What we will discuss in this post is of the utmost importance. It may take some rewiring to accomplish our task, but I promise the benefit will be worth it.
The Hebrew Scriptures call Genesis through Deuteronomy Torah, which basically means instruction. You could say that within the first five books of the Bible God gives the explanation of how His story has come to be and also the blueprints of how it will unfold. In short, the whole biblical story is found within the Torah. It may be surprising to you to hear that there is basically no new information in the Bible after Deuteronomy. Yes, that could be more accurate than you think.
That is not to say that no new information is given after Torah ends, but rather that the parameters are set in the Torah in regards to what is going to happen. You could say there is no new what after Deuteronomy, while we do not know the fullness of who until after. For instance, we do not know that Babylon will be the specific people God uses to judge Israel and carry them away to exile, we just know that Israel will be punished by a nation that will carry them away to exile as a judgment from God.
Deut. 31:16 The LORD said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. “Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them…”
Leviticus also summarizes “Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins… I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you. I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your soothing aromas. I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it. You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.”
In these two passages we see that God is predicting Israel’s unfaithfulness and His response. We find many passages like this in the Torah, and while the specific characters remain mostly unidentified, the big picture is sure.
It is not incorrect to say that Joshua through Revelation is merely Genesis through Deuteronomy being fulfilled. If we can perceive things this way then we gain a lot of ground in biblical understanding.
Now, to our gentile christian minds that have mainly been discipled in years and years of focus on the New Testament, this idea can seem crazy. I am saying what most of you have never heard a pastor or teacher say: Understanding Genesis through Deuteronomy is the most important component of understanding the Bible, the scheme of salvation is wholly within its borders, and the entire testimony of how redemption will be accomplished is found therein. You actually cannot holistically understand the narrative of the Bible unless you first understand Torah. This is single-handedly the greatest problem of why people do not understand the Bible.
Why, you might ask? Let’s give a brief summary.
Note* A brief note on the antithesis of what I will present in this post. What is called redaction theology, and particularly the documentary method of interpreting the Torah, has done immense damage to how many might perceive the Torah today. This method says that the Torah has numerous authors, rather than one, and much later dates of authorship after Israel entered the land. The case I present here holds to the belief that Moses was the only author of the Torah, and what seems to be added by another author (only Deuteronomy 35) was added for simple and helpful context regarding Moses death and the transition to Joshua’s book. With exception to Deuteronomy 35, the Torah was very obviously authored by Moses himself during the time before Israel crossed the Jordan. The case for this, though I will not take the time to argue the theological parameters in detail here, is very strong and I encourage the reader to simply have common sense at the personal information given within the Torah, information that only Moses could have been privy to.
The Meaning of Torah
Let us begin by unpacking the simple terminology of Torah.
“The Hebrew word, torah (תורה), is derived from a root that was used in the realm of archery: yareh (ירה). Yareh means to shoot an arrow in order to hit a mark. The mark or target, of course, was the object at which the archer was aiming. Consequently, torah, one of the nouns derived from this root, is, therefore, the arrow aimed at the mark, the target is the truth about God and how one relates to Him. The torah is, therefore, in the strict sense instruction designed to teach us the truth about God. Torah means direction, teaching, instruction,or doctrine,” (http://www.torahresourcesinternational.info/definition.php).
The Torah was written by Moses, most likely within the tabernacle in the midst of the manifest presence of God Himself. Let that sink in until the aha! moment settles in upon you. Modern scholarship has taken a sword to this idea like a chef making french fries from one potato, seeking to slice the one unique whole of Torah into different sections written by different authors. There is no time to address such ludicrous claims in detail here. The Bible itself confirms that Moses was the author in more ways than one.
Number one, the Torah is called the Book of the Law of Moses in several places:
“Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses…” (Josh. 23:6).
We do well to notice here that according to God’s own words Joshua possessed a book that was called The Book of the Law of Moses. This is a very simple proof that the Torah was completed before Moses died and it was given to Joshua. This is confirmed in in the first chapter of Joshua intentionally so that there would be no misunderstanding for the future generations about the Torah’s origin.
“Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7
We know from this that Joshua seems to have had everything that Moses had written in his own possession and he and the people were supposed to do according to the words within.
Joshua 8:31, as well as 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 14:6, and Ezra 6:18 all use the same language of The Book of the Law of Moses while referring to, and directly quoting, different books in the Torah. This substantiates our point since many biblical people naturally refer to the author as Moses. As a nice kicker though Jesus Himself confirms this after He rose from the dead:
“Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
Clearly we see Jesus summary of the Tanakh here being the Torah (Law of Moses), Prophets, and Writings again confirming, from the mouth of our resurrected Lord, that the Torah was of Moses.
We also see within the Torah that God Himself directly tells Moses to write things down:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Ex. 17:14).
“Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the LORD, and these are their journeys according to their starting places” (Num. 33:2).
If we keep a simple mind then this point need not be belabored––Moses is the author of Torah!
I would like to call to mind the man who spent 80 days on top of a mountain with YHWH. This must be the foundation for understanding where the Torah came from. If today men can have a two-day weekend seminar and teach enough material to change people’s lives, then certainly YHWH’s 80 day seminar with Moses was adequate time to inform Moses of everything from creation to present to future. Moreover, we know Moses would spend long periods of time in the tabernacle after it was constructed according to the revelation he received on the mountain, and in those times he would have penned the words of the Torah.
“Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 33:11
“With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD.” Numbers 12:8
This is not to make Moses godlike, because surely he didn’t enter the promised land due to disobedience, but it is to show that God spoke face to face with Moses and Moses beheld His form. That is something no one else in Scripture experiences. It is something God says of no other person. We truly take away from what the bible is emphasizing if we do not maintain the importance of who Moses is in the Bible and the task God appointed him to accomplish––deliver Israel and give them their instruction––Torah.
God appears to Moses in the burning bush and speaks to him directly. He was in the presence of the holy and he removed his shoes to prove it. We see Moses, the sole representative upon Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights––twice!––beholding the uncreated One. And there, in the tabernacle God commanded Moses to build, sits Moses, speaking to God as a friend speaks to his friend face to face and listening to the voice of God tell His version of the origins of existence. This is the simplest way to understand how the Torah was authored.
The point is this: God dictated the words of the Torah and Moses wrote them down. This was the start of the Bible we have today. In the purest way imaginable God spoke His flawless words to Moses who made no mistake as he recorded them. The words stand inerrant. The words are pure instruction. We do well to affirm this in biblical theology.
The prophetic nature of the Torah as a whole is vitally important to the story that is still unfolding today. Since God Himself authored it out loud while Moses wrote it down, we should consider its contents to be of the highest priority. Even Leviticus, which we have purposefully sidestepped in these blog posts, is important and will prove itself important in the age to come. Therefore let us throw off the boredom that so easily entangles us in these five books and revitalize the Torah to mean something to us today.
Torah in the Old Testament (Tanakh)
We believe that God Himself orated the words of the Torah, and although Moses wrote them down, there is no mistaking the foundational influence God intended those five books to have for the remainder of Scripture. They are the glue of the story! They are the axis upon which everything else in the Bible rotates. They are perfect and we just haven’t had the epiphany of how perfect yet because,”now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).
When we look to the Proverbs we do not see Solomon pulling wisdom out of abstract space in his mind, but out of the Torah. Even from Proverbs chapter 1 is his command to “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching,” where the hebrew word for teaching is torah. Solomon is not calling everyone to understand the depths of his wisdom, but rather calling attention to God’s wisdom in the Torah, which could possibly be the embodiment of wisdom itself, or at least the place from where all wisdom stems.
In Psalms we see the same thing affirmed. David says in Psalm 19:7 “The law (torah) of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” David is appropriately saying that the restoration of the human soul and how it will happen is found in the Torah. Then, upon understanding this the soul could be refreshed with hope! There are numerous other examples of how oriented towards this mindset of the Torah the Psalms are,
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law (torah) of the LORD, And in His law (torah) he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2
“Aleph. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law (torah) of the LORD.” Psalm 119:1
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law (torah).” Psalm 119:18
It might be obvious to remind us that the only book that David and Solomon had to inform them of the truth regarding God and His plan was the Torah. The Torah was David’s only Bible. Those five books were all he had. The contents of Genesis through Deuteronomy was the destination their entire hope was gleaned from, and there was no other hope! It is very important for us to regard the Torah in the same way.
How “God’s Word” Was Understood
In the same way we must process the use of “My word,” in the Scriptures. David again clues us into how he perceived this, saying, “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). The hebrew word used here for word is dabar- דָּבָר which means speech or word. It is from passages like this that we have today derived the language of God’s Word when referring to the entire Bible. Since the Torah was David’s only bible, in this fashion he makes clear that He perceives the Torah to be the words of God. It is what God has effectively spoken, and it is forever settled in heaven unable to be altered or changed because, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).
The prophets heartily agree with this idea as one voice saying things like,
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (Is. 55:10-11),
“For I the LORD will speak, and whatever word I speak will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,” declares the Lord GOD,'” (Ez. 12:25).
The dabar of YHWH in Scripture is very clearly presented as something that man has no control over––it is as divine as God Himself––it will not falter or change, it will all be completed. He is the only One, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'” (Is. 46:10).
The nature of the word of God that is spoken of in these passages is not arbitrary, random, or ambiguous––it relates directly to the things He has spoken previously. He confirms this Himself in the passage directly above in stating that He spoke these things from ancient times. Therefore, when the prophet’s use the standard fare of “Thus says the Lord,” (Jer. 17:5) or “The word of the Lord came to me,” (Jer 1:4) there is not a new or mystical prophecy taking place, but rather, a confirmation of the words that had been previously spoken by God are now coming to pass within His given time frame. This is very important to understand.
The word of the Lord that comes to the prophets is truly a repetition of things God said beforehand, they are just now being fulfilled in real time and space upon real people. The prophet is effectively saying that what God said would happen in the past, is now about to take place. Therefore it is as if the word of the Lord is being re-declared as a confirmation of His previous words, which is why the Ezekiel passage above says “It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,’ declares the Lord GOD.” YHWH is simply saying that what He spoke beforehand has been restrained from being accomplished until now because it had a future orientation, and now He will repeat the word and perform it.
So we should perceive the prophets to function in this way and remove the mystical elements normally attached their books. The prophets are repeating what God said would happen, and simply calling attention to the fact that he is now acting upon those words. The difference that takes place within the prophets is that God now identifies the actual characters who will perform His word. We will discuss this more in detail when we arrive at the prophets but this foundational understanding will help us greatly.
The New Testament’s Confirmation of Torah
The New Testament is faithful to confirm the prophetic nature of the Torah and that its words will by all means be fulfilled as spoken. We should first look to YHWH in the flesh since He is the living dabar.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law (Torah) or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Matt. 5:17-18).
Now we should let this affect us. We should let this mold our mind informing how past and present emerged and where the future is inevitably going. Jesus affirms that what was spoken in the Torah not being abolished in any way, but rather fulfilled. We must not jump to the stark conclusion that everything was fulfilled in Him then, because He promptly tells us that there will be a future fulfillment when all is accomplished. This example gives us precedence to perceive the Torah in the prophetic manner it possesses.
Luke 21 might be an even clearer picture concerning the prophetic nature of the Torah and its imminent future events as He states,
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.“
We must not overcomplicate this passage. The first telling of Israel’s future judgment is found in the Torah as we’ve seen, and to Jesus hearers all things which are written would’ve only been understood to be the Torah. This is in total agreement with what Jesus told us in Matthew.
We must not overlook that Jesus also attaches a warning to those who handle the torah saying,
19“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
This warning should be heeded by all serious students of the Bible. Jesus is very personally confirming the words He previously spoke as needing to be kept. Even this should be enough for our modern theologies to sway under the weight of His words and turn from such doctrines that replace and fulfill His words in ways that He did not intend. Rest assured that on His own word Jesus has promised that every jot and tittle will come to pass based on what He spoke beforehand. It is a grave error to not trust in a literal fulfillment of His words––it is unbelief in what has been spoken by God Himself.
Paul will also exhort us in the truth of the Torah, saying, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4) instructing us that the true biblical hope (the very good news we are searching out) comes from the Torah which was written in earlier times. Moreover Paul sums up the life of Jesus as becoming a “servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,” (Rom. 15:8) which we know to be the words spoken to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Torah. Those words/promises are still awaiting their ultimate fulfillment in the future.
Therefore Hebrews exhorts us that “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1) because, “God… spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Peter agrees, telling us to “remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles,” giving us faith that according to these promises the Father will “send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:20-21). Truly there are numerous examples from the apostles concerning their anchor in the Torah which is the true hope we also await!
These are just a few examples, and I am by no means an expert regarding the Torah. In later posts we will witness more of Jesus’ words on the Torah unto finally beholding the fulfillment of Torah in the redemption of mankind through the Messiah of Israel. This will happen in accordance with, through, and in the very people He gave the Torah to––the Jews. Indeed, the whole of Scripture is pivoting around this Instruction.
The Torah is quite literally the skeleton upon which the muscles and tendons of biblical theology are built. Its skeletal structure supports and upholds everything, and all things thereafter are intrinsically attached to the bones of Torah. This is why you cannot remove, nor replace, nor fulfill those bones, for you incidentally take away a vital part of the frame that is holding everything together. If the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are the two femurs upon which the strong muscles of Messiah will be laid, it would be odd to somehow try and make the Messiah Himself become the leg-bones upon which He has chosen to stand. In humility He chose to be the seed of Abraham and this human lineage demands attention from Him although He be the Godhead incarnate.
We must begin our biblical theology in the Torah for it is the frame upon which God’s redemptive plan for humanity is fixed. If we start our theology at the New Testament, we are but looking at the skin of the species from the outside and wondering what’s underneath. On the contrary, if we begin with the skeleton we will understand the foundation of the whole structure as the sum of our biblical theology.
In these many posts we have been slowly identifying the bones of this Torah-skeleton, and we will now see how the muscles and tendons and ligaments connect together to form the whole body and actually begin walking towards its destined redemption. But first, we must look deeply into the conclusion of the Torah which is Deuteronomy.
In the diagram above we are continuing through the second pillar under the blue oval reading SEED. Having discussed all of the Scriptures in pillar one that defined why the Biblical Gospel is Creational, as well as discussing Gen. 3:15; 6:18; 12-22 in the previous posts, we have now come to Exodus 20-24 on the third line of pillar 2. These chapters are the subject of discussion in this post as we continue to define why the biblical Gospel is Covenantal.
*This is a successive blog journey building on the concepts and themes as laid out in the previous posts. If you are just joining us you can certainly glean from just reading this post, however we are operating in more of a book form, which is why I suggest reading the previous posts first, or at least Post #1 to have the foundation of what we are slowly working out.
Some clarification on terminology – we shall be employing the term covenantal in direct opposition to Covenantalism, which purports the idea that Israel has no remaining ethnic calling; or that it has all become subsumed in Christ and the Church (For more thoughts on this see post #5:The Words of the Covenant are Literal). Those who hold to this doctrine by its own name incidentally contradict themselves, since theirs is the belief that the covenants no longer have a distinct future fulfillment. Though they name themselves as Covenantalists, they are quite anti-covenant, and it is a remarkable misnomer in the theological world today.
God made a name for himself among the nations of the earth when He delivered Israel from captivity. His name as Creator of the heavens and the earth was something that He had previously held objectively without human witness. In contrast to this former title, in seeking the surname of “God of Israel”, He performs great signs and wonders “in the sight of Israel and all the nations.” His name, YHWH, was now attached to Israel as “their God.” His name carried the reverence and power resultant of the event, even to the fairly distant nations who hear of the acts He performed in Egypt as seen in Joshua 2 when the spies are in Jericho,
“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Seaa for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.b 11When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
YHWH had shown Himself mighty in the sight of all the nations with this great act of deliverance. In the verse above we see the summary of who Rahab perceives this God to be – “the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” He is Israel’s God, and He is over the heavens and the earth, confirming the two identities we established in the former post. As promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier, Abraham’s God delivers his descendants through the womb of the Red Sea and gives birth to His chosen people as He leads them to Mt. Sinai. This is where we find ourselves in this post.
The Sinai Covenant
In Genesis 15 we beheld Abraham asleep on the blood-splattered ground of that ancient yet sacred place while God initiated His covenant with him. He needed not respond, for God was declaring what He himself would do. Abraham’s role thereafter was simply to believe what God had said and it was going to be accounted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom. 4:3). At Mt. Sinai however, we have the entire ethnic lineage of Abraham standing wide awake before God and committing themselves to obey His words. In the former event, an unconditional vow was made by God while Abraham sleeps – the terms of which are entirely contingent upon God; yet with Moses, God speaks aloud from a mountain to the very lineage He had promised Abraham, and that lineage is sprinkled with the blood of the covenant which confirms the agreement between the two parties represented––YHWH and Israel. In both covenants, blood is spilled as a confirmation and seal of their veracity.
The Sinai covenant is the expansion or continuation of the covenant made with Abraham. You could say that the Abrahamic covenant takes on flesh at Sinai, in that the barren womb of Sarah had been opened by God to give birth to the promised Isaac who begot Jacob, who became Israel, who then had twelve sons that became this innumerable multitude that passed through the sea. The promise to Abraham which had most likely been so difficult to believe by faith was now a surging throng of beating hearts standing in expectation at the foot of this mountain. God had been faithful to do what He said and He would now take the liberty to speak to this people about the place of responsibility which they now found themselves in.
In Exodus chapter 20 we see God give the terms related to Him being their God. What is usually called The Ten Commandments may be better translated as The Ten Words. These words should be understood, as were the previous ones to Adam, Noah, and Abraham, as being covenantal in nature. To view these words as a list of regulations is to divorce them from the identity of the God they are connected to, since they are a profound revealing of who He is and what He is like. It is from these Ten Words that we learn of YHWH’s attributes.
Without delving into much detail surrounding the Words themselves, we can summarize by saying that God was simply revealing Himself and asking His covenant people to be like Him. He is acting as the initiator of the marriage, having created Israel through Abraham’s lineage and having brought this lineage into freedom from Egyptian slavery, by leading them down the aisle to the altar of Horeb. In this union which YHWH seeks with Israel, there are very serious terms to abide by from here on. Israel was in effect to live in such a way as to represent their God in every aspect of their lives as a witness of their commitment. Hence, all of God’s words to Israel at Sinai in effect are actions that are to be carried out in the likeness of marriage fidelity.
“Turn, O backsliding children, says the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one from a city, and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion…” (Jer. 3:14).
“For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth,” (Is. 54:5).
These two Scriptures among others give a picture of how God Himself views His relationship with Abraham’s lineage. However, the law is binding in more ways than one.
The Ten Words
The laws of how Israel was to understand and represent God are the Ten Words found in Exodus 20. In chapters 21-23 we find the ordinances, which are the things relating mainly to how the people of Israel were to operate in relation to each other as well as with the surrounding peoples that they would interact with while under the covenant of those Ten Words. As you read the ordinances you will see that they convey their own commands, but it is not our goal here to break these down extensively. It should merely be stressed that Israel was commanded to keep the Ten Words, while the ordinances seem to be an infrastructure of sorts therein to enable them to do that. Or to put it differently, if the Ten Words are a lush garden, then the ordinances are the hedge to help keep Israel within its bounds.
For those who are interested in the covenantal terms used in the Bible, Psalm 119:1-8 is the most extensive list found in the Bible.
Aleph. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways. You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently. Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes! Then I shall not be ashamed When I look upon all Your commandments. I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments. I shall keep Your statutes; Do not forsake me utterly!
The terms ordinances and statutes are typically used synonymously, as are some of the other terms. But here we are simply trying to keep the big picture of the Ten Words and so we will not incorporate these other terms until a later time.
For now we just need to understand the covenant God makes at Sinai as if it were a single organism with many parts. Even if we do not understand the significance of all the parts, the big picture of the covenant is what is important. I like to picture it as a set of gears that are all connected to each other. As one gear rotates one way, its ridges cause another gear to turn resulting in the turning of another, and so on and so forth. Here is a simple diagram picturing what I mean.
Let us understand God’s covenant with Israel in this way, as if they are the internal gears of a watch upon which time progresses. The main gear upon which everything is set is the Ten Words, or the covenant. Just as the vows in a wedding ceremony are in effect the covenant itself, the Ten Words function in this same way.
Let’s take a moment to look at the instruction of Eden to better understand these Words. In the garden there was the command to not eat from this tree. When Satan tempts them he says, “If you eat the fruit then you will be like God.” In essence, the tree would make them like God because they would possess the knowledge of good and evil.
In Exodus 20 the Ten Words are as the Edenic command, except now there are “ten trees” they are commanded to not eat from. But ironically, here God is actually calling Israel to be like Him, which is the opposite of how the command in Eden functioned. Whereas eating the tree actually made Adam and Eve like God, now, not eating the ten trees makes them like God.
With the command of the tree in the garden it seems that God was seeking to maintain man’s innocence by keeping man from being like Him in possessing the knowledge of good and evil. We could have never known the resultant bondage for humans when they possessed the knowledge of good and evil or the consequences that would befall them. It seems that man’s original desire to be like God and to possess the knowledge of good and evil in the garden is now being imposed upon him full-force at Mt. Sinai.
The Ten Words are truly a perfect representation of how God defines and delineates between good and evil (i.e. His knowledge of good and evil). In effect, you have God simply giving man what he asked for when he ate of the fruit: the knowledge of good and evil. But this seems to be something God did not initially want in the garden, or He at least did not want man to take the matter into his own hands. We unfortunately and very literally did, and the result of us possessing it would naturally be a measure of discipline to the human. The Law given at Sinai also functions in this way.
The point is that God is the Ten Words spoken––they are what He is like! When we originally ate the fruit from the tree, we were choosing to be like Him as Satan said. At Sinai, is it possible that God is just bringing man’s decision to fruition? Since we went after the knowledge of good and evil, ought we not now also bear the burden that comes along with that knowledge?
Therefore you have a type of bittersweet covenant taking effect at that mountain. Bitter in the sense that God is again giving men what He originally did not want them to have by their own strength or decision. Why? Because men weren’t created to steward this knowledge apart from His Spirit… it in fact results in our very death! In Romans 7:7-9 Paul expounds upon this saying,
“I would not have come to know sin except through the Law…I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died.”
The know Paul speaks of here is knowledge in the Greek. He is saying, “I would not possess the knowledge of sin (good and evil) without the law.” In other words, this law comes upon Israel as the bitter knowledge of sin, which is the same as the knowledge of good and evil. Since the garden, men have had to carry the weight of the knowledge of sin and we should consider this as a Godly discipline.
You may find it unusual to perceive the Ten Words as discipline, but let’s consider what Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees says.
“for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life…” (1 Cor. 3:6).
It doesn’t become clearer than this. Our choice in the garden, and the resultant giving of the Ten Words at Sinai is actually driving a death in us because it reveals that we aren’t good like God is. But the Spirit is what gives life!
Paul actually calls the law the ministry of condemnation a couple of verses later (1 Cor. 3:9). Once men possessed the knowledge of good and evil there was a responsibility fixed to the knowledge: man understood good and evil and the demand was upon him to choose good. The ministry of condemnation brings condemnation in that it is a very difficult thing for man to choose good, as Jesus, the Psalmist and Paul say,
“Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18
“They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; There is no one who does good.” (Ps. 53:1)
“…as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE.” (Rom. 3:10)
When man chose the bondage of the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God, there was a binding necessity that he be like God in the respect of choosing good, or being good. Since man is not good like God, he then stands condemned. We stood condemned in Eden and we stood condemned at Sinai.
Also in this verse Paul says, “the letter kills” which is very similar to the language of “the day you eat from the tree you will die.” So we have an interesting comparison taking place. As the knowledge of good and evil is proclaimed by the voice of YHWH at Sinai we should consider that it is the continued requirement and responsibility of what man chose in the garden.
“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” (Gal. 3:10).
Therefore, the law, just as the tree of knowledge of good and evil, became a curse upon Israel in regards to the requirement to fulfill it. This serves to give reason as to why God has no misgivings concerning man’s ability to keep the law and why the ultimate goal is His Spirit enabling hearts to keep the law. God Himself cries out in response to Israel’s commitment at Sinai,
“Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut. 5:29).
God did not give the law with the hope that Israel might somehow fulfill His Ten Words in perfection. God gave the law to tutor them in the reality that their hearts were unable to keep His law and that they stood condemned before Him as all men did. This verse reveals that God does not possess some odd ambition for the law to be fulfilled with the current state of their heart. Yet, what their hearts are incapable of at this point, will later be overturned as He reveals in the prophets His end-goal of giving them new hearts. In this way the law becomes their tutor, as Paul says, to show them that they cannot deliver themselves nor fulfill His words in their own strength… that they are in desperate need of the Messiah promised who will give them new hearts at His return.
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith,” (Gal. 3:24).
Paul continues to unravel this tension,
“I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus! (Rom. 7:22-24).
A tutor teaches and instructs a person in a subject they are not competent in. They may be familiar with the general principles, but they are not an expert. When God speaks the knowledge of good and evil at Sinai, the tutoring begins. Sure, people knew some general principles about what their conscience told them was evil, but no one possessed accurate judgment of what was good and what was evil. The Ten Words written on tablets of stone was to tutor them in this. It was the literal concrete definition of what was good and what was evil according to God. It teaches us that we are simply evil and that no one is good. It gently leads us to Christ crucified, the only One who was good and sinless, having no evil in Him at all. In effect, that tutor is spanking us in correction, revealing our sin, showing us the truth about our hearts and pointing us towards Him continually.
Let’s simplify this section with a couple sentences:
Man’s sin in the garden resulted in him possessing the knowledge of good and evil.
At Sinai the Ten Words were given by God as the substance of the knowledge of good and evil.
Man was accountable to possessing the knowledge of good and evil and it rested upon him as a demand (from a holy God) that he be good like God.
Man was incapable of being good like God. The Ten Words tutored man in good and evil, revealing that man could not fulfill the “good” because he was inclined towards “evil”. He thus needed to hope in the Promised One who is good and would ultimately give them His Spirit within to change their hearts.
19“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God,” (Ez. 11:17-20).
If we honestly look upon the world and ask the question, “What would the earth be like if everyone kept these Ten Words perfectly?” it gives us a glimpse into what the Millennial Reign of Jesus could look like. The eschatological reality of man and God living together on the earth is that God’s own Spirit has fully resurrected our bodies and hearts to make us good like Him.
“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.” (Isaiah 59:21).
The Fulfillment of the Ten Words
Looking forward to many of the verses we are familiar with in the New Testament, it is important to first note what God says about Abraham when He appears to Isaac his son in Genesis 26:5,
“…because Abraham obeyed Me and kept my charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws,”
God’s simplified charge to Abraham can be found in Genesis 17:1 “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.”
Gen. 26:5 is the first mention of charge, statutes, laws, and ordinances within God’s interaction with men. This is important because we should note that if Abraham kept them ALL before God ever announced them at Mt. Sinai, there must be some underlying implication of simple obedience and faith upon which they ALL do hinge. For it would have been impossible for Abraham to have somehow mystically kept all of these things before they were ever spoken.
The other option is that what God had told Abraham to do, Abraham did, and this was fulfilling God’s charge, commands, statutes, and laws. It was simply believing God in faith and being obedient to what He said as opposed to completing a checklist of regulations to then be found righteous as a result. This informs us in great detail concerning how Jesus and Paul will later interpret the fulfillment of the Law.
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Rom. 13:8
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Rom. 15:3
“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Gal. 5:14
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Mt. 7:12
We do well to keep this in mind as we search out such important matters. It shows that having faith in what God says and then responding to what He said through obedience is actually the biblical equivalent of fulfilling the whole Law when our hearts are currently unable to actually fulfill it. We therefore assume that Abraham simply did this by faith. Looking forward, we are encouraged that we are no longer bound to this curse of the law. As Paul says,
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith,” (Gal. 3:13-14).
Rom 4:13-16 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. 16For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
Rom. 7:4 “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”
With these passages we are getting a little ahead of ourselves, but I just couldn’t help including the hope found within them! So as we look back at Sinai we can keep this perspective, that in the midst of the knowledge of their inability to keep the law and covenant, is the very tutor that is teaching them to grasp for Messiah Jesus. The hope for the promised deliverer of Genesis 3:15 shines brighter than ever as the intensification of the discipline continues and man’s inability to fulfill the law in his own strength stands out as a lone mountain in a grassy plain.
In summary of this post, we remember that the big picture of the Ten Words is what’s important––that the Ten Words are the actual covenant. The Ten Words function as continued discipline from the garden in that they bring death and condemnation, and they are a curse which reveal our sin and need for something else. It is therefore tutoring us towards the something else––Messiah and His Spirit––in the same way Genesis 3:15 was. The instruction and the tutoring of the law is what’s gravely important to grasp here. Whereas many often perceive the law to be an unfair requirement God gave man to fulfill, we have begun to consider that the law was simply God giving man what he asked for in the garden. In reality it was man’s choice to have the law revealed to him when he ate the fruit in the garden and this resulted in him being in bondage to it (high-five Adam). In God’s manifold wisdom however, this discipline of the burden of knowledge regarding good and evil was actually intended by Him to tutor and lead us to eternal life in His Son Jesus. This deep mystery is profound and holy and beautiful to ponder, and certainly reveals that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose…”
The law is still tutoring to Messiah today and may we be the ones who praise His unchallenged wisdom and remain thankful that as He possesses the knowledge of good and evil “No evil dwells with Him, (Psalm 5:4) and “that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). This is the all-powerful God we serve in newness of the Spirit! Amen.
Photo of Mt. Sinai in Saudi Arabia. Notice the charred top of the peak on the left that might look photo-shopped, but google “Mt. Sinai Saudi Arabia” and you will see photos like this one. They are certainly very real. Also, for further interest watch this documentary: