Christ as the Fourth Man in the Fire/Persecution

7 Jun

4th man in the fire

Read Daniel chapter 3

“Look,” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Daniel 3:25

We all have to die somehow. As an Oncology Nurse, I’ve seen more death than I care to. And while, as Christians, we don’t ultimately fear “crossing over to the other side”, I must admit, sometimes I do fear the process of dying itself. Whether from illness or accident, death can hurt. I’m not a fan of hurting. Worse than that are the violent deaths, like drowning or burning, or being murdered. Worse still, is being tortured and then killed.

Yes, a morbid subject, and yet it’s been the path of many believers on their way to Heaven. This story in Daniel intrigued me from the first time I heard it as a child. The three men; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s friends, were living in exile in Babylon, in a pagan dictatorship, run by a megalomaniac. Nebuchadnezzar builds an image (probably of himself) 90 feet tall.

He then summons 8 groups of officials to attend the dedication (vs. 2), and because he is all-powerful, it says, “So,” all 8 groups gather together (vs 3). Then a herald cries out to everyone, described as “all peoples, nations, and languages.” (vs. 4)

It’s not enough that people admire it; he insists that everyone falls down and worships it. Failure to do so was easy to spot. The music played, and wherever you were, you dropped. The particular combination of instruments in symphony would play, and that would be the cue. (vs 5) The consequences of disobedience were spelled out quite clearly (vs.6) It was immediate, it was painful, and it was irreversible. It seemed to work for most people. It says, “So…when they heard the music, all peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image.” (vs 7)
Kind of like the Nazi salute; if your arm didn’t snap up when they said, “Heil Hitler”, you were suspect. Or flying the rainbow flag these days. First of all, what other group gets such a privilege? They used to ask if they could put it on the flagpole. Now they put it up and dare you to take it down. Sounds like bullying to me.

If you don’t, there are always some keeners watching, so they could report to the authorities, and thereby improve their own standing. In this case, it was “certain Chaldeans (Babylonians) who came and accused the Jews.” (vs 8)

Like most believers or other influential people from history, the people we remember most are those who did the hard things. They swam upstream. They were the minority, think of Martin Luther for example. He said he felt as if all men were born blind and he alone was condemned to see. Here in the book of Daniel we see that Daniel kneels to pray when everyone else is standing, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand when everyone else is kneeling. That’s counter cultural!

Christianity itself is counter-cultural. Believers have never been the majority. Think of the 70 family members of Jacob’s family heading down to Egypt, or the eight people in Noah’s family. That’s a minority!

Their accusation begins with praise for the king, a reminder of the law he just made, including the consequences, and then finger pointing at “certain Jews” who were in prominent positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s government. So certain Chaldeans pointed the finger at certain Jews. Were they hoping to get their positions once they were out of the way? It wouldn’t be the first time such a thing has happened.
Nebuchadnezzar is furious. It says, “in rage and fury” he gave the command. And once again, what he commands is done. “So they were brought before the king.” (vs. 13)

He asks his first question, incredulous, “Is it true?” that they would dare defy the royal command? Just in case there was some misunderstanding, he offers a second chance. He’ll have them start the music again and watch them fall down and worship. They could still undo the charge against them. He even challenges God’s power, by threatening them again with the fiery furnace. He asks his second question, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” Who, indeed? This reminds me of Pharaoh saying, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?” Ex. 5:1

For these three men, standing out would have been scary, especially when you are well aware of the consequences. I can read this story and admire these men and hope I could do the same, and wonder if I could. You see their boldness before the King, and their confidence in God, either to protect them or not, but they will not yield. God may protect His people, and is able to do so, but we should be obedient regardless of the consequences. Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

I love their bold response: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’” Dan. 3:16-18

They say, we don’t need another opportunity. The response will be the same. They are confident that God is ABLE to deliver them from both the fire and the king, BUT IF NOT, they would not cave, even to save their lives.

I’ve seen a vanity licence plate that said, BUTIFNOT, which automatically put this story in my mind. Also, during the bloody battle of Dieppe during WWII, in which many British and Canadian soldiers were killed, they were sent a message, asking how they were doing. Their response? “But if not…” It was understood by those receiving it, that they would stand their ground, even if it meant they could lose their lives.

So Nebuchadnezzar, even more furious now, orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter. He’ll show them. No one dares defy the king. For the third time, we see “certain men”, this time mighty men in the king’s army. They bind the three men and approach the furnace. (vs 20,21) However, the plan backfires, pardon the pun (vs.22)

What was going through their minds as they were bound up and thrown into the blazing hot furnace? I can only imagine.

Yet here we see that God does two things: He miraculously preserves their lives, and He is there in the midst of their ‘fiery trial’ with them. Usually it’s one or the other.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” Isa. 43:2

Because he was so furious, he actually personally attended this execution. But now Nebuchadnezzar isn’t furious, he’s astonished. He asks a third question. “’Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Look, he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’” Daniel 3:25

Who is this fourth man? And what was there about Him, I wonder that made Him stand out? Even in the midst of the fire, was He even more glorious? Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan King, seemed to recognize Him. He is our Saviour and Comforter. Whatever we suffer, He suffers with us. And He is able to deliver. Our God is Mighty to save. He will likewise be with us through our journey to the other side, no matter what we may suffer.

I wonder how the Jews can read this and not get that this Messiah they’re waiting for is also called the Son of God in the Old Testament.

Now Nebuchadnezzar comes near and talks to these men. “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out and come here.” He doesn’t know God’s name, but he does recognize His power, calling Him the Most High God.

Then the officials come near to see for themselves, and they are amazed that “the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed, nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.” (vs 27) The very definition of unscathed. This answered Nebuchadnezzar’s question of who was able to deliver them from his hands.

Then he goes farther, and forbids anyone (any people, nation, or language) from serving or worshipping any god but their God. This would have been a huge change in their culture. The reason was because this God, who sent His Angel, and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, has frustrated the king’s word, by yielding their bodies. He was impressed with them and their God. His decree included severe penalties for speaking against this God because “there is no other God who can deliver like this.” (vs 28,29) This does not mean that He was converted, as we see later on in the book of Daniel, but just that He recognized the power of this God and thought He deserved the respect of not being maligned.

He then promotes the men. So these Chaldean men who thought they’d soon get new jobs by getting rid of the competition, were probably fearing for more than just their careers.

The tide has turned against Christian believers in the West very rapidly in the past few years. For all their talk of tolerance, they’re not very tolerant of us. For all their talk of diversity, they don’t appreciate that we are part of that diversity. For all their anti-bullying talk, they bully us. I can foresee several watershed issues on the horizon for the church. What’s a watershed issue? It’s like the peak of a mountain. When it rains the water flows down either side. Whether it’s gay marriage or gender issues, or women in Pastoral roles, we will need to take a stand. And whichever way we choose, there will be consequences. Our good old days are nearing the end. We may soon join the rest of the world where Christians have been suffering and paying for their faith with their lives.

I recently read a fictional series called The Seven Trilogy, set in Canada in the near future. It was written by Sara Davison. In it Bibles were outlawed as hate literature. Not as far-fetched as you’d think. It’s terrifyingly plausible. It made me want to hide a few Bibles just in case.

What is your feeling about persecution? Does the idea excite you in some strange way? Do you feel like saying, Bring it on! Or do you dread it, fearing you won’t be courageous? I’m a bit of a chicken, myself. I can only pray that when the time comes, I’ll be found faithful. A comforting verse is Matthew 10:19 “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.”

Prayer- “Lord, persecution and death seem remote to us. We live in freedom and ease. If or when we are called to walk that path, don’t leave us. Be our comforter; our sustainer. Give us courage to stand for You unashamed, regardless of the consequences. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

Questions- Do you find that you conform in a difficult situation, rather than stand your ground, in order to avoid punishment? It’s been said that unless you have something worth dying for, you have nothing to live for.

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death.” C.S. Lewis

Do you feel prepared for death? What do you fear about death, if anything?

Response- Research Voice of the Martyrs. Read some of the accounts of persecuted believers. Pray for them. Consider sending a monetary gift or purchasing one of their books.

Jesus as the Passover Lamb

26 Mar


Since our first parents sinned, God told them that the result of sin was death. Yet He had mercy on them and instead of immediately requiring their own death, He provided them with a way to temporarily cover their sin. God allowed the life-blood of an animal to atone or take away sin, so they could be restored to fellowship with God.

Animal sacrifice was instituted in the garden, even before the Passover and the subsequent sacrificial system in the tabernacle. The animal represented an undeserving recipient of a deserved punishment. Substitutionary atonement; one punished in place of another. It represented faith in God’s word if it was done as He instructed, and trust in His provision. The sacrifice was valuable; one gave only the best. The perfect, unblemished animal foreshadowed Jesus, the perfect sacrifice who atones for sin once and for all. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29b

Because these sacrifices only temporarily covered the sins of the people, they needed to be offered on a regular basis. When the offering was brought, the person would put their hands on the head of the animal while it was killed (Lev. 1:4). This symbolically put their sins onto the animal, and the person identified with it, and then it died in their place.

The requirements for the Passover lamb; male of the first year, one per household, a lamb without blemish, kill it and catch its blood, smear it on door posts and lintels, eat the flesh which was roasted whole on a fire, eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, while wearing travelling clothes, all of it must be eaten that night, anything left till morning must be burnt with fire. The bones were not to be broken. The angel of death would come, and God promised, “when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” Ex. 12:13

How is Jesus represented by the Passover Lamb?

He is without blemish (sinless).

“For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Heb. 7:26,27

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin,” Heb. 4:15

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”2 Cor. 5:21

“…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Pet. 1:18,19

The lamb was to be fully consumed. Ex. 12:8-10

He really died. We feed on Him by faith. (John 6:54)

Ex. 12:46, Num. 9:12 The lamb’s bones were not to be broken.
His bones weren’t broken. John 19:33,36 To show He fulfilled Scripture, it points back to the instructions about the Passover lamb, but now applies it specifically to Jesus.

John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

They were to remain inside the house all night to be safe. “And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.” Ex.12:22b We are safe if we are “in Christ.” “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Rom. 8:1

He was perfect, unblemished, male, no broken bones, a substitute who bore the wrath of God, we are covered by His blood, protected from the punishment of death, we feed on him, we partake because we are circumcised in heart=regenerated/born again. He preserves the lives of all who trust Him.
“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” Jer. 4:4

“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,” Col. 2:111
It was to be eaten with bitter herbs to remind them of their bitter slavery in Egypt/our bitter slavery to sin.
Jesus redeemed His people from slavery to sin. “Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:34-36
“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” Romans 6:16
“But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” Romans 6:17
“But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” Romans 6:22
Also eaten with unleavened bread. Leaven represented sin.

We have been set free (redeemed) from our slavery to sin. Therefore we must remove sin from our lives.

“Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Cor. 5;7,8

Those who applied the blood of the lamb were safe from judgment and death. Ex. 12:7,13
We are under the safety and protection of His blood.
“…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Pet. 1:18,19

He was killed as our Substitute, therefore we need not fear death and judgment.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,” 1 Pet. 3:18

Christ as the Scarlet Cord of Rahab

17 Nov

The Scarlet Thread

Read Joshua 2:1-24 and Joshua 6:15-25

The Bible is an honest book, stating things as they are. It says Rahab was a harlot, a woman who sold her body for money. Some people try to downplay this by saying she was just an inn-keeper. However, in those days, only men were innkeepers. In written bills of that time, the cost of the bed is listed as a girl, whose services would have been included. Rahab may have been in such a place. It was therefore natural for the spies to lodge there as it would have been the only place to stay in a small place like Jericho.

Somehow, the king of Jericho heard there were Jewish scouts in the city and called for their immediate capture. They were probably not dressed like people in Jericho, so they would have stood out.  Meanwhile, Rahab had become aware of the true…

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Jesus is the King of Glory in the book of Psalms

6 Apr


“Who is this King of Glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory.” Psalm 24:10

Glory is a word often heard in Christian circles. It’s everywhere in Scripture. Every time we hear the Christmas account, we hear about the message to the shepherds, “And behold, an angel of the LORD stood before them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.” Luke 2: 9 and soon after the heavenly host were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:14 We even hear the word in catechisms, which are a question and answer form in which to learn doctrine. “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

We think we understand it based on its context, but most of us would be hard put to give it a dictionary definition. Marino Vereecke says of it, “Glory is one of those things better illustrated than defined; better experienced than explained.”

That’s because, like other theological words such as justification and sanctification, they carry a different sense or meaning depending on the context.

There are two senses of the word glory—radiance and honour.

We see the idea of radiance in the verse about the glory of God shining on the shepherds. This blinding light is seen in the effect on Moses’ face when he descends from the mountain after having seen God (Ex. 34:29), and in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain (Matt. 17:2), to the bright light that blinded Paul for three days on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3, 9) to the description of Jesus in Rev.1:16 “His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” Also, heaven has no created light. Rev. 21:23 says,“The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.”

Glory also carries the idea of honour, weightiness or significance. We see this in the command to the shepherds to give, “Glory to God in the highest.” Here we see it could not mean we are to give radiance to God, but that we should hold Him in the highest esteem because of Who He is and what He has done.

There is an incidence in both the Old and New Testaments which show us both aspects of the word, glory in a narrative.

In the New Testament account of the transfiguration, these two ideas are linked. The disciples see His glory, as the veil of His flesh is pulled back to reveal Who He really is. This follows with a command to, “Hear Him,” because He is the Beloved Son with Whom the Father is well pleased. To hear also gives the idea of hearing and obeying. We are to obey the words of Jesus over all others by nature of Who He is. This was to correct Peter’s mistaken notion that demoted Jesus to the same level as Moses and Elijah. See Matt. 17, and Luke 9 to read about the transfiguration.

John recalls this event as he is writing his gospel. Not only is he an eye-witness of Jesus’ ministry, he says, in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In the Old Testament, in Exodus 33:12 to 34:8, we have another event recorded which also carries both senses of the word, glory. Thus far in the Exodus from Egypt, God revealed His glory through miracles. Now Moses makes a bold request; he wants to see God’s glory. But God tells him he cannot see His face and live. Our mortal bodies were not meant for that. He provides a way to give Moses a glimpse, as He passes by, while Moses is in a safe place, provided by God Himself, and sheltered by God Himself. The interesting thing is that not only does Moses see the radiance of God’s glory, but He is shown the glory of the LORD, in His character. He reveals His name:

“And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.’” Ex. 34:6, 7

So we see in both the transfiguration account and this account of the glory of God revealed to Moses that the word can relate to either radiance, honour, or both.

There are instances in Scripture where glory does not relate to God, but to lesser things, such as the creation itself, (Psalm 19:1), a woman’s hair (1 Cor. 11: 15) or even our spiritual children, who have believed because of our teaching. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His Coming? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thess. 2:19, 20 But we are here referring to the instances that refer to the glory of God.

Read Psalm 24
This Psalm begins with the assertion that everything on earth, including its inhabitants, belong to the LORD by reason of His creation of it. He reminds us of the creation account by saying it was founded on the seas and established on the waters.

God created the world and sustains it. (Col. 1:17) Likewise, whatever I make is mine. If I write something, and then decide it’s not worthwhile, I can delete the whole document, or, in the old days, crumple it up and throw it in the garbage. From the lesser example to the greater, God can do what He wills with His own. We see this in the account in Exodus, where He says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” He doesn’t owe us mercy. If He did, it would no longer be mercy.

Further, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, he says with regard to rewards, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” Matt. 20:15

To return to our text in Psalm 24:10 about the identity of the King of Glory, one could argue that Jesus, as the Son of God, is this King of Glory. The verse says this King of Glory is the LORD of hosts. The Hebrew name is Jehovah Sabaoth. The hosts refer to multitudes in the service of God, usually in reference to the angels. They are arranged in a hierarchy, with Michael as the Archangel, and Gabriel a notable named Messenger. As a warrior, the LORD leads his angels out to battle. He is their Captain and they are the foot soldiers.

In this Psalm, someone asks, “Who is this King of Glory?” The angels could well have asked the question, or the prophets and believers in the old covenant, or even those in the time leading up to Christ. Until He appeared they didn’t know what He would be like.

The angels must have been amazed, first when the Son was given and sent to earth as a baby, then again when He was crucified by His own creatures. Even the prophets of old grappled with this concept. 1 Peter 1:10-12 talks about this and ends with the phrase, “…things which angels desire to look into.”

We also see a beautiful image of this in the Old Testament. The Ark of the Covenant has a mercy seat, or covering of gold, with two cherubim on its cover. The wings of the angels are outstretched, covering the ark, and they are looking down on it in wonder and awe. For it is on the mercy seat that the blood of the unblemished sacrifice is poured. “…above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat…” Heb. 9:5 “And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat.” Ex. 25:20

We believe, based on many other texts, that Jesus is Himself the Creator, and therefore is the LORD of hosts. (Gen. 1:1-2, John 1: 1-3, Col. 1:16, 17, Heb. 1: 1-3, 10, and Rev. 4: 11)

The Psalmist then asks who may ascend into God’s presence? The answer is, “one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” This refers to righteous actions and motives. If we know ourselves at all, we know that we are not worthy, in and of ourselves. Any goodness we have is imputed to us by our Saviour. The Psalmist says “He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Psalm 24:5

How does God provide righteousness and salvation?

He accomplished this on the cross, when He died as a substitute for His people.

The image in this Psalm is one of a mighty conqueror returning from battle. The city itself is personified, and the gates are told to lift up their heads, and the doors are to be lifted up to welcome their conquering King. Christ has gone out to battle, He has conquered death, hell and the grave, and has entered the heavenly Jerusalem as Victor. After His ascension to Heaven, He gave gifts to men, the idea here being a distribution of the spoils.

“When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”Eph. 4:8

Another example is that of the temple of Solomon. 1 Kings 8:6, 10 When the ark is brought in, the glory of the LORD descends on the place in the form of a cloud, which is one of the Old Testament images of God. He led His people by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Also, as we learned in the sacrifice of David after his unlawful census, the LORD answered by fire. This was the future site of the temple that Solomon his son would build. 1 Chron. 21:26, 2 Chron. 3:1

Again, the heavenly city has no temple. “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Rev. 21:22 The temples of earth are copies and shadows of the heavenly things, as Heb. 4:5 tells us. Jesus entered with His own blood.

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Heb. 9:11, 12

Not only does Christ enter Heaven on our behalf, but He also enters the souls of men, in order for us to be His temple. 1 Cor. 6:19 says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”

Rev. 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and dine with him, and he with Me.” We are told to be like faithful servants awaiting their Master’s return, “…and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately.” Luke 12:36 Matthew Henry says, “The gates and doors of our hearts are to be opened to Him, as possession is delivered to the rightful owner.”

Further, we long for the day when we see our Saviour in Glory, a word also synonymous with Heaven itself. As believers we long to see the wrongs made right, Satan finally cast into Hell, and the first seconds of Eternity begin to tick. (That’s just an image, since Heaven is outside of time). We want to see the King of Glory come in. Imagine the cheering! Imagine the joy!

Jesus desires this as well. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24 Isn’t that beautiful? That should have the word Selah after it, to remind you to just stop reading and think about it.

So, “Who is this King of Glory?”

Jesus existed before He was born. He is the second Person of the Trinity. He often talked of His pre-existence and the glory that was due to Him as God.

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5

We see in Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus is “…the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person,” meaning He is a perfect representation of the Father.

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” Heb. 1:1-4

He even asked his disciple, Phillip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:9

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4:6

We see the glory of God now when we know Jesus personally. The glory of God is found in the face of Jesus Christ.

Who is this King of Glory? Jesus Christ is the King of Glory!

Jesus as the One Who Hears the Taunts of His Enemies

24 Feb


“Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.” 2 Kings 19:20

“Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” 2 Kings 19:6

“Whom have you mocked and reviled?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
Against the Holy One of Israel!” 2 Kings 19:22

Read 2 Kings 16-20 (Corresponding passages; 2 Chronicles 29-32, Isaiah 36-39)

When we are tormented by our enemies, Jesus knows. Our God is not a distant God who doesn’t care about our situations. We are the apple of his eye, the bride for which He gave His life. He not only hears the taunts of our enemies, and sees the distress we feel, but He comforts our hearts, and He acts on our behalf. Moreover, we see in this narrative that God takes the taunts and threats against His people as taunts and threats against Himself.

This is what we see in this familiar story of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king of Judah.

I must admit this is one of my favourite Bible narratives and Hezekiah one of my favourite characters in Scripture. I am looking forward to meeting him in Heaven. (You’ve heard of a nerd-crush? He’s my king-crush, even though most like David.) He ruled, for the most part, as a righteous king. (2 Kings 18:3, 5-7, 2 Chron. 19:3) He brought about reforms to undo the idolatry his father, Ahaz introduced into Judah, and he reinstated true worship of Yahweh. He had a co-regency with his father at first, then a sole regency from 715 B.C. onward. He began his reign at age twenty-five and reigned almost thirty years.

At this point in time, the kingdom is already divided, with ten tribes in the North, called Israel, with Samaria as its capital, and two tribes in the south, Benjamin and Judah, known as Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital. (show diagram) The infamous kings of the Assyrian nation, Shalmaneser V and then Sargon II, are rolling through the known world like a juggernaut, flattening nation after nation with the mighty Assyrian army. They are taking fortified city after fortified city, merely laying siege and waiting out the inhabitants who either starve or surrender. They besieged Samaria for three years before it fell. But fall, it did.

They use psychological warfare to great effect, threatening the leaders of the newest city state under siege by standing next to the impaled heads of the previous conquest while they negotiate terms of surrender. The terms are simple; complete surrender with forced tribute or face annihilation or forced servitude. They only imposed heavy tribute if a city did not resist. If they did, the city was plundered then all the prisoners gruesomely tortured.

After centuries of idolatry, God’s patience is at an end. The curses promised because of disobedience are about to fall on the nation. This time, the judgment is not confined to Israel in the north, which has generally been worse in terms of idolatry, but now it reaches Judah, and Jerusalem itself is threatened.

In chapter seventeen some of the reasons are mentioned in verses 16-18. They “made images… worshipped the host of heaven, and served Baal…they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire (child sacrifice) and practiced witchcraft and soothsaying.”

The judgment He has been threatening, finally comes. Assyria attacks Israel. They take one city after another. After a few years, Sennacherib is the new king of Assyria, and he picks up where Sargon left off. News comes to Hezekiah in Jerusalem and he and the people are rightly, terrified.

A little more background on Hezekiah. He was the twelfth sovereign of Judah, excluding Athaliah. Sennacherib invaded Judah around 705-681 B.C.

Hezekiah’s first act was to purge, repair and reopen the Temple which was neglected and polluted by the idolatrous reign of his father Ahaz. It was a thorough reform. He didn’t even spare the high places, but tore them down, “broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles.” He also destroyed the bronze serpent, made by Moses in the wilderness, recorded in Numbers 21:9, because the people gave it a name and started worshipping it. He took this object of worship and turned it into scrap metal. This reformation was followed by a celebration of the Passover.

You’d think these were happy times in Judah, but we don’t know how the people responded. They were accustomed to their idols. For many, it was all they’d known. They may have been outwardly conforming to the new way, but secretly worshipping idols. Syncretism, or mixing of true worship with idolatry was common.

“And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, ‘You shall not do this.'” 2 Kings 17:9-12

The term “from watchtower to fortified city” simply means from small hamlets to large cities. This implies that the paganism was rampant.

Hezekiah had ample warning of an Assyrian invasion. He inherited the Assyrian menace from his father, who made an alliance with them. Hezekiah built up the country in order to throw off the Assyrian yoke. He strengthened the national economy and military. He established warehouses and stockyards in strategic places to store food. He developed a national system of defense and ensured an adequate water supply in the event of a siege.

“The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” 2 Kings 20:20

“This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.” 2 Chron. 32:30


He diverted the Gihon Spring, which was exposed to enemy attack. He covered it up and diverted it through a tunnel 1,777 feet long through solid rock, into a reservoir within the city walls. His building projects included the Siloam tunnel, reservoir and pool. The pool was 20 X 30 feet. It was the place where Jesus later healed a blind man.

An ancient inscription by the workmen of the tunnel was found accidentally in 1880 by a boy wading in the pool. It’s at the point where the two sides met. The pic marks can be seen coming from two directions. The original is now in a museum, but the translation is there. It says,

“The boring through is completed. Now this is the story of the boring through. While the workmen were still lifting pick to pick each toward his neighbor and while three cubits remained to cut through, each heard the voice of the other who called his neighbor, since there was a crevice in the rock on the right side. And on the day of the boring through the stone cutters struck, each to meet his fellow pick to pick; and there flowed the waters to the pool for 1200 cubits and 100 cubits was the height of the rock above the heads of the stone cutters.”

I know I’m a bit of a history nerd, but I find this fascinating. This was a building project done without our modern tools. Think of how they made the Chunnel between England and Belgium or France. We rode in it. I tried not to think that we were not just underground, but also underwater. I remember seeing it on the news when they had a giant boring machine, and once they broke through, they shook hands. In this project, they were in a rush, fearing attack at any time, and started from both sides at once, chipping through the path of the softer limestone. They were aiming in the general direction, but they didn’t know if they would pass each other or go over each other and never meet. They didn’t have GPS. So that’s why this inscription is so interesting. It shows their joy when they heard the other workmen and they knew they got it right.

You can still go into this tunnel today, I’m told. It’s not for the faint of heart, however, as it is very narrow, you are walking in thigh deep water and there is no light. You hold hands with each other and there is only space for one person at a time. It’s disconcerting to be in a tunnel built thousands of years ago in a place known for earthquakes.

We attended the Mesopotamia exhibit at the ROM this year and it was amazing to see the records of some of these kings. The Assyrian account of this third campaign, including the siege of Jerusalem, is preserved in the British Museum. Sennacherib says:

“As for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not submit to me, all 46 of his strong walled cities as well as the small cities in their neighbourhood I besieged and took 200,150 people…and counted as spoil. Himself, like a caged bird, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city.”

Despite their boasts, they were not able to take Jerusalem. The Assyrians record an attack on the city, but not its capture. It’s funny that Sennacherib says he kept Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage, trying to make it seem like that is punishment enough. As is usual in annals of ancient despots, they record only their victories, so it’s not surprising that they would not record the devastating losses when they tried to take Jerusalem.

Early in his reign, Hezekiah revolts and refuses to pay tribute to Assyria any longer. 2 Kings 18:7 He was probably emboldened to do so because Assyria was preoccupied with fighting the Babylonians, and he was establishing his own prosperity. 2 Kings 18:13-16 After the fortified cities of Judah are taken, one after the other, he relents, and promises to pay tribute. He pays 11 tons of silver and one ton of gold. At that time, in Judah, silver was more valuable than gold. Yet, in spite of this payment, Sennacherib still attacks; part of the punitive measures for the revolt.

Assyrian records show it was the second-in-command, known by the title of Tartan, who actually conducted the campaign. The great army was under the Tartan, the Rabsaris, or chief eunuch, and the Rabshakeh, or chief officer.

It’s interesting that the place they chose to negotiate terms of surrender was the same place where Isaiah had earlier encouraged Ahaz to trust God rather than an alliance with the Assyrians. 2 Kings 18:17 compare with Isaiah 7:3

The three representatives from Jerusalem, sent to parley, are Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, who was over the household (possibly senior palace administrator), Shebna, the scribe, who was formerly in Eliakim’s role and also treasurer, and Joah, son of Asaph, who was the recorder.

Let’s look at 2 Kings Chapter 18-20 more closely. Please read each verse and then the comments.

Verse 20: “You speak…but they are mere words.” Accuses Hezekiah of lies.

Verse 21: Heard they may have had some alliances with Egypt, but tells them not to trust in that.

Verse 22: The Assyrians mistakenly believe the high places and altars Hezekiah removed were for the worship of Yahweh, or else they were trying to split the opposition, assuming many were unhappy with the loss of the pagan places of worship.

Verse 23: Challenge. They believed, rightly, that Hezekiah’s army was inadequate. It was made up of some infantry and few cavalry.

Verse 25: Claims a divine imperative; “The LORD told me to attack the city.” This is blasphemy; they are misrepresenting and maligning God.

Verse 26: They speak over the heads of the officials to the people themselves. They bypass the usual language of commerce and diplomacy, Aramaic, and speak in the language of the people, to frighten them. This is psychological warfare.

Verse 27: They threaten horrible conditions if they do not submit; which can be blamed on Hezekiah.

Verse 28: They shout loudly to the people in Hebrew, so they will all be aware of what they will face, hoping they may, in turn, influence Hezekiah to surrender. They don’t even refer to Hezekiah as a king, but just use his name. Whereas, they refer to the Assyrian king as the Great King.

Verse 29: Claim Hezekiah is deceiving them and the LORD cannot be trusted.

Verses 31-32: The old carrot and stick. Stick, or threats in verse 27, now carrot, or promises of abundance in a new promised land, if they surrender. Not likely, based on past actions.

Verses 33-35: Appeal to precedent, even mentioning Samaria. They would have heard about the capital of Israel succumbing to starvation and exile.

Verse 36: Silence from the people, who are obedient to the king’s command.

Verse 37: Report back to Hezekiah, with clothes torn, a sign of grief and distress.

Chapter 19

Verse 1: He goes to the right place, the house of the LORD. It’s where we need to go when we are in distress as well.

Verse 2: Hezekiah involves both state and religious authorities in a time of crisis.

Verse 3: His message to Isaiah reflects his helplessness in this critical situation. This was probably a well-known proverb about difficult childbirth.

Verse 4: Hezekiah hopes God will hear the taunts of the enemy and Isaiah’s prayer for the remnant. Because many Israelites fled to Judah for safety, they are also included in the remnant of Israel to carry on God’s name and work.

Verses 5-6: God answers right away through the prophet. “Thus says the LORD,” shows divine authority. God’s answer is consistent with His responses throughout the ages whenever His people were in distress. “Do not be afraid,” even though they had great reason to be afraid. The Assyrians were on their doorstep.

Verses 7-9: Isaiah’s prophecy includes the withdrawal of the Assyrian forces from Judah and Jerusalem. And Sennacherib’s murder in his home country as punishment for his blasphemy against Yahweh. God moves men’s minds and hearts, here using a rumour to divert the enemy’s attack.

Verses 10-13: Now an even more desperate letter from the Assyrians, challenging Israel, as if they are deluded into thinking their God can save them. Also, this time, instead of saying Hezekiah is deceiving them into trusting their God, he actually dares to say God, Himself is deceiving them! More blasphemy. Their mockery puts God on the same level as no-gods. Also, the lists of the cities which were exterminated or utterly destroyed shows that Israel was not alone in using this method of warfare.

Verse 14: Both the prophet (verse 4) and now the ruler pray. Hearing someone’s prayer gives you a good idea of their heart and character. It’s intimate. The practice of spreading out a parchment can be compared to the Mesopotamian practice of placing letters in the temple to be read by the god. They were usually pleas for help. It doesn’t mean Hezekiah thought God needed to see the actual letter in the temple in order to respond, but merely showed his own distress over it. This may also have something to do with how today, people put prayer requests on paper and shove them into the crevices of the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, the only part of Solomon’s temple that remains.

Verses 15-19: Prayer is addressed to God as Creator and King, alive, unique and still ruling. The phrase “enthroned between the cherubim” gives the idea that God is present with His people. “You are God, You alone” compared with verse 18 “they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands.” Therefore they were defeated; they are unable to do anything. For Hezekiah, God is alive (the Living God) verse 16, in contrast to the no-gods. He asks God to incline His ear, and hear. The idea is of a parent bending down to listen to His child. He asks God to condescend to His children. He acknowledges that the Assyrian boasts are not unfounded. Hezekiah gives a reason why God should help them. “…so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God. You alone.”

Verse 20: God answers Hezekiah, assuring him He has heard. What comfort that must have brought to his heart!

Verses 21-28: Isaiah’s prophecy against Sennacherib. Here we see God stand up to the bully for us, like a big brother who comes to our rescue. This is when you hear Sennacherib gulp. God’s reply is in essence a poetic taunt-song. The image of shaking the head is a sign of derision and contempt. God is not threatened by Assyrian might. Jerusalem and its inhabitants are personified as defenceless as a virgin daughter. Words spoken against God’s people are the same as speaking against God, Himself. God is called, The Holy One of Israel. The Assyrian kings loved to take titles onto themselves, some even took twenty titles or more, all lofty, like ruler of the universe. But this title is the only one that has any power and truth behind it. He is the Holy One of Israel. The speaker and the one who sent him will be held to account. I have to admit, I like the sections of Scripture where God tells people off. Like in the book of Job, he puts us in our creaturely place. We serve a great and awesome and powerful God, who will not share His glory with another. But I digress.

He addresses the Assyrian arrogance against God. Notice all the boasts of the Assyrians in verses 23, 24 and the boasts about what “I” have done? But then God tells them they were just part of His plan. He used them as His instruments, in the same way one wields an ax to chop wood. Verse 26, “therefore” tells them the real reason the defeated peoples were drained of power and they had any military success; because God planned it. Always ask what the “therefores” of Scripture are there for; they connect two thoughts. Verse 27 says basically, “I know where you live.” That should strike fear into their hearts. God sees their rage is ultimately against Him. He says it has come up to His ears. He is about to respond.

Verse 28: The Assyrian practice of leading foreign princes captive with a ring or a hook in their nose (seen on some of their wall reliefs), is now happening to them. They are God’s slaves. He has defeated them. They are now the conquered ones.

Verses 29-34: A message of hope for the survivors (remnant). The land will recover within two full years of the invasion. By the third year, all will be recovered.

Verse 31: “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this,” shows it is a miraculous act of deliverance of Jerusalem. Compare with Isaiah 9:6,7 which is also the means of accomplishing the birth of a unique deliverer-king to rule David’s kingdom.

Verses 32-34: The prophecy against Sennacherib is authenticated with a “thus says the LORD.” No doubt it will happen. The motivation is God’s own glory and His promise to David. “For my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.”

Verse 35: The deliverance. Exact method of death unknown. Significant defeat.

Verse 36: Sennacherib’s return to Nineveh is confirmed in his annals.

Verse 37: Sennacherib is murdered twenty years later, hence the phrase, “one day” or “it came to pass.” He was assassinated by two of his sons. According to neo-Babylonian sources, there was an Assyrian conspiracy led by an older son, Adrammalech. It was well known that Sennacherib preferred his son, Esharhaddon, and could be the reason he was killed. Esharhaddon did become the next king of Assyria, as the Bible also says. It is also confirmed that the assassination took place between the guardian figures at the temple entrance. It’s those little details included in Scripture that assure us of its veracity.

This event gained international recognition for Hezekiah and his God, for successful resistance against the Assyrian power, just as Hezekiah had prayed, “so that the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God. You alone.” 2 Chronicles 32:22,23

Chapter 20

Later in his reign, Hezekiah foolishly flaunts the riches of his kingdom to the Babylonian emissaries. Isaiah rebukes him. It will eventually lead to the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in the next generation. Hezekiah is spared from seeing it.

Hezekiah’s severe illness while he is still under threat by Assyria, and while he has no heir, causes him to cry out to God for his life to be spared. God grants him another fifteen years and he dies a natural, peaceful death.
Jesus was often taunted by His enemies. They frequently made reference to the questionable circumstances surrounding His birth. John 8:41 They mocked Him prior to His crucifixion by placing the purple robe and crown of thorns on His head. They jeered at Him on the cross. Even one of the other criminals being crucified scorned Him.

Because of this, we can be sure He knows how we feel. He comforts us and will one day vindicate us before all at the judgment.

Questions: What do you think about the obsession our culture has with astrology and mediums? Do you think it’s a harmless practice or a harmful practice?

How does it make you feel to know that God hears the taunts of our enemies and our prayers for deliverance?

Blasphemy is misrepresenting or maligning God’s character. In what ways to we see God blasphemed in our culture?

Prayer: “Our Great God, Who dwells amongst Your people. You Who hear prayer, Who condescends to us, Who inclines Your ear to listen to Your children. Thank You. You not only hear us, but You hear the taunts and jeers of our world. The culture around us Who rages against You. They think they have power, but any power they have is granted to them by You for Your purposes. We know that One day You will vindicate us before the world. Now we are nothing. We are weak. But on that Great Day, we will be shown to be who we truly are; the apple of God’s eye, His own dearly beloved bride, wooed in eternity past, purchased with His own precious blood, and kept for all eternity in the everlasting arms. Lord, we thank You for being our Deliverer, the One Who rescues us from Satan, death and hell. Thank You that You hear us, because of Jesus. Amen.”

Jesus as the Intercessor in David’s census

12 Jan

“Let your hand be against me…but not against Your people.” 1 Chron. 21:17

Read 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21

It’s a sad fact of the Christian walk that many of our greatest sins are not committed early in our walk, when we are immature in the faith, but later in life, when we should know better. We can become complacent or over-confident. But we are told in 1 Cor. 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.”

We see David, larger than life in the pages of Scripture, boldly facing a giant when he was only a teen, leading soldiers during his years in the wilderness, and finally becoming not only a righteous king of Israel, but a man after God’s own heart.

David is known for his great moral failure in regard to Bathsheba. That is a sad story and most understand the lessons from that event quite well. But although the causes of that sin could be lust, coveting, abuse of power, and neglect of duty, it also led to other sins like adultery, murder and lying.

In this stage of David’s life, he is nearing the end of his reign. The incident with Bathsheba is long past, Solomon is a grown man, and David’s kingdom is well established. At this point, they have rest from their enemies.

Yet, instead of thankfulness and praise to God, we see both pride and insecurity. David orders a census of the people in his realm. Was he puffed up with hubris, forgetting that the LORD had taken him from shepherding sheep to shepherding His people? Did David think that the kingdom was his because of anything great in himself?

Or was David insecure, fearing that his army wasn’t large enough? Did he forget that God did not need armies to win battles, but that He was able to save “with many, or with few”? Did he need to hear the numbers to assure himself that they would be able to withstand any attacks? He spoke of trusting the LORD, but now he trusted in the arm of man.

We don’t know David’s true motives in this case, but we do know that behind it all, God was judging His people. We see this in verse one of 2 Sam. 24

“Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”

The reason is not given, but it must have been some kind of sin. The fact that it says, ‘again’ tells us there had been an earlier incident. Most believe this to be Uzzah’s sin in touching the ark, recorded in 2 Sam. 6:6-12. It related to the improper respect for the law of God in handling the things of God. Something similar may have been the case here. In the law of Moses, there is a regulation regarding taking a census. It is found in Exodus 30:12 which says,

“When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.”

The amount is specified in the next few verses. As far as we know, this wasn’t done, so it could be the reason. This would again remind them that they needed to remember they were dealing with a holy God.

We know from Scripture that God is the First Cause of the judgment upon His people.

Yet, 1 Chronicles 21:1 says Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. Which was it? God, Satan, or David? All three, but in this order. God, the Sovereign of the universe is the First Cause, allowing events for His good purposes; Satan, once allowed by God, incites David by putting the thought in David’s mind; and David, as a free moral agent, does what he wants by ordering a census.

What next? David calls a meeting of his generals, tells them what he wants, and silences their protests. They can’t understand why he feels it is necessary to order this make-work project. Even his nephew, General Joab, protests. He seems to understand the wicked intent behind the order, and refuses to count the Levites or Benjamites in the total; possibly because the Levites were excluded from military service and the temple was in Gibeon, with the tribe of Benjamin. The main reason for Joab’s half-hearted obedience was his general disdain towards any of David’s orders with which he disagreed.

David ordered them to count all the men over the age of twenty. This was the age at which they would be eligible for military service.

Was he hoping to conscript more soldiers if he deemed there were not enough, or to increase taxes based on the population? Was David planning an offensive to take even more land than Yahweh had allotted them? We don’t know, but we know that whatever his motives, God was not pleased.

Ten months later, the census is completed and the numbers reported to David. Immediately, his conscience is pricked and he recognizes the wickedness of what he has done. He sees it even before a prophet is dispatched to announce God’s assessment of the situation. He repents, yet judgment still falls.

The prophet Gad is sent by God to address the king the next day. Surprising, and yet, not. This was how God communicated with the patriarchs. David must have known the news would not be good. He must have feared the approach of the prophet, as if he was bringing condemnation, just as the prophet Nathan had. Gad didn’t even explain the problem, but went straight to the punishment.

“Thus says the LORD, ‘I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.’”

Gulp. Would it be worse to choose your own punishment than to merely take whatever the LORD would send?

“Will three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before you are defeated by your foes, with the sword of your enemies overtaking you? Or will there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”

Consider the terrible options brought by the prophet; famine, enemies, or plague. These three things have been the usual punishments for disobedience for their nation from the beginning. What an impossible choice! Any of those would result in so much death, again the result of David’s actions. How many would die as the result of his decisions?

“I am in great distress,” David says to Gad. “Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

So, that would mean David chose the first or last option. He must’ve been so overwhelmingly distressed at the thought of fleeing from his enemies again, after the years in the wilderness, running from Saul, and more recently, on the run from his own son, Absalom. Some commentators speculate that there was possibly some measure of selfishness in David’s choice, since the prophet said with the second option he would fall by the sword. (1 Chron. 21:12) Perhaps this old warrior-king liked the idea of dying in his bed after all.

Are those thoughts too harsh? Hadn’t David learned that the LORD’s mercies were indeed great, as he saw when He forgave his many sins?

The choice was made by God. The plague began that night.

The sound of anguish and loud wailing would have been heard behind almost every door. At first, people wouldn’t understand what was happening, or why. People would suddenly get sick and die. They didn’t know how many would die in this divine judgment. Even if their family members were fine on the first day, would it be a comfort, once they learned it would last three days? They were at the mercy of the LORD, as David had said.

It must have seemed so mystical; the way the LORD was working. They had witnessed God’s supernatural power over events in the life of David so many times, but in his favor. Yet now, to be witnessing God’s judgment, of this magnitude, on His own people… and they knew it would happen just as the prophet said. There would be a plague throughout the whole land. And it would last as long as God decreed. Thankfully, not a moment longer.

A plague. Like the judgments on ancient Egypt in the day of Moses, God was revealing His mighty arm. He would do as He wished in the affairs of men. He was a discerner of men’s hearts. He knew what was in David’s heart; what motivated him to number the people.

Yet they could be equally sure the plague would not extend beyond Israel’s borders, because this time Israel was the object of God’s wrath, just as the Israelites were spared when the LORD judged Egypt. This was a very specific plague; Israel only, three days only.

But why must the people suffer for the king’s folly? When he took Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, God didn’t strike the people. Why now? It must not have seemed fair. In his sin with Bathsheba, which was heinous, and affected many people, he was forgiven. Yet now, in this seemingly harmless incident, the judgment is severe. What’s the difference?

We don’t know for sure, but possibly because the incident with Bathsheba was a private sin, it resulted in private consequences, mostly within the king’s own family. But this was a public sin, therefore the consequences were public. If the king was motivated by pride in the number of his people, as if the strength of Israel was the result of his leadership, rather than the blessing of God, then, perhaps the LORD was taking away from their number to show him that He alone is the cause of blessing or cursing, mercy or judgment.

But what’s so wrong about a census? It’s been done many times without this type of response.

Often the sins we think are small, are more offensive to God because he knows our motives. Or it could have been because of the manner in which it was done, which we mentioned earlier.

But why can’t God just forgive David, if he repents, like before?

He did repent. He recognized his sin. His conscience was bothered. This was before he even knew the prophet would come to him. Perhaps there are times when we are repentant, and God forgives us, yet the consequences still come. David was forgiven for his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah, yet there were still grave consequences. Other soldiers died along with Uriah. Families were bereaved. Who can understand the judgments of God?

Couldn’t he just offer some kind of sacrifice, like the one for wilful sin, and hope that God would relent?

Doubtful. When the prophet announced the judgment, it didn’t come with options to avoid it. This time, the sacrifice would be the lives of his people. How many that would be, they didn’t know.

Imagine yourself in the midst of this divine judgment. You’d wonder if every family would lose someone, like in the plague in Egypt, with the death of the firstborn? Would the judgment be that comprehensive?

These were probably the longest, most dreadful three days of David’s life. He knew he couldn’t stop the judgment of God. He must have feared moment by moment that a messenger would arrive with terrible news about someone in his family.

This was no localized event. News would arrive of thousands of dead throughout all Israel, from Dan in the north, to Beersheba in the south, all beginning on the same day. Yet the greatest number of deaths seemed to be in Jerusalem, itself, the city that bore Yahweh’s name. When it was all over, seventy thousand men of Israel died. If it’s the case that only men died, again it would remind David of his desire to know how many men of fighting age where in the land. It’s also interesting that 1 Chon. 21:14 says not just that they died, but that these men ‘fell’, so the idea is that of falling in battle. The LORD was fighting, not for His people, but against them.

Their only consolation would be that the prophet said the plague would last only three days. Only three days!

All business would been suspended, as it often is in a national crisis. The whole country would be in a panic, probably hoping to flee from the plague; but they were kept in Israel, caring for the dead or dying. David and all the elders of Israel were clothed in the sackcloth of mourning.

On the evening of that third day, David goes up onto the rooftop, this time not as a restless king looking for a distraction, but as a distressed man at the mercy of God. Even from this height, the cries of mourning could be heard in the streets below. David looks out over Jerusalem, the city he loves and his heart must have ached.

1 Chron. 21:16 We don’t know how this angel appeared but it may have been as if the clouds had formed into the shape of a man; with his sword drawn and outstretched over Jerusalem. The elders of Israel seemed to see it as well, and fell on their faces.

David fell to his face and cried out, “I am the one who has done evil indeed,” he confessed. “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? But these sheep,” he stretched his arm out over the city in entreaty to God, interceding for his people, “what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against your people.”

How different this evening walk on a rooftop was from that evening long ago! To be witness to such a prayer! Although the people could rightly be angry at David that this punishment had come upon them, could they imagine that if they were in David’s position, they’d wish curses on their own family in the place of others? David had already seen so much suffering in his own family as a result of his actions, and now he was willing to take on even more, to spare his people. He was truly a shepherd of the people.

Usually, in sacrifice, it was the life of an innocent animal in place of a guilty person; but now David, the guilty man, offered himself in place of his innocent sheep.

As if in a conversation with God, Himself, the prophet Gad arrived behind them on the roof. As was his usual direct approach, the prophet went straight to the message.

In response to David’s prayer, the prophet told him, “The LORD has relented of the disaster and has restrained the hand of the destroying angel. Now go up, erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite.”

It’s odd that the LORD directed David to a new place of worship, rather than the tabernacle in Gibeon, which was only six miles away from Jerusalem. But David did not question the command. Instead he hurried to observe the word of the LORD, perhaps thinking to spare even one more person if he obeyed quickly. Zadok, the priest and several other guards would have followed David as he entered his chariot and went in the direction of the vision he had seen in the sky over Jerusalem. As some citizens of Jerusalem saw the royal chariot pass by, he may have heard them exclaim, “The king! The king has come down to see our suffering!”

David must have turned away in anguish. Many would not yet know he was the cause of the plague. When they learned of it, they could well curse him instead.

When they arrived at the property of Ornan, the Jebusite, which was near Mount Moriah, the man would have looked up to see the king and his servants approaching. David wasted no time in going directly to the man. Ornan bowed before the king with his face to the ground.

“Are you Ornan, the Jebusite?” David asked.

The man nodded. “Why has my lord, the king, come to his servant?” Ornan must have asked, with trembling in his voice. The man must have feared for his life since the king came to him in person and asked for him by name.

“Grant that I might buy the threshing floor from you at full price, that I might build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.”

Ornan lifts his head, relief and surprise in his eyes, then he stands. “Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever seems good to him.” He motions to a yoke of oxen nearby. “Look, here are oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing implements and the yokes of the oxen for wood. All these, O king, Ornan has given to the king,” then he adds with a bow, “May the LORD your God accept you.”

David must have paused at Ornan’s last comment.

“No, but I will surely buy it from you for full price; for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.”

Isn’t that beautiful? He understood that true worship was costly. This time he would not abuse his power and take what did not belong to him.

David counted out a generous sum and paid Ornan, so it then became royal property. Their haggling was reminiscent of the purchase of Sarah’s burial site by Abraham, done in front of witnesses, to make it legal.

David then set about building the altar himself, brushing away the help offered by his servants. As the king place each rock, one by one, on the growing altar, we wonder if David remembered how he wanted his people counted?

When it was built, David offered burnt offerings; in acknowledgement of the righteous judgment of God, and peace offerings; in recognition of the mercy of God. This was accomplished through Zadok, the priest, whom he had brought with him.

When the oxen had been laid on the altar, David fell to his knees and called out to God. We don’t know what he prayed, but we know his prayer was heard. A moment passes. David instructs Zadok to proceed with lighting the burnt offering, but there is no need, as fire came from heaven, directly onto the altar. The guards standing nearby may have fallen backwards, some would have cried out in fear. What was happening?
David would have recognized what had happened, and it caused him to fall on his face. They would have felt the heat from the fire. When they looked up, the sacrifice had been completely consumed.

The LORD was pleased to answer David’s prayer and accept the sacrifice by fire. If the plague was a supernatural occurrence, this was more so.

As David inhaled the scent of the burnt offering, he must have marvelled that God had accepted the offering. Just as all of God’s judgments were just, so great was His mercy toward His people. Once His sword was sheathed, there would be no further deaths from this plague.

David was truly humbled by this event, perhaps even more so than after his sin with Bathsheba. In many ways, he had abused his power; taking another man’s wife, ordering this census because of his pride, not following God’s commands in how it should be done.

Now, he realized he was not greater than this poor farmer, whose land he purchased. He did not just come and demand the land and all he needed. He bought it for a generous price, and built the altar with his own hands, rather than merely ordering his servants to do it. He finally saw that true worship was costly, as his disobedience had been costly.

In spite of the horrible events of those three days, it must have been hard to feel any bitterness toward David. God’s anger had been spent. The avenging angel had sheathed its sword, near the same place where Abraham’s hand was stayed from killing Isaac, so long ago. It was over.

Some of the Scarlet Threads we find are revealed as contrasts, like the blood of Abel crying out for justice, versus the blood of Christ crying out for forgiveness. How is Christ pictured in this event? He is the One Who intercedes for His sheep and offers to take their punishment. In David’s case, it was the guilty for the innocent; in Christ’s case it is the innocent for the guilty. Jesus stands between the just wrath of God and His people. He absorbs it in Himself as the sacrifice, and even now He intercedes for us based on what He has already accomplished.

“Let your hand be against me…but not against Your people.” 1 Chron. 21:17

His sacrifice was complete and accepted. We know this because God the Father put His stamp of approval on it by raising Jesus from the dead. Romans 4:25 says Jesus… “who was delivered up (to die) because of our offenses, and raised because of our justification.” His resurrection proved that the sacrifice was acceptable to God. Otherwise He would have stayed dead. It corroborated everything Jesus ever said and did.

It’s also interesting to note that even though there was already a set place of worship, in Gibeah, six miles northeast of Jerusalem, God directs David to a new place. He then prophesied that it would be the site of the soon-to-be-built temple. (2 Chron. 22:1)

This place is in the shadow of Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son. It remained the place where David continued to go to worship, 1 Chron. 21:30 says, because of fear. It became the site that Solomon built his temple, (2 Chron. 3:1) and the same area where Christ was sacrificed a thousand years later.

Threshing floor of Ornan

Prayer: “Oh gracious, merciful LORD. This narrative shows us how You are involved in the affairs of men, and overrule them because You are Sovereign. When we read of things like a plague being sent by Your hand to punish Your people, we tremble. Yet with You there is mercy. We also see that You are holy and we could not stand in Your presence, let alone approach You if not for the finished work of Christ on our behalf. He intercedes for us, even now, and we thank You. If we are hidden in Christ, we are safe from Your righteous judgments. Thank You for accepting His sacrifice.”

Questions: How is your take on this narrative different from what you thought previously? Did you ever feel the plague was somehow an over-reaction to the census? Did you ever see Christ in this story before? Did you know about the change in location of worship? Do you ever feel you have to ‘defend’ God to unbelievers who would use this story to demonstrate how He appears harsh and uncaring? Did you notice that David never once complained about the judgment of God? He only ever claimed He was merciful and appealed to Him to transfer His judgment to Himself. Do you agree with the statement that many sins are committed when believers are more mature, than when they are less mature in the faith? Why do you think that is?

Jesus as the Bread of Life in the Book of John

2 Jan

loaves of bread

Almost every culture has bread of some sort. (I’m particularly fond of bread, myself). By this metaphor, we understand that just as bread is a staple of everyday life that feeds and sustains us, so Jesus feeds and sustains us by fellowship with Him through His word. We feed on Him by faith.

Early Christians were often accused of practicing cannibalism because they talked about eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood. But this refers to our communion with Him by faith. This is symbolized in the bread we eat at the Lord’s Supper.

Not only is bread a staple, but Jesus spoke of Himself in this way, as “the bread that came down from Heaven”, to draw His hearers’ minds back to the wandering in the wilderness; to the manna God fed to His people. Manna was ‘angel’s food’. There has never been anything like it since. He even rebuked those who asked for a sign, like Moses gave manna. This was the day after He had just fed the five thousand. He said, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” John 6:49-51

He was demonstrating His superiority both to Moses, and to the manna, itself. It was merely a picture, He was the real thing. It could sustain for only a day, He feeds us and we never hunger again. Manna was bread that rained down from Heaven on the Israelites during their sojourning in the wilderness. Jesus came down from Heaven, but they didn’t recognize Him.

I mentioned how almost every culture has bread of some sort. However, not every culture has yeast bread baked in an oven. Some are flatbreads pressed onto the inside of a hot pot, or made out of cornmeal. But one missionary doing Bible translation in Papua New Guinea worked with a tribe which had no bread of any sort. Their starch, or staple, was the sweet potato. His dilemma came when he had to translate the verse, “I am the bread of life.” John 6:48 He finally decided that since they had no word for bread, or even any concept of what it was, he would conceptualize it so they’d understand the concept of a staple food that nourishes and sustains. So he translated it, you guessed it, “I am the sweet potato of life.”

Prayer“Jesus, I thank You that you are all I need. Yet I often don’t avail myself of You. I eat the junk food the world has to offer. It doesn’t nourish and satisfy like You do. Forgive me. Help me to feed on You by faith.”

Questions– What do you think of the missionary’s decision? What else could he have done, instead?

Response– Consider this the next time you eat bread, or take the Lord’s Supper. Christ is all you need. Make sandwiches and give them to homeless people you pass on your way to work.

Read John 6:22-58

On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone— however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks— when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?”
Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God. Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

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