We Are Haggai’s House of the Lord

TODAY’S READING: HAGGAI

“‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.’ Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?'” – Haggai 1:2-4

The book of Haggai is most known for the call to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant to build rebuild the temple of the Lord. Although, instead of the Hebrew word for temple, Haggai actually uses the Hebrew word for house. In fact, of all the books in the Old Testament, Haggai is the book of the house as it has the highest frequency of the word house given the length of the book.

While the Jews at the time understood the word from Haggai to be a call to rebuild Solomon’s temple, is that how we are to understand it today?

In other words, was Haggai’s word only about rebuilding the physical temple of Solomon?

Certainly not. Because, the physical temple had been rebuilt at least twice before Jesus was born.

If not, then are we to be looking for a third physical temple to be built as a dwelling place for God?

Certainly not.

John 2:16-21 says, “And he told those who sold pigeons, ‘Take these things away, do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will your raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”

According to Jesus, the temple, the house of the Lord, was his body. Therefore, when we read Haggai through the lens of Jesus, we are to understand the word of the Lord that came to Haggai as a word about Jesus’ body, the spiritual house of the Lord, not as a word about a physical temple.

Jesus’ body as the house of the Lord is confirmed throughout the New Testament. This is the house we are to be about building.

Acts 2:47-49 says, “But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?'”

God doesn’t dwell in houses or temples that we make. Those are made with hands. However, Jesus’ body was not made by hands. It was prepared by God. Speaking of Jesus, Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” The Greek word for dwells has as its root the Greek word that means house.

2 Corinthians 5:1-4 says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

God is making us a building, a house not made with hands. This house is eternal. Ultimately, this house is not our mortal body but the body that is life itself.

Hebrews 3:6 says, “But Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

Very plainly, the author of Hebrews says that we are God’s house. We are the house God spoke to Haggai about. Why are we God’s house? Because we are now Jesus’ body. And, God dwells in the body of Christ fully.

1 Peter 2:5 says, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” Again, we are the house that God is building. We are not building, normis anyone else building, a physical dwelling place for God.

We are the dwelling place for God.

Jesus spoke of exactly this the night before he was crucified.

In John 14:3, Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be.”

In John 14:23, Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

In John 15:4, Jesus said, “Abide in my, and I in you.”

In John 17:20-23, Jesus said, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and love them even as you loved me.”

The night before Jesus died he spoke repeatedly about he and God dwelling in us, making their home with us. We would be one with God and Jesus. As the house of God, we would share in the glory that the Father gave to Jesus.

Haggai spoke of this in Haggai 2:7-8, which says, “And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.”

How would we become the house of the Lord?

Jesus told us how in the midst of his speech the night before he was crucified. He told us the Holy Spirit would come to us and dwell in us and teach us everything we needed to know about being one with the Father, being the Father’s house.

Ephesians 2:19-22 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Haggai spoke of the Spirit’s role in building the house too. For, when did Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remnant set about building the house of the Lord?

Haggai 1:13-14 says, “Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, ‘I am with you, declares the Lord.’ And the lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God.”

Just like Paul said, Haggai spoke that is the Spirit of God that causes the house to be built.

Without Jesus, we would be waiting for another physical temple to be built in the land of Israel. Sadly, many Christians are waiting for just this. The wait for a new physical temple because they haven’t heard and seen what Jesus revealed.

Jesus is the house of the Lord. Jesus is the temple of God. He is God’s dwelling place. And, because we are now members of his body, we are God’s house. We are the house, the dwelling place of God, that Spirit is building, the house that is not made with hands.

God dwells in us.

The Most Important Day

TODAY’S READING: ZEPHANIAH

“Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.” – Zephaniah 1:7

If the book of Zephaniah is about anything, then it is about a day. Well, not just a day, but the most important day.

That day.

The day of the Lord.

The day Jesus was crucified.

The Hebrew word for day, yom, occurs 21 times in Zephaniah. By count, other books use the word yom much more than Zephaniah because those books are much larger (e.g. Deuteronomy, which uses yom more than any other book). But, when we consider the size of the book and the number of times yom is used, Zephaniah uses yom with the second highest frequency in the Old Testament.

As we read in Zephaniah 1:7, the Lord has prepared a sacrifice for the day of the Lord.

What sacrifice did the Lord prepare?

Hebrews 10:5-7 says, “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.”‘”

Jesus is the sacrifice the Lord prepared. The sacrifice was made the day Jesus was crucified. Every time that Zephaniah speaks of a day, that day, the day of the Lord, he is speaking about Jesus’ crucifixion.

Note that the sacrifice that the Lord has prepared is a singular sacrifice. It is one sacrifice. This one sacrifice was sufficient for all time.

Hebrews 10:11-14 says, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

For thousands of years, men had offered daily sacrifices in attempt to atone for their sin. But, these offerings could never take away sins. But, Jesus offered a single sacrifice for all sin for all people.

For Zephaniah tells us that the day of the Lord is about not just the Jews and not just about the Gentiles but about all men everywhere on the earth.

Zephaniah 1:2-3 says, “‘I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will sweep away man and beast; I will sweep away the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, and the rubble with the wicked. I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth,’ declares the Lord.”

But, Paul interprets the effect of the day of the Lord, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, for us. Philippians 2:8-11 says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It is every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord as the result of the sacrifice on that day that results in the cutting off of mankind.

What is the cutting off of mankind?

Well, it is not the killing and the destruction of all mankind by God. If it was then there would mankind would cease to exist. And, we know that is not God’s desire or plan.

However, this cutting off does affect all mankind. None are spared this cutting off. So, we see that this cutting off has to do with the removal of something and not the destruction of something.

Therefore, the cutting off of mankind is the circumcision of mankind. For, it is only by the circumcision of the heart, the circumcision of faith, that every knee and every tongue could bow and confess that Jesus is Lord. For one can only confess Jesus is Lord by the Spirit.

Romans 2:28-29 says, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

Colossians 2:11, 13 says, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ…And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

It’s the flesh that is cut off for all mankind. God does this because he has forgiven all our trespasses.

It is our trespasses, our sins, our rebellion that brought about that day, the day of the Lord, Jesus’ crucifixion. But, note what Zephaniah says is the result of that day. Keep in mind that on that day, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Zephaniah 3:11-13 says, “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”

God forgives our rebellious deeds. He will leave a people that takes refuge in the name, in the character and nature, of the Lord. These people will do no injustice and speak no lies. This is the character of Jesus. For Isaiah 53:9 says, “And they made his grace with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

The end result is that we will not be afraid anymore. Because of that day, God “has cleared away your enemies” and “you shall never again fear evil.” (Zephaniah 3:15)

God says, “Fear not.” (Zephaniah 3:16)

Why?

Because “The Lord God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

What a day is that day, the day of the Lord, the day of the single sacrifice that God prepared before the foundation of the world, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the most important in the history of the world.

Faith – God’s Answer to Evil and Violence

TODAY’S READING: HABAKKUK

“And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” – Habakkuk 2:2-3

The book of Habakkuk deals with the age old question, “If God is good, then why is the world filled with evil and violence?” This is exactly the question Habakkuk asks of God.

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” – Habakkuk 1:2-3

The question about the existence of evil and violence is the one that mankind has always wrestled and struggled with. Interestingly, one meaning of the name Habakkuk is a wrestler or a struggler.

God’s answer to Habakkuk’s question about evil and violence does not explain their existence. Rather, God’s answer in Habakkuk 2:2-3 only assures us that evil and violence will come to an end. They will be defeated. God’s answer is one we must embrace. Interestingly, another meaning of the name Habakkuk is embrace.

God tells Habakkuk to write the vision and make it plain on tablets. 2 Corinthians 3:3-6 says, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Whatever the vision is that God is writing, it is to be written directly on our hearts. This vision would be clearly understood, plain, for it would be written by the Holy Spirit. Because it is written by the Holy Spirit it is life and death. And, this vision on our hearts would give us confidence through Christ toward God and cause us to know that our sufficiency for life is from God.

The reality of this vision would seem like it was delayed. It might even seem like it would never come, that the vision was really just a lie. But, God told Habakkuk to wait for it. The vision would be fulfilled in its appointed time.

Galatians 4:3-6 says, “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'”

The fullness of time had come. It was the appointed time for the vision to be fulfilled. Therefore, we know that the vision God told Habakkuk to write about was the crucifixion of Jesus, the defeat of evil, violence and death, the elementary principles of the world that we would be freed from. For, ever since Cain and Abel, evil and violence has ruled the world.

1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” The devil’s works are stealing, killing, destroying (John 10:10). The devil’s works are lies and murder (John 8:44). Hebrews 2:14-15 says that the Word of God, Jesus, became a man “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

Jesus defeated death by dying.

Jesus defeated evil and violence without any evil or violence of his own.

Jesus defeated evil and violence with good and love.

Do you believe that?

I mean do you truly and fully believe that?

To believe that evil, violence, and death are defeated by dying (to yourself), good, and love requires faith.

Faith is God’s answer to our questions about evil and violence. Therefore, God tells Habakkuk, “But the righteous shall live by faith.”

Dying appears to be a defeat, a loss.

Good appears to be losing out to evil.

Love seems impotent in the face of violence.

What can dying, good, and love possibly accomplish in the face of death, evil, and violence?

God says you will live by faith that dying, good, and love do indeed defeat death, evil, and violence.

Dying, good, and love seem so foolish and weak in the face of death, evil, and violence. But, not to God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

God’s statement to Habakkuk that “the righteous shall live by faith” is quoted three times in the New Testament.

Romans 1:16-17 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”

Paul links the righteous living by faith with the gospel, the good news, that says evil and violence have been defeated. This gospel is the power of salvation.

But, why does Paul need to say he is not ashamed of the gospel, the defeat of death through dying, evil by good, violence by love?

The gospel, the good news, and “son of God” where both terms originally associated with Caesar, the ruler of the world at the time of Christ and Paul. The gospel of Caesar, the son of God, would be proclaimed as he returned from a victorious military campaign in which Caesar subjected people to the slavery of his rule through death, evil, and violence. The gospel of Caesar could be proclaimed because he came home alive.

But, Paul says he was an “apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God.” This gospel was “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness  by his resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:1-4)

Paul’s gospel, the gospel of God, has the true victor, the true ruler of the world, dying, seemingly defeated by evil and violence. And, this is why Paul had to tell the Roman church that he was not ashamed of the gospel. He was not ashamed to say that dying, good, and love, defeated death, evil, and violence.

The second time Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted is in Galatians 3:11-12, which says, “Now it is evident that no is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them.'”

If one does the law will live by them. But, why is no justified by the law?

Habakkuk followed his questions about evil and violence being everywhere and seemingly winning with the statement, “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

We cannot be justified by the law because the wicked always end up in control of the law. The wicked paralyze the law by using it for their own selfish desires. So, the wicked never allow justice to go forth from the law, perverting any justice that goes forth from the law.

So, no one be justified by the law because the law is actually used as a cover for death, evil, and violence. Therefore, the righteous live by faith that death, evil, and violence are defeated by dying, good, and love instead of trying to be justified by the law, which will always be perverted by the wicked.

The last time Habakkuk 2:4 is quotes is Hebrews 10:36-39, which says, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

What is the will of God for man?

Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

The will of God for man was to rule in his image, which is light, love, and life (see my post Creation: A Witness to Jesus). To rule in God’s image is to rule the way Christ ruled, which is to rule by dying, good, and love. Therefore, to shrink back and be destroyed is to rule by killing, evil, and violence.

If we rule the way Christ rules, then we will receive what is promised by God.

What is promised by God?

Perhaps what God declared in Genesis 1:31 after he created man in his image and gave man his will – “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” God’s promise for us is a very good creation. This is just what Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-30.

So, Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of the things not seen.” God created the world to be very good. Despite all of the death, evil, and violence that now permeates the world, God will one day restore the creation to its very good status. That process started with Christ’s death on the cross, but it is not yet complete. Therefore, we need faith. Faith is the assurance that Christ’s dying, good and love truly defeated death, evil, and violence. Faith is the conviction that even though death, evil, and violence are so prevalent and seem to be winning that Christ’s death has truly secured the victory of a very good creation, a creation without sin, death, and suffering, for us.

Take note of those who are listed in Hebrews 11 as having lived by faith.

Abel died.

Enoch did not see death.

Noah, who lived at a time when every intention and thought of man was violence but he himself was blameless, was saved through violence by the ark, which is a type of Christ.

Abraham was called out of Babylon, the first empire to rule the world with violence. He went to live in a land of promise, seeking the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God. He was seeking a city that was not ruled by death, evil, and violence but by dying, good, and love. That city was Christ.

Sarah conceived, brought forth life, with a man who was good as dead.

Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith.”

And, as you read through the rest that are listed in the hall of faith, you will find that their deeds of dying, good, and love are recorded. For, this is what means for the righteous to live by faith.

So, faith, living by dying, good, and love, is God’s answer to all the evil and violence in the world. We live by faith that Jesus defeated death, evil, and violence by dying, good, and love.

Nahum of Elkosh – The Comfort of the Snare

TODAY’S READING: NAHUM

“Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. And all who look at you will shrink from you and say, ‘Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” – Nahum 3:5-7

The book of Nahum is an oracle or burden of Nineveh. It is a writing of the vision or revelation of Nahum of Elkosh. Nahum’s vision seems to be filled with God’s anger and wrath being poured out in full force on Nineveh. Just read how the vision starts.

“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps his wrath for his enemies…Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.” – Nahum 1:2, 6

Nahum sees God pouring out such wrath and violence upon Nineveh that it will be made a spectacle for all to see, which is what we see in Nahum 3:5-7 above. Nineveh will be thoroughly shamed through the lifting up of its skirts over its face so that all can see its nakedness.

But, this making Nineveh a spectacle, this public shaming of Nineveh, actually points to the truth of Jesus in Nahum. And, this public shaming of Israel’s oppressor actually reveals God’s non-violent defeat of the principalities and powers through Jesus.

Colossians 2:15 says, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” A more literal translation would be “by triumphing over them in it.” It is the cross.

Jesus Christ reveals that all of the anger, wrath, fury, vengeance, and violence that Nahum sees God pouring out like fire upon Nineveh is in actual fact Jesus bearing the sin of the world on the cross. And, its by bearing the sin of the world and absorbing all its evil, wickedness, and violence yet pleading for the forgiveness of all that Jesus put the principalities and powers and all mankind to an open shame. Perhaps this is why the book of Nahum is said to be an oracle, or burden, of Nineveh.

The truth of the cross of Christ as the act that made Nineveh a spectacle and brought about its public shaming is further revealed in the meaning of Nahum of Elkosh.

Nahum is a shortened form of Nehemiah. The name Nahum means comfort, compassion, full of comfort, or consolation. Jesus is our comfort and compassion (the Holy Spirit was “another” helper or comforter that Jesus would send after he died).

So, in the meaning of the name Nahum we have the answer to the question – “Who will grieve for her? Where shall I seek comforters for you?” – that would be asked by all who shrunk back at Nineveh’s public shaming.

Elkosh most likely means God my bow. But, Elkosh is likely a derivative of two Hebrew words that both mean to lay a bait, to lure, to snare. So, we could think of the meaning of Elkosh as the bait, lure, or snare of God.

Speaking of the Lord of hosts, Isaiah 8:14-15 says, “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

Isaiah 28:13 says, “And the word of the Lord will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” This scripture doesn’t mean what almost every preacher says it means – the method we should use to study the Bible. Read my post “Precept upon Precept or a Precious Cornerstone” to see the real meaning of this verse and why it is said to be snare.

Jeremiah 50:24 says, “I set a snare for you and you were taken, O Babylon, and you did know it; you were found and caught, because you opposed the Lord.”

How did Babylon not know that a snare had been laid for it? How did Satan and all the fallen principalities and powers recognize Jesus as the Son of God but not know that Jesus would defeat their power of death through his own death?

Because Jesus’s death, his crucifixion, the cross, was a trap and a snare, a cunning plan that God always had in place.

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 says, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Jesus on the cross was a trap and snare to lure evil, wickedness, violence and death out so that it could be defeated. It was God’s secret and hidden wisdom that created this plan before the foundation of the world. In verse 10, Paul says that “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

It is in this secret and hidden wisdom that the Spirit inspired scripture. It’s not the plain meaning or surface meaning that reveals the truth of God, who God is, in the Bible. No, who God is, particularly in the Old Testament, is only found by plumbing the depths of scripture. The meaning must come through a revelation, a vision, of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the first verse of the book of Nahum.

If we could just take the plain, straightforward reading of the Old Testament, then we would be able to understand it with our natural mind. But, Paul says that this is not possible.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 says, “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”

Without Jesus, without the mind of Christ, without the Holy Spirit, the Bible is completely intelligible. Therefore, truth comes from Jesus, his mind in our mind, the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, is the Bible worth anything to us. Jesus must come first.

And, when Jesus comes first, we realize that God does not make a spectacle of or shame anyone by pouring out his anger and wrath in violence on them. No, God does it through the cross.

He dies. God lets you kill him. Then he forgives you.

Jesus is the comfort of the snare that was laid.

What Does God Require of You?

TODAY’S READING: MICAH 5-7

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

What does God require of me?

As I read Micah 6:8, I am amazed at how simple the answer is. It is just three things.

  1. Do justice
  2. Love kindness
  3. Walk humbly

There are a whole lot of things left off that list that we add to it. Our expectations, our requirements, are much longer, more onerous, and more exacting than God’s.

Where is tithing? Where is the proper appearance and dress? Where is adherence to a code of rules, laws, doctrines? Where is the strict moral code to be followed? Where is keeping the 10 commandments? Where is judgment of the sin of others? Where is holding others accountable? Where is getting people saved? Where is Bible study and scripture memorization? Where is the proper time in prayer?

All of those things are nowhere to be found in Micah’s simple and profound statement of what God requires from us.

Did you know that this same requirement of God is found within the law?

Deuteronomy 10:12-13 says, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”

All the elements of Micah 6:8 are found right here. Jesus even pulls from Deuteronomy 10:12-13 when he is asked what is the greatest commandment of all.

The same three things that God requires of us

  1. Do justice
  2. Love kindness
  3. Walk humbly

are exactly how we see Jesus lived in the gospels.

Jesus was always doing justice. However, I think we fail to recognize this because we have a warped view of what justice is.

Justice is not punishing people for their bad actions, for their sin. We tend to think of justice in a legal sense. God is a judge. Therefore, he’s going to hand down a sentence on all the bad people because of the wrong things they have down. But, that is not God’s justice at all.

Deuteronomy 10:17-18 says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

God’s justice is about doing what is right for the oppressed, for those that are without, for those that are the least, for those that are afflicted, for those that are the stranger, for those that are the outcast. God’s justice feeds, clothes, and provides for needs that the world ignores and overlooks.

Look up the word justice in the Old Testament is you will see that is regularly and repeatedly used in exactly the same context as Deuteronomy 10:17-18.

Isn’t this exactly what we see Jesus doing all throughout the gospels.

He elevates those that have no status. He spends time with them. He eats with them. He provides for them. He encourages them. He nurtures them. He notices them.

Jesus elevated the Samaritan in the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus ate with the drunkards and the sinners. Jesus fed the multitudes when they were hungry. Jesus encouraged and care for the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus loved prostitutes. Jesus taught women and had them as disciples.

Everywhere Jesus went he did justice.

Why?

Because he loved kindness.

In Micah 6:8, the Hebrew word for kindness is hesed. It means loyalty, joint obligation, faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, favor. It is even translated as mercy. We can even think of hesed as compassion.

Jesus did justice to the oppressed because he was kind, merciful, and compassionate to them. He saw how they hurt. Jesus understood that what people were doing that caused them pain or caused others pain was the result of oppression, ultimately oppression from our spiritual adversaries.

Jesus loved kindness because he regarded no one after the flesh. Instead, he regarded everyone after the spirit.

Why did Jesus regard people after the spirit and not the flesh?

Because Jesus walked humbly with God. The Hebrew word humbly in Micah 6:8 is used only this one time in the Old Testament. It means to be humble, clear, pure, cautious, careful, reasonable, attentive, deliberate. One Hebrew dictionary says it means to act “in a manner respectful and careful of another’s direction.”

Jesus only said what the Father said and he only did what he saw the Father doing. Jesus truly walked humbly with God.

When we get right down to it, this is all Jesus required of us. Jesus commanded us to do exactly what God said he required in Micah 6:8. Jesus said to love God, love your neighbor as yourself and as he loved you, and obey his voice or abide in him.

Jesus didn’t command tithing.

Jesus didn’t command we hold to the ten commandments.

Jesus didn’t command that we look a certain way.

Jesus didn’t command sacrifices and rituals.

Jesus didn’t command a certain way or amount of time in Bible study and prayer.

Jesus didn’t command that we meet on a certain day to worship him.

Jesus didn’t command that we make others think the way that we think.

This is all so evident if we strip away all the religious teaching and doctrines. It becomes clear if we get out from under what others have told us, which they generally know only because others have told them, and ask the Holy Spirit to shows us what Jesus, and therefore what God, is truly like.

If we just look at how Jesus lived, then it becomes clear he lived by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

That’s what Jesus would do.

Let the Lord God Be a Witness Against You?

TODAY’S READING: MICAH 1-4

“Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.” – Micah 1:2

“Let the Lord God be a witness against you.”

This sounds rather ominous because of the word against. Many hear the word witness and immediately take this to be a courtroom setting where God is testifying against those that have done wrong. In this context, against means:

  • in opposition or hostility to
  • contrary to
  • in competition with
  • as a basis for disapproval of

But, is God against you?

In Romans 8:31, Paul asks the question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The answer to the rhetorical question is nothing can be against because God is for us, for you. For Paul, it wasn’t even possible to ask the question “Is God against me?” for his presumption was that God is for you and therefore nothing can be against you.

I check quite a few English translations of Micah 1:2. All of them but one translate the Hebrew word that is the letter beyt as against. But, this is by far not the most common translation of this preposition. I think another translation for this Hebrew preposition is far more likely.

Why?

We have to remember that all scripture is a witness to Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44-45 and John 5:39-40). So, we need to interpret every book, every verse, and every word in the light of Jesus.

So, the context of Jesus and the context of this verse through the inspiration of the Spirit tells that me against is not the correct translation of this Hebrew preposition in this case.

Notice that this word from Micah is addressed to “you peoples, all of you,” which is more likely “you peoples, all of them.”

Who are “peoples” and “all of them?”

Not just the Jews because the next line says, “Pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it.” Therefore, this word is addressed to all peoples, all nations, every person in the earth.

Another clue that the Hebrew preposition should not be translated against is that the witness of the Lord God comes from “the Lord from his holy temple.”

The witness comes from the temple, which is not a courtroom. So, the typical understanding of this word being a scene in a courtroom is wrong.

But, could this mean that the Lord is witnessing against us from the temple?

Well, what do we mean by the temple?

John 2:19-21 says, “Jesus answered them , ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” When we read all scripture in the context of Jesus and as a witness to him, we understand Micah as saying that the witness “against is coming from the Lord’s temple, which is the body of Jesus.

Now, where was Jesus? Where was the Lord’s temple?

John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek word for dwelt is literally tabernacle. So, the Word became flesh in Jesus, and God’s tabernacle or temple was among us. The temple was among us not against us.

So, the Septuagint translation of Micah 1:2 says, “And the Lord God will be among you for a testimony.”

What was Jesus, the Word made flesh, tabernacling among us for a testimony of?

According to John 1:15-18, Jesus’ testimony was the glory of God, full of grace and truth and that from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. Only Jesus could give this testimony because only Jesus had ever seen God. Not even Moses had seen God the way that Jesus did.

So, if we changed all of those English translations that used the word against to “and let the Lord God be a witness among you” then it doesn’t sound quite so ominous. Now it sounds more like God is for us as Paul says.

But, there is one English translation that doesn’t use the word against. According to the Douay-Rheims Bible, Micah 2:1 says, “And let the Lord God be a witness to you.”

In John 1:15-18, we already saw that the Jesus’ witness to us was of God’s glory from which we have all received grace upon grace. But, John gives us other perspectives as to what Jesus witnessed to in 1 John.

1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Jesus’ message, his witness, his testimony, to us is that God is light. God is good. And, because God is good there is no evil or wickedness in him at all. Therefore, God is not and cannot be against us.

1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”This is another aspect of Jesus’ testimony to us. Jesus witnessed to us that God is love.

How, when, did he do this?

On the cross, from the holy temple that is body.

1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

But, Jesus isn’t just the propitiation of sins for those who believe. 1 John 2:2 says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” The our in this verse refers to the believer. But, John says Jesus’ love and work on the cross is effective beyond the sins of  the believer. Rather, Jesus’ love and work on the cross is effective to remove the sons of the whole world, everyone that is in the earth.

And, this brings us back to the original setting of Micah 1:2. For, Micah told all peoples, all of them, everyone that was in the earth to pay attention. They were to pay attention because the Lord’s witness among us and to us would come from his temple, the body of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, in John 12:32, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Jesus tells us that we have to read everything in his light, according to his witness. When we do, we understand the true meaning, the inspired meaning of the Old Testament, regardless of what the Old Testament authors meant and regardless of how modern day translators interpret the text in their translations.

God is not a witness against you. God is not coming to smite you. Nor is God coming to destroy you or anyone else.

God is a witness among you. And, as Jesus showed, he is among the poor, the hurting, the lame, the blind, the weak, the oppressed, the sick, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the prostitute, the drunkard, and on and on.

God is a witness to you. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). God was on the cross with Jesus. And, God was witnessing his love to you, his goodness to you despite whatever you have done to him or others.

God is for you.

The Spirit of Truth, A Vexer of Certainty

TODAY’S READING: JONAH

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” – Jonah 1:1-3

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” – Jonah 4:1-2

Most everyone would see Jesus in the story of Jonah in Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of a great fish as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ three days and nights in the center of the earth. That’s because Jesus himself made this connection for us. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus said, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

But, I think there is a subtle undertone in the book of Jonah revealed by the play on words of the meaning of the names that reveals something about Jesus.

The name Jonah most likely means dove. And, when we think of a dove in regards to Jesus we think of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. Mark 1:10 says, “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

Jonah was the son of Amittai. The most common meanings of Amittai are true or truth of the Lord. Of course, Jesus does not just give us truth. He is truth. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And, we ultimately receive Jesus as the truth through the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we can see Jesus in Jonah the son of Amittai as the dove of what is true or the Spirit of the truth of the Lord. For us to truly know Jesus and the Father, we must have the Spirit of truth.

But, both Jonah and Amittai have subtle, secondary meanings that reveal an interesting twist on the Spirit of the truth of the Lord.

It is possible that the name Jonah derives from a Hebrew word meaning vexer.

And, the name of Amittai derives from a Hebrew root word meaning confirm or support but that in various ways has the meaning of certainty.

So, while the obvious meaning of Jonah the son of Amittai is the Spirit of the truth of the Lord, the subtle, secondary meaning is the vexer of certainty.

Isn’t this who Jesus is?

He is the truth. We received him in the Spirit of the truth of the Lord. Yet, as the truth, he vexes and confounds everything we hold to be certain. For, how else would we repent and be transformed by the continual renewing of our mind.

All of us want to live by a set of laws and rules. We want to know exactly what we are required to do in every situation. With these rules, we don’t have to think, to assess the situation, to learn about the other person and their needs. We just apply the rule, the law.

But, to live this way, by the letter of the law, is death.

Jesus revealed this in Matthew 5-7 as he took what the Jews were certain of, the law, and altered it or nullified it t the extent that the Jews were vexed and confounded and considered Jesus a law breaker, a heretic, a blasphemer.

In John 5, Jesus told the Jews that they tried to live by the scriptures, by the law, but that the scriptures actually pointed to him who was eternal life.

This is what the New Testament reveals regarding traditions, which are nothing more than the certainties of life that we grew up with. In Matthew 15:2, Jesus was asked wh his disciples break from the traditions, the certainties, of the elders. Jesus answered, “So for the sake of your tradition [your certainties] you have made void the word of God.”

We see this play on the meaning of Jonah the son of Amittai even with the book of Jonah. For, Jonah vacillated between two places – Tarshish and Nineveh.

When we think of Tarshish in the Bible, one of the first things to come to mind is likely the ships of Tarshish. These ships transported great wealth and goods from place to place. Tarshish then is connected with material prosperity, commercialization, and wealth. In chapter one, we are told that to go to Tarshish, to prosperity and wealth, which is what our own reasoning, traditions, and certainties tell us to do, is to go away from the presence of the Lord.

But, Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the enemy of Israel. And, for the Jews, Nineveh as the enemy of Israel was also the enemy of God. Yet, Jonah was called to go preach to the city of Nineveh. Jonah tells us in chapter four that he did not want to do this because “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” If going to Tarshish, fleeing the perceived enemy, was going away from the presence of the Lord, then moving toward Nineveh, toward the enemy, was moving in the direction of God.

For Jonah, going toward Nineveh would have been dying to self, responding to evil with good, giving up riches for the sake of the other. In other words, for Jonah to go to Nineveh would have been for his certainties to be vexed, to receive the Spirit of the Lord, to receive Jesus and live like him.

Isn’t this what Jesus told us? That we are stuck between God and money?

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Basically, the Jews believed that if you lived according to the law you would be blessed by God and you would be wealthy. But, Jesus vexes their certainty about the law and money, showing that to follow God is entirely distinct from going after wealth and prosperity.

The rich young ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to keep the last six commandments of the ten commandments. The rich young ruler said he done that. So, in Mark 10:21, Jesus told him, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Here again Jesus presents the difference between serving God or money. Jesus vexed the rich young ruler’s certainties about who he was and what his wealth meant. But, because the rich young ruler did not allow the Spirit of the truth of the Lord to vex his certainties he walked away disheartened and sorrowful.

From all this, we learn that to truly have eternal life we have to let Jesus and the Spirit vex and confound what we hold to be certain, all the traditions that we have lived by. As we let our certainties, our rules, our laws, and our traditions be vexed and confounded by the Lord, we come to rely solely on him, solely on the truth, moment by moment. Then, we deal with each circumstance and each person in a unique way. We regard that circumstance and person by the Spirit instead of the flesh and we respond with life instead of laws and rules.

In the end, the Spirit of the truth of the Lord, the vexer of certainty, leaves with us Jesus as the only certainty in our life.

The Cross – Returning Our Deeds on Our Own Head

TODAY’S READING: OBADIAH

“For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” – Obadiah 1:15

The day of the Lord is a day of light.

John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 3:19 says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

While he was in the world, Jesus was the light of the world. His light shined in the evil of men. The evil of men could not darken Jesus’ light.

God is light. He is goodness. God does not do evil to us.

The evil we experience is a result of our own darkness, our own evil, coming back upon us.

Yet, God is in the midst of that darkness, shining his light, his goodness upon us.

Verse 15 in Obadiah reminds me of Psalm 7:14-16, which says, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.”

“On his own skull his violence descends” makes me think of the cross. For, Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, which means place of the skull. It was the violence of men that drove the cross into Golgotha in order for it to stand upright so that Jesus could be crucified on it. So, when I read this I picture my own violence, my own evil, my own wickedness, driving the cross into my own skull.

My evil returns upon my own head.

However, this on its own does not reveal the wonder of the cross.

What makes the evil that you and me did to Jesus on the cross so wonderful are the words he spoke from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.”

So, as we are crucifying Jesus, doing violence to him, he cries out for our forgiveness, which causes our own violence and the cross to pierce our own skull.

I think we have all experienced a situation where we have been evil, mean, or wicked to someone, but they respond with kindness. At the very least, this causes our mind to stop in its tracks because kindness is not the response we expect to wickedness. It is so out of the norm of what expect that the returning of good for evil creates a cognitive dissonance in our minds. It is this dissonance in our minds that has the power to snap us out of evil stupor and cause us to change our thinking and our actions.

The cross is  one of those little experiences we have all had magnified to the nth degree. And, this is why God does not do evil to us. Evil will never cause us to change our thinking and the way we act because we expect evil to be done to us. But, what we don’t expect goodness, mercy, kindness to be done to us, especially when we know we have been evil and wicked to someone else.

Therefore, Romans 2:4 says, Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

God’s kindness, mercy, and forgiveness expressed through Jesus on the cross is meant to jar our thinking so that we repent, so that we change our minds. Therefore, God’s kindness causes our own evil to come back on our own heads.

This is what the wrath of God is. It’s not evil or death or destruction done to us. It’s a burning within us created by the cross that reveals our own wickedness to us.

Isn’t that painful?

This is what Paul means in Romans 12:19-20 when he says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.”

No vengeance we could ever attempt to take to repay someone can have the effect of the cross of Jesus Christ,the ultimate act of returning good for evil, on someone’s thinking.

Can Anyone Escape God’s Saving Love?

TODAY’S READING: AMOS 5-9

“And those who are left of them I will with the sword; not one of them shall flee away; not one of them shall escape.” – Amos 9:1

In Amos 9, Amos tells us that God will search out his enemies to kill them with the sword. Not a single enemy will be able to flee or escape. In the next three verses, Amos tells the great lengths God will go to kill his enemies.

“If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them. And if they go into captivity before their enemies, there I command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.” – Amos 9:2-4

That’s quite a dire picture that Amos paints. There is nowhere that anyone can go to escape from God. God will find his enemies wherever they are and kill them. He will find them and do evil, not good, to them.

Is it possible that Amos did not understand God clearly? That the picture he painted of God was wrong?

Actually, isn’t it obvious that Amos wrong.

Amos said, “I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.”

In Matthew 5:44-45, Jesus said, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust.”

To be sons of the Father, we have to act like the Father.

How does the Father act?

He loves his enemies. He does good, not evil, to them. He gives the sun and the rain to all, whether they are good or bad, just or unjust. God never seeks to do evil to anyone. Therefore, 1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Further, James 1:17 says, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Perhaps Amos heard God say that he was going to separate that which was not of him from all people. So, Amos interpreted this, because he had a veil over his understanding of God (2 Corinthians 3 and 4), as God was going to use a sword to kill his enemies.

But, God’s sword is “of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) God’s sword is Jesus. And, we never see Jesus killing. Instead, we see Jesus dying.

God’s sword, instead of seeking to kills us, seeks to separate us from all that is not God. Therefore, Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom me must give account.”

In Revelation 19:21, instead of being thrown in the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet, “the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him was sitting on the horse.” God doesn’t throw any of the collaborators with Satan, the beast, and the false prophet into the lake of fire. Instead he slays them with the sword of his mouth, that is his word, which separates from them all their false ideas of who God is. Therefore, the birds gorge on their flesh, not their spirits. So, all of them lived and are saved.

While Amos paints the picture that God will go everywhere in creation to find and kill his enemies, Paul tells us that there is nowhere in creation we can go to escape from God’s saving love.

Romans 8:31-39 says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the  love of the Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And, before we get on our high horse (where Paul once rode) and think that this applies only to us, to those we deem worthy, let us remember that in Romans 8 Paul is speaking about setting the entire creation right. His all means all people, not just the people in the Roman church he is writing to.

So, God goes anywhere and everywhere to find all people. Because nothing can separate anyone from his love.

Jesus tells us this very thing in the parable of the lost sheep. In Luke 15:3-5, Jesus said, “What many of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

Every person is one of Jesus’ lost sheep. And, Jesus will go into the far country, indeed wherever he needs to go, to find all his sheep that are lost.

While Amos says that there is nothing God’s enemies can do to escape his killing sword, Jesus and the New Testament reveal that there is nowhere we can go and nothing we can do that will cause us to escape God’s saving love.

Jesus Is the Foundation that Destroys Strongholds

TODAY’S READING: AMOS 1-4

“So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour her strongholds.” – Amos 1:7

Fire. Devour. Strongholds.

Amos connects these three words six times in what the Lord says to Gaza, Tyre, Edom, the Ammonites, Moab, and Judah. Then, Amos uses stronghold a seventh time in regards to Israel. Amos 3:10 says, “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord, “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”

The Hebrew word for stronghold is armon. It is used 32 times in the Old Testament. But, Amos uses it 12 times, more than any other book in the Old Testament. Twelve is the number of governmental perfection in the Bible. So, Amos’ 12 strongholds should have something to do with God’s perfect rule in our life.

Further, I mentioned above that Amos has the Lord saying that fire would devour the strongholds six times. Six symbolizes both man and work. So, these strongholds have something to do with man’s work that will be burned away.

But, the seventh place, Israel, that Amos connects with strongholds reveals something else about strongholds. Israel stored up violence and robbery in their strongholds. This violence and robbery that filled Israel’s strongholds was clearly opposed to God as the Lord said that Israel did not know how to do right because of it.

But, what exactly are these strongholds and what do they have to do with Jesus?

The word stronghold occurs just one time in the New Testament.

2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”

Just like we saw in Amos, strongholds are to be destroyed in warfare. But, these strongholds are not physical fortresses or palaces since we are not to use weapons of the flesh against them. Rather, the strongholds that are to be destroyed are spiritual for it takes divine power to conquer them.

Still, what are these strongholds that need to be destroyed?

2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

The previous verse said we destroy strongholds. This verse says we destroy arguments and lofty opinions that are against the knowledge of God. Strongholds are arguments, lofty opinions, ideas, thoughts, etc. that are against the true knowledge of God.

What is the true knowledge of God?

God is good.

God is good and only good.

God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

God is love and in him there is no fear.

God is life and in him there is no death.

Anything and everything in our hearts and minds that is against these truths of God, these strongholds, needs to be destroyed.

We are to work for God. But, with these strongholds that are against God, we can work in the wrong way, building up things that are against God. Amos says God will consume these strongholds with fire. Therefore, God consumes with fire the work that is built by these strongholds, or by false notions of God.

Therefore, 1 Corinthians 3:15 says, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

The strongholds of our wrong ideas about God create works that will be burned up, consumed by fire by God. But, the person himself will be saved through this fire that burns up every false work from false ideas of God.

But, 1 Corinthians 3:15 has another interesting connection to Amos and the fire that devours strongholds.

In the first six uses of stronghold in Amos, the Septuagint uses the Greek word themelion. The word themelion means foundation. Now, we can see the interesting connection to 1 Corinthians 3:15.

1 Corinthians 3:10-14 says, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on a foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.”

In Amos, the six places that had their strongholds, their foundations, devoured by fire had built on the wrong foundation.

What is the lesson?

The foundation was not Jesus Christ. Because the foundation was not Jesus Christ, the heart and mind developed strongholds that were arguments and lofty opinions against the true knowledge that God is good and only good. These false arguments and opinions about God led to works that would not stand the test of fire. Therefore, they would be consumed by fire. But, the person would still be saved.

Therefore, we can see why it is so critical that we have the correct foundation laid. The only foundation that should be laid and built on is Jesus Christ. This means the only thing we in our hearts and minds that is should be used to understand God is Jesus Christ.

Not Moses.

Not the law.

Not the prophets.

Not Solomon and his wisdom.

Not the Bible.

No, the only foundation is Jesus.

He is the only one to see God face to face. He is the image of God. He is the exact representation of God’s character.

If we try to have any other foundation other than Jesus, then we will develop that wrong idea about who God is. This then will lead to works that need to be destroyed by fire, which is a painful process.

So, Jesus is the foundation that is laid that will destroy the strongholds of our hearts and minds.