Korah Got What He Said

Korah’s rebellion is an interesting story buried away in a single chapter in the middle of Numbers. If you don’t recall, a man named Korah questions Moses’ leadership, declaring that since the entire “congregation is holy” and “the LORD is among [all of us],” Moses shouldn’t be exalted above the rest of Israel (Numbers 16:3). Instead, others—like, say, maybe Korah—should be lifted up as holy leaders of the people. God told Moses that He would reveal who was right, and the next day the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and his followers whole.

This may seem like an obscure story, but it has much to teach us about the nature of God and, more specifically, how God ultimately gives us what we ask for. To make sense of this story, we first need to understand who Korah was and what God had commanded him to do.

Korah was the cousin of Moses and Aaron. Thus, he was a Levite, but not a priest (kohen). To be specific, he was a Kohathite, and the Kohathites had very specific duties regarding the service of the tabernacle. As explained in Numbers 4, the Kohathites were tasked with carrying the holy things of the tabernacle from one location to another. There were a number of regulations regarding how this was to be done:

  • First, the priests/kohen would cover all the holy things (qodesh) of the tabernacle (mishkan). Six times the Hebrew word kasa is used to describe this act of covering (vv. 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15), but the word used once everything has been covered is bala, which is generally translated as “swallowed” (v. 20).
  • Once the priests had completed (kala) the covering process, the Kohathites would lift up (nasa) and carry the holy things to the next location (v. 15).
  • The Kohathites had to make sure not to directly touch (naga) any of the holy things, lest they die.

Now with this in mind, we can consider the events of Korah’s rebellion in context.

We know that Korah and his supporters rebelled because they were angry that the Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for forty years(Numbers 16:13, 14)—which ironically is the result of the rebellion they waged a few weeks earlier (Numbers 13, 14)—but that’s not the reason that Korah gives to Moses.

Instead, Korah declares that everyone in the congregation is holy (qadesh) and should be treated as such. What’s more, he accuses Moses of lifting himself up (nasa), effectively usurping the work of the Kohathites. Since Moses thinks himself so holy and lifts himself up in the midst of our tabernacle, thinks Korah, we who are equally holy should be lifted up as well.

So what does God do? He gives Korah exactly what he asked for.

Korah declared that he was holy and wanted to be lifted up. And as we just read in Numbers 4, what happens to the holy things before they can be lifted up? They need to be covered. And that’s exactly what God does during the course of this chapter.

God declares that Korah and his fellow rebels had essentially formed a new tabernacle (mishkan, Numbers 16:24, 27). And just as God had warned the Kohathites not to touch anything before the priest’s work was completed, so too God warns the Israelites not to touch (naga, Numbers 16:26) anything belonging to these supposedly holy people of the new tabernacle until God completes (kala, Numbers 16:21) His work.

Then, as the tabernacle of Korah’s holy rebels gathers together, God opens up the ground beneath them and swallows them up (bala, Numbers 16:30, 32, 34). Finally, once the holy rebels had been swallowed up, God closed up the earth to cover up (kasa, Numbers 16:33) their new tabernacle.

Hebrew WordEnglish meaningJob of KohathitesKorah’s Rebellion
MishkanTabernacleNumbers 4:16Numbers 16:24, 27
Qodesh/QadoshHolyNumbers 4:4, 12, 15, 19, 20Numbers 16:3, 5, 7
KasaCoverNumbers 4:5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15Numbers 16:33
BalaSwallowNumbers 4:20Numbers 16:30, 32, 34
KalaComplete/consumeNumbers 4:15Numbers 16:21
NagaTouchNumbers 4:15 Numbers 16:26
NasaLift upNumbers 4:15Numbers 16:3

When you consider the events of Korah’s rebellion in light of who Korah was and what Korah had requested, everything that happened is exactly what we would expect. Korah declared that he was inherently holy and wanted to be lifted up. And he got exactly what he asked for, even if it wasn’t what he was expecting.

These events echo the story of the faithless spies, which occurred only a few weeks before. Ten of the spies (and the entire congregation of Israel) had declared that there was absolutely no way they could take the Promised Land, and that they’d be doomed to wander the desert until they died. Two spies (Caleb the Judahite and Joshua the Ephraimite) disagreed, stating that—with God on their side—they were well equipped to take what had been promised. In response to both declarations, God said,

Just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you.” (Numbers 14:28)

And every person in that story got exactly what they said. All of Israel but two died in the wilderness. And Caleb in Joshua, though well into their eighties, had God on their side, and received their inheritance.

That same promise—you will have whatsoever you speak—continues throughout the biblical narrative, from Korah to Ahaz to Hezekiah to the disciples of Jesus. And it continues for us today.

So what are you believing for? What are you declaring? Your words have power, and your faith will bring it to pass. God will honor the choices we make, even if they are the wrong choices. Will you rebel like Korah and his tabernacle, like the ten spies and the rest of the nation? Or will you submit to the promises of God, and receive the blessings He has for you?

Be careful what you say. Because one way or another, you’ll get what you want.

The Kinsman Avenger

If you’ve ever heard a sermon on the book of Ruth, you’ve probably heard about the “kinsman-redeemer.” As described in Leviticus 25, if a married man dies without children, his brother is told to marry the widow and bare children with her on behalf of the deceased brother, continuing his brother’s name and ensuring he essentially has life after death through his children.

The brother who performs this noble deed is called the “redeemer” (ga’al in Hebrew), and the most famous redeemer of this sort is Boaz. Boaz—described as a “man of great valor” (Ruth 2:1)—faithfully fulfills this role, revering, romancing, and redeeming the widow Ruth. Through their subsequent marriage, both Ruth and Boaz were faithful to God’s Word and Ruth’s first husband, and they ended up becoming the great-grandparents of King David and the ancestors of the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus.

But the ga’al has several other obligations that don’t get nearly as much attention. For instance, another responsibility of a redeemer is to buy family members out of slavery (Leviticus 25). But the one I’d like to focus on is described three times in the Law—the role of the avenger of blood.

If a man is killed by another, a relative of the deceased is tasked to become the avenger of blood—he is commanded to track the manslayer down and ensure that justice is served. The avenger brings the charges before the elders of a city of refuge, who in turn judge whether the manslayer is “deserving of death” (Deuteronomy 19:6). If the manslayer is found guilty, the avenger executes judgment on the criminal; if the manslayer is found responsible but nonetheless not guilty of murder, the avenger makes sure that justice is still served by forcing the manslayer into exile until the High Priest dies. (A more detailed description of this law is found in Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, and Joshua 20).

Now all of these jobs—the redeemer who guarantees his brother has some sort of life after death; the relative who liberates his kinsman out of slavery; the avenger who carries out justice—are one in the same. They are all the responsibilities of the ga’al. And throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, this title is almost exclusively used of God—especially in the prophets, where God promises that He will become the Redeemer of His people.

For those of us in need of liberation from sin and in need of resurrection from spiritual death, the idea of God as our ga’al—our Redeemer—is fantastic news. But the Redeemer doesn’t just bring freedom and life after death—He also executes judgment on those deserving of death. He is not only a Redeemer—He is an Avenger as well.

This isn’t great news for us, as—in the words of Paul—we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23). We are guilty. We are deserving of death, and not even a life in exile or the death of the High Priest will change that.

So what happens when the person who needs the redemption and liberation is also guilty of sin and deserving of death? How does the Kinsman-Redeemer, the Blood-Avenger, fulfill both sides of the law?

Surprisingly, this exact question is asked and answered in 2 Samuel 14, midway through the reign of King David. A wise widow from Tekoa comes to the king with a problem: she had two sons, but they got into a fight and one brother killed the other. If they execute the murderous brother, no one will remain to redeem the family name and guarantee the deceased brother (or his father) has a life and legacy after death. But if they allow the murderer to live, they have failed to carry out justice.

In this parable (and it is a parable, as you find out later in the chapter), the murderous brother is a stand-in for every one of us. It ushers us back to the second sin ever committed, when Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4); it reminds us of the sin Esau tried to carry out against his brother Jacob (Genesis 28); it calls to mind the attempted murder of Joseph by his jealous brothers (Genesis 37); and it represents you and me, who are guilty of sin and deserving of death, but nonetheless desperately need of salvation from our Redeemer.

So what was the king’s decree?

David declared that the guilty son would live—“not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground” (v. 10)—and if anyone disagreed, he would personally take care of it—“if anyone says anything to you, bring him to me” (v. 11). The wise widow prophetically responds, “God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him” (v. 14). She adds that in all this, “the king and his throne [will] be guiltless” (v. 9), and that the king is like the Messenger of Yahweh in that he brings comfort by “discerning good and evil” (v. 17) and “knows everything that is in the earth” (v. 20).

In short, the king promises that God will personally find a way for the murderous son (and his entire family) to be redeemed, without neglecting the just requirement of the Law. The guilty ones need not be expelled from Him.

And while this is an interesting story about David and a wise widow… what does this have to do with us? Well, there’s another interesting thing about this chapter. From the time David is introduced in 1 Samuel 16 until his death in 1 King 2, David is mentioned by name in every single chapter—41 chapters in all—except for a single outlier. 2 Samuel 14. For some reason, David is never mentioned by name in 2 Samuel 14. Instead, he is referred to as Adonai (meaning “Lord”) thirteen times and King an astounding forty times.

In a chapter that compares David to the Messenger of Yahweh (a title typically associated with the Messiah), where the King is said to be “guiltless” and to “know everything,” where the subject is the redemption of those “deserving of death,” and where we are told that God will devise a plan so that all of us sinful mortals are not expelled from His presence, we are told that every decree and judgment is coming from the throne of “Adonai the King.”

So… what is the LORD’s plan? How is justice executed if the guilty ones are redeemed and escape death?

Judgment is supposed to come upon those “deserving of death” (Deuteronomy 19:6). That phrase (mishpat mavet, “judged worthy of death”) is incredibly rare in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it surprisingly appears just a few chapters later, in Deuteronomy 21:

If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him from a tree… he who is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deut. 21:22-23)

Over a thousand years later, this verse was quoted by the Apostle Paul, in reference to Jesus Christ:

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13)

For us to be redeemed, someone had to be cursed. For all of us deserving of death to be made free, someone had to pay the price for our sin. And so Jesus our Adonai, the Messenger of Yahweh who knows all things, the King who sits upon the guiltless throne, devised a plan. Our Lord and King personally saw to it that we would outlive death. The Son of David guaranteed that we’d never be banished from His kingdom. Even if it meant taking our curse upon Himself, being hung from a tree and executed in our place.

Jesus Christ. Our Redeemer. Our Liberator. Our Avenger.

I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death (mavet). (Hosea 13:14)

O Adonai, You have pleaded the case for my soul;
You have redeemed my life. (Lamentations 3:58)

The Second Commandment: Jealousy and Mercy to Thousands

In our last blog, we covered the first twenty words of the 43-word commandment against idolatry. As previously discussed, God spent those twenty words recalling the creation of the heavens and the earth and all that are within them in His command against idolatry, reminding us that God—not man—is the Creator, and we are to live in His image and likeness rather than attempt to redefine Him in ours.

After teaching us not to worship or serve false gods, He spends the remainder of His words describing His own nature:

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations to those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands [of generations], to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5, 6)

The language in this commandment only appear a few times throughout the Bible:

  • The LORD, merciful and gracious, longsuffering…keeping mercy to 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.” (Exodus 34:7)
  • “…The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Numbers 14:18)

So, what is going on in these two parallel passages, and how can they shed light upon our understanding of the second commandment?

The first passage (Exodus 34) takes place during the giving of the second set of Commandment Tablets. Why was a second pair of tablets necessary? Because Moses broke the first set. And why did he break them? Out of anger over the forging of the golden calf. You know, a golden idol. That the Israelites were worshiping. At the exact time God was writing the commandment that His people must not worship idols.

It’s incredible that the Israelites were violating this commandment at the exact moment that God was giving this commandment. And yet God—who knew full well what His people were doing—reinforced His goodness and forgiveness in that commandment, almost as if to show them His mercy to their shortcomings. And then, as He re-gave this commandment, He repeated this passage about his mercy to those who would repent, return, and love.

(It’s worth noting that the golden calf was mainly a violation of the second commandment—idolatry—but not technically a violation of the first commandment—polygamy. At least, Aaron didn’t see it that way. As Aaron formed the false idol, he declared that it was YHWH, the god who delivered them from Egypt. Of course he was wrong and of course this was blasphemy and idolatry, but at its core, it was Aaron’s attempt to worship YHWH in the opposite way that YHWH had commanded. It’s no different than “tithing” to yourself instead of the local church or forsaking the assembling of the saints to “worship” God in your own way.)

So the first parallel story—the golden calf—makes a lot of sense. That calf was a violation of the second commandment that occurred while the second commandment was being written. But what about that second story? What was happening in Numbers 14?

In Numbers 14, the twelve spies have just returned from Canaan. As you’ll recall, the Israelites are 11 days from taking their Promised Land, and they send in twelve spies (one from every tribe) to search out the area and come back with intel.

They return with tales confirming that this land is all that God promised—a bountiful and luscious land flowing with milk and honey. But ten of the spies tell the people that it’ll be impossible for them to take it. The people are too tall and too strong and too numerous, and the Israelites have no hope of victory. Only two spies—Caleb the Judahite and Joshua the Ephraimite—encourage the people to obey God, reminding them that they “are well able to overcome” because “the LORD is with us.”

And what did the people do?

And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.” (Numbers 14:10)

So… the people sided with the evil report of the ten spies. What does that have to do with idolatry?

It may not seem obvious, but the actions of the children of Israel are no different than the actions of an idol-worshiper. At its core, idolatry is about rejecting what God has said in lieu of doing things your own way. It’s about exchanging the glory of God for the image of a false, man-made god. It’s about choosing the lie rather than the truth of God’s Word.

And that’s exactly what the children of Israel did. They thought they knew better than God. Sure, YHWH had said they would take the Promised Land. But He must not have known how tall and strong the Canaanites were. Or worse, God did know, and this whole “Promised Land” thing was simply a ploy to wipe them all out. Things were way better in the oppressive land of Egypt.

Today, you may not be tempted to whittle a bear out of basswood and worship it. But you’re probably tempted to trust in the work of your hands rather than the God who richly gives all things to enjoy. You may not bow the knee to Ba’al, but if the stock market starts to sway you might rethink how much you give in your tithe or how many hours you work on the Lord’s Day.

At the end of the day, we all have a choice to make: Will we live according to the Word and do things God’s way, or are there some areas of life (from loving our enemies to disciplining our children) where God’s Word is wrong?

Choose this day whom you will serve.

The Second Commandment: Images and Likenesses (TEN COMMANDMENTS)

The second of the Ten Commandments is a prohibition against idolatry, but for some reason God doesn’t just come out and say, “Thou shalt not commit idolatry.” He goes on for 43 words in Hebrew (for comparison, commandments 6, 7, and 8 are two Hebrew words each), spelling out many details about various kinds of idolatry and His own personal nature and so forth.

So, what is God trying to communicate through this commandment?

Let’s take a look at the opening section of the command:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them…” (Exodus 20:4, 5)

Does any of that language sound familiar? Is there an earlier story in scripture that uses many of these words? As it turns out, much of this language is recycled from the very first chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the beginning, God made (עָשָׂה, asa) the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the beasts of the earth, the cattle, the creeping things that creepeth, and Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:7, 16, 25, 26, 2:18). And when He made Adam and Eve, He made them in His own image, after His own likeness (Genesis 1:26). In that same chapter, we are told how God made the heavens (שָׁמַיִם, shamayim) and everything in them, the earth (אֶרֶץ, erets) and everything that grows upon it, and the waters (מַיִם, mayim) and everything that swims within them. Over and over again, God is using this commandment to remind us of that first chapter of creation.

But why?

The second commandment isn’t just a law about carving images out of stone or wood or clay. It’s about where we direct our service and worship, and how we direct that service and worship. Do we serve and worship ourselves as creators, do we serve the things we attempt to create for ourselves, or do we worship the One who formed us out of clay?

Thousands of years later, the apostle Paul calls back to this commandment in his letter to the Roman church:

For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made… they did not glorify Him as God… changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things… who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… exchanging the natural use for what is against nature.” (Romans 1:20-26)

Paul repeatedly uses this pattern of creation language to reinforce what happens to a man when he gives in to idolatry, when he trades in God for himself, when he exchanges truth for a lie. It doesn’t end with burning incense to a piece of wood. When you choose to reject the obvious reality of God in exchange for a god in your own image, your hearts become darkened and your thoughts become futile (the word for futile is used throughout the LXX in connection with idolatry). When you turn against the God who created nature, you begin to live and act against nature, denying the biological realities of the human race or the humanity of other people based upon the color of their skin. When you worship and serve the creature rather than the blessed Creator, you are given over to a debased mind, and descend into all unrighteousness.

Among the sins Paul lists that flow from idolatry are sexual immorality, covetousness, envy, murder, disobedient to parents, and untrustworthy (Romans 1:29-31). These include the second table of the Decalogue, as well as a host of other trespasses. And they all originate with idolatry, with the choice to reject YHWH and His ways and forge a way for yourself.

God created us in His image, not the other way around. We don’t get to say things like, “I know the Bible says this, but I don’t think God is really like that.” When we do that, we create a false god in our own image, exchanging what we know to be true for a convenient lie.

But if instead will reject the false god of ­­self and worship and serve for the Creator; if we will fulfill our calling to be Image-Bearers of the Most High God as we live out our days among the beasts of the earth and the fowl of the skies and the fish of the waters; if we will exchange our own corruption for the glory of the incorruptible God, we will position ourselves to be remade into the image of the righteous God, and continue our days in His likeness.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

Make Haste, O God!

Psalm 70 is a word-for-word copy of Psalm 40. Well, almost. Psalm 40 is a 17-verse prayer that God would “make haste” and deliver David. In the first twelve verses, David explains why God should make haste to deliver him, even expressing his patience in waiting for deliverance.

Psalm 70 completely skips those first twelve verses. Apparently this time around, David was in need of a much hastier deliverance and didn’t have time for explanation or patience. David also makes a few other “changes,” or rather, hasty omissions. He drops unnecessary words from verses 1, 2, and 3. He also drops letters from certain words in verses 4 through 7 which could afford to lose letters while still retaining their meaning (e.g., the five-letter “ezrati” in Psalm 40:17 becomes the four-letter “ezri” in Psalm 40:5, both of which mean “help”).

David’s petition for a hasty deliverance in Psalm 40 might seem presumptuous to some. If so, his petition for an even hastier deliverance in Psalm 70 would be downright offensive. But by preserving both versions in His Bible, God demonstrates that He’s okay with seemingly presumptuous prayers for immediate deliverance. God loves to come through in a pinch, to do what only God can do.

So if you need help, and you need it now, don’t be afraid to let God know.

Make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer. O LORD, do not delay!” (Psalm 70)

Checed & Emeth

In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his most trusted servant (possibly Eliezer) back to his homeland to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Eliezer is told to find a wife among Abraham’s people, but if he is unable to find a woman (or she refuses to marry Isaac), he will be released from his oath. Essentially, if this doesn’t work out, the line of Abraham might end. This is sort of a big deal.

As you would expect, Eliezer prays to the LORD for help, asking Him to show Abraham “checed” (faithfulness, goodness) and to lead him in “emeth” (truth) (Genesis 24:12, 14, 27, 48).

These two attributes of God appear throughout the Bible, very often together. Jacob prays to God for his checed and emeth (faithfulness and truth) when he returns home to face Esau (Genesis 32:10); David prays for God’s checed and emeth throughout the Psalms (Psalm 40:11); God even reveals Himself to Moses as “the LORD abounding in checed and emeth” (Exodus 34:6).

So Eliezer prays for God’s checed and emeth as he journeys to Nahor, hoping to successfully find Isaac a wife and secure the lineage of Abraham. Sure enough, God delivers. Just as Eliezer finishes praying, he is approached by Rebekah, who is the perfect answer to his prayer. He thanks the Lord, tells her his story, and meets her family.

But then something interesting happens. He asks once more for checed and emeth—but not from God. He asks for it from Rebekah and her family. He asks them to deal faithfully and truthfully with him, to give him a straight answer, to let him know if she would marry Isaac, fulfilling God’s plan for the family of Abraham.

In other words, the plan of God was accomplished by the joining together of God’s checed and emeth and Man’s checed and emeth. God is always faithful and true, and when we respond in faith and truth, God’s plans are realized.

“Let not checed and emeth forsake you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3-4)

The First Commandment (TEN COMMANDMENTS)

If a man brings accusation against another man, charging him with murder, but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.”

This is the first commandment… of the Code of Hammurabi. Other “first commandments” are similar: Sharia Law and the Laws of Eshnunna start by prohibiting theft; The Code of the Nesilim and the Code of Ur-Nammu begin with laws against murder; The Code of the Assura begins by outlawing women from “uttering vulgarity” and the Buddhist Edicts of Ashoka start by protecting animal life.

But the Bible’s Ten Commandments begin in a very different way. Before prohibitions on murder and theft and adultery, God tells us:

You shall have no other gods before Me.

Why does God place this commandment before all of the others? Why is this viewed as more foundational than the other laws? Surely murder is a more offensive crime than polytheism.

The reason this law comes first is that, without establishing this fundamental truth, none of the other laws are binding. Sure, YHWH says that you shall not murder. But Moloch is pleased with human sacrifice, so slaughtering your neighbor won’t be a huge deal if you choose to go with him instead. Jesus condemned sexual immorality. But Ba’al will be glorified when you participate in orgies in the temple, so go ahead and live it up.

If we accept a pantheon of gods and goddesses, there is always another authority who will permit whatever sinful behavior you want to partake in. Even today, when modern Americans aren’t tempted to make sacrifices to pagan statues, we still have a variety of “truths” that we can pick. How often is improper behavior tolerated and celebrated because “he/she/xe/they are just living its truth”? So long as we deny the existence of objective truth—and the existence of one objective Truth-Giver—the remaining nine commandments (and any other biblical, national, or moral law) are optional, subject to our whims.

But if we clear out the pantheon and make room only for one God—for the True God—we now have no other choice but to live for Him and obey His just laws. I can’t choose to go with Ashtoreth or Allah or Oprah or popular opinion instead. Those false gods have been banished, and only YHWH remains.

And if YHWH remains as the only God, then you have a responsibility to follow Him in all areas of your life. So often we adopt this attitude of “putting God first.” But if God is first, that implies that something other than God is second, third, fourth, or fifth. God might come first and be worshipped on Sundays, but career comes second and is worshipped come Monday.

What ends up happening is we create a “God” box and put it out in front, but then have a separate “Family” box and a separate “Work” box and a separate “Me” box, all partitioned away from that first box. God gets first priority on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights, but we keep Him in His box during staff meetings or when we’re out with friends.

But the truth of the First Commandment is that God doesn’t want to be first in our lives; He wants to be only. Every other box—work, friends, family, whatever else—needs to fit into that God box. We pursue our career through the lens of God’s Word. We raise our children to know God. We treat our spouse the way God has commanded us. Every part of our lives is governed by what God has spoken. No other god—Ba’al or Buddha or self—has control over any area of life.

During Jesus’ ministry, He was asked what the first commandment was (Mark 12:28). His answer?

“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30)

He was quoting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6), but implicitly commenting on the nature of the First Commandment, the commandment against all forms of polygamy. The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You don’t get a pantheon of preferential deities. There’s only one LORD allowed in your life. And you shall love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Every part of you, every fiber of your being, belongs to the One God. Don’t hold anything back from Him.

This is the first commandment.

Coats and Goats, Deception and Discernment

Jacob (the youngest son of Isaac), wore his brother’s coat, slaughtered a goat, and deceived his father concerning his identity to steal his brother’s blessing. When Isaac could not discern his identity, he asked Jacob directly who he was. Jacob lied to his father’s face.

A generation later, Jacob’s sons took Joseph (the youngest son of Jacob), stole his coat, slaughtered a goat, and deceived their father concerning the fate of their brother. The sons asked their father to discern what had happened, and then lied to their father’s face.

Some time later, Judah refuses to give Shelah, his youngest son, to marry Tamar. Tamar deceives Judah into an affair, and when he has no goat to pay her with, she takes his coat as a pledge. When she was found to be pregnant, Judah (not realizing she was his mistress) demanded that she be executed. Tamar then presented the coat, and asked Judah to discern who the father was.

All of the elements that had led to their family’s greatest sins were present: the goat, the coat, the deception of the youngest son, the request to discern. Tamar’s life was now in Judah’s hands. Would he deceive the court and have her killed, continuing the family’s legacy of betrayal? Or would he finally come clean and tell the truth?

“She has been more righteous than I,” Judah discerned in front of the crowd, judging himself guilty but justifying Tamar as innocent. Judah had finally broken the pattern. He had committed to the truth and admitted his sin.

This story is likely the reason Judah was chosen to carry the royal line of Israel. More than that, thousands of years later Jesus would be born from the descendants of Judah and Tamar’s affair.

It wasn’t Judah’s self-righteousness that brought the Savior into the world. It was Judah’s acknowledgement of his sin, his declaration of his own unrighteousness, that eventually led to the birth of the Messiah.

“I have not come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Luke 5)

The Almost Acrostic Psalm

Psalm 25 is an acrostic psalm, meaning each of the 22 verses begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (which has 22 letters). Well… it’s almost an acrostic psalm. Four verses break the pattern:

  • Verse 2 repeats aleph rather than use beth
  • Verses 5-6 skips over the vav
  • Verse 18 should begin with a shin, but it instead begins with a resh
  • Verse 22 begins with an extra pei

Given that this psalm is *almost* an acrostic, the author seems to be drawing our attention to the verses that break the pattern. So, what do those verses say?

  • Let not my enemies triumph over me
  • You are the God of my salvation
  • Forgive all my sins
  • Redeem Israel out of all their troubles

All of these verses are about salvation! And David (by the Holy Spirit) wants us to focus on God’s deliverance from our troubles and our enemies throughout this psalm.

But that’s not all. If you put the three missing letters together, they spell the word “hell.” And if you put the three extra letters together, they spell “healer.” In other words, while bringing our attention to God’s ever-present salvation, God has removed hell and replaced it with healing.

He truly is the God of our salvation.

“To You, O LORD, I lift my soul. O my God, I trust in You.” (Psalm 25)

Who Can Find a Virtuous Woman?

In Proverbs 31, Solomon famously asked, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” When you flip through the pages of the Scriptures, you’ll discover that only one Eshet Chayil—virtuous woman, woman of valor—is to be found: Ruth, the great-great-grandmother of Solomon.

There are many qualities we could try to attach to Ruth to figure out why she is lauded as a woman of valor. She was courageous, faithful, generous, and wise; she feared the LORD and raised her children and grandchildren to fear Him as well; she obeyed God, even when it was inconvenient, and found a way to bring God’s Word to pass in her family, even when the cards were stacked against her.

But Solomon didn’t ask, “What makes a woman virtuous?” He asked, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” And the answer, at least in this case, is Solomon’s great-great-grandfather: Boaz. Boaz found his virtuous woman, redeemed her, married her, and loved her.

And how does the Bible describe Boaz? At the very first mention of Boaz in the Scriptures, he is described as a “Ish Gibor Chayil”: a man of mighty valor, an incredibly virtuous man. Read through the story of Boaz and Ruth and you’ll find that he, too, was courageous, faithful, generous and wise. He, too, feared the LORD and taught His family to do so as well. And He obeyed God, even when it was inconvenient, and found a way to bring God’s Word to pass in his family.

So, who can find a woman of valor? The primary answer the Bible gives us is, “A man of mighty valor.”