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)
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)
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.”
While Rebekah was pregnant with twins, God appeared to her and said,
“Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body. One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
We often interpret this in light of what we know will eventually come to pass between the two brothers: Since we know the younger brother Jacob will end up with his older brother’s birthright and blessing, this heavenly declaration must be prophesying those events. “The older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob)” by forfeiting his inheritance. Thus, Esau is the loser of the prophecy because he serves, while Jacob is the winner because he is served.
I think this interpretation is wrong.
For one, this verse doesn’t actually say that “the *older* shall serve the younger.” The word “older” is the Hebrew word “rab,” which actually means “greater.” And of the 458 times it appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, it’s only translated “older” in this passage. In fact, if the author meant to say “older,” there’s another word he could have chosen. The word “gadol” means “older,” as we see in Genesis 27:1, where Isaac refers to Esau as his “beni ha-gadol”: “my older son.”
In my opinion, a better translation of the end of Genesis 25:23 would be, “…and the greater shall serve the lesser.” When read this way, the passage is ambiguous as to who is the “greater” and who is the “lesser.” So… who was the greater one?
At first, we might think that the greater one was Jacob. After all, he outsmarted his brother and ended up with the blessing, right? Well… it’s not actually so clear. It’s true that Jacob deceived his father and brother in order to receive his father’s blessing (Hebrew berakah). But twenty years later, when Jacob returned home to face his brother, he returns the berakah, saying, “Please, take my blessing” (Genesis 33:11).
Okay, so maybe Esau is the greater one. He is stronger than his brother, after all. Additionally, after he meets up with his brother after twenty years apart, he tells Jacob that he doesn’t need his brother’s gifts, for “I am great (rab) enough” (Genesis 33:8). Right there, Esau declares himself to be the great one. Case closed, problem solved.
Except… Esau isn’t the only brother who is called great. After living in exile for twenty years, the Bible calls Jacob “exceedingly great” (rab) (Genesis 30:43).
So, both brothers are called great (rab), both brothers were increased greatly, and the blessing changes hands several times and doesn’t really seem to play into this all that much. Which one is the “greater” one? That original prophecy tells us:
“The greater *shall serve* the lesser.”
The greater one is the one who serves.
And with that in mind, which of the two brothers served? During the twenty years that they were separated, we read eleven times that Jacob served (abad) his uncle Laban. This service to his uncle led directly to Jacob becoming great, both in terms of finances, family, and influence. And then when Jacob and Esau finally reunite, Jacob calls himself Esau’s servant (ebed) five times. Those twins spent years and years seeking greatness by trying to steal the inheritance from one another. But finally, Jacob began to seek greatness *through service*.
You find this dynamic live on through their descendants. Esau’s people became the Edomites, while Jacob’s people became the Israelites. After 400+ years in slavery, the Israelites asked permission to pass through the Edomite’s land. The Edomites chose not to serve, refusing them entry into their land (Numbers 20:21).
Despite this poor treatment, God wrote it into the Israelites’ legal code that the Edomites would always be welcome to join the congregation of Israel and worship the One True God beside them, “for he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:7, 8). The Israelites were commanded to serve their brother Edom.
So often we read Genesis 25:23 and assume that the one who “serves” is the one that gets the short end of the stick, but the opposite is true. The one who “serves” is the one who is considered “great.”
And this interpretation of greatness and service fits much better within the whole narrative of scripture. The very first usage of the word “service” in the Bible (abad) is found in the Garden of Eden, where Adam was given the important task of abading the garden—of serving it, of tilling it. Hundreds of years later, Moses demands that Pharaoh “let God’s people go,” that they may abad Him. After their salvation from Egypt, God gives the priests and Levites the important job of abading Him in the tabernacle. And throughout the prophets, the future Messiah is called the ebed of the LORD—the Servant of God. Service is what God’s people are called to, and serving God and others is what makes us great in the eyes of the LORD.
And thousands of years later, we see this play out between two opposing kings. King Herod was an appointed “king of the Jews.” He was rich, ruthless, and wanted to be served. He considered himself to be so great that he gave himself the title, “Herod the Great.” And did I mention that he also was an Idumaean—an Edomite, a descendant of Esau.
But there was another King of the Jews. This One came not to be served but to serve. This One became poor that we might be made rich. This One bore our sicknesses that we might be healed. This One who knew no sin became sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God. This One—an Israelite, a descendant of Jacob—was the True King, the Servant King, the Great King.
And this Great Servant King taught all who would listen how to achieve greatness as well, by echoing the words He had spoken to Rebekah thousands of years earlier:
“He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)
Love. It’s what God is. It’s what we’re supposed to walk in. And depending who you ask, it’s also a battlefield, an open door, and all you need. But… what is it? What is love?
Nowadays most people would say that love is being nice, or maybe tolerance or acceptance. Some dictionaries say it’s a feeling of attachment, or passionate affection.
And a mistake many Christians make is using today’s cultural understanding of love and applying that to scriptures about love, rather than getting our definition of love from the Bible and living that out in the world.
So, what does the Bible say about love?
A few things, actually. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, people would ask Him, “What is the great(est) commandment in the law?” and His answer was always the same:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all of your strength.” “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now these weren’t laws that He just made up on the spot. No, these laws were given thousands of years earlier, when God gave them to Moses on Mount Sinai. These are established laws from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Now notice the connection between love and God’s law. Jesus says that when you’re walking in love, you’re obeying laws that God has commanded. And this connection between walking in love and living according to the law continues throughout the Bible.
Writing to the Romans, Paul says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” You shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not lie, you shall not covet. Paul says these are all summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul is making the same connection between love and law. When you walk in love, you’re obeying God’s law. And conversely, when you disobey God’s law, you’re not walking in love.
James says the same thing, writing, “If you really fulfill the royal law according the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” To love is to fulfill—to obey—God’s law.
Even John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, says the exact same thing. In one of his letters, he writes, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.” In other letter, he says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Then he adds, “And His commandments are not burdensome,” as if to silence the objectors and say, “Guys, you can do this. You can walk in love.”
And finally, Jesus adds His agreement to James, John, and Paul. He tells His followers—He tells you and me—“If you love Me, keep My commandments,” and “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.”
Love isn’t some alternative to obeying God. Love is obeying God. Love is doing what God has said to do. To love someone is to treat them how God has commanded you to treat them. Love is obedience to God and to His Word.
And when you apply God’s standard of love to the world, you find that there are plenty of things that society says are loving that aren’t really all that loving.
Stealing something from one person and giving it to someone in need isn’t real love, because stealing is against God’s law.
Having sex with your girlfriend because you are in love isn’t real love, because sex outside of marriage is against God’s law.
Telling someone that their sin is okay because you don’t want to hurt their feelings isn’t real love, because lying is against God’s law.
If your supposed love is causing you to disobey God, then it’s not real love, because the most loving thing you can do in any given situation is to do exactly what God has said to do.
And real quick, I just want to point out that this isn’t a license to call people out like a tool. Ephesians 4 says our words should be used for godly edification and imparting grace, so if you’re not speaking words of grace, you’re not speaking in love.
So what is love, truly? It’s not what you see coming out of Hollywood. It’s not what you hear on the radio or what you read in Time Magazine or what you see trending on the internet. It’s what you find in the Holy Scriptures, revealed and commanded by the perfect and loving God.
Love is obedience to God’s Word. Love is keeping His commandments. Love is doing what God has said to do. And love is what God has called each and every one of us to do. So let’s get started.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
“Love.” I’d think we could all agree that “love” is a relatively important topic when it comes to God, right? But do you know where the word “love” first appears in the Bible? Yeah, didn’t think so.
It actually shows up for the first time in Genesis 22, when God says to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you LOVE, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…”
So Abraham and Isaac set out for a mountain in the land of Moriah to make this sacrifice. Abraham brings a knife and a fire, while Isaac carries the wood. It’s a three-day journey, and on the third day Isaac looks around and realizes that Abraham forgot to bring a lamb. Apparently Isaac doesn’t know what’s about to happen. So he asks his dad, “Hey, uh… where’s the lamb?”
And Abraham says to Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb, my son.” Now there’s two ways to read this: “God will provide the lamb, I say to you, my son.” Or, “God will provide the lamb, and the lamb is my son.” Frankly, either one fits, and both apply, so take it how you want.
Now we all know what happens next: Abraham binds Isaac on the altar—presumably with Isaac’s permission, as Abraham is well over a hundred years old and Isaac is probably around 20.
But before Abraham can lay a hand on the boy, God stops him and tells him, “Because you have not withheld your only son, in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham lifts his eyes and sees a ram caught in a bush, and sacrifices the ram instead of his son.
And all of this takes place on a mountain in Moriah. Now the first time I read this story when I was 17, that place stuck out to me. “Mount Moriah.” I had heard of it before. And then I realized: That was the same place… where Gandalf died in Lord of the Rings! He died while fighting the balrog on Mount Moria.
But that got me thinking: Does Mount Moriah show up anywhere else in scripture? And it turns out, it does. The Hebrew word “Moriah”—which means “chosen by Yahweh”— shows up in one other place.
In 2 Chronicles, we are told that “Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.” The temple, of course, was the center of the Jewish faith, and the place where all the sacrifices—including the twice-daily burnt offering—were to be made.
So you have this mountain—Mount Moriah—where Abraham was commanded to make a sacrifice, which resulted in a promise that all of the people of the earth would be blessed by a descendant of Abraham. And a thousand years later, that is the exact location where Solomon—a descendant of Abraham—builds God’s temple, where all of the sacrifices were made on behalf of the people.
That’s cool, right? But does Mount Moriah show up anywhere else? Well we don’t see the word “Moriah” again, but there is a hint in 2 Chronicles. We just read that Solomon “built the house of the LORD on Mount Moriah,” but there’s more to the verse.
“…Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David… on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” So David had been to Moriah too! But what exactly did David do there?
Looking back in 1 Chronicles, we read that David was “moved by satan” to lead the nation in what is described as an “repulsive” sin that brings “guilt upon Israel.” As a result, a plague falls upon the land, which threatens to destroy the people of Jerusalem.
We then read that David “lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem.”
And what does David do? He falls to his knees and declares, “Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.” David begs for the punishment to fall on him and his descendants, and for the people to be spared.
God then commands David to “erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” Where is Ornan’s threshing floor? On Mount Moriah, in the exact place where Solomon would build the temple a generation later. David buys the place from Ornan, builds an altar, and makes a sacrifice there. Then God answers him “from heaven by fire on the altar,” and the destroying angel “returned his sword to its sheath.”
So in the same place where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his descendant to bring blessings upon the earth, David asks God to forgive the people of the destruction they deserve and punish his descendant instead, and then David makes a sacrifice on the altar. The same place where, a generation later, all of the sacrifices will be made. All of these events take place on Mount Moriah.
So with all of this context in mind, I have a question for you: Where do you think Jesus was crucified? On Mount Moriah. On the same mountain where sacrifices were made for hundreds of years, where Solomon built his temple, where David stood in the gap, where Abraham took his son. All of these events took place in the exact same spot!
Think about all the meaning packed into that location. Abraham had journeyed three days to get to Moriah while his son carried wood on his back, where he declared that God would provide his Son—his only Son, his beloved Son—as a lamb for sacrifice, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed as a result.
Jesus—God’s beloved Son—is also called the Son of Abraham, the Lamb of God, and after He carried a wooden cross and was crucified on Mount Moriah and spent three days in the earth, His resurrection brought the blessing of Abraham upon all who would believe.
David stood on Mount Moriah—between heaven and earth—and implored God that the people should be spared from their justified destruction, and that the punishment for their sins should fall upon David and his descendant instead.
Jesus—the Son of David—was marched to the exact same location—between heaven and earth—and took our collective punishment upon Himself, that we might be spared our deserved wrath of God.
Solomon built the Temple on Mount Moriah, where his father had assuaged the wrath of God a generation earlier. Literally hundreds of thousands of sacrifices were made there, daily postponing the punishment for the sins of mankind.
And after a thousand years of sacrifices on that same spot, God finally provided His Lamb. The Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God—He carried a wooden cross up that mountain, where they nailed Him to it and raised Him up before heaven and earth. And with His last breath, He declared, “It is finished,” and gave up the spirit.
All that had happened on Mount Moriah before had been leading up to this exact moment. The promise made to Abraham, the forgiveness extended to David, the offering made by Solomon—it was finally finished. Fulfilled in the same place where it started. Through Christ, the seed of Abraham, all the nations of the earth would finally be blessed.
And all of this takes place in the very first place where we were introduced to biblical love.
I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. Like, God is so incredibly good in all of this. But stuff like this is so easy to miss. If you don’t pay attention to where these stories take place, you’ll miss all of this meaning and goodness.
I once heard it said, “Geography is theology.” The Bible is 1,189 chapters. God wouldn’t waste His words telling us where these things take place if they weren’t important. The geography of the Bible is there for a reason, and when we make an effort to understand not only what’s happening but where it’s happening, God can show us things we never knew were there.
So next time you’re reading the Bible and God goes out of His way to tell you where the action is happening, take a minute and look it up. You never know what you’ll find.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
We’ve all heard of the twelve disciples. You’ve got Peter, James, John, good Judas, bad Judas, and the other ones. These twelve men were commissioned by Jesus to go out into the world and preach the gospel to the nations.
But what you may not know is that those weren’t the only disciples. In Luke 10, we read that Jesus “appointed seventy others also,” telling them “the harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.” He commissions these seventy disciples to go out into the world, healing the sick and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and gives them all authority over the power of the enemy (Luke 10).
Now here’s my question: why seventy? Why not 52, or 153? Did there just happen to be seventy guys hanging out with Jesus that day, or is there something more significant about the number 70? A good starting place would be to see if the number 70 turns up anywhere else in scripture. And it turns out, it does.
In the book of Numbers, God says to Moses, “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel… and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them” (Numbers 11:16-17). Well that’s pretty similar to Jesus, who gave His 70 disciples power over the devil.
Any other 70s?
A bit further back, Jacob and his descendants move from Canaan to Egypt during a famine. In fact, we read that people from all over the world were coming to Egypt because of this famine. Why Egypt? Because Joseph, by the Spirit of God, foresaw this famine and prepared for it years in advance, basically rescuing the entire world in the process. And during all this, Jacob’s family relocates down to Egypt. And how many descendants did he bring? Seventy.
But are there any other 70s? Turns out there’s one more 70 even earlier than this, but it’s a bit hidden. Way back in Genesis, God commands Noah’s descendants to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Then there is a list of every nation founded in the generations after Noah. You remember. It’s called the Table of Nations. It’s the chapter you probably skip every time you read Genesis.
But what if, instead of skipping that chapter like a lazy bum, you instead read the whole thing? Or better yet, what if you counted all of the nations listed? How many do you think there’d be? Turns out, there are exactly sixty-eight. Just kidding. It’s seventy.
From the very beginning of human civilization, from the very beginning of scripture, the number “seventy” represented the nations of the world. Every single man, woman, and child on the planet today—every single person who has ever lived—descended from one of these seventy nations.
And with that in mind, reconsider the different scriptures we’ve looked at. Why did 70 of Jacob’s descendants relocate to Egypt? Because Egypt was where Jacob’s son Joseph was bringing salvation to the nations of the earth. Why did Moses appoint 70 elders? To forever cement in the minds of the Jewish people that central promise of their existence—”in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
Thousands of years later, when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek—the common language of the Roman Empire—so that everyone, not just the Jewish people could read it, it was called the Septuagint (meaning “the seventy”) and was translated by seventy scribes.
Heck, even the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council that persecuted Jesus and His disciples, had one president and 70 judges. They had clearly forgotten their mission—to bring the salvation of the Messiah to the nations—but it was right there in front of them the whole time: seventy!
Throughout Jewish history, the number 70 has always served as a reminder that God’s chosen people needed to have a heart, not just for themselves, but for all the peoples of the world, for the nations of the earth. So of course, when Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and bring salvation to the world, He appointed 70—a specific number with a specific meaning.
Jesus’s seventy followed in a long line of seventies: The seventy Sanhedrin judges called to be a light in a godless empire. The seventy translators who had brought the Word of God to the world. The seventy elders anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit. The seventy descendants who saved the world from famine and death. The seventy nations sent to fulfill God’s original commission: be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.
And you, too, follow in this great tradition, for you too have been anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit, you too have been sent to proclaim the gospel of God’s kingdom, you too have been commissioned to bring salvation to the world.
Seventy wasn’t an accident. Jesus was very deliberate with that choice. So maybe you should be deliberate with your choices as well. Seventy nations worth of people are counting on it.
Have a great day, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
 52 is the number of days it took for Nehemiah to rebuild the temple wall. 153 is the number of fish Peter caught.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” You’ve all probably heard this verse before. Or maybe you haven’t. I don’t know you. But assuming you have, what does it mean?
A lot of people think this verse means that when we’re upset, we just need to choose to be happy instead. You know, fake it til you make it. Don’t not be happy, just be happy. Simple enough, right? Except… that doesn’t really involve God all that much. I mean, it’s the joy of “the Lord.” The Lord sorta needs to be involved, right?
No, to understand what this actually means, we need to look at this verse in context. So quick history, the people of God have been in slavery in Babylon for seventy years. Then over the next 70 years, they slowly begin to return to Jerusalem. They manage to rebuild the temple and the walls around Jerusalem, but they’re still not living right. They don’t know what the Bible says, they don’t know who God is, so on Rosh Hashanah in 445 BC, Ezra and Nehemiah gather all the people to the city square to have church. Men, women, and children all gather together, and for six hours Ezra just stands there and reads the Bible to them.
Now imagine what these Judeans must’ve experienced in that moment. It’s been years and years since you’ve heard the Word of God. You’re probably an idol-worshipper, married to an idol-worshipper, and raising idol-worshipping children. You have no idea who God is. And then in one day, you discover that you’ve been living wrong your whole life. The Creator of the Universe, the one true God, wants to know you, but you’ve been completely ignoring Him and doing your own thing. Your life is not what it’s supposed to be.
What would be your response? I don’t know about you, but these guys just start weeping in the streets. In a moment they come to the realization that everything they’ve believed is wrong, that everything they’ve been doing is wrong, that they’ve wasted their entire lives.
So there just sobbing and weeping all through the city, and that’s when Ezra stands up and says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” But what else does Ezra do? He sends his disciples and the priests throughout the crowd, to help the people understand God’s Word. They clearly explain the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. They basically started small Bible studies with everyone in town, so that they would all be able to understand God’s Word.
And that’s not all. They also started a specific Bible study with the fathers of every household. These men met with Ezra and received the same teaching the priests and Levites received. It was basically a men’s ministry, but all the men were getting ministry-level teaching. That way, they could lead their families to understand God’s Word.
And what was the result of all of these Bible studies? The people “rejoiced greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” What was the source of their joy? Understanding God’s Word!
But there’s more. During their study, they discovered that they hadn’t kept the Feast of Tabernacles properly in almost a thousand years. So they began to act upon God’s Word as they read it. They kept the feast. They weren’t just hearers of God’s Word, but doers also. And what was the result? “They very greatly rejoiced.”
Notice the progression. As they understood God’s Word more and more, as they began to put it into practice, they went from joy to great joy to very great joy. And what was the source of their joy? God’s Word!
Now I want to point something else out here. Whose joy are we talking about? The joy of the… Lord. It’s God’s joy. That means two things: 1) God rejoices when you understand and do His Word; and 2) God is joyful! Think about it. So often, we think of God as being stern and serious, and kind of emo (Do people still say emo?). But we just read that God has so much joy that it can literally give us strength.
Think about Jesus. He was the kind of person that was constantly being invited to parties. You don’t typically invite the weird quiet guy to your party. And kids always wanted to play with Him. Kids don’t like to play with stern grown-ups. Who do they like to play with? Fun people. Joyful people. Dare I say, silly people! That’s the kind of person Jesus was. If you pay attention when reading the gospels, you’ll discover that Jesus is actually pretty funny.
Speaking of Jesus, He teaches the exact same thing we just read in Nehemiah. We just saw that the source of their joy was knowing and doing God’s Word. And during the last supper, Jesus says to His disciples, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in my love.” Then He adds, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” When we know God’s words and when we keep God’s words, we are filled with God’s joy. And that joy—His joy—is our strength.
So when we say, “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” what we’re really saying is that God’s Word is the source of our strength, that God’s Word is the source of our joy. We should find strength and joy in the Holy Scriptures. And the more we understand God’s Word, the stronger we’ll be. The more we act upon God’s Word, the more joyful we’ll be.
So do not sorrow, do not weep. Go to church. Study the Bible. Be a doer of the Word. For the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
You’re probably familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. These three Hebrew men are brought before the king of Babylon and commanded to worship a giant, golden idol. “Bow down and worship,” they are told, “or you will be thrown into the fiery furnace.” The men courageously respond, “Even if God does not deliver us, we still won’t bow down to the idol.”
It’s a great example of someone not knowing whether God would deliver them, and still fearlessly accepting the possibility of death. Except… that’s not actually what happened. Let’s take another look at the text.
The scripture in question is from Daniel 3. The king orders the three men to worship the golden image or be thrown in the fire. And in verse 16, we read that, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.’”
So the question is, what does “if not” refer to?
Well, grammatically, it would be the “if” statement the men made in the previous sentence. They’re saying, “If that is the case, God will deliver us; but if that is NOT the case, we will not bow down.” So, what is “the case”?
We have to go back another verse, to Nebuchadnezzar’s threat. It turns out, the king had made an if/if-not statement of his own. In verse 15, he told them, “If you fall down and worship the golden image, we’re good. But if not, you’ll be cast into the fire.” Then the three men respond by saying, “If that is the case—if you throw us in the fire—God is able and willing to deliver us. But if not—if you don’t throw us in—we still won’t worship.”
These men weren’t expressing uncertainty to God’s willingness to deliver them. No, they were expressing indifference to the king’s threat. If he threw them in, God would deliver. If he didn’t throw them in, they still wouldn’t worship the idol. The king didn’t have any power over them—which is exactly what we read in verse 27: “The king’s counselors saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power.” There was nothing that the king could do to turn these men, because they were under the protection of God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would deliver them from danger.
And if you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense to read this as uncertainty about God’s willingness to save. For one, the three Hebrew men had just declared that God was both willing and able to save them in the previous verse: “Our God is able to deliver us… and He will deliver us from your hand.” They literally just said that God WOULD deliver them. It doesn’t make sense for them to immediately backtrack and say, “But actually, maybe He won’t.” No, they knew He would deliver, which is why they “had no need to answer you in this matter.” It was a done deal for them. God was both able and willing to save.
And that’s what we’re talking about, right? God’s ability to save vs. God’s willingness to save. I’d imagine that every Christian watching this video knows that God is able to save. The question is, Is He willing? That was Nebuchadnezzar’s question, too. He tells them, “If you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who WILL deliver you from my hands?” The king is asking the same question: Is God willing?
So with that in mind, it doesn’t make any sense for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to then say, “Well… our God is able to save us, but who knows if He’s willing?” No, they confidently declare, “Who is the God who WILL deliver? The God we serve is the God who WILL deliver.”
This is the God who promised in Psalm 50, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I WILL deliver you,” the God who declared in Psalm 91, “I will be with him in trouble, and I WILL deliver him and honor him,” the God who delivered David from Goliath, the God who delivered Hezekiah from Sennacherib, the God who would very soon deliver Daniel from King Darius.
Deliverance is what He does, victory is in His DNA, Salvation is His name. Literally. Jesus in Hebrew is the word Yeshua, which literally means “salvation.” Of course God is willing to save those who call upon His name. Of course He showed up in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Of course the fire and the smoke and the heat and the threats had no power over them. They knew who their God was, and they put their faith entirely in Him.
And that’s exactly what we read in the only New Testament recounting of this story. Hebrews 11 is sometimes called “The Hall of Faith.” It’s all about people who received from God because they placed their faith in Him, because they had unwavering confidence in Him. We read that Noah was saved from the flood by faith, that Moses and the Israelites were saved from Egypt by faith, that Joshua took the Promised Land by faith. We’re told that Gideon and Samson and David were all delivered by faith. The list of men and women who were supernaturally delivered by faith goes on and on and on. Then the list ends with those who “stopped the mouths of lions and quenched the violence of fire.”
Who’s that talking about? Daniel, and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. They were supernaturally delivered from lions and furnaces and kings and death. Why? Because of their faith. Because they were confident in the things not seen. Because they knew who their God was, and knew without a doubt that He was both able and willing to deliver them from whatever threat would come their way.
And we, too, serve that same God, so we should have the same confidence in His ability and willingness to save. Those same promises of deliverance belong to you. So don’t question His willingness to deliver. Don’t doubt it, even for a second. Stand firm in your faith, just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did. The devil has no power over you.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
Jeremiah 29:11. Any youth pastor worth his salt has this verse tattooed in at least three places on his body. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans of peace and not of evil, to give you a hope and a future.”
From this, we can deduce that God has some grand plan for your life way off in the future, and you are singlehandedly responsible for figuring out what that is and making sure it comes to pass.
Except… that’s not what it means.
To figure out what Jeremiah meant and what that means for you and God’s great plan for your life, we first need to look at the context of Jeremiah 29:11. This was written in 597 BC, right after Babylon had invaded the southern kingdom of Judah for the second time and taken thousands of Judeans back to Babylon in chains. While in captivity, these Jews believed that God would very soon deliver them from bondage. They were God’s people, after all, so in spite of the fact that the nation had all but turned its back on God, they were confident that God would rescue them.
Enter Jeremiah. He writes a letter from Jerusalem to the captives in Babylon and says, “Yes, God will bring you home… in seventy years.” In the meantime, he tells them, you should build houses in Babylon and plant gardens there. You should get married, have a whole bunch of kids, raise those kids, and let them get married, because you’re gonna be in Babylon for a long time. He tells them to seek the peace of the city and pray for it, “for in its peace you shall have peace.”
In other words, he tells them to become godly citizens in the middle of the ungodly world they have found themselves in. This, God says, is the plan of peace I have for you, the plan that will give you a future and a hope.
Now with all that context in mind, let’s see what else the Bible has to say about God’s will for your life. Luckily for us, Peter and Paul tell us exactly what God’s will is.
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says, “This is the will of God: your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). Then he adds, “that you should abstain from sexual immorality,” and all the teenagers in Thessalonica groaned. You were hoping God’s will was for you to get a new car, and instead it’s no premarital sex or looking at porn.
That’s a part of it, and yet it’s so much more. God calls us to live a sanctified—or holy—life. This is the same word used to describe the holiness of God, the same word used when God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 20:7). In other words, our lives are supposed to reflect the holiness of Jesus.
Paul then tells us to increase the Church by our love (1 Thess. 4:9-10), that we may “lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11) and “walk properly towards those who are outside” (1 Thess. 4:12). A chapter later, Paul adds that we should “always pursue what is good,” not only for ourselves, but “for all,” and that we should constantly be rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:12-18).
In other words, the exact same thing Jeremiah told the Babylonian captives. Be a godly citizen in the middle of an ungodly world, praying for your city and seeking the good.
Peter addresses his first epistle to the Christian exiles living in an ungodly world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11), and—just as Paul did—tells them to abstain from fleshly lusts. Apparently, sexual immorality was a big issue in the first century. Thank God we’re not still struggling with this, right?
He then tells these Christians to have “your conduct honorable among the nations,” that they may “glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12). He tells them to honor all people, to walk in love, to fear God, and to submit to the king—or the government. Why? “For this is the will of God” (1 Peter 2:15).
Again, this is exactly what Jeremiah and Paul said. Live a sanctified and honorable life among the nations, for God’s will is that you would be a godly citizen in the middle of an ungodly world. They are all saying the same thing.
But… why? Why is this God’s will? Why does He want us to live sanctified and godly lives? Well, there’s a reference we mentioned before that you may have picked up on. Paul told the Thessalonians that when they walked in love toward others, they’d be able to “lead a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11). That’s the same phrase Paul wrote to Timothy, where he also addressed the subject of God’s will.
He told Timothy to pray and give thanks for all men—just like he wrote to the Thessalonians—and specifically to pray for kings and the governing officials—just like Jeremiah and Peter said—that we may lead quiet, peaceful, and godly lives. And then he tells us why: because God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
Everything we’ve talked about is ultimately about one thing: bringing people into God’s family and teaching them the truth of God’s Word. That’s God’s will. That’s God’s plan for your life. To increase His Kingdom and His glory. Peter said our godly lives would cause the nations to glorify God. Paul said our love would cause the Church to abound more and more. Jeremiah said God’s plan was for His people to be increased.
And that Hebrew word for “increase” is the same word that God used in His commands all the way back in Genesis, the same word He used when talking to Jacob, to Isaac, to Abraham, to Noah, and to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful, and MULTIPLY.”
God’s will has always been the same, from the very first words He ever spoke to mankind: multiply God’s Kingdom. Increase God’s Church. Expand God’s family. That is God’s plan for your life.
When you live honorably in the midst of an immoral society, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. When you don’t look at porn or have sex outside of marriage, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. When you pray for your president and for your governor and for your mayor and for your neighbors, you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life. Because when God’s people live godly lives in the middle of an ungodly world, it will ultimately draw people into God’s family.
Now I can hear you asking, “But does God have a specific plan for my life, like to be an astronaut or a dentist?” Yes He does, but honestly, if you’re not living a sanctified life, it doesn’t really matter if you go to dental school or walk on the moon, because God isn’t getting the glory. No matter how successful you become, it won’t be God’s will because God’s kingdom won’t be increased.
So instead of focusing your attention on what God may want you to do in twenty years, focus on what God wants you to do today. Because really, God doesn’t have one plan for your life; He has hundreds of plans for your every day. Focus on what God wants you to do right now. Live a sanctified life right now. Obey God’s Word right now. Be led by the Spirit right now. And keep doing that all day long.
Do the same thing tomorrow, and the day after that. Keep following God. Keep living right. Every day, every week, every month, every year. And if you walk in God’s plans every day, in twenty years you’ll be in dental school, or on the moon. You’ll be exactly where you’re supposed to be. You’ll be expanding His kingdom and increasing His glory. You’ll be living out God’s plan for your life.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.