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 was the result of the rebellion they had 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 meaningDuties 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 and 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 bear 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, for—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 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 Kings 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)

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)

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.”

Mount Moriah (Church Basement)

“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.

Why the Joy of the Lord is your Strength (Church Basement)

“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.

If Not (Church Basement)

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.