In Mark 12, shortly after teaching on marriage and the importance of loving God with your whole life, Jesus observes a poor widow giving an offering to the treasury. He comments, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, *her whole livelihood*” (vv. 43, 44).
That phrase “her whole livelihood” is lifted from two passages in the Hebrew Scriptures—both authored by Solomon, the wealthiest Israelite.
“The heart of her husband trusts in her… for she employs *all her living* for her husband’s good” (Proverbs 31:11, 12).
“Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love *all the substance* of his house, it would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:7).
Solomon had all the money in the world; but his heart was in the wrong place, so ultimately he had nothing. The poor widow had nothing; but her heart was in the right place, so ultimately she had everything. She was effectively Solomon’s (and Jesus’) perfect woman: someone who, out of overwhelming love, gives everything she has to the bridegroom.
“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)
The night Jesus was betrayed, Judas led a band of men to the Mount of Olives to arrest Jesus. As the Son of Man was surrounded by soldiers, priests, and Pharisees, Peter charged the captors and struck the high priest’s servant in the head with his sword.
Despite what you’ve seen in movies, Jesus and His disciples weren’t surrounded by a small group of religious men. John’s gospel tells us Judas brought “a detachment of troops.” A detachment, for those not familiar with the Roman military, was one-tenth of a legion—a legion being five thousand men. In other words, Jesus was waylaid by about 500 trained Roman soldiers—as well as a group of priests and Pharisees.
So… you have 500 armed soldiers from the world’s most power army on one side… and eleven day laborers with two swords who just woke up from a nap. What was Peter thinking?
To make sense of this, you need to understand the prophecies of Zechariah. In the final chapter of his book, Zechariah foretold of a day when God’s people would be surrounded by enemy nations bent on destroying the Jews (Zechariah 14:2). On that day, the LORD Himself would go forth against the nations to fight on behalf of His people. And His attack would start when the Messiah stood on the Mount of Olives (v. 4).
As the Messiah stood upon the Mount of Olives, surrounded by enemy nations, a great earthquake (seismos)—greater than the earthquake in the days of Uzziah—would strike, splitting (schizo) the mountain in two. Uzziah’s earthquake, of course, had occurred when the priests tried to stop the king from making a sacrifice in the temple, causing the roof of the temple to split in two (2 Chronicles 26, Antiquities IX, 10.4). Then the LORD would enter Jerusalem with the saints (hagios) (v. 5).
Next, the lights would be diminished in the middle of the day and living water (hydor) would flow from Jerusalem. Then the faces of God’s enemies would melt (think Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the LORD would be declared King over all the earth (v. 9, 12).
This prophecy may seem obscure to you, but to a persecuted first-century Jew living under Roman occupation, this would have been well-known and oft-discussed. Now consider what the disciples would have thought. They have been traveling with the Messiah, the true King of the Jews, for over three years. Jesus has been constantly talking about finishing His work, and then they head to Jerusalem during the Passover. No wonder His disciples offered to call down fire on those pagan Samaritans a few days earlier (Luke 9:54). This was the end! The time for all of their enemies to be destroyed.
Every night that week they retired to the Mount of Olives. And every night the disciples waited for Jesus to begin His holy war on God’s enemies. And finally, after days and weeks and years and centuries of waiting, five hundred Roman soldiers and a pod of imposter priests launched their attack. On the Mount of Olives, of all places. And Jesus stood to His feet.
Now was the time.
Peter charged, expecting Jesus to begin shooting lasers out of His eyes and melting all these evil men in their armor.
But Jesus’ attack never came. Instead, He reprimanded Peter and surrendered to the troops, to be taken away, tortured, and murdered on a cross.
Where was the victory of the Messiah? Where was the earthquake? The splitting of the mountain? The darkness and the flowing water and the saints? Where was the King over all the earth?
Maybe the disciples were wrong about Jesus. Maybe He wasn’t their Messiah.
But as He hung on the cross, darkness swept across the land. At noon. In the middle of the day (Matthew 27:45). Then as He took His last breath, the earth quaked (seismos), splitting the rocks apart (schizo) and tearing (schizo) the veil of the temple from top to bottom (Matthew 27:50-51).
After He died, Jesus was pierced by a soldier, and living water (hydor) flowed from His side (John 19:34). Then the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints (hagios) were raised and entered the holy city (Matthew 27:52-53).
Peter and the disciples were expecting the Messiah to attack their enemies as He stood upon the Mount of Olives. And they were right. They just expected it to happen the wrong way. They expected Jesus to wipe out all the Romans. But the Romans weren’t their true enemy. The real enemy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Just as Zechariah had prophesied, the rocks were split in two. The priests tried to stop the King, but instead the veil was torn apart. The lights were diminished. The living water flowed. The saints entered Jerusalem. Death was defeated. And Jesus became the King over all the earth.
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? …Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)
As Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem the week before His death, He told His disciples to bring Him a donkey and a colt to ride upon. And as He entered the Holy City, the people cried out “Hosanna!” and called Jesus “the Son of David.” What was it about those donkeys that caused the crowds to identify Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah who had come to deliver them from their Roman occupiers?
Matthew tells us that Jesus made this request “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, …’Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:4, 5)
That seems pretty straightforward. Some prophet said something about a colt and a donkey, so Jesus rode those animals to satisfy this prophecy. But there’s more to the story.
The prophet in question is Zechariah, who proclaimed these words in the winter of 518 BC, two years and two months before the second temple was completed. This donkey prophecy comes shortly after God rebukes the nations of Tyre and Sidon, and soon after Zechariah adds that “He shall speak peace to the nations,” “set your prisoners free from the waterless pit,” and “restore double to you” (vv. 11-12).
To fully understand what these prophecies meant—and how they were understood by first-century Jews—we need to consider if these phrases appear anywhere else in scripture. And it turns out, they all show up in only two places in scripture.
Joseph in Egypt
All the way back in Genesis, we are introduced to Joseph, the eleventh and favored son of Jacob. Joseph has received prophetic dreams that he will reign and have dominion over his brothers. His brothers’ response?
“They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Genesis 37:4)
Some time later, Joseph’s brothers find him out in the desert and decide to throw him into a waterless pit (Genesis 37:24)—a phrase that only appears in scripture here, in Zechariah 9, and one other place. Shortly thereafter, Joseph is taken as a slave to Egypt.
After spending years in slavery and prison, Joseph is eventually freed, becomes a leader in Egypt, and is given the Egyptian title, “Savior of the World” (Genesis 41). His brothers eventually travel to Egypt in search of food and, when framed for stealing, attempt to restore double to Joseph (Genesis 43:12).
Jeremiah in Egypt
Other than Joseph, Jeremiah is in the only other person in scripture who spends time in a waterless pit:
“They took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon (Hebrew bor, same word translated “pit” in Genesis 37 and Zechariah 9) of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon (bor) there was no water, but mire.” (Jeremiah 38:6)
After being thrown in the pit by his countrymen, Jeremiah is forced into exile in Egypt, where he lives out the rest of his life.
And Jeremiah also used the other two phrases as well. In Jeremiah 16, God declares that He “will repay double for their iniquity and sin” (v. 18); and in Jeremiah 23, God criticizes the false prophets who have falsely claimed that the LORD has spoken peace (v. 17). Once again, all three phrases that appeared in Zechariah 9 and the story of Joseph also appear in Jeremiah.
But maybe you’re not as impressed with the supposed pattern of Jeremiah. His book is 52 chapters long, after all. Is it really a pattern to find three sentences in chapters 16, 23, and 38 of a book? Is there anything else that ties them together?
And as it turns out, there is. Chapters 16 and 23 both contain a matching prophecy, a prophecy not found anywhere else in Jeremiah:
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but, “As the LORD lives who brought up and led the seed of the house of Israel from the north country and from all the countries where I had driven them.”’” (Jeremiah 16:14-15, 23:7-8)
Just as these prophetic utterances in the story of Joseph all revolved around exile and delivery from Egypt, so too do these prophetic utterances in the story of Jeremiah all revolve around exile and delivery in Egypt. To the average Jewish reader, the words of Zechariah 9 would call them back to the story of Joseph in Egypt, and to the astute Jewish reader they would call to mind Jeremiah’s words concerning Egypt.
But what did those words mean, and how were they fulfilled as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey?
You and Me in Egypt
Joseph and Jeremiah weren’t the only ones who ended up exiled in Egypt. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers—jealous that Joseph was their prophesied ruler—and a few years later his brothers had relocated to Egypt as well, where they ended up spending 400 years in slavery. Jeremiah was also forcefully taken to Egypt by his countrymen—led by a military rebel angry with Jeremiah’s prophecy—and soon after his Jewish captors were exiled in Egypt as well. The captors of Joseph and Jeremiah ended up suffering the same fate.
And just over 500 years after Zechariah’s prophecy, the true King of the Jews was also forced into exile in Egypt by His own people—an imposter king and his Jewish advisers who were troubled by the prophetic fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah.
But this wasn’t the only exile Jesus faced. Before heading for Jerusalem (in a chapter filled with references to the Book of Exodus), Moses and Elijah (two prophets associated with Mount Sinai) visited Jesus and “spoke of his ἔξοδον which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). They spoke of His exodus. They spoke of His exile. They spoke of His prison sentence in a waterless pit.
And who were His brethren who sold Him out? Who were the ones responsible for His spiritual exile into Egypt?
You and me.
We are the ones who threw him in the pit. We are the ones who despised the prophesied King and Messiah. We are the ones who wouldn’t speak peace to the Prince of Peace.
And yet, just as Joseph rose out of the pit and became the savior of the world, so too did Jesus rise from the pit and become the Savior of the World. On the anniversary of the deliverance of God’s people from geographical Egypt, Jesus the Messiah delivered us from spiritual Egypt—in a magnificent way that overshadowed the deliverance through the Red Sea, just as Jeremiah predicted.
When the crowds saw Jesus riding upon that donkey, they didn’t just see a fulfillment of Zechariah 9; they saw freedom from slavery. They saw a return from exile. The saw the crossing of a bigger Red Sea. It’s no wonder they cried out “Hosanna”: “Save now, I pray, O LORD!” (Psalm 118:25).
And rather than having our sins repaid to us double what we had committed, instead we are restored double (Zechariah 9:12). Instead of being unable to speak peace and fearing revenge, He Himself has become our peace, He who came and preached peace to His own kin and to the nations (Ephesians 2:14-17).
So this week, as we prepare to celebrate the Passover of our Lamb…
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of “lost” parables to an audience consisting of sinners/tax collectors and Pharisees/scribes. First comes the parable of the lost sheep, where a man loses a sheep out in the wilderness and rejoices when it is found. Next comes the parable of the lost coin, where a woman loses a coin in her home and rejoices when it is found.
Then we come to a parable about a man with two sons. The younger son wants his inheritance, so the father divides up his assets, giving one-third to the younger son and two-thirds to the older son. The younger son takes off and squanders his inheritance with riotous living. When an unexpected famine strikes, the younger son becomes destitute and shamefully returns home, offering to become his father’s servant because he is not worthy of his father’s love. However, in a completely unexpected turn of events, the father runs out to meet him, falls on his neck, and kisses him. The father then throws a party for his returned son, for “he was lost and now is found.”
We all know this story. A man with a lost son out in the wilderness, who rejoices when he is found. What we often overlook is the end of the story, which focuses on the other lost son—the lost son who never left home.
The older brother is working in the field when his younger brother returns home. Instead of rejoicing with his father at the return of his brother, he throws a giant fit. He refuses to celebrate. He refuses to even call him his brother. And he thinks the worst of his brother, exclaiming without evidence that his brother had wasted the money on whores.
With all this in mind, let’s consider what a first century Jew would’ve thought when hearing this parable. Consider a few elements from the tale: a father with two sons, brothers squabbling over an inheritance, the younger brother leaving town with his blessing, the older brother working out in the field.
In the mind of a Jewish listener, this story would immediately call to mind the story of Esau and Jacob. The younger Jacob stole his older brother Esau’s inheritance while Esau was out working in the field, and then left town. In fact, there are many parallels throughout these two stories:
Isaac has two sons
Father has two sons
Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance
Younger brother receives his inheritance
Jacob goes to Padan Aram
Younger brother goes to a far country
There is a famine after Jacob tricks Esau
There is a famine after younger brother leaves
Jacob meets Esau and offers to be his servant
Younger brother offers to be his father’s servant
Jacob tells God “I’m not worthy of your mercies”
Younger brother tells father “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”
Esau runs, falls on neck, and kisses Jacob
Father runs, falls on neck, and kisses younger brother
Jacob had stolen inheritance while Esau was in the field
Younger brother returns home while older brother is in the field
Any person familiar with the biblical text would notice the similarities between the two narratives. But they also would notice a few key differences:
For one, the younger brother in the parable didn’t steal his brother’s inheritance; rather he prematurely requested his own inheritance. Notice that when the younger brother received his one-third inheritance, the older brother also received his two-thirds inheritance (Luke 15:12). The younger brother didn’t actually steal anything from his older brother.
Also, notice that in the Esau-Jacob narrative, it is Esau who lovingly welcomes home his brother. He is no longer bitter; instead he is happy to receive his brother home, and doesn’t require any of the gifts Jacob had sent to appease him. Compare that to the lost older brother, who—despite having twice as much as his sibling—refuses to welcome him home.
The message to Jesus’ first century audience was clear: Those who behave like the older brother are worse than Esau. Those lost coins who have remained in their master’s home but are still nevertheless lost, those Pharisees/scribes who rejected the lost sheep rather than welcomed them—they are like those who despised their birthright, who rejected their inheritance, who turned their backs on their God and Father.
In fact, the behavior of the older brother might call to mind another older brother: Cain, who led his younger sibling out into a field where he murdered him, then disinherited him (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”).
At the time Jesus spoke these words, a man named Herod was reigning as the King of the Jews. And yet, he wasn’t Jewish. He was Idumean—an Edomite, a descendant of Esau—appointed by the oppressive Roman Empire to rule over the Jews. To the Jews, Herod was Esau-Incarnate—an imposter king who had despised the inheritance of the Jews and yet wanted to wield it over the Jews. And according to Jesus, the religious elite were just as bad as he was. And by the end of the gospels, those same religious leaders would be working with this imposter king to rid their nation of the true King of the Jews, the Heir of Jacob and the Finder of Sheep and Coins and Sons.
The resounding message, to those who heard this in the first century and those of us who read it in the twenty-first century, is clear. Those of us in the LORD’s house should partner with our Father to find the lost sheep without and the lost coins within. We should rejoice when the lost sheep are found. We should rejoice when the lost coins are found. And if our hearts want to throw a fit while the angels are throwing a party, we may not be as found as we think.
“It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
Special thanks to the lectures of Peter J. Williams, whose series “The Genius of Jesus’ Teachings” brought to light many of these parallels. If you appreciated this article, you should definitely watch his teachings on this parable.
Our family started reading the Book of Esther today. The story begins with the King of Persia ordering his wife to come entertain his drunk buddies and her refusing. The king’s wisest counselors fear that other wives will disobey their husbands’ demands if the queen isn’t dealt with, so she is banished. The chapter ends with the king issuing a royal decree: “Each man shall be head in his own house.”
Here’s the thing: The king was right… sort of. Every man should be the head of his household. Wives should honor and follow their husbands. The king and his counselors were right. But they wanted to wield this role selfishly, rather than selflessly.
The man isn’t called to lead so he can have whatever he wants. He’s called to lead so he can serve and protect his household. The man leads by discipling his family, as Moses said (Deut. 6). The man leads by loving and sacrificing, as Paul said (Eph. 5). The man leads by serving, as Jesus said (Matt. 20).
The king and his counselors wanted the benefits of their position, but they didn’t want the responsibilities. They wanted to be leaders, but they didn’t want to lead.
It’s noteworthy that in the second chapter of Esther, we are introduced to a man—Mordecai—who spends the entire book serving and protecting others. And by the end of the book, the king’s wise counselors are replaced by this Mordecai, as the book concludes:
“Mordecai the Jew was second to the king… seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen.”
If you want to be “head of your own house,” follow Mordecai’s example. “Seek the good of your people.”
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 holyand 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.
Duties of Kohathites
Numbers 16:24, 27
Numbers 4:4, 12, 15, 19, 20
Numbers 16:3, 5, 7
Numbers 4:5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15
Numbers 16:30, 32, 34
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.
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)
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)
“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.
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)