Haggai’s second prophetic word just so happened to be given on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Was this just a coincidence, or was God using this festival to show Haggai—and us—something important?
In the last video, we covered quite a bit about what the Feast of Tabernacles is. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to go check it out. And while I’m telling you what to do, subscribe to this channel and share this video with your friends.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is a week-long celebration toward the beginning of the Jewish year, where God’s people are commanded to “rejoice before the LORD your God.” As such, it’s sometimes called “The Season of Our Joy.”
So, why do we rejoice? Two main reasons: One, because God eternally dwells with us, and we are eternally dependent on Him. And two, because we are expecting God to bless and increase us this next year, and we’re expecting God to bless and increase His Church through us.
So there you have it. That’s why we celebrate Sukkot. But that begs the question: how are we supposed to celebrate Sukkot?
Step 1: Sleep in a sukkah.
The Bible says, “You shall dwell in booths for seven days.” That’s not some sort of metaphor. You are literally supposed to build a hut in your backyard, just like the Israelites did while wandering through the desert, and then sleep in it for seven nights.
Your tabernacle, or sukkah, is supposed to be open on one side and have a roof made of branches. Here’s a picture of ours from last year. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, just something that hopefully doesn’t collapse while you’re inside of it. And if it’s any consolation, Jewish tradition says that only men need to sleep in it, so ladies, you’re off the hook.
Now we do this to remind our families of our complete dependence on God for the next year. And yes, this is celebrated in the Bible. When Solomon dedicates the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles, the people feast and stay in tents for seven days. And when Nehemiah rededicates the temple, the people all build sukkahs in the city square and live there for a week.
Step 2: Feast in your sukkah.
The Bible tells us to “rejoice in your feast,” with your family and with your coworkers and with your neighbors and with strangers and with orphans and widows and with everyone.
Every night of the week of Tabernacles, you should invite people over for dinner to eat in your tabernacle. They’ll probably have no idea why they are eating in a makeshift hut in your backyard, so it provides a perfect opportunity to explain the feast and encourage them to center their lives on the promises of God.
Show them scriptures about God’s blessing upon their lives. Teach them how they can bless others and bring people into God’s kingdom. And have a good time. It’s the season of our joy, after all. Don’t be afraid to turn on some music and party like Jesus is coming back tomorrow.
Step 3: Shake the lulav.
Now I’m going to warn you that what I’m about to say might sound silly, so I’ll remind you that we do plenty of silly things on other holidays. Like this. Or this. Or this.
All those things are really silly on paper, but we just accept that it’s normal and do it every year, and now we’re used to it and it’s not weird anymore.
The Bible tells us that we’re supposed to take branches from different trees and fruit, and make a lulav, which looks like this. Then you take your lulav and you shake it to the north, to the south, to the east, to the west, up to the sky, and down to the ground, and you declare Psalm 118:25 every time:
“Save now, I pray, O Lord. O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.”
From every direction, you call in God’s blessings for your family and you call in the nations for God’s kingdom. (Mishnah Sukkah 3:9)
And again, if you think that’s weird, just remember that you also do this on Jesus’ birthday.
Step 4: Speak God’s Word only.
You know, we live in a crazy world, and there’s plenty to complain about. And nowadays, social media makes it so easy to get bogged down with all the nonsense that’s out there.
But during Sukkot, we make a decision to start the year off right. Our constant declaration is, “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.” People are gossiping at work? Not you! “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.” The president said what? Who cares? “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.”
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so we make a decision to fill our hearts with God’s Word and sing His praises with our lips. It’s a full week to set the course for the rest of the year, a year that is completely dependent on God, a year that is saturated with God’s presence.
Now if you’ve never celebrated Tabernacles before, I want to encourage you to give it a try this year. The Bible says we are supposed to keep this feast “forever in your generations,” so there’s not really a reason not to celebrate it. Even Jesus celebrated it, and the Bible says that we’ll still be celebrating it when Jesus comes back.
It’s a great way to start off the Jewish year, and a fun reason to get together with friends and talk about God’s goodness, so if you’re interested, here are the dates of Sukkot for the next ten or so years.
So in conclusion, Tabernacles—or Sukkot—is a weeklong celebration where we rejoice because God dwells with us, because God will bless and increase us, and because God will increase His Church through us.
We celebrate by building a sukkah in our backyard, where we sleep every night as a reminder of our complete dependence on God. We also invite people over to feast in our sukkah every night of the week.
We shake the lulav and call in God’s blessings for our family and call in the nations for God’s kingdom. And we make it a point to reject gossip and complaining and evil reports, and instead meditate on God’s Word and constantly declare, “The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever.”
What a great way to start the year.
Have a great week, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
There are a lot of weird holidays. There’s one where a fat, jolly saint who lived 17 hundred years ago breaks into your house to put presents under a dying tree covered in lights… because Jesus. There’s also one where a giant, anthropomorphic bunny poops chocolate eggs, and kids hunt them down and eat them… because Jesus… again.
How about the one where you dress up like a cartoon character and then threaten to prank your neighbors if they don’t give you candy, to celebrate catholic saints? Or getting drunk, pinching people, and dressing up like leprechauns, to celebrate a missionary in Ireland? Or Labor Day, which is basically just “Communist Day,” where you don’t labor… because you’re a communist?
Yeah, there are a lot of weird holidays that don’t make a whole lot of sense. But are there any holidays in the Bible? Well yes, actually. Turns out, God is a big fan of holidays. And fun fact, none of them involve threatening strangers, chocolate poop, or communism.
So the Bible has a lot of holidays, but there are three major ones: the Feast of Passover, which eventually became Easter… sort of; the Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost; and the Feast of Tabernacles, which is the one most of you have probably never heard of.
So… what’s the Feast of Tabernacles?
The Feast of Tabernacles—or Sukkot in Hebrew—is celebrated at the very beginning of the Jewish year, right after Rosh Hashanah, and is described in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy as a festival in which God’s people “shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.” Because of this rejoicing, Sukkot is often called “The Season of Our Joy.” So why do we rejoice on Sukkot?
Two reasons are given: One, that our children would know that God delivered His people from the land of Egypt; and two, because the LORD our God will bless us in all the work of our hands.
So let’s take those one at a time. We rejoice because God delivered His people out of Egypt. Now there’s a lot we can say about the deliverance from Egypt, but what happened after the Israelites left Egypt?
For the first time in 400 years, they didn’t have a home. They were out in the wilderness, completely on their own. Well, not quite on their own, because for the first time in hundreds of years, God was with them. Out in the desert, the Israelites were entirely dependent on God for everything.
God led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He protected them from all danger. He provided them with every single thing they needed. And for forty years, God’s people dwelt in the wilderness in booths, or tabernacles. And they built one large tabernacle, right in the middle of their camp, where the presence of God could dwell in their midst.
First and foremost, the Feast of Tabernacles is a season of rejoicing because God eternally dwells with you and me. Immanuel—God with us—will never leave you nor forsake you. He is with you always, even to the end of the age. Our God isn’t far away. He dwells with us and lives within us. And if nothing else, that is something to rejoice about.
But there’s more. Not only does God dwell in the midst of His people; God’s people are entirely dependent on Him. Out in the desert, God provided all their needs, and we are to rejoice because we trust that God will bless us and prosper us in everything we do as well. For this reason, Sukkot is also called “The Feast of Ingathering.”
Think about it. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He didn’t bring them out poor and impoverished. No, they came out loaded down with the silver and gold of the Egyptians.
And during their time in the wilderness, God provided them with everything they needed: food, water, silver, gold. In fact, we’re told that God provided so much for them that Moses literally had to command the people to stop donating to the tabernacle building fund (Exodus 36:6).
And as their time in the wild came to an end, God promised to “to bless all the work of your hands,” the exact phrase God uses to describe why we rejoice during Sukkot.
During the Feast of Tabernacles, we rejoice because God’s blessing is upon His people—upon you and me—and we know that God will increase us in every area of our lives. Now that certainly means that God will increase us financially, but we also rejoice because God will increase our families, increase our relationships, and bring an increase into His Church.
For this reason, Sukkot is also called “The Feast of Nations,” and you can actually see this idea throughout the scriptures. When we celebrate, we are told to feast with our friends and family, but also with “the stranger and the fatherless and the widow,” and with all who are within our town. This feast isn’t just for you; you’re supposed to share it with everyone.
And in that cross-reference about God blessing the work of our hands, we are told that we are then to “lend to many nations.” This goes all the way back to the original blessing proclaimed to Abraham: “I will bless you… and you shall be a blessing… and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
In fact, when you trace the celebration of Sukkot throughout the Bible, you find that it’s always connected with spreading the blessing of God to the nations. During the Exodus, which is the basis for Sukkot, God declared that He delivered His people from Egypt “that My name may be declared in all the earth.”
After Jonah preaches to the Ninevites—a foreign nation—Jonah has a Sukkot celebration… sort of. But that’s a tale for a different time. When Zechariah prophesies about the Millennial kingdom, he sees all the nations gathering to celebrate Sukkot. And when Jesus celebrates Sukkot, He sends out the 70 disciples to preach the gospel.
Now seventy’s a pretty interesting number. In a previous video, we talked about how “70” represented the nations. And how many sacrifices were the Jews supposed to make on Sukkot? Seventy!
Sukkot isn’t just about you being blessed. It’s about everyone being blessing through you. So we rejoice because God is with us. We rejoice because God will bless and increase us. And we rejoice because God will increase His Church through us. Simply enough, right?
But now that we know why we are supposed to rejoice, the question is… how are we supposed to rejoice? And we’ll cover that in the next video.
Thanks for watching, and remember, you’re greater than you realize.
We’ve often heard verses like “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart” or “do not provoke your children to wrath.” But when you read the Bible intentionally with the eyes of a parent, you’ll find that God is constantly talking about kids.
Here are a few verses that you may be unfamiliar with about children. I started praying these verses when my wife was pregnant with our first son, and we pray them over our kids every day. Hopefully there are a few new ones you can add to your list.
- My children are taught by the Lord, and they have great peace (Isaiah 54:13)
- The Holy Spirit will be upon my children and my children’s children (Isaiah 59:21)
- God’s Word will always be in the mouths of my children and my children’s children (Isaiah 59:21)
- My descendants will be mighty upon the earth (Psalm 112:1-2)
- God will pour out His Spirit and His blessing upon my descendants (Isaiah 44:2-5)
- My descendants will be known upon the Gentiles as the people whom the Lord has blessed (Isaiah 61:9)
- My children will not be trouble. (Isiah 65:23-24)
- God will answer my descendants’ prayers before they ask, and will hear their prayers as they pray (Isaiah 65:23-24)
- My children will have a place of refuge (Proverbs 14:26)
- God will not turn away from doing good to and for my children (Jeremiah 32:39-41)
- God will put the fear of the Lord in their hearts, and they will not depart from Him (Jeremiah 32:39-41)
- Things will go well for me, my children, and my children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:40)
- Me and my descendants will dwell in prosperity, and they will inherit the earth (Psalm 25:12-13)
- My descendants will inherit the nations, and rebuild communities (Isaiah 54:2-3)
- God teaches my children and infants to tell of His strength (Psalm 8:2)
- The Lord will bless and keep my children, and will shine His face upon them and be gracious to them (Numbers 6:27)
- The Lord will lift up His countenance upon them and give them peace (Numbers 6:27)
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 Word||English meaning||Duties of Kohathites||Korah’s Rebellion|
|Mishkan||Tabernacle||Numbers 4:16||Numbers 16:24, 27|
|Qodesh/Qadosh||Holy||Numbers 4:4, 12, 15, 19, 20||Numbers 16:3, 5, 7|
|Kasa||Cover||Numbers 4:5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15||Numbers 16:33|
|Bala||Swallow||Numbers 4:20||Numbers 16:30, 32, 34|
|Kala||Complete/consume||Numbers 4:15||Numbers 16:21|
|Naga||Touch||Numbers 4:15||Numbers 16:26|
|Nasa||Lift up||Numbers 4:15||Numbers 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.
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)
In our last blog, we covered the first twenty words of the 43-word commandment against idolatry. As previously discussed, God spent those twenty words recalling the creation of the heavens and the earth and all that are within them in His command against idolatry, reminding us that God—not man—is the Creator, and we are to live in His image and likeness rather than attempt to redefine Him in ours.
After teaching us not to worship or serve false gods, He spends the remainder of His words describing His own nature:
“I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations to those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands [of generations], to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5, 6)
The language in this commandment only appear a few times throughout the Bible:
- “The LORD, merciful and gracious, longsuffering…keeping mercy to thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:7)
- “…The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” (Numbers 14:18)
So, what is going on in these two parallel passages, and how can they shed light upon our understanding of the second commandment?
The first passage (Exodus 34) takes place during the giving of the second set of Commandment Tablets. Why was a second pair of tablets necessary? Because Moses broke the first set. And why did he break them? Out of anger over the forging of the golden calf. You know, a golden idol. That the Israelites were worshiping. At the exact time God was writing the commandment that His people must not worship idols.
It’s incredible that the Israelites were violating this commandment at the exact moment that God was giving this commandment. And yet God—who knew full well what His people were doing—reinforced His goodness and forgiveness in that commandment, almost as if to show them His mercy to their shortcomings. And then, as He re-gave this commandment, He repeated this passage about his mercy to those who would repent, return, and love.
(It’s worth noting that the golden calf was mainly a violation of the second commandment—idolatry—but not technically a violation of the first commandment—polygamy. At least, Aaron didn’t see it that way. As Aaron formed the false idol, he declared that it was YHWH, the god who delivered them from Egypt. Of course he was wrong and of course this was blasphemy and idolatry, but at its core, it was Aaron’s attempt to worship YHWH in the opposite way that YHWH had commanded. It’s no different than “tithing” to yourself instead of the local church or forsaking the assembling of the saints to “worship” God in your own way.)
So the first parallel story—the golden calf—makes a lot of sense. That calf was a violation of the second commandment that occurred while the second commandment was being written. But what about that second story? What was happening in Numbers 14?
In Numbers 14, the twelve spies have just returned from Canaan. As you’ll recall, the Israelites are 11 days from taking their Promised Land, and they send in twelve spies (one from every tribe) to search out the area and come back with intel.
They return with tales confirming that this land is all that God promised—a bountiful and luscious land flowing with milk and honey. But ten of the spies tell the people that it’ll be impossible for them to take it. The people are too tall and too strong and too numerous, and the Israelites have no hope of victory. Only two spies—Caleb the Judahite and Joshua the Ephraimite—encourage the people to obey God, reminding them that they “are well able to overcome” because “the LORD is with us.”
And what did the people do?
“And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.” (Numbers 14:10)
So… the people sided with the evil report of the ten spies. What does that have to do with idolatry?
It may not seem obvious, but the actions of the children of Israel are no different than the actions of an idol-worshiper. At its core, idolatry is about rejecting what God has said in lieu of doing things your own way. It’s about exchanging the glory of God for the image of a false, man-made god. It’s about choosing the lie rather than the truth of God’s Word.
And that’s exactly what the children of Israel did. They thought they knew better than God. Sure, YHWH had said they would take the Promised Land. But He must not have known how tall and strong the Canaanites were. Or worse, God did know, and this whole “Promised Land” thing was simply a ploy to wipe them all out. Things were way better in the oppressive land of Egypt.
Today, you may not be tempted to whittle a bear out of basswood and worship it. But you’re probably tempted to trust in the work of your hands rather than the God who richly gives all things to enjoy. You may not bow the knee to Ba’al, but if the stock market starts to sway you might rethink how much you give in your tithe or how many hours you work on the Lord’s Day.
At the end of the day, we all have a choice to make: Will we live according to the Word and do things God’s way, or are there some areas of life (from loving our enemies to disciplining our children) where God’s Word is wrong?
Choose this day whom you will serve.
The second of the Ten Commandments is a prohibition against idolatry, but for some reason God doesn’t just come out and say, “Thou shalt not commit idolatry.” He goes on for 43 words in Hebrew (for comparison, commandments 6, 7, and 8 are two Hebrew words each), spelling out many details about various kinds of idolatry and His own personal nature and so forth.
So, what is God trying to communicate through this commandment?
Let’s take a look at the opening section of the command:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them…” (Exodus 20:4, 5)
Does any of that language sound familiar? Is there an earlier story in scripture that uses many of these words? As it turns out, much of this language is recycled from the very first chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In the beginning, God made (עָשָׂה, asa) the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the beasts of the earth, the cattle, the creeping things that creepeth, and Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:7, 16, 25, 26, 2:18). And when He made Adam and Eve, He made them in His own image, after His own likeness (Genesis 1:26). In that same chapter, we are told how God made the heavens (שָׁמַיִם, shamayim) and everything in them, the earth (אֶרֶץ, erets) and everything that grows upon it, and the waters (מַיִם, mayim) and everything that swims within them. Over and over again, God is using this commandment to remind us of that first chapter of creation.
The second commandment isn’t just a law about carving images out of stone or wood or clay. It’s about where we direct our service and worship, and how we direct that service and worship. Do we serve and worship ourselves as creators, do we serve the things we attempt to create for ourselves, or do we worship the One who formed us out of clay?
Thousands of years later, the apostle Paul calls back to this commandment in his letter to the Roman church:
“For since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made… they did not glorify Him as God… changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things… who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… exchanging the natural use for what is against nature.” (Romans 1:20-26)
Paul repeatedly uses this pattern of creation language to reinforce what happens to a man when he gives in to idolatry, when he trades in God for himself, when he exchanges truth for a lie. It doesn’t end with burning incense to a piece of wood. When you choose to reject the obvious reality of God in exchange for a god in your own image, your hearts become darkened and your thoughts become futile (the word for futile is used throughout the LXX in connection with idolatry). When you turn against the God who created nature, you begin to live and act against nature, denying the biological realities of the human race or the humanity of other people based upon the color of their skin. When you worship and serve the creature rather than the blessed Creator, you are given over to a debased mind, and descend into all unrighteousness.
Among the sins Paul lists that flow from idolatry are sexual immorality, covetousness, envy, murder, disobedient to parents, and untrustworthy (Romans 1:29-31). These include the second table of the Decalogue, as well as a host of other trespasses. And they all originate with idolatry, with the choice to reject YHWH and His ways and forge a way for yourself.
God created us in His image, not the other way around. We don’t get to say things like, “I know the Bible says this, but I don’t think God is really like that.” When we do that, we create a false god in our own image, exchanging what we know to be true for a convenient lie.
But if instead will reject the false god of self and worship and serve for the Creator; if we will fulfill our calling to be Image-Bearers of the Most High God as we live out our days among the beasts of the earth and the fowl of the skies and the fish of the waters; if we will exchange our own corruption for the glory of the incorruptible God, we will position ourselves to be remade into the image of the righteous God, and continue our days in His likeness.
“Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
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)
In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his most trusted servant (possibly Eliezer) back to his homeland to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Eliezer is told to find a wife among Abraham’s people, but if he is unable to find a woman (or she refuses to marry Isaac), he will be released from his oath. Essentially, if this doesn’t work out, the line of Abraham might end. This is sort of a big deal.
As you would expect, Eliezer prays to the LORD for help, asking Him to show Abraham “checed” (faithfulness, goodness) and to lead him in “emeth” (truth) (Genesis 24:12, 14, 27, 48).
These two attributes of God appear throughout the Bible, very often together. Jacob prays to God for his checed and emeth (faithfulness and truth) when he returns home to face Esau (Genesis 32:10); David prays for God’s checed and emeth throughout the Psalms (Psalm 40:11); God even reveals Himself to Moses as “the LORD abounding in checed and emeth” (Exodus 34:6).
So Eliezer prays for God’s checed and emeth as he journeys to Nahor, hoping to successfully find Isaac a wife and secure the lineage of Abraham. Sure enough, God delivers. Just as Eliezer finishes praying, he is approached by Rebekah, who is the perfect answer to his prayer. He thanks the Lord, tells her his story, and meets her family.
But then something interesting happens. He asks once more for checed and emeth—but not from God. He asks for it from Rebekah and her family. He asks them to deal faithfully and truthfully with him, to give him a straight answer, to let him know if she would marry Isaac, fulfilling God’s plan for the family of Abraham.
In other words, the plan of God was accomplished by the joining together of God’s checed and emeth and Man’s checed and emeth. God is always faithful and true, and when we respond in faith and truth, God’s plans are realized.
“Let not checed and emeth forsake you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3-4)