Confessing the Sins of a Nation

There are many great examples of humility and repentance in scripture. One of those examples is found in the opening chapter of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is a man of Jewish heritage who is in exile in Babylon. He has just learned that the city of Jerusalem, the center for worship to the LORD, is in ruins. The scripture tells us that Nehemiah “sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven,” with these words:

“‘I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.’ Now I was the cupbearer to the king.”

It is interesting to see that Nehemiah mentions not only his own sins but also “the sins of the sons of Israel” which “we” have sinned, including “I” and “my father’s house.”

Normally we think of confession as something that we would only do for ourselves. Passages like Ezekiel 18:20 teach us that sons are not responsible for the sins of their parents, nor parents for the sins of their children. If this is so, what is the benefit of confessing sins that other people have done, as if they could gain forgiveness based on our confession instead of their own, or as though we bore the guilt for what they did in ourselves?

One benefit that might come from confessing the sins of our forefathers and of the communities in which we live, is that it can help us to recognize how pervasive and serious the brokenness of the world around us really is.

This might also help us to recognize how we got in such bad shape and what must be done to turn things around.

Furthermore, in attributing these sins both to “I” and “my father’s house,” Nehemiah may also be articulating the fact that he learned a lot of his bad habits from the culture and the environment into which he was born, and thus rather than “inheriting” their sins automatically, he has nonetheless adopted their sins into his own life and replicated them for himself by his own free will.

We tend to think of past generations as being the backward ones, while our generation has learned from the mistakes of the past. But often times, we are making our own mistakes that may be superficially different, but are in many ways analogous to the sins of those before us.

Isaiah said “Woe is me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” Before we point the finger solely at our forefathers or at the world around us, maybe we should make sure that we ourselves are not doing the same kind of things.

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Fight!

A few months ago we examined chapter 7 of the prophet Micah, and the encouragement that this passage can give to us in times of spiritual struggle. Consider verses 8-9:

“Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy.
Though I fall I will rise;
Though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is a light for me.
I will bear the indignation of the LORD
Because I have sinned against Him,
Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me.
He will bring me out to the light,
And I will see His righteousness.”

It has often been said “it does not matter how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up,” and this passage from Micah 7 can help us find the strength to get back up and continue to fight for what we know is right.

Many of us may have imagined that when we were baptized into Christ’s body, all of our struggles with sin and doubt would instantly and permanently vanish, but this is not always the case. Paul talked about his own struggles this way:

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul knew well enough that he was not perfect, but he was willing to forget what was behind him and press on day by day. That is why he could tell Timothy as he neared the end of his life not simply “I have coasted easily and perfectly through life,” but rather “I have fought the good fight.”

I was encouraged recently by a discussion with my brethren in Christ in which we emphasized the fact that the Holy Spirit is there to help us even when we are in the midst of our struggles with sin. After all, the letter to the Galatians describes our lives as a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. When we realize that we have been in error, we can say with David:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.”

Be encouraged. If the LORD is for us, who can be against us? If we walk in the light, the blood of His Son will continually cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. No matter how many times you fall down, say with Micah, “though I fall, I will rise.” The battle belongs to the LORD.

The (Prosperity?) Gospel

There are many manmade adaptations of the true Biblical gospel, and some of them are quite popular today. Among these false gospels is one, often referred to as the “prosperity gospel,” which basically teaches that if you follow Jesus, He will bless you with financial, social, and physical wellbeing. The idea is that if you will follow God the way He wants, He will give you all of the earthly blessings you desire.

This prosperity gospel is completely incompatible with scripture itself. Many have spoken out against it in no uncertain terms, insisting that in fact life often becomes harder, rather than easier, when we follow Jesus.

In some sense there is truth to the idea that following Jesus makes life harder. Look at the life of Paul as a prime example. He was a promising Jewish Pharisee with a bright future as a leader of the people, yet when he gave his life to Jesus, he traded all of that for a life full of beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and all manner of hardship.

But let us make sure that we do not overreact to the prosperity gospel so extremely that we insist that following Christ is worse than it actually is! Paul, even after all he went through, stated plainly that he was happy about his decision to follow Jesus. In the ways that mattered most, following Jesus still made his life better, not worse.

“If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3)

I would argue that the quality of Paul’s life did not go down, but rather it went up as a result of his dedication to Christ. He may have given up a lot, but he would do it all again in a heartbeat, for what he has gained is something of “surpassing value.”

Did not Jesus Himself say “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”?

Maybe there is some truth in the prosperity gospel after all… Not because God will make our way prosperous from a worldly standpoint in terms of material health or wealth, but because God will indeed teach us to prosper in our souls.

In his third epistle, John stated: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”

In 2 Corinthians Paul said: “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

Will following God make you physically healthy and materially wealthy? It might. Or it might not. But what we do know, is that following God is the pathway to a prospering soul, full of the fruits of the Spirit.

“Better a little with the fear of the Lord
Than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a small serving of vegetables with love
Than a fattened calf with hatred.”
(Proverbs 15:16-17)

Representing Christ

The final words of Jesus that are recorded by Matthew are instructions for His followers to carry out while He is away: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The idea of spreading out all over the world is itself a daunting task, but for many of the early missionaries for Christ, travel and culture shock were only the beginning of their troubles. People were going to HATE them for being Christians: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

This posed a real problem for the early church. Hatred can often lead to violence, and the Roman government had very little tolerance for troublemakers whose religion led to violence. So what could the church do, to maintain its credibility and its political freedom while also standing up for Christ? The book of 1 Peter appears to have been written as an answer to that question.

Peter writes the book specifically to the “aliens” who have been scattered all over the known world for the sake of Christ, and he addresses all kinds of difficult situations that they may encounter.

What if Christ’s people find themselves disagreeing with the governing authorities?
What if a Christian servant finds himself serving an unjust master?
What if a Christian wife finds herself with an unbelieving husband?
What if a Christian finds himself in an argument in which his faith is called into question?
What if there are arguments within the church itself?

All of these situations must have been common for the early church, and any of them could have ended badly for everyone involved, but Peter’s instructions contain a steady theme that runs throughout the book:

Stand up for Jesus Christ, but do so in a way that is above reproach. Do not give them any reason whatsoever to slander your character. Be respectful. Be gentle. Be humble. Demonstrate through your behavior just how beautiful and beneficial your religion really is.

As Jesus said in Matthew 7: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

The world will judge our message not simply by what we say, but also by how we say it, and what we do to demonstrate it. When we argue on behalf of Christ, let us do it, as Peter says “with gentleness and reverence.”

After all, Jesus Himself is our ultimate example. He was unjustly nailed to a cross.   He could have called ten thousand angels. But instead He responded by praying for our forgiveness and entrusting Himself to the Father.

A Nation in Great Need

I have an American friend who lives in an African country where he teaches school. He is not a Bible believer, but he asked for my help recently in constructing a Biblical argument that he could use to persuade his neighbors to stop brutally beating their children. At night he often hears their shrieks as he is trying to get to sleep.

Having traveled to various countries outside of the U.S. and visited areas of various economic status, I can understand my friend’s experience of being uncomfortably close to his neighbor’s problems. In many places around the world, people live in densely populated clusters, homes are not constructed to be even remotely soundproof, windows may not have glass panes, and the vices of your neighbors are on display around the clock. To be sure, many living in apartments in the U.S. have similar experiences.

I think this may help to explain why Americans so often feel that they are “advanced” and “civilized” above and beyond people in other places. Because we have thick walls. Or, in more general terms, because we do a good job of hiding our problems out of sight and pretending that they do not exist.

How many children will shriek tonight in America, but with no neighbors around to hear it? How many men will use their private high speed internet to view pornography from the comfort of their office, without ever having to make a risky trip to a house of prostitution? How many will abuse prescription medication until it controls their lives, while trying as hard as possible to appear normal for the sake of appearances? For that matter, how many will cry themselves to sleep, confused and lonely, and then get back up the next day and act like everything is fine?

I say all of these things as a warning, lest we forget how essential is the life changing power of the Christ. Technology, wealth, affluence, “civilization” will not save us, it will only help us to hide our vices from one another. But only Christ can make us whole.

The U.S. is a nation founded on Christian ideals, many of which remain strong to this day. But her people, like those of all nations, can be described by the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: “The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 5: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.”

Sin and its effects are everywhere, whether we see them on full display or not. Just because your neighbors seem fine as they smile at you while they briefly emerge from their houses to collect their mail, this does not mean that they are not in desperate need of the gospel.

I love my country, but it is not a utopia, nor will it ever be. We may be one of the richest nations on earth, but we are in desperate need of the truth of God’s Word. We are perishing without it, and most of us will continue to do so. Will you enter through the narrow door, and to bring as many with you as you can?

Figures in the Life of David

Major Characters (these appear at various points in David’s life.)

  • Samuel (God has heard) – judge of the people and prophet of God, anoints Saul as king but later announces that the kingdom will be taken from Saul and given to someone worthy. Anoints David as the new king and helps to protect him from Saul.
  • Saul (asked/prayed for) – King of Israel who is eventually rejected by God for disobedience. Fears and resents David, and pursues him so as to kill him. Dies in battle with his sons.
  • Jonathan (the Lord has given) – son of Saul who is loyal to David because of their great friendship.
  • David (beloved) – son of Jesse who is a shepherd and musician. Becomes king of Judah, and then of all of Israel.
  • Michal (brook?) – daughter of Saul who professes her love for David. Later given to another man, then taken back again by David.
  • Ahimelech the priest and his son Abiathar (brother of the king; my father is great) – Ahimelech helps David as he is fleeing from Saul, and is thus executed along with his family. Abiathar escapes and becomes a priest for David.
  • Abner (my father is light) – commander of Saul’s armies, killed by Joab even though he changes sides after Saul’s death to serve David
  • Joab (the LORD is my father) – son of Zuriah and commander of David’s armies.
  • Abishai and Azahel – (gift of the father?; made by God) brothers of Joab, sons or Zeruiah. Azahel is killed in battle, but Abishai remains a key military figure throughout the life of David.
  • Achish (anger?) – Philistine lord in Gath. David feigns madness to escape being take captive by him, but later returns and pledges his loyalty. Achish trusts David completely but the other Philistine lords do not.
  • Ish-Bosheth (man of shame) – (grand)son of Saul who is made king by Abner when Saul dies. Killed shortly after by two of his commanders, who were executed by David as a result.
  • Mephibosheth (dispeller of shame) – son of Jonathan son of Saul. Crippled man who is shown great kindness by David.
  • Ziba (station?) – servant of Mephibosheth who takes care of his estate, but later betrays Mephibosheth and ends up with half of his wealth.
  • Nathan (he gave) – prophet of God who gives David some of the best and some of the worst news he ever receives.
  • Bathsheba (daughter of the oath) – wife of Uriah who David covets and takes for his own, after he has Uriah killed, he marries her.
  • Uriah the Hittite (the LORD is my light) – mighty man of David who is killed in order to cover up David’s adultery with his wife.
  • Solomon/Jedidiah (peace/beloved of the LORD) – son of David by Bathsheba, who becomes a great and prosperous king after David dies.
  • Absalom (my father is peace) – Son of David who kills Amnon for raping his sister Tamar. Sent into exile but later allowed to return, he rebels against David and is temporarily successful at taking Israel from David.
  • Tamar (palm tree) – daughter of David and sister of Absalom who is raped by Amnon.
  • Amnon (faithful) – son of David who rapes Tamar and is killed in revenge by Absalom.
  • Ahithophel the Gilonite (brother of foolishness) – David’s advisor, who serves Absalom during the rebellion.
  • Cherethites and Pelethites – 600 men who leave Gath of the Philistines to follow David for the rest of his days.
  • Ittai the Gittite (with me) – foreigner who pledges loyalty to David and becomes a friend and a leader of his armies.
  • Zadok and Abiathar (righteous; my father is great) – priests for David who remain faithful to him when Absalom rebels.
  • Ahimaaz and Jonathan (brother of the council?; the LORD has given) – sons of Zadok and Abiathar who serve as secret messengers to alert David of Absalom’s plans.
  • Hushai the Archite (enjoyment?) – David’s friend and counselor who foils the advice of Ahithophel during Absalom’s rebellion.
  • Gad (fortune, luck) – a prophet of God who helps David flee from Saul, and later gives him bad news concerning the census he carried out.

Minor Characters (these are often extremely important, but  are not recorded to have played a significant role in multiple different events throughout David’s life.)

  • Jesse (gift?) – father of David.
  • Goliath (uncover, unveil?) – giant Philistine who is slain by David with the help of the LORD.
  • Abinadab, Malchi-shua (father of a vow; my king saves) – sons of Saul, brothers of Jonathan. They all die in battle together.
  • Nabal (fool, senseless, failure) – worthless fellow who refuses to provide for David’s men despite the protection they provide his flocks.
  • Abigail (my father is joy) – wife of Nabal who wisely averts disaster and becomes David’s wife when Nabal dies.
  • Doeg the Edomite (careful, fearful, uneasy) – servant of Saul who kills Ahimelech and the other prophets for helping David to flee.
  • Medium at En-Dor – a woman who can communicate with spirits, who helps Saul to call up Samuel.
  • Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab (strength; brother) – they help to transport the ark to Jerusalem, but when Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark he is struck dead.
  • ObedEdom (servent of Edom) – the ark is temporarily stored at the house of Obed-Edom and his whole household is blessed.
  • Hanun, son of Nahash king of Ammonites (gracious, merciful, favored) – becomes king after his father; needlessly provokes David to war and it does not go well for him.
  • David’s unnamed child – dies because of David’s sin with Bathsheba.
  • Jonadab (God gives liberally/impels) – David’s nephew. A “shrewd” man who convinces Amnon to rape Tamar.
  • Wise woman of Tekoa – put up by Joab to convince David to allow Absalom to come back from exile. She succeeds.
  • Woman at En-Rogel – hides Ahimaaz and Jonathan and thus helps David escape Absalom.
  • Shimei, son of Gera (hear, listen, obey) – curses David when he flees from Absalom. David promises not to seek retribution, so Solomon executes him after coming into power.
  • Chimham (longing?) – returns to Israel in place of his master, Barzillai.
  • Amasa (burden?) – serves as a commander for David after the rebellion by Absalom, but is slothful and risks David’s position, and is thus killed by Joab
  • Sheba, son of Bichri (oath) – challenger to David’s throne who seeks refuge in Abel.
  • Wise woman at Abel – avoids the destruction of Abel by throwing the head of Sheba son of Bichri down to Joab.
  • Gibeonites – Have seven of Saul’s descendants hanged as retribution of Saul’s violation of their covenant with Israel.
  • Rizpah the daughter of Aiah (coal, hot stone) – mourns for the descendants of Saul and watches after their remains.
  • Barzillai the Gileadite (man of iron) – friend of David who helps him when he flees from Absalom.
  • Araunah the Jebusite (ark, song, strong?) – owns the threshing floor where David sacrifices to the LORD after the pestilence sent by God.
  • Abishag the Shunammite (my father wanders) – beautiful young woman who attends to David in his old age. A point of contention between David’s sons Solomon and Adonijah.
  • Benaiah the son of Jehoiada (son of the LORD) – one of David’s mighty men, who helps him ensure that Solomon succeeds him as king.
  • Adonijah the son of Haggith – (the LORD is master) seeks to become king in place of Solomon when David is old, but fails and is put to death by Solomon shortly after.

Life of David – overview with Psalms

This table is intended to serve as an overview of the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel and the psalms that he wrote which speak to events in his life.

“Psalms direct” refers to psalms that are directly attributed to particular events in David’s life in their headings.
“Psalms apparent” refers to psalms that I believe strongly correlate with particular events or the themes within them.
“Psalms additional” are other psalms of David that speak on similar themes.

It should be noted that there is some amount of subjectivity regarding what events certain undesignated psalms most directly relate to, and also that the historical dates given are not universally agreed upon.  I included them just as a rough guide of the passage of time throughout the account of his life.

Week

Scripture

Probable Date Event Psalms direct Psalms apparent Psalms additional Occasion of Psalm
1 1 Sam. 16 1024 BC Samuel Anoints David at Bethlehem   23, 19 8 David as a shepherd
1 1 Sam. 17 1024 BC David Kills Goliath   36 9 On the victory over Goliath
2 1 Sam. 18 1015 BC Jonathan’s Friendship with David   11   When David was advised to flee Saul
2 1 Sam. 19 1014 BC David Protected from Saul 59     On Saul surrounding the house of David
2 1 Sam. 20 1013 BC David and Jonathan’s Covenant        
3 1 Sam. 21 1012 BC David at Nob and Gath 56; 34     David with Philistines at Gath; On David’s leaving the city of Gath
3 1 Sam. 22 1011 BC Saul Slays the Priests of Nob 142;52   17, 35, 64, 109, 140 David in the cave at Adullam; On the murder of the priests by Doeg and the following persecution
3 1 Sam. 23 1011 BC David Flees Saul 54 31   Betrayal by Ziphites; Persecution by Saul
4 1 Sam. 24 1011 BC David Spares Saul’s Life 57;63   58 On David’s refusal to kill Saul in the cave; prayer of David in wilderness of Engedi
4 1 Sam. 25 1011 BC Samuel Dies; Nabal and Abigail        
4 1 Sam. 26 1011 BC David Spares Saul a Second Time        
5 1 Sam. 27 1010 BC David Flees to the Philistines   141   Prayer of David when driven from Judea
5 1 Sam. 28 1010 BC Saul and the Witch of Endor        
6 1 Sam. 29 1010 BC Achish Sends David Away        
6 1 Sam. 30 1010 BC David Destroys the Amalekites   22   David is in distress, but trusts God
7 1 Sam. 31 1010 BC Saul and His Sons Killed        
7 2 Sam. 1 1010 BC David Mourns for Saul and Jonathan Song of the Bow (in the text)      
8 2 Sam. 2 1010 BC David Made King over Judah; Civil War Between Abner and Joab   101   David will strive to be a good king
8 2 Sam. 3 1006 BC House of David Strengthened; Joab murders Abner        
8 2 Sam. 4 1004 BC The Murder of Ish-bosheth        
8 2 Sam. 5 1003 BC David Reigns over All Israel   40 139 Prayer of David when made king over all Israel
9 2 Sam. 6 1000 BC The Ark is Brought to Jerusalem 30, 1 Chronicles 16 68   On the return of the ark to Jerusalem
9 2 Sam. 7 1000 BC David Plans a Temple   2, 110 16, 61 On the delivery of the promise by Nathan to David
10 2 Sam. 8 998 BC David Defeats the Philistines 60 133 108 On the conquest of Edom; Israel united
10 2 Sam. 9 995 BC David and Mephibosheth        
10 2 Sam. 10 995 BC David Defeats Ammon and Aram   20 21 On the war with the Ammonites and their allies
11 2 Sam. 11 993 BC David and Bathsheba   32 33 On the pardon of David’s adultery
11 2 Sam. 12 991 BC Nathan Rebukes David; Solomon is born 51 38   Confession of David after his adultery
12 2 Sam. 13 990 BC Amnon and Tamar; Amnom Killed by Absalom        
12 2 Sam. 14 988 BC The Widow of Tekoa; Absalom Recalled   103    
13 2 Sam. 15 976 BC Absalom’s Conspiracy; David Flees Jerusalem 3 70 4, 5 On Absalom’s rebellion and David’s flight from Absalom
13 2 Sam. 16 972 BC David and Ziba, Shimei   131 7 On the reproaches of Shimei
13 2 Sam. 17 972 BC Hushai’s Warning Saves David   41, 55   Treachery of Ahithophel
14 2 Sam. 18 972 BC Absalom Slain by Joab   143   During the war with Absalom
14 2 Sam. 19 972 BC Joab Comforts David        
15 2 Sam. 20 972 BC Sheba Rebels Against David   37   Sheba’s rebellion foiled
15 2 Sam. 21 970 BC The Gibeonites Avenged        
16 – Wed 2 Sam. 22 970 BC David’s Song of Deliverance 18 (in text)     On the conclusion of David’s wars
16 – Wed 2 Sam. 23 970 BC David’s Last Song last song (in text)      
16 2 Sam. 24 970 BC David Counts the Fighting Men        
16 1 Kings 1 970 BC David’s Last Days   145   David, when old, reviewing his past life
16 1 kings 2 970 BC David dies, Solomon Cleans House      

How Quickly We Forget

The first five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books together are often referred to as “the books of the Law,” “the Law of Moses,” “the Pentateuch,” or “the Torah.” Together, they lay out God’s laws for the people of Israel to carefully follow as they enter the promised land of Canaan.

Immediately following Deuteronomy is the book of Joshua. It records the efforts of Joshua to bring the people into the promised land, to divide it among the tribes of Israel, and to encourage them to be strong and courageous as they take what God has given to them.

Joshua must have been a remarkable man. He is one of the very few great leaders in the Bible for whom no serious or tragic personal mistakes are recorded. He seems to have exhibited tremendous faith throughout his days, and scripture even informs us that the people of Israel remained faithful to the LORD all the days of Joshua, and even for all of the days of the elders who had known Joshua.

But once Joshua and the other elders were gone, all of that changed.

After the book of Joshua is the book of Judges, and to put it bluntly, Judges paints a picture of an Israel that is seriously messed up. There are many examples in Judges of how rapidly and how seriously Israel fell away from God. Consider one of them, found in Joshua 17. A man has stolen his mother’s silver, and when he confesses to the theft, she celebrates by using some the silver to make idols. But what is especially disturbing, is that apparently she thought this would please the LORD!

“He then returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, ‘I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore, I will return them to you.’ So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest.” (Joshua 17:3-5)

But the story gets worse… Micah, in whose house are these graven images that were “dedicated to the LORD,” meets a Levite who agrees to become his personal priest.

“So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest.’” (Judges 17:12-13)

How could Micah possibly think that the LORD would bless him for having household idols and a personal priest for those idols in his home? How could a Levite, who ought to have known the law, not realized that this was a breach of the second of the ten commandments, among other things?

As the story continues in chapter 18, six hundred men from Dan steal the household gods and the priest for their own. “The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.” (Judges 18:30-31)

The Israelites so quickly turned aside to foreign God’s after entering Canaan. But what may be worse, is that they seemed to think that the LORD would be fine with this. If only they had been careful to familiarize themselves with God’s word, who knows how much better and easier life might have been for them? Let us take this as a warning. We must be careful to constantly familiarize ourselves with the teachings of scripture, lest we quickly fall away and suffer the consequences.

Scriptures and Thoughts on Sovereignty

Defining Sovereignty:

 The Hebrew, Greek, and English words all convey the idea of a kingly reign.

 (Psalm 103:19) The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

 (1 Chronicles 29:11-12) Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.

(2 Chronicles 20:6)  and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.

 (Psalm 115:3) Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

(Psalm 135:6) Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

 (Job 42:2) I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

(Daniel 4:35) All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

How can modern Americans grasp the concept of sovereignty?

 (Romans 13:1-6) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

 If God is sovereign, why do men perish when God does not will for any to perish?

 (2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

(Matthew 7:13) “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.

(Matthew 23:37) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

 Why does God allow bad things to happen?

 (Romans 8:28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

 (Proverbs 16:4) The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

(Genesis 50:18-20) 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Consider the end of the Romans 9 passage. What effect might the larger context of the book of Romans have on our understanding of this excerpt?

 Can God make a rock so big that He cannot pick it up?

 Can God tell a lie?

(Numbers 23:19) “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

(2 Timothy 2:13) if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

(Hebrews 6:18) Thus by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be strongly encouraged.

If God is sovereign, does mankind have free will?

(Proverbs 21:1) The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 (Isaiah 46:9-10) Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

(Proverbs 19:21) Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

(Proverbs 16:9) The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

(Lamentations 3:37) Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?

(Proverbs 16:33) The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

(Ephesians 1:11) In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Distinction of causation vs. control

 Does God predestine people to heaven or hell?

 (Romans 8:29-30) For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

(Romans 9:10-24) When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

(John 6:44) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

see verses on “Why do men perish…?”

Does God harden people’s hearts for His own purposes?

(Exodus 4:21) The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

(Exodus 9:12) And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

(Exodus 10:1) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them,

(Exodus 10:20) But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.

(Exodus 11:10) Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

(Exodus 14:8) The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.

(Exodus 9:7) Pharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

(Exodus 8:15) But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

(Exodus 8:32) But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.

(1 Samuel 6:6) “Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He had severely dealt with them, did they not allow the people to go, and they departed?

 

Three Kinds of Unfaithfulness

Our Bibles contain a good deal of ancient history, especially concerning the Israelites. When reading the Old Testament we can learn not only about the customs, technologies, art, and warfare of this ancient people, but also about their intimate relationship with the LORD.

What we find is that the Israelites, over the course of the centuries, fell away from God time after time. If there was a way to go wrong, the Israelites would manage to find it. Because of this, their story gives us hope that God will be as patient with us and with our friends and family as He was with the people of Israel. It also gives us many examples of what not to do if we want to prosper and have joy in the LORD.

Here are three broad categories of unfaithfulness that we see Israel exhibiting. By examining where they went wrong, we can better be on the alert against troubles that might find their way into our own lives if we are not watchful.

1) Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership.
2) Becoming just like everyone around us.
3) Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity.

Consider these categories of unfaithfulness in more detail:

Being too cowardly to even try to follow God’s leadership:

God told the children of Israel to go into the land of Canaan and to take it by force. He would fight for them to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But the people, when they analyzed this task for themselves, decided that it was just too hard, and decided it was better not to try than to try and fail.

What commands has God given, or what direction does He lead, that you are too scared to follow? Find courage to follow where He leads, or you will die in the wilderness for your rebellion.

Becoming just like everyone around us:

Eventually the children of Israel did go into Canaan to take it for themselves. Many of them were courageous in following God into battle and claiming their inheritance. But many others were half-hearted about this task. They drove out some of their enemies, but they left others to live in the land. It was not long before they found themselves worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, practicing cult prostitution, sacrificing their children to Moloch, and doing all kinds of detestable things. They may have claimed to still follow the LORD as well, but their loyalties were obviously divided.

What worldly practices have you allowed to maintain a stronghold in your life? We may insist on calling America a “Christian nation,” but we must be careful to recognize that much that goes on here is anything but Christian. We must not cheapen the name of Christ by wearing it while living like everyone else.

Forgetting God in the midst of our prosperity:

God warned Israel repeatedly that they must not forget Him when times of comfort and prosperity came. They would enjoy nice houses and beautiful vineyards and large flocks and herds. Many of them would forget God in these times and feel that it was their own strength by which they had acquired their wealth.

In the age of advanced technology, modern medicine, and socioeconomic mobility, we may feel that the answer to all of life’s questions is to work harder, be smarter, and then sit back and enjoy the results of our own efforts. Science will save us. Money will fill the holes in our lives. Comfort is the ultimate goal. But we must not forget that without God, we have nothing.

Which of these kinds of unfaithfulness do you struggle with the most? Do you struggle with all three from time to time? What specifically should you be on the alert for this week?