Monday, February 24, 2020
A pet peeve may be defined as something that someone finds especially annoying—i.e. a frequent subject of complaint. Many people have sources of annoyance and some have more than others. I thought I’d share a couple of mine with you. Drivers who slow down long before they have to prior to moving into a turning lane (and then never using their signal to indicate such a turn is coming). People who, when asked to repeat something, say the very same thing in exactly the same volume as before. The indiscriminate repetition of vocalized pauses such as “uh” or “um.” Celebrities who believe that I care what they think concerning a matter for which they are nowhere close to an expert. These, in varying degrees of severity, can set me off. Perhaps you can identify with some of these and perhaps you have others, but many of us, if we were honest could provide examples of things that really get under our skin. This had me thinking, does God have pet peeves? If so, what might one of them be? As we continue our study in Judges, I’m convinced that there is a very compelling answer to this question. Today we are going to observe two parts of a hearing that reveals one of the quickest ways to incur the wrath of God in Judges 2:11-15.
1) The Indictments against God’s People-2:11-13
The first part of verse 11 reduces Israel’s major problem into one concise statement (a statement that will be repeated in one way or another throughout this passage and the rest of the book)—“Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (2:11a). “Evil” most often refers to moral or spiritual malignancy (Block, Judges and Ruth, 123). When someone or a group of people “does evil” (ra), it usually adds a theological element to the moral failure envisioned. This is aided by the addition in verse 11 of “in the sight of the Lord” (2:11a). As God is omniscient (all knowing), nothing escapes his sight. Add to this the fact that these are his people (for whom he is especially interested) and the nature of their sin (idolatry) and one realizes that God couldn’t help but notice the evil that the Israelites were endorsing in this period of history. Instead of worshiping and serving the one true God who had called them out of Egypt, had led them to the Promised Land, and had cut a covenant with them, Israel decided to serve “the Baals.”
This summary statement also serves as the first element of a chiasm (an ancient way of organizing a literary point) that will take the reader through to verse 13b.
A They served the Baals (11:b)
B They forsook the Lord (“Yahweh”) (12a)
C They followed other gods (12b)
C’ They bowed themselves down to them (12c)
B’ They forsook the Lord (“Yahweh”) (13a)
A They served the Baals and the Ashtaroth (13b) (Block, Judges and Ruth, 124).
Typically when an author organizes a point this way he is hoping to highlight something important (as seen in the ends of the chiasm and the apex/center). Here, the important point being made is an indictment against the people of God that is all to do with their willingness to commit idolatry. The ends of this chiasm demonstrate the residue/outward manifestation (they served other gods) of what is true of their hearts as seen in the center of the chiasm (they pursued other gods). YIKES!
But what about this “Baal” character. Actually, “Baal” was an ancient title meaning lord/master. Applied to a pagan God, the title meant divine lord or master. Among the Canaanites, Baal refers to the storm/weather God that was especially popular in this worldview. When Baal is made plural (as it is here with “Baals”) the reference is not to multiple gods, but to the numerous manifestations of the one weather god that the Canaanites depended on for blessing and the fertility of the land.
Idolatry (defined as the worship of anything other than the one true God) naturally means that the idolater turns from the Lord and opts to serve something else. This is captured in the first part of verse 12 (the second element of the chiasm)—“and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (2:12a). The author goes to great lengths here to frame this brand of idolatry for the especially shameful behavior it is. The Israelites are not just forsaking any god, but the one true God. He isn’t not just the one true God, he is the God of their own fathers. He isn’t just the one true God of their own fathers, the is the one who had miraculously provided for every step of the journey they had taken to the promised land.
Have you ever known someone to self-sabotage an otherwise healthy and good relationship? Those looking from the outside in can recognize in such cases how foolish the self-saboteur is behaving. Maybe you’ve seen it in a dating relationship, or, worse still, in a marriage. The couple has a good thing going; one party is proving faithful and loving; and yet, for some strange reason, the fickle party runs off to be with someone else. This is eerily similar to what was going on here with Israel. God had proved to be nothing but a faithful husband to his people—a loving provider and perfect leader. However, in spite of this, Israel is off with other suitors.
What is worse, they are trading a great situation for a grossly inferior one—“and followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were around them…” (2:12b). Baal—ooooooo—god of the weather. Sounds cool and impressive. What is his logo? A lightning bolt coming out of a cloud? The Israelites knew the God who created and controlled the weather! He is “Yahweh” (“Lord” in this context)—the self-existing one. If Baal is the weather god, even if he existed, would not his power depend on a low-pressure system, the sun, or a tropical depression?
I remember hearing on several occasions the following statement made as an encouragement to remain faithful in the context of marriage: “why go out for cheap burgers when you have filet minion at home?” The same could be applied here to Israel—“why follow after the gods of the people around them when they have a relationship with the one true God already?”
Ultimately, this is a classic case of allowing the context to determine one’s allegiance, not the truth of one’s own conviction. Here was a relatively small people group—the Israelites—living in close quarters with much larger and more powerful entities (at least, more powerful in the world’s eyes). Rather than take comfort in who they are in God’s eyes and remain faithful to him, they decide to give into the peer pressure and score points with their new neighbors. Friends, what we see here in Judges happens to this day and the same result always occurs. Any time God’s people trade him and his truth for something the surrounding culture and its influencers may sell as ultimate, they settle for less than the very best and run the risk of ruin. Whether it is fame, fortune, influence, sex, acceptance, or power, none of these suitors holds a candle to the one true God who alone is worthy of all glory and honor and praise, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and wants for nothing, who is the almighty creator of all the universe, the ultimate satisfaction for our every need, who loved us even when we were unlovely, and who is sovereign over all. The Israelites in this passage forgot this, and we cannot afford to make that same mistake.
When one forgets that God is the only one worthy of worship, anything and everything is up for grabs as an object before which to bow the knee. This is the fourth count against Israel here—“and bowed themselves down to them” (2:12c). “Bowing” was the posture of worship common in the Old Testament world. This posture, along with what has already been described demonstrates that Israel was already proving guilty of disobeying the second commandment God gave to Moses in the wilderness—“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them;…” (Exod. 20:4-5a). Here, the idol made/endorsed was a manifestation of the weather –a manufactured god of the sky named Baal. This graven image that the Israelites were bowing before rendered them guilty of breaking God’s second command.
This angers the Lord greatly who is “a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5b)—“thus they provoked the Lord to anger” (2:13a). The quickest way to get under God’s skin is to render something/someone else the glory that is due his name and the worship that ought to be directed to him. Be it a golden calf at the base of Sinai (see Exod 32), Baal (see Judges 2), yourself, your significant other, your job, your family, your freedom, or whatever else, the worship of any of these inferior things angers the Lord.
Wrapping up the chiasm that began in verse 11 and concluding the charges/counts against Israel is another summary statement—“so they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth” (2:13b). Added to Baal already mentioned is this second pagan god, or in this case, the goddess of love and war. Often viewed by pagans as the consort or wife of Baal, this faux-pagan power couple was viewed as a force to be reckoned with among the nations inhabiting the land reserved for God’s people. Ultimately, what is portrayed in no uncertain terms here in verses 11-13 is this: the same people who had experienced Yahweh’s power in Egypt, at Mount Sinai, and in the desert, traded allegiance to the one true God for allegiance to the false gods of this land. Rather than expel these pagan influences in favor of the God who had given this land to them, they join forces with these people and begin serving gods based on created things instead of the Lord who created all.
2) The Sentence for God’s People-2:14-15
Following this list of indictments is God’s pronouncement of judgment against his people. This is introduced with an over-arching statement at the beginning of verse 14—“the anger of the Lord burned against Israel” (2:14a). What Daniel Block says about this comment captures the sentiment well—“Yahweh is a passionate God; he cannot stand idly by while other divine competitors snatch his people from him. Nor can he passively accept his own people’ adulterous affairs with other gods” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 127). God is not a cold unfeeling force somewhere far removed from what happens on the earth. He is personally invested in what transpires on the world’s stage and is deeply grieved by wickedness and especially saddened when people he has a vision for are swayed by inferior things/personalities.
This is why, as witnessed in here in Judges 2, God is not beyond disciplining his people severely so as to correct their misplaced affairs. In this case, God issues a two-fold sentence. First “he gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them,…” (2:14b). Exactly who these plunderers were won’t be revealed until later, but the point here is clear—while Israel hoped to gain something from fraternizing with God’s enemies, they would, in fact, be taken advantage of.
This is the age-old bait and switch—worldly/evil forces and/or personalities promise freedom and satisfaction to entice people to give in an inch and this is exploited to the nth degree. Not only are those who give into the world and evil robbed blind, they are even enslaved.
In fact, this is the next sentence God pronounces on his people—“and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies” (2:14c).
This passage serves as a concrete illustration for what evil can do if it is entertained and allowed to stick around. If wickedness and its influences is not actively avoided and rooted out of one’s life, it will inevitably rob and enslave. This was true in the case of Israel in the time of the judges and it is true of those who entertain ungodliness in our today.
One thing to remember in the case of the Israelites in Judges 2 is this—While Israel’s enemies should have been the Canaanites and their idolatry (both of which they were asked to expel from the land), by chapter 2 verse 15, due to their sin, their enemy had become God himself—“wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed” (2:15). Their guide, provider, sustainer, miracle-worker, and faithful helper had turned his hand against them and they only had themselves and their idolatry to blame.
One can see from this passage that far more than a mere pet peeve, idolatry is something especially grievous to God. He hates seeing those who are supposed to belong to him trust in, pursue, or worship something or someone else. This passage has worked to show that idolatry is not merely misplaced attention, it is shameful disregard and substitution of what is the very best for what is grossly inferior. Not only that, but he is a fool who would seek to replace the One who can provide true satisfaction with something/someone who promises such but only delivers exploitation and slavery. Also, it is ill-conceived to settle for a relationship with some created entity in the world that has been manufactured into something it was never designed to be when one could have a relationship with the Creator and Lord of the universe. Israel had Yahweh and yet she followed a weather god and his mistress of love and war to disaster. In Christ we have a relationship with God? What could be better? And yet, are you living today as though something/someone else is ultimate?
Monday, February 17, 2020
Judges 1:1-3:6 reads as a preface and/or foundation for the rest of the book. What is provided in these opening chapters sets the stage for the cycles of judges and their exploits that will be described in 3:7 and onward. Last week, Judges chapter 1 revealed what was taking place “out in the open”/visibly in this period in Israel’s history. Judah and Simeon and Caleb enjoyed relative success in conquering some of the pagan people still left in the land and yet even in this enterprise they endorsed pagan forms of torture and were intimidated by iron chariots. The other tribes for their part, expelled some of the wicked nations and allowed others to remain. Some Israelites even enslaved some of the people they were supposed to expel! While we looked at how these small concessions were ill-conceived as we drew applications in chapter 1, chapter 2 goes long way in explaining why and how Israel fell into moral and spiritual decay. In other words, the theological reasons for what was happening in chapter 1 are revealed in chapter 2. Today we are going to look at two accounts given in Judges 2:1-10 and learn what was at the root of Israel’s failure during this period.
1. The Provisions and Punishments from God-2:1-6
The reasons/explanations for the failure of God’s people to properly settle their land (the (anti)conquest that took place in chapter 1) are not reached after introspection and self-reflection on the part of the Israelites. Instead, Israel’s failure prompts God himself to confront his people through an angel—“ Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim…” (2:1a). Beginning in Gilgal (Israel’s main campsite after crossing the Jordan river and location of the twelve stones that stood as a reminder of God’s miraculous power and ability to fulfill his promises—see Josh 4:20-24) and traveling to Bochim (to be explained in due course), this angel emerges as both a third-party observer of Israel’s failures and an authority that is both able and qualified to speak truth into their situation. One commentator has speculated that this angel’s initial location (Gilgal) might suggest that the God who sent him was still residing in or had retreated to Joshua’s campsite at the entry point of the land (at least figuratively speaking) (Chisholm, Judge and Ruth, 138).
The first order of business for this angel involves reminding God’s people (who were behaving as though they had already forgotten) of God’s miraculous power and faithfulness that was witnessed in the exodus story—“and he said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers” (2:1b). These kinds of reminders are reminiscent of Exodus 34 and Joshua 23 in which the Lord recalls how he had delivered Israel out of Egypt and brought them into the promised land.
Taking a moment to consider all that God did to accomplish this might prove beneficial. God’s sovereign hand had preserved Moses’ young life when babies were being killed, allowed Moses a unique upbringing, miraculously called Moses after he had left Egypt in the burning bush, equipped Moses to perform many miracles, used Moses to enact 10 plagues against Egypt and a stubborn Pharaoh, led Moses and his people by day and by night and through the Red sea, provided for Moses and his people in the wilderness, and much more! All of this demonstrates the great care, patience, and provision God has and will continue to have for his chosen people.
All of this God was wiling to do for his people because of his commitment to his covenant promises—“and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you’…” (2:1c). This covenant corresponds to both the Abrahamic covenant (that promised land, descendants, and blessing for the Israelites) and what was said in places like Leviticus 26:12—“I…will be your God and you will be my people” (see discussion in Block, Judges and Ruth, 113). For better or worse, God had made this covenant with these people and nothing was going to sever that.
Therefore, God’s pristine track record of faithfulness to his people (as witnessed it the miraculous Exodus) and his covenant with his people ought to have engendered reciprocal faithfulness and obedience on the part of God’s people.
What God desired of his people was relatively simple. First, “…you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land” (2:2a). After all, with an agreement with God already made, who needs an agreement with inferior powers? With a relationship with the Almighty Lord, who needs to flirt with pagan idols?
Second, the people were instructed to “tear down their altars” (2:2b). This was necessary as these altars served as symbols of the false worship system of the land’s inhabitants. If allowed to remain, these would tempt Israel to turn away from the Lord to other gods (see Exod 23:24, 32-33; 34:12-14; Deut. 7:1-6, 16) (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 139). These two activities (a prohibition to not enter into agreements with foreign powers and a command to tear down idolatrous altars) should have been easy for the Israelites to endorse given all that God had proved to them and the superior covenant he had provided them.
However, this angels calls out their disobedience in the last part of verse 2—“But you have not obeyed Me;…” (2:2c). Agreements with foreign entities were being made because of a lack of trust in God’s ability to sustain them. Pagan altars remained in the land and were already enticing God’s chosen people. Something of the heartache and exasperation this brought upon the Lord is heard in the question voiced next—“what is this you have done?” (2:2d). Often God will respond to failure and sin with such questions. He said to the embarrassed first couple following their sin “who told you that you were naked?” Frequently this questions are used in response to actions that proved either stupid or deceitful in the eyes of God (Gen 12:18; 26:10; 29:25; 42:28; Exod 14:11; Judges 15:11). There is something about asking pointed questions that cuts to the heart of the accused. This is God’s intent here. The Lord’s people had personally failed their God and he wants the sting of this to rest heavy on those who have disappointed him.
As a direct result of the Israelite’s failure to do what they have been asked to accomplish, God will cease acting on his people’s behalf to drive the Canaanites out of the land. No longer will the campaign that proved swift and effective under Joshua and others, be successful. If God’s people were not especially interested in finishing the job that God started, then the Lord would allow these pagan people and their influence to remain in the immediate context of his covenant people. This is one example of God handing his people over to their sin.
A consequence of this punishment would be that “they (these pagan nations) will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you” (2:3b). The physical presence of the Canaanites in and around God’s people will prove to be a real nuisance and spiritually paralyzing. While the Israelites might have been impressed with the Canaanites’ power and may have believed that allying themselves with them would have provided for more freedom and comfort in the land, God says that these same people will entrap God’s people and hold them spiritually captive.
Many things in the world sold as liberating and comfortable prove enslaving in the end. Here, God’s people believed that the concessions they made in chapter 1 were in their best interests in the long term. However, as God reveals, what may have seemed to be expedient will prove utterly debilitating.
“When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept…” (2:4). What this angel has said—both the reminder of better days under Joshua and their present failures to remain faithful to the Lord and his commands—is too much to take in and they break down into tears.
So acute and vociferous is their weeping that “they named the place Bochim;…” (which means [place of] weeping) “and there they sacrificed to the Lord” (2:5). These actions—both the renaming of the location and the sacrifice offered—seem to indicate true repentance. Their cries betray that they acknowledge they have failed to act rightly in the covenant relationship with God and have entertained cultic actions and people. Their sacrifice indicates their willingness to take the first steps in the right direction and correct their ways. This seems to be the right response to what has been shared by God. However, this will be the only time such corporate repentance is demonstrated in the book and the remaining chapters will reveal just how short-lived this revival will be (Block, Judges and Ruth, 117).
2. The Life and Death of Joshua-2:6-10
Next, the writer of Judges reflects on the life and death of Joshua. The account in verses 6-10 does not cover the time immediately following what has happened in verses 1-5, but looks back retrospectively to the events that unfolded prior to the time of the judges. In many ways, what is shared in these few verses is a retelling of what was already revealed in Joshua 24:38-41. Prior to the time of the judges “when Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land” (2:6). Each tribe was given a particular jurisdiction for which to be responsible and to successfully settle.
“The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel,…” (2:7). During Joshua’s day, people were faithful to the Lord. This legacy continued in the lives of the generation that followed Joshua’s death. These had seen the had of God on their behalf and perhaps because of these experiences, these had more motivation to remain loyal to the Lord. As most humans are a simple and concrete lot, many buy into things more quickly if they can see or experience it for themselves. The same is true to this day. In our relativistic world, many don’t act based on what they’ve heard, but what they’ve seen firsthand. For many experience, not revelation, is the currency of conviction.
While experience is not always a bad teacher/motivator, it is ever-changing. This is illustrated next in the death of Joshua—“Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten. And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash,…” (2:8-9). The leader and cheerleader of God’s people expired and the experience of God people had changed. Would they rely on the unchanging promises and revelation of God to carry them through to the next season in spite of these changes?
Suffering the loss of one figure is one thing, but then losing an entire generation is another thing entirely—"All that generation also were gathered to their fathers” (2:10). Bereft of Joshua’s leadership and the legacy left behind to the next generation, the people of God were on precarious, but not impossible ground. Greater even than Joshua and greater even the generation to follow is God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Would the next generation currently settling the land God had promised their fathers, Joshua, and Moses remember this?
Verse ten provides the answer: “and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which he had done for Israel,…” (2:10b). This is a classic case of the failure of a community to keep alive its memory of God and his saving acts. The many festivals/feasts, the many priests, and the teaching of the law—all of which celebrate and promote the unchanging truths of God—somehow did not prove compelling in their effort to remind and reiterate who God is and his purpose for his people. It is possible that that these spiritual practices and provisions had, in the period leading up to Judges, been reduced to mere formality and only offered people an opportunity to “go through the motions.” Regardless of exactly the reason why these things failed to motivate faithfulness in the hearts and mind of God’s people, shortly after the death of Joshua and those alive during his day the Israelites had forgotten both the God who saved them and the many mighty acts he had taken on their behalf.
The theological reasons for Israel’s failure during this time are not unlike what is possible in our world today. In our scientific, relativistic, and emotional culture, the unchanging revelation of God has been pushed to the background and, even in some churches and among some believers, totally forgotten. As a result, when things change and pressure to give into all kinds of wickedness mounts, many surrender valuable ground in the battle for truth and allow their circumstances to guide them more than the canon of scripture. Here, in Judges 2, the failure to remember God and his faithfulness (as a guide, provider, miracle worker, etc.), had the people of Israel giving into the wickedness of idolatry. Today, failure to remember God’s truth and his faithfulness in our lives can have people succumbing to the same.
How do we know whether or not we are adequately remembering the Lord and his faithfulness? Ask yourself: Do you find yourself preoccupied by something/someone other than the Lord (legislation, your “rights,” money, family, vocation, etc.)? Are you willing to look past or justify decisions and/or behaviors that are contrary to scripture in your own life or the lives of others to achieve some end? Does your confidence depend on what is decided at the ballot box, in the courts, what is found in your bank account, or what your friends may say? Let today serve as a reminder—the same God who brought his people out of the slavery of Egypt brought you out of the slavery of your sin. The same God who kept his promises to Israel will keep those promises he has made to you. The same God who faithfully provided for his people in the wilderness has, time after time, answered your prayers, provided what you need, and will remain with you to the end. This will never change! May this bring you hope and, if necessary, inspire repentance in your life today. May God grace allow the revival in your life to last longer than it did in the day of Judges.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Today we begin an exciting new journey in a brand new book (well, new to us)—the Book of Judges. While we are not sure who wrote the book (possibly Samuel), we are sure that it was probably written early in the monarchical period as it looks back on dire times retrospectively and from time-to-time will say “in those days, Israel had no king.” This history book covers the time between the death of Joshua (the leader of Israelites after Moses) and the reign of Israel’s kings (beginning in 1 Samuel with Saul). Prior to Joshua’s death, this leader implores the people of God to obey the commands of the Torah (Law) given by Moses as they continue to settle in the Promised Land in and among many different pagan peoples. Not only were they to serve as an example of an alternative way to live and worship, they were to drive these pagan nations out of the land along with their influences and terrible practices (child sacrifice being one). The Israelites’ obedience to the Law and their victories over these wicked people would demonstrate to the world who God is and exactly for what he stands. God’s people were, in essence, called to be a penetrating light in a dark corner of the world. The name of the book—“Judges”—comes from the type of leaders the Israelites had during this time. Though when we hear this word our mind might immediately go to a courtroom drama, the judges in this book were regional-political leaders/tribal chieftains that God had appointed and empowered to lead in an especially distressing time in Israel’s history. I will warn you, this book is disturbing and violent and tragic. Inevitably, as we will learn, rather than stand in contrast to the pagan world around them, Israel fails to live rightly and as the book progresses, God’s people entertain, embrace, and embody both the nations they were supposed expel and elements of their wickedness. Things go from good, to pretty good, to okay, to bad, to worse, to just plain ugly and it all starts in Judges chapter 1 in the three episodes that are revealed as the book opens.
1. A Promising Start-1:1-2
The history found in the Book of Judges overlaps the Book of Deuteronomy. At the beginning of this book (and at the end of Deuteronomy) the people of God are united in covenant community, obedient to the Lord who delivered them from Egyptian bondage. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and gaining a foothold in the long-awaited Promised Land (thanks to events like the defeat of Jericho), the next challenge becomes occupying the land. This large task is made even more difficult following the death of Joshua. Without strong godly leadership, it doesn’t take long for covenant people of God to dissolve into moral and social chaos. The death of Joshua is, in many ways a turning point in Israel’s history. Without his example (or the example of Moses who preceded him) firmly in place, a vacuum of emerges—a vacuum that is filled, in large part, not by God’s precepts found in the law, but by the Canaanite influence that saturated the land during this period. This downward spiral begins here in chapter 1. That said, things don’t go wrong immediately.
Israel’s immediate response to the death of Joshua is to call upon the Lord—“the sons of Israel inquired of the Lord, saying, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’…”. At this very early juncture in the book, it appears as though the people of God were willing to continue the campaign that Joshua had started—the same campaign that Joshua commanded the people to complete in Joshua 23:4-5. “Here the people express their willingness to obey this command and acknowledge the Lord’s leadership in the campaign” (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 120; see also Block, Judges, Ruth, 86).
One might wonder why this campaign was necessary. Readers must remember that this land belonged to the Israelites. 400 years of absence in Egyptian slavery had allowed many pagan people to come in and set up shop in what was supposed to be the epicenter from which the world would be blessed by the one true God. The Canaanites and other peoples currently inhabiting this region could not accomplish God’s purpose on the world’s stage and therefore, they had to be removed by the rightful possessors of the land. Why not share it with them? The brand of wickedness and idolatry adopted by the Canaanites was especially dangerous and debilitating, especially to the people of God. Leaving them in the region with any kind of influence would no doubt lead to syncretism, deception, and spiritual decay. This potentiality would only be circumvented if the Canaanites disappeared from the land entirely. This is why all the way back in Deuteronomy 7:1-2 God says, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations-the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.”
Following the Lord’s command and expelling the Canaanites would be helped if a new leader was established to replace Joshua. A new leader is exactly what the Lord provides in response to the prayer voiced in verse 1—“the Lord said, ‘Judah shall go up;’…” (1:2a). It is helpful to know that “Judah” here is not an individual, but a tribe of descendants that share “Judah” as their father (the fourth of twelve sons of Jacob and the first born of Leah). Judah’s leadership was well-known in Israel’s ancient traditions. Prior to Jacob’s death, Jacob described Judah as a powerful warrior and leader among his other brothers (Gen. 49:8-12). For these reasons, God’s choice of the tribe of Judah to lead in this time was no surprise.
After choosing Judah to lead/continue the campaign against the Canaanites, the Lord issues a promise—“behold, I have given the land into his hand” (1:2b). This is not unlike the many promises and fulfillments given to Joshua during his leadership (Josh 2:24; 10:19; 11:8; 10:19; 21:44). With the issuing of this promise here to Judah, everything looks as though things will be business as usual going forward—just as it was in the days of the Joshua.
One commentator puts it this way: “The opening scene of the book offers so much promise. The theocratic system is still in place (in other words, God is still looked upon as the ultimate leader of the people of Israel). Israel is sensitive to the will of God, and God responds to the overtures of his people. In its present …position, after the Book of Joshua, the reader expects a continuation of the triumphant narrative encountered in the previous book. But how different will be the reality from the ideal, the history from the dream! By raising the reader’s expectations this way the narrator invites us to share the intensity of his own and God’s disappointment with his people in the period of settlement. Verses 1-2 throw the remainder of the chapter and the book into sharpest relief” (Block, Judges and Ruth, 87) (And it doesn’t take long).
2. The Wins and Losses of Judah-1:3-20
Judah decides to partner with another tribe (of full brothers), pool their resources, and act in such a way that is beneficial to both parties—“Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, ‘Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.’ So Simeon went with him…” (1:3). In other words, “you come and help me fight these guys and I’ll help you fight those guys.”
This team appears relatively successful. First, they lead an “upland campaign” (see “went up” in verses 4-8. (1:4-8). “Up” here refers to elevation, not direction (in other words, not north, but ascending). This campaign can be divided into three phases. First, there is the victory at Bezek—“Judah went up, and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hands, and they defeated ten thousand men at Bezek.” (1:4). Next, there is the humiliation of Adoni Bezek (the escaped ruler)—“They found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and fought against him, and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Adoni-bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.’ So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there.” (1:5-7). The form of torture described in this series of verses served to humiliate the victim and render him incapable of taking up arms in the future. Apparently, this king had this coming to him as he had mutilated seventy other kings in the same way in the past. The king himself admits that God was justly repaying him for his own cruelty. However, these gory details might also reveal that even here, at the beginning of Judges, the people of God were stooping to a pagan level in the way they chose to deal with enemies. Rather than execute the king on the spot, they allowed him to live (at least for awhile) and resorted to a Canaanite method of torture (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 122). This proves that even here in chapter 1, the regression of God’s people is beginning to show itself. The third phase of this campaign is mentioned in verse 8—"Then the sons of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire…” (1:8). The swiftness of this entire campaign in general and this last phase in particular reveals God’s presence really was with his people as they tried to complete what Joshua started.
Following the “upland campaign” (i.e. “going up”), Judah tackles the “lowlands” (“went down” or descended into the valley). The writer reports as follows: “Afterward the sons of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country and in the Negev and in the lowland. So Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba); and they struck Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. Then from there he went against the inhabitants of Debir (now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher). And Caleb said, ‘The one who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will even give him my daughter Achsah for a wife.’ Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah for a wife. Then it came about when she came to him, that she persuaded him to ask her father for a field. Then she alighted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Give me a blessing, since you have given me the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.’ So Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs…” (1:9-15). During this conquest, some of the same Anakites that had terrified the Israelite spies during their surveilance of the land in Numbers 13:22 and 33 are successfully defeated—Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. Caleb joins in on the scene and promises his daughter to the Israelite who attackes Kiriath-sepher. After his nephew brother captures it, he makes good on this promise—guaranteeing that his daughter would have a worthy husband and that he would have a capable in-law. As a wedding present (of sorts) Caleb grants his daughter a field and “springs of water” after she requests such. Caleb’s seeking to provide the very best for his daughter here at the early part of the book will contrast sharply to how future leaders deal with women as the story unfolds.
The account continues with Judah’s activity: “The descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the city of palms with the sons of Judah, to the wilderness of Judah which is in the south of Arad; and they went and lived with the people. Then Judah went with Simeon his brother, and they struck the Canaanites living in Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah. And Judah took Gaza with its territory and Ashkelon with its territory and Ekron with its territory” (1:16-18). It would appear that under Judah, the conquest and settlement that began with Joshua was continuing strong. However, as the conclusion of the campaign is described, there are shortcomings—shortcomings that will eventually cost the Israelites dearly.
On the positive end, Judah took possession of the hill country—"Now the Lord was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country…” (1:19a). On the negative end, “they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots” (1:19b). Since when did chariots pose a threat to God’s people? After all, hadn’t Pharaoh’s chariots failed their pursuit of the escaping slaves? Joshua had even assured the men of Joseph that the Canaanites iron chariots would not prevent them from conquering the plains (Josh 17:16-18). Something is not adding up. In 2:1-5, one learns that this might just be an excuse and that the real reason for Israel’s failure to complete the job was their own spiritual compromise and idolatry (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 130). That said, on another more positive note, the text continues with “Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak…” (1:20)
3. The Failures of the Remaining Tribes-1:21-36
However, the chapter does not end on a positive note. Instead, what started out as a campaign to expel idolatrous influence from the Promised Lamb ends up turning into an opportunity for the people of God to settle down with the enemy—a chance that the Israelites take. The contrast between the relative success of Judah, Simeon, and Caleb mentioned earlier is contrasted with what is revealed next, introduced with “but” in verse 21—"But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so that Jebusites have lived with the sone of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day” (the day that this would have been written). While both Judah and Benjamin at different times attempted to take this city (see here and in Joshua 15:63), both were unsuccessful at dismantling the stronghold of the Jebusites. Rather than continue the cause and finally and forever remove this threat and influence, it is obvious that the Benjaminites became used to their tenants and learned to live with them.
“Likewise the house of Joseph went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. The house of Joseph spied out Bethel (now the name of the city was formerly Luz). The spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, ‘Please show us the entrance to the city and we will treat you kindly.’ So he showed them the entrance to the city, and they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go free. The man went into the land of the Hittites and built a city and named it Luz which is its name to this day…” (1:22-26). Here, in spite of the Lord being with them, the tribe of Joseph relied on pagan informants for success, pagan informants that they allowed to settle in their back yard.
The same song repeats itself again and again as the chapter unfolds. “But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. It came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely. Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who were living in Gezer; so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites lived among them and became subject to forced labor. Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, or of Achzib, or of Helbah, or of Aphik, or of Rehob. So the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out. Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, but lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; and the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath became forced labor for them. Then the Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the valley; yet the Amorites persisted in living in Mount Heres, in Aijalon and in Shaalbim; but when the power of the house of Joseph grew strong, they became forced labor. The border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward” (1:27-36) (emphasis added). Instead of fulfilling their God-given destiny of driving out the pagan influences from this Promised Land, these tribes allowed the Canaanites and Amorites to persist in the region in all of these little settlements. These groups remained inhabitants when the only inhabitants should have been the Israelites. Instead of leveraging their seasons of strength in such a way to finally expel these groups, God’s people used their influence to enslave these people—regressing to what they themselves had endured in Egypt all those years ago (not unlike what they did in Josh 16:10; 17:12-13, etc.).
Chapter 1 of Judges sets the stage for what will prove to be the not-so-slow moral and spiritual decline of God’s people during this troubled epoch. In failing to drive out the Canaanites from certain areas and in endorsing some of the practices that the pagans were using to torture and enslave enemies, we can already see small concessions made to the world that will eventually lead to major failures in the future. While we haven’t been called to drive people out of our city/state/country today, twenty-first century believers can sympathize with this account on a spiritual level when they consider the call to personal holiness. Small concessions given to the world and her ways, for the sake of peace, comfort, ease, or just because one is tired of the struggle, can suffer dire consequences down the line. Much like the Israelites in the days of the judges, we have been called to serve as a beachhead for a holy alternative in the world in which we live, not a compromising diplomat that grants footholds to the enemy that will do us in in due course. So let me ask you, what concessions have you/are you making in your life today? What are letting slide? It is possible that what may not look like a big deal today could ruin your life tomorrow. This is the unfortunate tragedy of God’s people in the Book of Judges and one can already see the beginnings of it here in chapter 1.
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Today is an exciting day in the life of our church as we are concluding our expositional journey in the Book of Revelation. What a ride this has been! We’ve witnessed heavenly spectacles, letters to churches, monsters, witnesses, plagues, hosts of angels, and one most glorious Lamb. Though, to be sure, this series hasn’t begun to capture all that this book has to offer, it has been my prayer that the salient features and core message of this work has been made clear. Praise the Lord for his perseverance and wisdom every step of the way. As we close our study this morning, we are going to read the final five statements that it makes in Revelation 22:16-21. These statements help bring everything to a close and also remind the reader of what is most important as she anticipates the fulfillment of what is predicted in this prophecy.
1. The Final Sign-Off-22:16
Here at the end of Revelation, Jesus identifies himself using the first person for the first time in this book and indicates that everything disclosed in this prophecy is ultimately from him—“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches” (22:16a). In other words, this book isn’t just the Revelation of Jesus Christ about Jesus Christ, it is the Revelation from Jesus Christ. He is its ultimate author and everything that John has recorded has been sourced in him. While Jesus is the source of the Revelation, the agent of transmission is referred to as Jesus’ “angel” –i.e. a heavenly herald (not unlike Gabriel in the life of Mary) who delivers God’s message. The original recipients of this message are “the churches”—i.e. those same seven churches that are addressed in Revelation 2-3. These local congregations are the direct audience for this Apocalypse, making you and me indirect recipients of this text that must learn to apply today what was originally applied in the first century appropriately.
After indicating all of this and reminding John of the unique transmission of this book, Jesus provides a sign-off of sorts in the second part of verse 16.
How one signs off at the end of a message can say a lot. In fact, some more recent sign-off lines that have become legendary. Whether it is the famous radio DJ Casey Kasem’s ”keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars” or Edward Murrow’s “good night, and good luck” or Bob Barker’s “help us control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered. Goodbye everybody!” these famous “goodbyes” are memorable ways of establishing report with an audience. For his part, Jesus signs off with a reminder of who he is (after all, what could be better than being reminded of who Jesus is)—“I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright and morning star” (22:16b).
This simple and yet profound reminder establishes continuity with the rest of God’s revelation and instills hope in what is to come. First, the “root and the descendant of David” is a military metaphor that has its origin in Isaiah 11:1 and 10. Many Jews understood (and understand) these verses to foreshadow a Warrior Messiah who would destroy their enemies (Osborne, Revelation, 792). This is part of what is in view here. However, added to this is that this Warrior Messiah is a descendant of David—i.e. the prophesied forever king who will rule for eternity (see 2 Samuel 7:16). Jesus refers to himself as this coming victorious Warrior King who totally defeats evil and subsequently rules a forever kingdom—what an encouragement this would have been to the churches in the first century, some of whom were suffering under Roman persecution. What an encouragement this should bring to us today as we look at the unrest and poor leadership in our own world!
Added to this reference is an important image Jesus uses to describe himself—“the bright and morning star” (22:16b). This too is a messianic reference with origins in the Old Testament. In Numbers 24:17, Moses predicts that “a star will come out of Jacob.” However, Jesus uses this same image of himself in his message to the church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:28. There, he is sure to emphasize the brightness of this star—the last star to be extinguished by the rising sun each morning. Jesus is making the case that he is the most glorious presence and the “one who return will remove the cold and dark hour before the sunrise and bring in the perfect day of God” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 510).
What a sign-off! In these few short words, Jesus reminds readers of his impending victory, eternal rule, and unmatched glory. Again, I ask, what reminder could possibly eclipse the one contained in this goodbye?
2. The Final Invitation-22:17
Following this final sign-off is a final invitation. The invitation is given in verse 17a—“the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’…” (22:17a). The invitation is initially offered by the Holy Spirit and the Bride—i.e. the church who is saved, sealed, sanctified, and sent by the Spirit. One might say that the Spirit sends his invitation through the church who has been sent into all the world to share the gospel and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Also important to note is that the invitation is open—“come.” This is consistent with Jesus’ commission in Mark 16:15 when he says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” There is no exclusion nor is there any reservation that should be considered in the invitation the church is asked to extend in the Spirit. As Revelation 22:17 continues, the same open invitation is also shared by those who hear and respond positively, “and let the one who hears say, “Come.””
In almost a breathlessly urgent tone, the invitation is extended further—“and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (22:17b). As in 21:6 and 22:1, the “thirsty”—i.e. those who are without the water of life that is Christ—are asked to draw from him springs of water without cost. The repetition of the plea to “come” to Christ and take from the life-giving water of salvation remains “to the very moment when history will transform into eternity, after which no further opportunity for a decision is available” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 512). The implication of this final invitation is simple, the Holy Spirit and the Church and fresh converts join in one voice here to say “come to Christ now before it is too late.”
3. The Final Warning-22:18-19
Following this final invitation is a final warning. The speaker shifts from the church and holy Spirit back to Jesus who interjects in the first part of verse 18 with “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book.” Though some believe that John is the speaker here, only Jesus possesses the kind of authority to determine what is included in his special revelation and when it ends. While Jesus has typically revealed his prophecy in this book by means of an intermediary (angel), here, he himself speaks and provides this important two-fold prohibition.
The first element of this warning tells everyone reading not to add to this book—“If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book” (22:18b). There is little doubt that the substance of both verses 18 and 19 is adopted from Deuteronomy 4:2.
Deuteronomy 4:2-“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
As this warning cautioned against misappropriating the Old Testament Law, here Christ is warning against false teachers who distort the meaning of the prophesies by adding their own teaching to it or removing the meaning that God intended (Osborne, Revelation, 795). Just a verse later in Deuteronomy 4 (4:3), the Balaam incident is alluded to in which false teachers steered the People of God away from the heart of the Law. This same incident was alluded to earlier in Revelation 2:14. These references provide a fitting backdrop for what is intended here in 22:18. None should misuse, abuse, or add to the prophecy provided in this book. To do so would mean entering the realm of false teaching. False teachers run the risk of incurring the same kinds of judgments/plagues that are described in the Apocalypse. One commentator says “anyone guilty of not heeding this monumental warning will not experience the deliverance promised the Philadelphia church (3:10-“because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world…”) but will remain behind to endure these plagues” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 518).
However, not only should people refrain from extra-curricular eisegesis of the text and wild and fantastic additions to its meaning, Jesus also shares that people must take all of this Revelation into full consideration—“and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (22:19). In other words, one cannot preach the heaven this book describes without also acknowledging the reality of hell. One cannot promote the gracious invitation of God and hold back any mention of the deserving judgment he will reign down upon a deserving and stubborn world. One must advocate for and seek a full picture of what God has revealed given all that he has chosen to disclose. People do not have the freedom to gloss over and/or ignore the uncomfortable or less-glamorous portions of his word. This is true of the Bible in general (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and the Book of Revelation in particular (Rev. 22:19). Those who do not endorse the full counsel of God’s word (embracing all that he has revealed) are prone to embrace an incomplete and false gospel and therefore are cut off from the tree of life (the symbol and concrete metaphor of eternal blessing) and the holy city (the literal expression of God’s glorious presence).
4. The Final Reminder-22:20
This warning is followed by a final reminder (just in case anyone has already forgotten)—“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly’…” (22:20a). This is the last time (of many—see Rev. 3:11; 22:7, 12 for others) that Jesus reiterates his imminent return. This once again highlights the tone of urgency there is to share this revelation and voice the open invitation already mentioned just a few verses ago—the invitation to come to Jesus and accept the life-giving water he alone provides.
Following this reminder, John, the apostle, voices his affirmation and agreement of what has been shared saying, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus” (22:20b). Here, John says “amen” (“I agree”) and then makes a request of the speaker “come,” demonstrating his desire to see his Savior in literal victory ushering in a new heaven and a new earth for his people. He then calls his much-anticipated Savior “Lord Jesus,” celebrating the divinity and authority of Revelation’s protagonist here at the very end of the book.
5. The Final Blessing-22:21-“…The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”
Following the sign-off, invitation, warning, and reminder is the final statement made in this consequential work—the final blessing—“the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (22:21). Here, John asks that Christ impart his grace to “all”—perhaps broadening the scope of his intended audience here to extend beyond the seven churches and include anyone who reads this book. It is John’s desire that everyone who may read this revelation would experience the saving grace of the Lord Jesus—that same saving grace that provides salvation, perseverance in tribulation, relief from God’s wrath, and eternal life and blessing in a new heaven and a new earth. It is this grace that Jesus alone can provide and it is available to all who read, hear, and heed the words of this prophecy (1:3).
With these final statements disclosed, the Book of Revelation comes to an end and the Canon of Scripture comes to a dramatic close. Though all of our questions may not be answered, all that God’s people and all the World needs to know has been disclosed and reiterated. This world and everyone in it is fallen and deserving of the judgment that is coming. However, those who answer the invitation of Christ and come to him in faith will find perseverance in tribulation, ultimate victory over evil, sin, and death, and a place in a perfect and everlasting existence in heaven. If we can walk away from our study of this book remembering anything at all, let it be this—salvation is in our Lord Jesus Christ: Salvation for this day, salvation in every day to come, and ultimate salvation in the end. May this dwarf our view of what may come against us as we wait for his glorious return and may this galvanize us be about the business of extending the invitation we hear voiced in this work to those around us: “Let the one who is thirst come: let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (22:17). And may we as God’s people say along with John “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (22:20-21).
Monday, January 27, 2020
The Bible is a series of divinely-inspired, God-breathed books, that were written by 40-or-so men “carried along by the Holy Spirit” in their own time, place, and context to record the revelation of God as pointed toward, completed in, and resulting from the work of Christ. One can imagine that finishing a collection of books of this magnitude is no small feat. The idea of concluding such a work might lead us to wonder with great interest, what final words will be offered in God’s special revelation? How exactly will this wrap up? What parting message will be shared? Over the next couple of weeks, with great reverence and care, we will answer this question as we cover the final verses in Revelation. Today, as we begin to bring our study of this important book to a close, we are going to read four statements that work together in Revelation 22:10-15 to bring the Revelation of Jesus Christ to an end.
The first statement given in this context is a prophetic utterance and the first element of this utterance is a command—“and he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book for the time is near” (22:10). In many cases throughout the Bible, prophets are asked to share things and keep other things hidden or “unshared.” This is the case for John in the Book of Revelation. Earlier in Revelation 5, John weeps when the seven-sealed scroll appears with no one able to open it—a scroll containing, at least in part, the unfolding series of judgments that move God’s plan along to the end. When Jesus emerges to open the scroll, John is relieved and then permitted to describedwhat ensues (the seals, trumpets, and bowls). In other cases, John is asked to withhold information. In Revelation 10:4, John is told to seal up what the seven thunders said to him. In both ways—in withholding information and in sharing revelation—John serves as a prophet. Here, John is asked to share the contents of this book openly—i.e. proclaim the revelation contained in this work to the world. After all, as was alluded to in 22:7, “the time is near” (22:10). People need to hear this and be given an opportunity to respond to it.
However, the next element of the final prophetic message is the realization that often comes with the call to share what is revealed. The first realization concerns the stubborn—“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy” (22:11a). God is realistic concerning the response people will have concerning his revelation. For many who are stubborn and “stiff-necked,” they will continue to resist in spite of what has been shared. A similar realization is given to Isaiah at the front end of his ministry. Immediately after an experience in the throne room of God in which he was commissioned in a special way to speak for God to his people, he is told the following: “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand. Render their hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim,…” (Isaiah 6:9-10).
In this case, Isaiah is sent with word from God to a stubborn and obstinate Judah and Jerusalem. God knows that despite his messages and overtures, the people will continue down their path of resistance. That said, he is perfectly willing to provide much-needed and important revelation nonetheless and was prepared to tell them on the back end of their failure “I told you so.”
Unfortunately, the same will be true in John’s case with many who pick up the Book of Revelation and read it. Many will refuse to believe it and/or resist its many implications and, as a result, persist in their wrongdoing and wallow in their worldly filth. That said, John, acting as a New Testament prophet, is still called of God to share what he has recorded in this volume.
Thankfully, there are others who, in God’s grace, respond positively to the revelation provided and, as a result, begin a life of righteousness and holiness unto the Lord—“and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy” (22:11b). These two kinds of people—the wicked and the righteous, are also identified in Daniel (a book that shares a lot in common with Revelation).
Daniel 12:9-10-“Many will be purified, many spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”
Both in Daniel and in Revelation the Word reveals that the world will continue to consist of the wicked and the righteous right up to the end. Given that the end is near, comments like these are intended to encourage the unsaved to think carefully about the choices they are making concerning God’s revelation in general and the greatest revelation—Christ—in particular. Those who enter a relationship with Christ are made righteous and placed on a path of holiness that will lead them to enjoy the many blessings that are described in this book in the end. Those who stubbornly refuse Christ will continue on the path of wickedness all the way to the eternal separation from God described in this book. In many ways, what is expressed in this final prophetic message is the same kind of statement God offered to so many in Isaiah’s day and in Daniel’s day—a sobering front-end reminder that there are two types of people in the world and it is preferred to avoid the wicked and unrighteous bunch by responding positively to God’s revelation.
2. The Final Prediction-22:12
Following the final prophetic message is the final prediction given in the passage—“Behold, I am coming quickly,…” (22:12a). Just as Jesus has already done in verse 7, Jesus promises and predicts his impending return. That he uses “quickly” or “soon” means that people everywhere ought to treat the return of Christ with great urgency.
There have been people in every age who have believed that they were living in the very last of the last days—i.e. that they would see the return of Christ described in the Book of Revelation. There are those who believe this today. While some might seek to tame this sentiment, I believe God desires us to live this way, regardless of whether-or-not it may happen in our lifetime. Consistently in the New Testament, Jesus and the disciples make the case that his return is soon.
Luke 22:34-36-“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Matthew 24:27-“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Matthew 24:42-“Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Revelation 3:11-“I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
See also Matt. 25:13; Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 4:3-18; 2 Pet. 3:10-12
If they believed this, how much more should we and how much more seriously should we consider how we live and minister in light of this?
Along with the prediction of his second coming, Jesus predicts what will come along with his return to the earth—“and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (22:12b). It is important to acknowledge that in Revelation, the “reward” is not salvation (so that none should believe that works bring about a right relationship with God). Instead “rewards” in Revelation focus on the end times and relate to eternal blessings that will be given to believers for their faithful walk with Christ. In other words, though believers are not saved by works, good works done in faith are rewarded by God in the end. The rest of the New Testament shares the same testimony.
1 Corinthians 3:8, 12-13-“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor…Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.”
Again, believers, while not saved by works, will be rewarded according to their good works done in faith by the grace of God. One motivating factor behind such works done in this life ought to be the imminent return of Christ who could come back any moment. This final prediction intends to motivate good works from those who belong to Christ—those kinds of works that will be rewarded in the end.
3. The Final Theological Statement-22:13
Following this final prediction is a final theological statement—“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). Here, not once, not twice, but three times Jesus refers to himself as the sovereign Lord of all. Each element of the triad here endorses parallel references to the start and finish of history. The theological point being made with these titles—Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end—involves the eternality, preexistence, and authority of Christ and reiterates his divinity in those terms. No one is superior to Him as he is the ultimate Alpha. No one is worthy of “first” priority except He who occupies “first” place on the list of supremacy. No one has been from the beginning except Him. All other things have a starting point. Similarly, there is no authority higher than the “Omega” that will exist in the end. All others simply share in the program that he has authored. There is no one worthy to give the “last” word on the matter other than He. All other words are judged against His. There is no one else who decides the “end” except Him. All others are subject to his will. What Jesus shares here is a power message of his divinity, beautifully captured in a fitting triad of completion.
What renders this statement especially beautiful is that this theological claim also satisfies the second and concluding element of an inclusio (bookend) found in the Book of Revelation. Both at the beginning (Rev. 1:8) and end of the book (here in 22:13), God and Christ (respectively) refers to himself as the beginning of all things. Literarily, this establishes that the same One who ordained the beginning of the world will bring it to its end. He is both the Creator and the Recreator.
4. The Final Beattitude-22:14-15
The last statement made in this passage is a final beatitude given in two parts. Initially, the beatitude addresses those to whom a blessing applies—“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter by the gates into the city” (22:14). Though this is the last of the seven beatitudes in the book (see 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7), the one unifying theme is the necessity of remaining true to the Lord in order to participate in the resurrection to eternal life (Osborne, Revelation, 789).
Here in 22:14, the imagery of washing their robes speaks of ridding one’s life of the filth of this world and striving to live in purity before God (Osborne, Revelation, 789). These are those who have been made right before God in salvation and, as a result, pursue holiness in Him –exchanging their garments of sin and shame for the robes of righteousness. According to this blessing, these will be granted access to the tree of life and entry into the gates of the holy city. In other words, eternal life and uninhibited access to God’s presence is promised to the righteous.
In stark contrast to those called “blessed” are those left “outside” the gates—i.e. those who are prohibited from enjoying the fruit from the tree of life. These are identified in verse 15—“Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying,…”. As with the list of iniquities found in 21:8, this verse is not intended to serve as an exhaustive list of unpardonable sins. Instead, it denotes the kinds of practices that are witnessed on a regular basis in the lives of those who are not in right relationship with God. Their being “outside” the boundaries of heaven indicates that they will not enjoy the blessings described earlier—those blessings that come from access to the tree of life and proximity to God’s glorious presence.
These four statements—a prophetic utterance, prediction, theological statement, and beatitude—lend themselves to important applications for our lives today. First, the prophetic utterance highlights that faithfulness to share God’s message is its own reward and we ought not base our success on how many or who responds so long as we are faithful to proclaim what God has revealed. Second, the prediction indicates that we ought to be spending what little time we have left before Jesus’ return performing those works that please him and forsake that which is trivial or against God’s will. The theological statement ought to engender confidence that regardless of what we perceive around us, God is sovereign over it all and will bring to a perfect close what he has started. The beatitude ought to have us checking ourselves to see if we are in the faith and cause us to share that faith with those still on the outside looking in. Ultimately, these final statements are a call to be busy—busy sharing what God has made known, knowing that He is in control and pleased by our efforts to share him with those around us. This business ought to be fueled by the imminence of his return, the glory of the blessings that are coming for the saved, and doom that will befall those who don’t enter into a relationship with Christ in time.