C-Grade Religion

For I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings (Hosea 6:6).

In school we always had that one class: it featured a subject in which we had little interest, which we perhaps did not understand well, and/or we just did not get into for some reason or another. In that class we would do just enough work to get a passing grade; we would be content with a C as long as we could get out of that course or subject and never have to worry about it again.

This same attitude unfortunately proves pervasive in the world. In so many realms of life people seem more than content to do the least amount possible, to just scrape by, to do just enough to maintain competency or effectiveness but no more. We can consider such things as reflecting C-grade effort: people doing what they do in order to satisfy a requirement, to fulfill a demand, or placate a superior so they can go and do whatever they really want or at least get others off their back.

A C-grade mentality seems to define most of human religion throughout time. It was certainly manifest in Israel. YHWH, through the prophet Hosea, spoke of how He wished to heal His people Israel (Hosea 5:13-6:3). Israel’s and Judah’s love for YHWH was ephemeral, enduring for a moment and then fading away (Hosea 6:4). YHWH wanted goodness, not sacrifice; knowledge of God more than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).

The sacrificial cult in Israel proved a magnet for C-grade religion. Israel understood it needed to offer the sacrifices YHWH expected and to observe the festivals He set forth, and they did so. They were then satisfied: they had done their duty. They performed the bare minimum. YHWH should be content; He should leave them alone to do their thing; He should be there for them when they needed Him.

C-grade religion remains extremely popular to this day. People recognize their need for some religion in life, and so they seek opportunities to satisfy the bare minimum necessary to maintain standing before God. The assembly and its acts prove a magnet for C-grade religion. Not a few believe that as long as they assemble on Sunday morning and perform the five acts, all is well. They have done their duty. They performed the bare minimum. God should be content; He should leave them alone to do their thing; He should be there for them when they need Him.

Hosea displayed the fundamental problem with C-grade religion in Hosea 6:6: it treats YHWH like the pagan gods and thereby fundamentally rejects His true nature and purpose. Israel in Hosea’s day was thoroughly paganized; on account of this YHWH was about to bring the Assyrians upon them in judgment (Hosea 4:1-7:16). They believed YHWH was the God of Israel; they also believed that other gods were the gods of the nations, Baal deserved service, and so forth (cf. Hosea 1:2-3:5). People in the ancient Near Eastern and Classical worlds were not expected to love their gods or pattern their lives after them. The gods were supernatural beings who could be benevolent or malevolent; they were to be placated, satisfied, or appealed to, not emulated or necessarily loved. Pagans were content to offer sacrifices to their gods to placate them so they would be left alone to live their lives; if they experienced some distress they expected to be able to provide an extra sacrifice and appeal to cajole the relevant god into helping them. To love any god, or to expect any of the gods to love you, would be a bridge too far.

Yet YHWH expected to have a far different relationship with Israel. YHWH loved Israel and had entered into an exclusive covenant with her (cf. Hosea 1:1-3:5). YHWH set forth instruction to lead Israel in the right way; Israel was to know her God and manifest His character. Such is why YHWH would rather have had mercy and knowledge of Him over sacrifices and burnt offerings: if Israelites really knew who YHWH was, and acted like Him, they would demonstrate the strength of their covenant relationship. To believe that requisite sacrifices were enough to placate YHWH demonstrated a complete lack of real understanding about YHWH and His desires for Israel; Israel acted as if she wanted to go her own way and have YHWH leave her alone (cf. Hosea 6:7-7:16). YHWH would allow Israel to do so; once YHWH left Israel alone, she could not withstand her enemies, and was overcome.

C-grade religion remains fundamentally pagan in nature. C-grade religion presumes that God is to be placated and satisfied by doing certain things, and so a person should do the bare minimum so God will leave him or her alone to do their thing. C-grade religion really is worldliness masquerading as piety: a person recognizes they have spiritual problems, some kind of spiritual wound, and may sincerely want to do something about it, but they are not willing to fully repent and be conformed to the standards of holiness and righteousness. They want to do just enough to get by and no more. They do not really want to leave the world and its desires; they want to find a way to remain as they are but not feel spiritual guilt or pain.

C-grade religion is a fool’s errand, ignorant of the nature of God and His purposes accomplished in Jesus. God does not desire our assembling and service to be placated; God wants us to know Him and be like Him. God sent His Son, the express image of His character, so we could know who He is and what He is like (John 1:1, 14, 18, 14:6). God loves us and desires for us to love Him (John 3:16, 1 John 4:7-21): we have been separated from God by our sin, corrupted in nature, and God wants us to be reconciled to Him so we can learn to be like Him and thus be one with God as God is one within Himself (John 17:20-23, Romans 5:6-21).

If we have truly come to know God as made known in Jesus, we will have no tolerance for C-grade religion. The God Who Is cannot be merely placated and satisfied so as to give people space to go their own way; the God Who Is manifests unity in relationship and desires to have humans made in His image reconciled back to Him in relationship. To know God in Christ is to recognize the imperative of being holy as God is holy, to love God and others as God has loved us (1 Peter 1:13-22). To know God in Christ is to die to self, to be crucified with Christ, so we can turn away from the futile ways of the world and find life indeed in Jesus (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:7-14).

Pagans practiced C-grade religion and were condemned (Romans 1:18-32). Israelites practiced C-grade religion, proved to be as pagans, and suffered the fate of pagans (Hosea 6:6ff). C-grade religion remains pagan to this day; it may be tempting, but its end is death. If we wish to find salvation and wholeness we will have to die to self and live to God; we will have to turn aside from the world and our vain imagination and conform to the image of Christ. We will have to know who God is as manifest in Christ and embody His character. Let us find eternal life in Jesus and conform to His image so we may share in relational unity with God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Telling History

And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did that which was evil in the sight of YHWH above all that were before him (1 Kings 16:29-30).

Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem: and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did that which was right in the eyes of YHWH, according to all that David his father had done (2 Kings 18:1-3).

What is history?

Most people understand history as “what happened in the past.” We all endured history class while in school; we learned about the rise and fall of successive world empires. We therefore ascertained very quickly that history seemed to be the story of those who gained the most power or made new things or developed this or that. The more prominent and successful a culture, defined by its consolidation of power, wealth, and influence, the more likely we would learn about them.

But what happens when we approach the Scriptures? What history does it tell?

We can compare and contrast the stories of two kings, Ahab and Hezekiah, in terms of how they are presented in Scripture and how they would be presented in a standard historical account.

The portrayal of Ahab king of Israel in Scripture is less than pleasant. He was strongly influenced by his wife Jezebel; he elevated service to Baal in Israel; Elijah the prophet strongly opposed him. The Biblical assessment of Ahab is seen sharply in 1 Kings 16:29-30, as children are taught in Bible classes to this day: he was the most wicked of the kings of Israel.

Yet, if seen in a socio-political perspective, things never seem better for Israel than in Ahab’s day. Ahab maintained control over Moab; he made an alliance with Jehoshaphat king of Judah; his marriage is an indication of a strong alliance with the Phoenicians. He seemed to preside over one of the most prosperous and stable periods in the history of the northern Kingdom. From Assyrian chronicles we learn that Ahab along with other allied kings fought against the Assyrian Shalmaneser III in the Battle of Qarqar and seemed to fight him to a draw; who else among the kings of Israel could make such a claim?

Hezekiah king of Judah is portrayed in Scripture starkly different terms. He attempts to reform the worship and service of Judah toward greater faithfulness to YHWH; he is spoken of in terms of his father David, as seen in 2 Kings 18:1-3. After David only Hezekiah and Josiah are spoken of in glowing terms as kings in Judah in the Scriptures.

And yet Hezekiah’s reign, in socio-political terms, was a complete disaster. He rebelled against the Assyrians and faced the full wrath of the Assyrian war machine. All of Hezekiah’s major cities were destroyed save Jerusalem, which itself was besieged and spared only by divine intervention. Judah’s condition was described well by Isaiah in Isaiah 1:2-9: Judah barely escaped total annihilation, and should not glory in its close call.

We should certainly be able to see why so many modern historians view the Scriptures with cynicism and skepticism: they do not exactly tell the story the way the historians have told stories. We who seek to follow God would do well to consider, however, whether the problem is with the Scriptures or with the way the historians would like to tell the story.

The historical narrative of 1 and 2 Kings is often claimed to be a heavily biased source writing during Israel’s exile. Without a doubt the final author is writing during the exile (cf. 2 Kings 25:27-30); he most assuredly uses court or other records more contemporary of the events described. And yes, he is heavily biased; we should expect nothing less. He has a particular message to tell, and a very particular reason for it.

We today tend to speak of 1 and 2 Kings as part of the “historical books.” The Jews considered 1 and 2 Kings part of the Nevi’im, “the Prophets.” Most of the books we consider to be “historical” they believed to have been written by the “former prophets” (Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings). To the Israelites the way their story was told was itself inspired, the proper way to tell what happened in past days.

They certainly could have told their story in a way a bit more amenable to the expectations of historians; many in Israel in fact told themselves that story. Israel had its heyday in past days; Assyria and Babylon proved too strong, and so Israel was overrun. What did Israel get for attempting to follow YHWH? Hezekiah reforms the worship and the Assyrians overrun the land; Josiah would do a similar act and his death would precipitate the chain of events leading to Judah’s doom. In fact, probably more Jewish people would have agreed with their fellow exiles in Egypt who were offering to the “Queen of Heaven,” believing that things were better when they committed idolatry, than those who were moved to repentance and followed YHWH exclusively (cf. Jeremiah 44:15-18). In the story of history, after all, empires rise and fall. Israel rose and fell. So be it.

But that story, even though it seemed to make sense of some of the historical facts, only led to assimilation, first with the Babylonians and then later with the Greeks and Romans. Such people were carried away by whoever had power. But those who stubbornly held to the story of Israel as told by the former prophets put the story together persevered, and they persevered because they continued to tell the story the way God intended. Great socio-political standing and influence meant nothing if it were not accompanied by faithfulness to God; a dire socio-political situation could be overcome if the people proved faithful to God. The former prophets showed far less concern about the socio-economic implications of royal decisions than the spiritual ones. The story of Israel was told to highlight the people’s faithlessness to warn future generations to not follow in the same pattern of disobedience (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

We can learn much from the example of the historical prophets. History is never merely “what happened in the past.” No historian can tell the story of what happened in the past without providing an interpretation and a purpose to those events. They are all understood not only in terms of their believed conclusion but also in terms of the person telling the story. Even when a historical narrative is presented in an entirely factual way, plenty of other facts are left out, not out of denial, but because they do not fit the story being told.

We should not despair; we need not fall into the abyss of full-throated postmodernism, denying our ability to know anything about the past. But we must also be disabused of any notion that history is simply a set of objectively true facts about what people did in the past. History is a great natural resource which we mine in order to tell the story of who we are, from where we have come, and to learn lessons from our ancestors for good or ill. The way we decide to tell that story is as important as the facts which may comprise it.

We have inspired records of the history of Israel and the days of Jesus and the Apostles; we know how God intends for us to understand those stories. We can gain much from that perspective. We may not have an inspired story of the present, but God’s Word remains true: nations will rise and fall, people will acclaim those who gain power, wealth, and influence, but God remains far more concerned with whether people serve the King of kings and Lord of lords or not, and whether people continue to hold firm to the story which He has told in the pages of Scripture. May we tell history in a way that glorifies God and honors His purposes!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prophet Like Moses

“YHWH thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15).

Hope was given about the future even as the covenant between God and Israel through the Law of Moses began.

In the midst of his final sermon proclaiming, expounding upon, and explaining the Law God have to Israel, Moses speaks regarding prophets in Deuteronomy 18:15-22. At first he provides a promise: YHWH will raise up a prophet like Moses from among the Israelites, and they should listen to this prophet like they listened to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). God would use prophets on account of the fear Israel displayed when God spoke the Ten Commandments directly to all Israel (Deuteronomy 18:16-17; cf. Exodus 20:18-21). God through Moses again reiterates the promise that a prophet would come who was like Moses, and he would speak the words God put into his mouth, and those who would not listen to that prophet would be held accountable by God (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). Moses then warns the people against those who would speak a word presumptuously in the name of God when God did not actually speak to him; such a false prophet would die (Deuteronomy 18:20). Moses then assures Israel regarding how they can know whether or not God has spoken to a prophet: if what they say in the name of YHWH comes to pass, God has spoken through him; if not, then not (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

Therefore, even as God gave the Law to Israel through Moses, there was given an expectation for a future prophet who would again, like Moses, provide legislation and a way forward for the Israel of God.

Yet who would this prophet be? Joshua was appointed leader of Israel after Moses, but he was not considered to be a prophet like Moses: the inspired editor of Deuteronomy, who told the story of Moses’ death and provided some explanations of some of the peoples whom Moses mentioned, declared that there had not been a prophet like Moses in Israel, one whom YHWH knew as face to face, up to his day (Deuteronomy 34:9-12; cf. Deuteronomy 2:10-12). From Deuteronomy 2:23 we can tell that this editor worked no earlier than 1190 BCE when the “Sea Peoples,” the Greeks called Caphtorim, invaded and took over what would be known as Philistia. Thus even though there were prophets in Israel by that time (Deborah the prophetess, Judges 4:4; the unnamed prophet of Judges 6:8), they were not the “prophet like Moses.” Later prophets, like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, would see or do magnificent things, yet none of them saw YHWH as face to face, and none of them were empowered to provide new legislation or a new way forward for Israel. In the first century most of the Israelites were still awaiting the coming of that prophet like Moses.

And then some Israelites began proclaiming that God had sent that prophet like Moses, and that all the previous prophets from Samuel onwards had spoken of Him: Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:22-24, 7:37, 51-53)!

Talking about Jesus as a prophet makes many Christians uncomfortable; they are used to people calling Jesus “just” a prophet to denigrate His claim to be the Son of God, the Messiah, and to relegate Him to the same ranks as Moses, Elijah, and/or Muhammad. Jesus is not “just a prophet”; He is the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Christ, God in the flesh, ruling as Lord (John 1:1-14, 18, Acts 2:36, Romans 1:4). Nevertheless, Jesus is a prophet, and His prophetic ministry is of great importance.

Jesus is the Prophet like Moses because He spoke on His own authority since He was God and with God (Matthew 7:28-29, John 1:1). Moses saw YHWH as face to face, but Jesus is actually God in the flesh, and He consciously declares that He just says and does what He has seen and heard from His Father (John 1:1, 14, 5:19-29). God gave the Law through Moses; Jesus proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom by His own authority as the Son of God (Matthew 4:17, 23, 5:21-48, 7:28-29). God provided Israel with manna and water in the Wilderness; Jesus is the bread of life, and His body, the Word of God, provides full and eternal sustenance and life (John 6:22-71). God through Moses performed many miraculous signs and acts; Jesus does astonishing signs and wonders and is ultimately raised from the dead, the greatest wonder of all (Matthew 11:27, Romans 1:4). In all these ways, and more, Jesus evokes Moses and his role in Israel and yet goes above and beyond Moses in fulfilling the Law and establishing the Kingdom (Matthew 5:17-18).

Jesus is a prophet: He identified Himself as such (Matthew 13:57, Luke 13:33). As a prophet He denounced the current state of affairs in Israel and warned about the destruction to come (Matthew 21:33-46, 24:1-36). On account of His actions and sayings many in Israel considered Him as a prophet (Matthew 16:13-14).

Many have said or sung that Jesus “came to die.” While Jesus’ death was expected from the beginning and is of great importance for salvation, allowing for reconciliation with God (John 1:29, Romans 5:6-11), the New Testament never says that Jesus “came to die,” and for good reason. In His life Jesus had to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-18), yes, but the truth of Amos 3:7 remained: YHWH does nothing without first revealing it to His servants the prophets. The prophets had foreseen the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, the exile, the return from exile, and the succession of empires from Persia to Rome. Daniel even envisioned the end of Jerusalem yet again (Daniel 9:24-27). From 68-70 CE the Jewish people rose in rebellion against the Romans; the rebellion was crushed, their cities were left in ruins, and the holy city and Temple in Jerusalem were razed to the ground. Within 70 years, after a second revolt, the Romans would expel Israelites from Jerusalem, re-christened Aelia Capitolina, in which the Emperor Hadrian had built a temple to Zeus. To this day there has been no Israelite Temple in Jerusalem; no sacrifices can be properly offered according to the Law of Moses; no genealogical records remain to ascertain the priesthood; thus the Law of Moses, as written, cannot be satisfied. Did YHWH abandon Israel without warning? No, of course not. He had spoken through the Prophet like Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, and through Him pointed the way forward for the Israel of God: it would no longer be centered around Jerusalem, a Temple, or even a shared genetic legacy, but instead around the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and lordship of Jesus Christ and participation in His Kingdom (Acts 2:14-26, 3:11-26). The Israel of God was now those who shared in Abraham’s faith and obtained the blessing promised to Abraham fulfilled in Jesus (Acts 3:24-26, Galatians 3:7-9, 15-18, 6:16). YHWH could make no greater demonstration of the finality of the end of the covenant between Him and Israel as mediated by the Law of Moses; the only way forward is through participation in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is not “just” a prophet, but is a prophet, the promised Prophet like Moses. Let us follow and serve Him in His Kingdom to the glory of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Final Promise

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

Malachi’s last words provide one last promise and warning to Israel. They comprise the final words of the Old Testament in English; even though they have different placements in Hebrew and Greek, they remain the final words spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for four hundred years. God promises that Elijah will return before the great Day of YHWH comes; he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, or the land will be cursed (Malachi 4:5-6). But why Elijah? And what is this about turning hearts of fathers and children?

Elijah’s story is told primarily in 1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 2:12. YHWH raised him as a prophet in the dark days of Ahab and Jezebel when Baal service was ascendant. Through Elijah God withheld the rain, raised the dead, contended with the prophets of Baal, displayed God’s power before all Israel, and condemned kings for their malfeasance. Yet Elijah was in despair over Israel’s unfaithfulness; he was sure he alone was left to serve YHWH (1 Kings 19:1-14). Toward the end of his time on earth it did not seem that Elijah was all that successful; Ahab’s family still reigned and Baal service remained popular. Then God took Elijah up to heaven with chariots of fire and gave Elisha a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (1 Kings 2:1-12). In Elisha’s day the victory would be complete: Ahab’s descendants would be executed, Jezebel would die, Baal service would be exterminated, and both YHWH and Elijah His servant would be vindicated (2 Kings 2:13-10:27).

Elijah’s story should inform our understanding of Malachi’s prophecy. Since Elijah did not die, many Israelites no doubt heard Malachi’s prophecy and expected God to send Elijah back down from heaven. In the eyes of Israel, Elijah embodied the prophets; they would understand that Malachi prophesied the return of the prophetic message to Israel before the Day of YHWH came, the great day of expectation of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel as told by all the other prophets. If Israel were to need such a prophetic message, it must mean that at that time many in Israel would again prove unfaithful to God, just as in the days of Elijah, and would need to have their heart returned to YHWH and His purposes, the Law of Moses, and concern for property and inheritance, or God would again have to curse the earth, either with drought, as in the days of Elijah, or perhaps even worse.

Whereas Malachi’s words in Malachi 4:5-6 are the final promise of the end of the Old Testament, the same words represent the first hope and fulfillment of the New Testament. The angel Gabriel visited Zechariah the priest and told him he would have a son in his old age: this son would go in the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient in the wisdom of the just (Luke 1:1-17). In those days many in Israel were despondent: some were tempted to abandon the ways of their fathers and become as Greeks, some considered themselves as sinners who were beyond redemption, and some claimed to be superior to everyone else on account of their holiness and knowledge of the ways of God. Into this environment the son of Zechariah, John the Baptist, came as the prophet proclaiming the coming of the Day of YHWH, proclaiming a message of repentance, exhorting all Israel to turn from their sins and back toward YHWH and His purposes (Luke 3:1-18).

John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14, 17:10-13/Mark 9:11-15). He would be imprisoned and executed by Herod Antipas, and at the time of his death, it did not seem that he was all that successful (Matthew 14:1-12, Luke 3:19-20). Yet he had baptized one Jesus of Nazareth, whom God attested was the Christ (Matthew 3:13-17/Luke 3:21-22). This Jesus was the Immanuel, God with us, and He brought forth the Day of YHWH, first in His death, resurrection, ascension, and the inauguration of His Kingdom, and then in His vindication as the Son of God as the land of Israel was again cursed with death and destruction with the Roman devastation of Jerusalem in 70 CE (cf. Matthew 1:22-23, 24:1-36, Luke 23:1-24:53, Acts 1:1-2:41). John the Baptist, the one who came according to the final promise of the Old Testament, was the final prophet of the old covenant (Matthew 11:7-14). Yet he saw the embodiment of the hope and sustaining message of the prophets in Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus God would restore the fortunes of Israel (Acts 3:19-21). In Christ God would reconcile not only all Israel but all mankind to Himself (Ephesians 2:1-18). In Jesus the Christ YHWH came so all Israel and all mankind could have the opportunity to come to a knowledge of the truth, be saved, and look forward to the day of resurrection, to never taste death again, just like Elijah (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Let us be ever thankful that God proved faithful to His promises, and serve Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, who fulfilled all the prophets said of Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Signet Ring

And the word of the LORD came the second time unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying,
“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying,
‘I will shake the heavens and the earth; and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.’
‘In that day,’ saith the LORD of hosts, ‘will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ saith the LORD, ‘and will make thee as a signet; for I have chosen thee,’ saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:20-23).

The late sixth century BCE was a perilous time in Judah.

The Persians had allowed the Jews to return to their land; the Jews, through the encouragement of the word of the LORD through Haggai and Zechariah, had rebuilt the Temple (Ezra 5:1-6:22). Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Jeconiah (also known as Jehoiachin, one of the final kings of Judah before the exile), was governor of Judea (cf. 2 Kings 24:6-16, 25:27-30, 1 Chronicles 3:17, Haggai 1:1).

And yet things were not entirely right. The Persians ruled over the land of Judea. The Jews did not govern themselves. Their taxes went to provide for a foreign king and a foreign army, one that might oppress and persecute them at any time. Sure, they were back in their homeland, but it also still seemed as if many of God’s promises of restoration were yet to be fulfilled.

Zerubbabel represented a great hope. The author of 1/2 Kings ends his chronicle with the elevation of Zerubbabel’s grandfather Jehoiachin out of prison and in the midst of Evil-merodach king of Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30), no doubt nourishing the hope of the reinstatement of the Davidic dynastic monarchy in Judah. And, behold, Zerubbabel is now in charge of Judah! No doubt many secretly (or less than secretly) wished for Zerubbabel to rule as his grandfather and more distant ancestors ruled. Haggai does talk about the overthrowing of kingdoms when God shakes the earth and Zerubbabel as His signet ring. We can certainly understand the hope and expectation of the Jews.

But it was not to be that way: the Persians themselves were well aware of Zerubbabel’s ancestry, and we do not get the impression that Zerubbabel acts or presumes in any way to seek independence from Persia and to re-establish the Davidic monarchy. Haggai and Zerubbabel will both pass away, and Judah is still under the control of the Persians.

Yet Haggai did not prophesy falsely. In fact, Haggai’s prophecy is of the greatest importance, not just to the Jews and Judah, but to all mankind as well.

Jehoiachin, also known as Jeconiah or Coniah, was not one of the good kings. In fact, Jeremiah roundly condemns and denounces him as a terrible king in Jeremiah 22:1-30. We must note Jeremiah’s specific prophecy in Jeremiah 22:24-30: Jeconiah will be cast out of his land and will die in another land, will not prosper, nor will any of his descendants prosper, and will no longer sit on the throne of David. Of particular significance is the image in Jeremiah 22:24-25: the LORD says that if Jeconiah were a signet ring on His hand, He would cast it off and give it over to those who seek his life, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians!

A signet ring is of great importance for a king: it is a mark of his authority. The signet ring would be used to make impressions in clay to demonstrate that the king had authorized a decree or message, as can be seen in Daniel 6:17 when Darius king of Persia seals the stone in front of the cave in which Daniel has been thrown with his signet ring. If Jeconiah is God’s form of authority in the land of Judah, he will be cast off and given over to his enemies, and will no longer have that authority. As God’s decree in Jeremiah 22:24-30 stands, no descendant of Jeconiah will sit on the throne of David, and in many respects that is precisely what happens: none of Jeconiah’s children sat on the throne of David. When Jeconiah was taken away, his uncle Mattaniah was made king over Judah as Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17-20), and Zedekiah would be the last descendant of David to sit on a throne in Jerusalem and rule over the physical nation of Judah (cf. 2 Kings 25:1-21).

God was in the right to be angry with Jeconiah. Yet Jeconiah’s grandson Zerubbabel finds favor in the eyes of God, and this is what makes Haggai 2:20-23 so important: God chooses Zerubbabel and will make him as a signet, a sign of authority. Consequences remain for the troubles of the past; Zerubbabel will not be king and will only have authority because it is granted by a foreign power. But the promise Haggai makes is of great importance, less for Zerubbabel, and far more for a later generation.

Ten generations after Zerubbabel, a man named Joseph is born in his lineage. Joseph will be supposed to be the father of one Jesus of Nazareth, who will claim Davidic heritage through Joseph, Zerubbabel, and Jeconiah (Matthew 1:11-16). If Jeremiah’s curse upon Jeconiah’s descendants continued to stand fully, then Jesus would have been disqualified on account of this lineage. To this day, in fact, some, especially among Jewish people, will argue that Jesus of Nazareth could not be the Messiah since He is a son of David through Jeconiah.

Yet this is when we see why Haggai’s prophecy is so important. Jesus can be the Branch of David and rule over a great Kingdom because God again chose His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Zerubbabel as a signet ring. And through Jesus God did shake the world, and destroyed the strength of the kingdoms of the nations (cf. Matthew 27:51, Acts 2:16-20, Revelation 6:12-17). Jesus would reign over a Kingdom above all kingdoms, one that would never end, featuring servants from all nations (cf. Daniel 2:44, 7:13-14, Luke 1:31-33)!

Jesus, through His life, death, and resurrection, was given all authority in heaven and on earth, and thus sat on the throne of His father David and rules over the people of God for all time (cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 1:31-33). Because Jeconiah sinned the physical throne was taken from his descendants; yet, since Zerubbabel served the LORD, God chose him, and we all can be the beneficiaries of that choice through Jesus. Let us praise God for His provision for all of us, and serve Jesus as the Risen Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Ezra the Scribe

This Ezra went up from Babylon: and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given; and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him (Ezra 7:6).

Ezra proves to be a pivotal person in the history of Israel.

Ezra is a priest descended from Aaron through Zadok (cf. Ezra 7:1-5), but that is not touted as his claim to fame. Instead, it is his role as a “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” which is prominently featured in his career (Ezra 7:6). He devoted his life to studying the Law of the LORD so that he could teach it to his fellow Israelites (Ezra 7:10); it was for this purpose that Artaxerxes king of Persia sent him to Jerusalem (cf. Ezra 7:11-28). The community of returned exiles recognizes this authority granted to Ezra and proves willing to change their behavior on account of his teachings and pleadings (cf. Ezra 9:1-10:44). The Israelites are listening to and heeding the message of the Law of Moses as read and taught by Ezra the scribe (cf. also Nehemiah 8:1-8). What is astounding is that such is the first recorded instance of such behavior since the days of Joshua; Ezra is the first person described in the Old Testament as a “scribe skilled in the Law of Moses.” How can that be?

Does this mean that there were no scribes skilled in the Law of Moses before Ezra? This is unlikely; there probably were some such scribes in Israel before the exile. For whatever reason they did not gain sufficient prominence to be noted in the text. They also were likely in the minority; even though God commanded the Levites to continually read the Law before the kings of the land (Deuteronomy 17:18-20) and before all the people at the Feast of Booths every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10-13), the prophets condemned the priests for their negligence in teaching the people (e.g. Hosea 4:4-10). If priests were reading the Law, it certainly was not being reflected in the behavior of the kings or the people!

Perhaps because the Law was not being read as it should, or perhaps for other reasons, the prophets feature prominently in the days between Joshua and Ezra. God speaks directly to the kings and to the people through the prophets; the prophets were held in somewhat high esteem even though the people often did not heed their messages. God spoke through the prophets throughout the days of the kings, through the exile, and even after some of the people returned to the land. But even then there is a difference: certain questions are put aside until a priest should arrive with Urim and Thummim (cf. Ezra 2:63). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah exhort the people to finish the (second) Temple in 520 BCE; Malachi prophesies to the people at some point afterward. Otherwise we have no other recorded messages from any prophets at this time; by the second century BCE there is admission that there are no prophets in the land.

Ezra stands at this major juncture in Israelite history. The hand of the LORD is upon him in his diligence in studying the Law of Moses to teach the people. He is often reckoned to be the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles and Ezra; if he himself did not write them, someone very much like him or associated with him did. As such, he is one of the final “prophets” of the Old Testament period, yet one whose authority is vested in his understanding and explanation of the Law of Moses. From this point on the prophets fade; in their place come the lawyers and the scribes. Such figures feature prominently in the Gospels; Jesus chides and condemns them for their hypocrisy, their arrogance, and their inconsistencies, but never denigrates the profession itself or considers it unnecessary or unworthy (cf. Matthew 23:1-35). In fact, Jesus and the Apostles validate the role of the text and its interpreters; they are filled with the Holy Spirit, can prophesy, and yet their arguments and discussions throughout are based on texts and the proper interpretation of those texts. Consider any of the messages of the prophets by the “word of the LORD” compared to, say, Peter’s preaching in Acts 2:14-36, or even Paul in Acts 17:16-32. Texts and their interpretation feature much more prominently than they did during the days of the kings.

Ezra’s example should provide us with encouragement today. We also live during a time when there is no prophet in the land (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10). We have not been granted new revelation since the end of the first century, and we have no reason to expect any new revelation until the Lord returns (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Jude 1:3). Yet, as with Israel in the fifth century BCE, so with us today: it is not as if God has left us without guidance or a way forward. We have the revelations regarding God and His purposes for mankind in the Bible; we can set our hearts to seek to know the will of God as revealed through Jesus Christ and His Apostles (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17). We do not need a prophet to tell us the will of God for us today; we have that will already revealed in the Scriptures. It has been sufficient, is sufficient, and will continue to be sufficient to equip God’s people to conform to the image of Jesus to the glory and honor of God the Father until Jesus returns in triumph. It is for us to learn from the Good Book and seek to live what it says.

It is good to learn the message of the Bible, to seek to properly interpret it, and then put it into practice in life. Let us, like Ezra, set our hearts to understand the will of God, always seeking His wisdom and guidance, so that the hand of God may be upon us for good and that we may live so as to give glory to His name!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Destroyed for Lack of Knowledge

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I also will forget thy children (Hosea 4:6).

The situation reads like an apocalyptic horror story.

No one trusts anyone else. Everyone is out for their own advantage. Kill or be killed. Rampant theft. Pervasive adultery. Blood in the streets. Even the land itself is in mourning.

While some may think this would refer to parts of America or other parts of the world today, this is the description of Israelite society 750 years before Jesus as provided by the prophet Hosea (Hosea 4:1-3).

Hosea presents a picture of a society unhinged from moral bearings, having cast off all restraint. He presents God’s case against the people, and does so powerfully; God’s impending judgment of the people is just. Nevertheless, we are left to ask: what went so wrong? What led to such disastrous conditions in Israel?

The controversy God has with the people is that there is no truth or goodness in the land (Hosea 4:1); this is directly associated with the real cause of the problem: there is no knowledge of God in the land (Hosea 4:1). As God says through Hosea: my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)!

How could this be? There were temples to YHWH in Dan and Bethel; if you asked the “Israelite in the street” about religion, he would tell you that YHWH was the God of Israel, and how He delivered His people out of Egypt and gave them the land of Israel. So how could it be that the people did not have sufficient knowledge of God?

The answer would be apparent if you continued to question the average “Israelite on the street.” He would likely tell you that the golden calves in those temples in Dan and Bethel were representations of YHWH, and that Baal, Asherah, and other gods really existed and were the gods of the people around them. The average “Israelite on the street” would prove to be the average person of the ancient Near East with the usual worldview and beliefs of the average person of the ancient Near East; this was not at all what God was looking for in His people (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-18)!

Israel had some cultural memories of who God is but was not taught directly and/or effectively from the Law about the nature and essence of that God and the conduct He expected from them. The blame for this begins with the priests and Levites who were instructed to teach the people about God and the Law (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). They were perfectly positioned to do so since they were intermediaries, standing between God and the people; nevertheless, from the beginning of the northern Kingdom of Israel, priests came from all sorts of places God had not authorized, and were likely under political pressure to modify what had been declared to suit the purposes of the king (1 Kings 12:31). In a mostly illiterate society, if the Law is not constantly read to the people, they will not be able to know it; thus we have the judgment pronounced by Hosea. The people do not have the true knowledge they should have, and it will lead to their destruction!

But the people themselves are not blameless; even if the priests were not reading the Law, they should have encouraged one another in the knowledge of YHWH as the One True God, the Creator, their Deliverer (cf. Romans 1:18-20); instead, they went out and engaged in the same idolatrous practices as the people around them (cf. Hosea 4:8-14). Ignorance was inexcusable; even if the Levites and the priests were not speaking the true word of YHWH, God provided Israel with prophets like Amos and Hosea who did speak the true word of YHWH. These prophets went unheeded; the people preferred the prophets with nicer messages and who did not condemn them.

The ultimate consequences were severe; within a generation, the northern Kingdom of Israel would fall to Assyria; most of the people would be exiled and absorbed into the population of Mesopotamia. Most of the priests and Levites of the north would not stand before God and minister to Him, and all because they had forgotten about YHWH. Their punishment is just: since they acted and believed little differently from the rest of the peoples of the ancient Near East, they were absorbed into the ancient Near Eastern world and would have little inheritance in the promises of the God of Israel.

We can make many parallels with the modern day. Sure, there are plenty of people who will profess to believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ, and even claim that He was raised from the dead. But if you press the average “man on the street” when it comes to his understanding of God, it becomes clear rather quickly that most are little different from their secular neighbors. Their behaviors and attitudes differ little from everyone else; they look at things in the way most good postmodern 21st century Americans would, not the way Jesus does. And those behavior patterns tell the story: there is little knowledge of God in the land, despite all the bluster and appearance to the contrary. Understanding of who God is and what He expects from mankind is as superficial today as it was 2750 years ago!

Blame can be laid at the feet of many perceived religious authorities; too many proclaim Enlightenment modernism or post-Enlightenment postmodernism, nationalism, or other worldly philosophies in the name of Christ to their own hurt as well as ours (cf. Colossians 2:1-10). Too many preachers proclaim a moralistic therapeutic Deist god, and not the God revealed in the pages of the Bible. We can be assured that God’s judgment upon them will be just and decisive; as many such organizations decline in membership and relevancy, they are experiencing something somewhat similar to Israel, for they are becoming fully what they aspired to in their preaching and ideology. They are being good 21st century Americans, not Christians. How many people have been destroyed because of such things?

But, in the end, ignorance is no excuse, especially today. Most everyone can read; everyone can easily get their hands on God’s message to mankind. Nevertheless, even though people have plenty of reason to believe in God, they go off and engage in the same behavior as the nations around them. They blindly follow after cultural and societal norms to their own destruction.

People whom God wishes were saved are being destroyed for lack of knowledge; there is insufficient knowledge of God in the land. Let us not fall prey to the superficiality of faith in our culture and go down the same dead ends as those who came before us; let us learn of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and follow after Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus’ Brothers

For even his brethren did not believe on him (John 7:5).

For many of us, the one refuge we can count on in life is family. Even if everyone else is against us and berates us, we like to think that our family members will still accept us and believe in us.

Yet, on the other hand, our family tends to know us all too well. They watched us grow up and many have rather “incriminating” stories about our pasts. Sometimes family members refuse to see any growth or change in us; in their eyes we are still quite young, quite inexperienced, or quite mischievous, even if we have grown up and have learned our lessons.

Jesus had no ordinary beginning, and while we are not given much information about His early years, we have little doubt that they were not very ordinary, either. Contrary to certain religious traditions, it does not seem as if the household comprised only of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. We are told that He has brothers and sisters– James, Joseph (or Joses), Simon, and Judas (cf. Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3).

We do not know much about them. It seems as if they are not terribly much younger than Jesus, since they are old enough to have formed beliefs, and they are known in the community of Nazareth. We can imagine, however, what it might have been like to be the younger brothers of Jesus– the One who always seemed a bit different, One with whom they grew up, but now the One who is making rather grandiose claims about Himself and is engaging in work that is well beyond your average Galilean carpenter!

While there is much we do not know, there is one thing that the Gospels make certain– His brothers do not believe in His claims regarding Himself. In Mark 3:21, Mark informs us that “they who were of” Jesus went to Capernaum to seize Jesus because, in their estimation, He was out of His mind. In John 7:3-5, His brothers are all but taunting Him, challenging Him to go up to Jerusalem and prove to be who He claims to be, for they did not believe in Him. Jesus’ responds in ways likely not much less acerbic, declaring that it is not yet His time, and that while the world cannot hate them, it does hate Him (John 7:6-8). Sibling rivalry indeed!

At first, this might seem incredible to us, and it may lead to some doubt. Jesus suffered temptation, and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15); wouldn’t His brothers have noticed this in His first thirty-four or so years? Did they not understand how their mother had conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, and did they not hear about all of the signs that accompanied His birth (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2)? How could they not believe in Him?

Yet, when we think about it, we can make some sense of it. There is a reason why it is said that familiarity breeds contempt. With the exception of Jesus at the Temple when He was 12, we do not get the impression that Jesus was active in ministration until His baptism and temptation (cf. Matthew 3-4). If you know Jesus as your older brother who lives in Nazareth of Galilee and who works as a carpenter, perhaps even working together with you in that trade, and then all of a sudden He claims to be the Son of God, abandons the trade for at least a portion of the year, gathers twelve fishermen, zealous, tax collectors, and others around Him, and starts proclaiming this message of the impending Kingdom of God, we can see why they would think Him a little crazy. This is Jesus, from the backwaters of Galilee, the carpenter. Who does He think He is? Why is He doing things that very likely will get Him into trouble, and by extension, His mother and brothers? We can see why Jesus spoke as He did in Matthew 13:57/Mark 6:4: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household”!

So Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him. That was probably not a good testimony for Him, but we get no indication that He compelled or coerced them into believing. They had as much of a chance to share with Him in the work of God as everyone else did (cf. Matthew 12:49-50).

Jesus’ brothers were good Jews, however, and they would have been in Jerusalem for the Passover in that fateful year when their elder Brother would be crucified. And then we learn something extraordinary.

[The eleven] with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:14).

Wait a second! Here Jesus’ brothers are listed as in prayer with their mother, the other women, and the eleven disciples. Something clearly happened. But what?

The Gospels do not provide direct testimony, but later on, Paul mentions that when Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to over five hundred brethren, and then to James (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-7). James here is the same James who is listed as Jesus’ brother in Matthew 13:55!

How all of this happened is not detailed precisely. It is entirely possible that Jesus’ brothers came around at some point during His ministry, but there’s no evidence of such. They would have seen Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, and we know that at least James, and likely the rest of His brothers, saw Jesus in the resurrection.

And that is the power of the resurrection– unbelievers are often made believers! James will become a prominent elder in the Jerusalem church and the author of the letter bearing his name; according to Josephus, he is martyred at the hands of the Jews (Acts 15:13, 21:18; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9). Judas, otherwise known as Jude, is responsible for the letter bearing his name. Both of them refer to themselves as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1, Jude 1:1). Can you imagine? Those who once did not even believe in the claims of their older Brother, who thought Him crazy, now call Him Lord and are willing to be known as slaves of their elder Brother!

Jesus is Lord, and the proof is in the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection was the difference that changed recalcitrant brothers into willing servants. Has Jesus’ resurrection changed your life? Let us trust Him as Lord and do His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Troubler of Israel

And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, “Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?”
And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed the Baalim” (1 Kings 18:17-18).

There had been three difficult years in Israel. The rain had been withheld; crops died, and people throughout the land went hungry. The people and the land were in great distress.

But what was behind the drought? Why did the rains cease? The reason is made evident in Scripture: Elijah the Tishbite, the great prophet, prayed to God, and it did not rain (1 Kings 17:1, James 5:17-18). The rain would not return until it was done by his word.

King Ahab is quite aware of this– it is precisely what Elijah had said to him. Therefore, in his mind, the matter is easily settled– Elijah is the culprit and the reason for the distress. Ahab sought Elijah in every surrounding nation (1 Kings 18:10). As the drought and thus the famine worsened the greater the blame was placed on Elijah. He became a very effective scapegoat. Therefore, when Elijah finally presents himself before Ahab, Ahab calls Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”

In all of this, however, the most important question is not asked. Why did Elijah pray to withhold rain in the first place? Is he some malevolent person who seeks the ruin of Israel? Hardly! Ahab and his wife Jezebel had led the people of Israel astray, inducing them to serve the Baals and to not give YHWH the LORD His honor (1 Kings 16:30-33). Elijah needed to make a grand demonstration of who was really the true God, and this demonstration begins with the withholding of rain. Baal, after all, was the Canaanite god of fertility. If Baal was really a divinity, and if Israel should really honor and serve him, would he not provide them rain when they rendered him the appropriate service? And yet for three and a half years there was no rain. The Power behind Elijah the Tishbite was far greater than the Baals.

1 Kings 18:19-40 will feature the public humiliation and then execution of the priests of Baal, and the Israelites will confess again that YHWH is God. And then in 1 Kings 18:41-45 Elijah will pray and rain will fall upon Israel again.

The real “troubler of Israel,” then, is Ahab, for he was found impious before God and led God’s people Israel astray. But that is not the answer Ahab wanted to hear, and it is certainly not the answer that Ahab (or Jezebel) wants Israel to hear and believe. Thus Elijah feels compelled to go on the run for his life, a justified scapegoat, but a scapegoat nonetheless (cf. 1 Kings 19:1ff).

Such scapegoating happens all too often. When problems arise, for whatever reason, people want to find someone to blame. No one ever wants to blame themselves– therefore, they find a scapegoat, someone upon whom the burden of blame and responsibility is placed. Elijah is seen as the reason for the drought here, even though the real reason is the idolatry of Israel. In the days of the Roman Empire, whenever a famine, earthquake, or plague ravaged the land, the Christians would be blamed. Assigning blame and scapegoating happens to this very day. Sometimes the people who are blamed deserve the blame. Many times the blame goes well beyond the original misdeed. And there are plenty of times when there is really no one to blame, but someone has to take the heat anyway.

But the most pernicious circumstances are those when the truly guilty parties work hard to shift the blame onto the innocent parties, as Ahab does with Elijah. Not a few times have the righteous found themselves in great persecution and distress as the ungodly work to absolve themselves of the responsibilities of their actions. It is quite unjust, but we can be sure that God will execute justice (cf. Romans 2:5-11, 2 Timothy 4:14)!

We will find ourselves in the mist of circumstances when two parties blame each other for the situation in which they find themselves. It is always easier to shift blame than to accept blame. That is why we must diligently make sure that we are not the “troublers” of the family, the church, the workplace, etc., and that we do not justify the “troublers” at the expense of those who are trying to do the right thing. Let us judge righteous judgment and act responsibly!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prophet in His Hometown

And all bare him witness, and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth: and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
And he said unto them, “Doubtless ye will say unto me this parable, ‘Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in thine own country.'”
And he said, “Verily I say unto you, No prophet is acceptable in his own country. But of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
And they were all filled with wrath in the synagogue, as they heard these things; and they rose up, and cast him forth out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong (Luke 4:22-29).

Humans have a strange affinity to their place of birth and/or raising. Even though, in truth, dirt is dirt, and all the earth belongs to God, we have an attachment of sorts to the land where we are “from.”

Oftentimes this affinity is a result of the comfort we feel in regards to “home”– a place where we were known by people and things did not seem so scary or daunting or big. While there can be comfort from such familiarity, there is also the other edge of that particular sword– familiarity can breed contempt.

There is in all of our lives a place where we go and we are still a small child– or at least we are made to feel that way. It is entirely natural: when we remember someone at a particular age, it is very easy to keep remembering them as being that age despite the fact that they grew up. It is part of yet another generational cycle.

In these terms Nazareth of the first century was little different than any other community. It would not have been a large community, and there is little doubt that everyone would know everyone else– and, more likely than not, everyone else’s business.

It was in this community that Jesus, the Son of God, was raised (cf. Luke 2:39-40, 51-52). The townspeople would have known Him from the days when He was a baby. They would see Him grow up alongside His half-brothers and half-sisters (Matthew 13:55-56).

Then Jesus began to do mighty works after His baptism and temptation in Capernaum and in other parts of Galilee (Luke 4:14-15). After some time He returns to “home” in Nazareth.

His fellow inhabitants of Nazareth were certainly astounded at what they were seeing and hearing– but it was not, on the whole, paired with true faith. Instead, they marveled that it was Jesus of all people doing these things! The same Jesus who was the son of their carpenter Joseph, the Jesus who grew up before their very eyes. Surely Jesus was not guilty of sin or any malfeasance as many a teenager has done, but nevertheless, when they see and hear the Man Jesus, they remember the Child Jesus. Because they had always known Jesus they did not believe (Matthew 13:58).

Jesus rebukes them sharply for this disbelief, condemning both them and Israel as a whole in the process. Since they would not believe He did not bother demonstrating His power (cf. Matthew 13:58, Luke 4:23-24). He then presents two pieces of evidence to strike at the “soft spot” of Israel– Elijah residing with the widow of Zarephath and Elisha healing Naaman the Syrian (1 Kings 17:8-24, 2 Kings 5:1-27). Jesus rightly points out that there were widows and lepers in Israel in those days, but God only provided relief to those who would trust in Him– and they happened to be outsiders, a Canaanite and an Aramean, respectively.

This is too much for the people of Nazareth– not only has Jesus become “uppity,” He also is speaking in censorious terms to His fellow townspeople. They want to push Him over a cliff, but it is not yet His time.

A prophet is not acceptable in his own country– this is the takeaway from Jesus’ time not just in Nazareth but also with the Jews in general. Jesus attracted large audiences in Galilee in general but not in Nazareth. Many of the poor and dispossessed and sinful would listen to Jesus while the religious authorities despised Him. And as the message of His Gospel would go out into the world it would find softer hearts among the nations than among the Jews (cf. Acts 13:46-48, 28:24-28). There may be “comfort” in home, but that comfort can also lead to contempt!

We believers suffer from such things also. It is often most difficult to reach our closest friends or family with the Gospel, for they remember us as when we were smaller or when we were not acting as we should, and the word is not respected. It is many times difficult for a preacher to preach the Word in the city in which he was raised– the congregation remembers him when he was little and may not give due reverence to the truth of the message he preaches. It is also many times difficult to reach our fellow Americans with the Gospel because they, as the Jews, have believed themselves to be the people of God for so long that there is contempt for any attempt to point out difficulties or challenges or for any attempt to exhort people to return to their Creator God.

A disciple is not greater than his master (cf. Matthew 10:24), and so it is with Jesus and ourselves. There are times when we will not be heard because of people’s familiarity with us as the messengers. And, if we are honest, there have been times when we have held others in contempt or in less respectful manner because we are quite familiar with them. Nevertheless, let us persevere, looking toward Jesus, and always being willing to humble ourselves so as to receive His grace!

Ethan R. Longhenry