Prophetic History

Yet YHWH testified unto Israel, and unto Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, “Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”
Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, like to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in YHWH their God (2 Kings 17:13-14).

It is said that history is written by the winners. Such is true also of Israel, but for very different reasons.

Some presume that the story of history can be narrated fully and objectively. Such is a fool’s errand; no historical narrative can be comprehensive. History is only ever written for a purpose: whatever story is told has a reason behind it. Perhaps that reason is to set forth the basic timeline of events for a given nation, person, etc; perhaps the story is told with a particular focus, slant, or even bias. Some details will be left out; some details will be emphasized. The later reader may be frustrated by these decisions, wanting to know what has been left unsaid and skeptical regarding that which has been emphasized. And yet, since all retelling of history has a purpose, we do well to understand what the purpose of any specific historical narrative is and reflect upon why it was considered important.

All of this proves especially true with the story of Israel in the days of the kings. 1 and 2 Kings do not read like your average historical narrative about a nation. Some of Israel’s glorious achievements are recounted, but the text mostly focuses on the relative faithfulness (or lack thereof) of the kings to YHWH, certain events which took place during those reigns, especially as they relate to the prophets and the kings. We learn next to nothing regarding some kings; for other kings we have their activities laid out in great detail. The narrative throughout is clearly biased. What are we to make of it?

The Kings author was not shy or secretive about his motivations. Having recounted the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 BCE, he broke into the narrative with an extended explanation of precisely why Israel, and later Judah, would fall and be exiled (2 Kings 17:7-23). He indicted them for their faithlessness toward YHWH, their idolatry, and their conformity to the other nations. And he made sure everyone knew that Israel under the kings knew better: YHWH had warned them about the consequences of their behaviors through the prophets, and encouraged them to repent and follow YHWH’s commandments, but they did not listen (2 Kings 17:13-14).

This is not your ordinary historical narrative! Not one king comes out as the ideal, shining hero: the Samuel author recounts David’s transgression with Bathsheba and Uriah and its fallout (2 Samuel 11:1-20:26); Solomon’s idolatry on account of his wives is made plain (1 Kings 11:1-8); the failings of the rest of the otherwise faithful kings are not hidden. These are not the boastful proclamations of the kind written for Ramses II, or Sennacherib, or Cyrus; this history of Israel did celebrate their empire in the days of David and Solomon, yet maintained its focus on the transgressions of the nation. Why?

In the Hebrew Bible 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings are part of the nevi’im, the prophets; they are considered the “former” or “historical” prophets. It was therefore never their intention to write the “normal” or “great man” version of Israelite history: for this they referred the reader to the Acts of Solomon and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Judah, works now lost (e.g. 1 Kings 11:41, 14:19, 14:29). Instead, the history they wrote is a prophetic history: telling the story of the kings of Israel and Judah as a warning for the people of God in and after the exile to not follow in the same pattern of disobedience.

We can know this because the final form of 1 and 2 Kings was composed in the days of the exile: they most likely used documentation from the chronicles mentioned above, and YHWH directed them to write the story as they wrote it. 1 and 2 Kings are their own form of lament: in them the transgressions of the fathers are explicitly identified and not justified; the book was written to leave no doubt in the mind of the reader as to why Israel was cast off. All socio-political explanations, of which many can be adduced, ultimately fall short for Israel: yes, they suffered the fate of the other nations, but only because they had abandoned their unique heritage in YHWH and had become just like all the other nations. And YHWH handed them over to their desires.

This story would sustain Israel in faith through very difficult and trying times ahead. The Israelites would only briefly maintain independent rule over their land and would suffer existential threats in persecution. Yet they did not commit idolatry as their fathers did; they had learned the prophetic lesson from their history. They did not yearn for past days or made the past out to be rosy and wonderful; they owned up to the sins of their fathers. Whereas all of the members of other nations would get swept up in Hellenization and abandon their distinctiveness, a remnant of the Jewish people stubbornly maintained confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their forefathers and endured. Ultimately, the proclamation of YHWH’s great work in Jesus of Nazareth would overtake the Roman Empire and many parts of Mesopotamia; the descendants of the oppressors would end up calling on the name of the God of Israel. Egypt faded; Assyria was destroyed; Babylon was laid low; Persia was overrun; the Macedonians came and went; Rome would collapse; the people of God endured.

In this way the history of Israel was written by the victors: not the people who won the battles or political victories, but those who would perpetuate strong faith in YHWH and His covenant promises to Israel. To “win” meant to preserve the faith; to preserve the faith demanded an honest accounting of how the fathers failed and were cut off by YHWH, and how to serve YHWH faithfully so as to obtain the promised restoration.

The people of God to this day do well to learn from the prophetic history of the kings of Israel. Historical narratives abound which seek to glorify a given philosophy, ideology, nation-state, or some other ideal. These narratives prove very tempting to follow. Yet all such things are inherently flawed; they are creatures of the world, and they go the way of the world (Colossians 2:8-9, 1 John 2:15-17). If the people of God will obtain the victory in Christ, they can only do so by preserving the faith (Jude 1:3, Revelation 12:11); to preserve the faith demands honoring the faithfulness of those who have come before us along with an honest accounting of how we and those before us have failed to uphold the standard of Christ. We must pattern our lives according to the faithful examples of Jesus, the Apostles, and those who have believed on their Word ever since; we must take note of the ways in which those who came before us went in the ways of Israel, hardening their heart, rebelling in various ways, and patterning themselves after the nations, lest we share in the same condemnation.

History can be told in all sorts of ways; when it is all said and done, the only story which will matter is the story of God reconciling all things to Himself in Jesus, and those who trusted in Him and obtained the resurrection of life. May we prove faithful to God in how we understand the story of the people of God throughout time, trust in the Lord, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Stubbornness in Heart

“Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; and it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying,
‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart,’
to destroy the moist with the dry. The LORD will not pardon him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. And the LORD will set him apart unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that is written in this book of the law (Deuteronomy 29:18-21).

Deep down most of us want our cake and to eat it as well. We can’t.

Moses Pleading with Israel (crop)

Moses has established the “words of the covenant” between YHWH and Israel, renewed in the land of Moab (Deuteronomy 29:1). Moses grounds obedience to the Law in terms of the recognition of what YHWH has done for Israel: they saw how YHWH devastated Egypt, rescued them from bondage, etc., but they did not fully perceive what it all meant until the present (Deuteronomy 29:2-4). YHWH has sustained Israel in the wilderness so that they would know He is their God; He gave them victory over Sihon and Og (Deuteronomy 29:5-8). YHWH’s saving and victorious hand is the reason why Israel should keep the covenant so they can prosper (Deuteronomy 29:9). All Israel stands before YHWH that day to enter into that covenant: not just those physically alive and present, but in a real and binding way, those who are not yet alive but will be born or otherwise grafted into that covenant for generations (Deuteronomy 29:10-17). Moses brings up the universality of the moment for good reason: he wants to make sure that no one thinks they have an “out” or an escape, as he explains in Deuteronomy 29:18-21, either in the present or in the future to come (cf. Deuteronomy 29:22-28).

What kind of “out” would people think to have? Moses imagines a person who is standing there at that moment, having seen all YHWH had done for Israel and yet allows his heart to be turned away from Him to serve the gods of the nations (Deuteronomy 29:18). Such a one is imagined to say, in the stubbornness of his heart, that he will have peace (Deuteronomy 29:19). He thinks he will have peace, but Moses says such a one will “destroy the moist with the dry”; a proverbial expression, likely indicating that destruction or difficulty will come to the good as well as the bad in such a circumstance (Deuteronomy 29:19). Moses wants it to be perfectly clear that such attitudes are right out: this person is actually a source of gall and wormwood, toxic to the health of the nation, and upon whom the anger of YHWH will be fully expressed, experiencing the full weight of the curses of the covenant (Deuteronomy 29:18, 20-21). The person may not even be physically present at the moment; even if it is a child of a later generation, the same suffering will take place, and Israel will be as Sodom and Gomorrah, a by-word and parable for the nations (Deuteronomy 29:22-28). Moses wants one thing to be plain: YHWH is not messing around. Do not think that you can present a false front of adherence to YHWH while nursing idolatry and wickedness in the heart. The stubbornness of your heart will be exposed for what it is and it will not go well with you!

Unfortunately all Moses warned about would come to pass: many Israelites pursued the stubbornness of their hearts, served other gods, and it led to exile for Israel and Judah (cf. 2 Kings 17:7-23). The stubbornness of Israel’s heart was evident in the way they treated the prophets YHWH sent to them. They did not listen; they refused to hear; they paid the penalty.

We can all see these things and nod in assent. It is easy to see how they did not hear because they were stubborn in their hearts. But do you really think that they would have really said in their hearts that they would have peace though they walk in the stubbornness of their heart (Deuteronomy 29:19)? Were they really that self-aware?

While there are always exceptions to the rule, in general, most of the Israelites who believed they would have peace despite maintaining rebellion against YHWH through serving idols would not have considered themselves as being stubborn in heart. Moses is “putting words in their mouths” to explain the situation. In reality they are being stubborn in heart, yet they are most likely deceived, thinking that they know better, understand better, or expect that things will be alright because YHWH will surely not abandon His people, etc. (e.g. Jeremiah 7:1-15). They were being stubborn, but they didn’t think that way about themselves!

Walking in the stubbornness of the heart is the perennial danger of the people of God. We easily imagine that “God will understand,” “God surely will not abandon us,” or perhaps even worse, “God will be pleased with this,” despite the fact that what we are doing is contrary to His revealed will and purposes in Jesus Christ. The danger is real; we are easily tempted, when hearing what God has condemned, to try to carve out some exceptions, to make it seem less dangerous, or to otherwise justify our current perspective or behavior. We are tempted to conform to the habits and views of those around us just as Israel was (Romans 12:2); for them it was serving a pantheon of gods and engaging in customs contrary to the Law, while for us it involves the cultural relativism, elevation of empiricism and materialism, and drunkenness through consumerism rampant in our culture. It’s tempting to want to straddle the fence, to act as if we can serve God fully while adhering to these cultural concepts in the stubbornness of our hearts.

God is gracious; we are all dependent on His grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:1-10). But what if God “will not understand”? What if confidence that “God surely will not abandon us” is misplaced? What if we have actually called evil good, and good evil? How will it go for us on the day of the Lord Jesus? Let us learn from the example of Israel, and let us not bless ourselves in our hearts when we should mourn, and seek to perceive the deceptive stubbornness in our hearts so as to root it out and subject ourselves to God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Serpent’s Deception

And the serpent said unto the woman, “Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

Genesis is a fascinating book, especially in its first few chapters. The narrative is elegant in its simplicity; thousands of questions could be asked, even more thousands of details could be given, but the author has a story to tell, and he will tell you what you need to know. This means that we are left with all kinds of questions left unanswered; it also means that when the author does provide detail, the subject matter is quite important, and we do well to pay attention.

The description of the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3:1-6 is such a story. The story is rich in detail, and for good reason: this is where everything goes wrong for God’s creation because of the transgression of mankind. From this point on, creation is subject to futility and decay (Romans 8:20-23); from this point on, man suffers because of sin, following in the path of Adam and Eve’s choice (Romans 5:12-18). Little wonder, then, why the Genesis author places great emphasis on the exchange between the serpent and Eve. The first temptation is as much a model for unfortunate future behavior as is the first sin itself!

Later details have colored our understanding of this event. John equates the serpent with Satan in Revelation 12:9; Jesus declares Satan to be the “father of lies” and that there is no truth in him (John 8:44).

Many have noted how Satan turns truth into a lie: they show how the serpent speaks 80% of God’s words in Genesis 3:4, adding only one word– 20%– as the lie (although in Hebrew it is only three words– hence, 66% truth, 33% lie). Nevertheless, on the surface, everything the serpent says in Genesis 3:5 is true: God knows that on the day Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they will be as God in terms of knowing good and evil. But Jesus says that Satan has nothing to do with the truth, and is the father of lies! How can this be?

In Genesis 3:5, Satan does not lie by what he says; it is what is left unsaid that deceives. He understands the human condition– and the weaknesses of the human spirit– quite well. His temptation is an attempt to undermine Eve’s trust in God’s goodness toward her. His whole intent is to cast aspersions on God’s character and His intentions toward His creation. He succeeds in getting Eve to question God: what is God hiding from us? Why does God not want us to know good and evil? Is He concerned that we will become like Him and thus too powerful? It all appeals to human vanity: I want to know more. I want to be independent. I will not let anyone pull the wool over my eyes.

Notice that the serpent did not say much of this; he is more subtle than that. But he left Eve to think it and let Eve draw the conclusions he wanted her to draw. In so doing he deceived Eve (1 Timothy 2:14): she imagined that the serpent was more trustworthy than God, was willing to question and challenge God’s goodness and character, and the sin was complete before she ever bit into the fruit.

Satan/the serpent knew better. God cared for His creation; God sought to preserve the innocence of the man and the woman, and was really seeking their best interest. Eve really had no good reason to question God: He had made her, He provided the Garden of Eden for her with no lack of food and drink (cf. Genesis 2:4-25). Yet Satan made it all about power and the vanity of being like God; as he is, so he wanted to see God’s creation to be.

We all live with the same challenge as Eve. All sin, when it comes down to it, is rebellion against God, deliberate rejection of His ways, and thus a declaration of a lack of trust in God (Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 6:16-23). He has made the world and everything in it and wants to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Acts 17:24, Ephesians 1:3); His standards of right and wrong are holy, profitable, and for our own good (Galatians 5:17-24). God never gives us a reason why we should doubt His goodness and love toward us.

Yet, as with Eve, so with us: we are easily deceived. We often find His standards bothersome, in practice if not in words. We struggle with difficult questions in life, wondering how God could allow us to be in whatever difficult condition in which we find ourselves, wondering how God can allow things to go on as they do, and so on and so forth. These temptations erode our trust in God; in any circumstance in which we stop trusting God and start trusting anything else, the sin is complete before we even act upon the impulse. We have rebelled against our Creator.

Eve would soon learn the folly of her actions; we can be sure that if she really understood the situation and what was at stake, she would not have made the same decision. And, whether we want to admit it or not, we find ourselves in that same position: if we really understood our situation in life, the way sin really is, the consequences of sin, and so forth, we would also likely not make the same decisions as we do.

It all comes down to trust. Do we trust God, that He is the good Creator God who loves us and seeks our best interest? Or do we trust the lie, believing ourselves better than God, trusting what we see and the creation and not the One who created it, willingly deceived by the father of lies? None of us will ever really be “as God”; ultimately, we will have to put our trust into something or someone. Life may not always make sense; there may be times when the circumstances in which we find ourselves are not very conducive to trusting God. But we should always remember what Eve in the Garden forgot: we do not understand the whole situation or our real condition. We are easily prompted to forget God’s goodness and focus on problems and challenges, let alone our propensity toward conceit and vanity.

We do not know everything; we cannot know everything. Our perspectives are slanted, biased, and distorted. Let us resist the voice of the serpent, questioning and challenging God’s character and goodness toward His creation. Let us maintain our trust in God no matter what may come, glorifying His name no matter the circumstance!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Not to Direct His Steps

O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jeremiah 10:23).

Some of the more “amusing” things that small children do involves the plans they devise. As they are trying to sort out things like logic, cause and effect, argument, and such like, they find themselves in all sorts of trouble for doing things they thought would work but failed miserably. This is especially true for boys; it seems that one of the parent’s most important tasks in raising young men is to keep them from killing or maiming themselves.

The problem with humanity is our presumption of getting beyond this stage in life. We get to a point when we think we have most things somewhat figured out, and we have a way forward. And yet time and time again, in various ways for various reasons, we find ourselves in all sorts of trouble.

Jeremiah saw such trouble coming for Judah. The people put their trust in metallic images of their own manufacture; the leaders of Judah were involved in high-stakes political maneuvering. They all thought they had things sorted out and were acting in their own best interest. But Jeremiah knew the word that had come from YHWH, and it was all for naught. The idols would be quickly proven worthless; the political maneuvering would end with the Babylonian army at Jerusalem’s gates and Judah’s supposed “allies” far away or conquered. The men of Judah did not consult YHWH for direction; they did not turn to him and away from their idolatry. They would soon learn how foolish that decision had been.

In such a condition Jeremiah had good reason to utter the words of Jeremiah 10:23. The way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his steps. When humans get to thinking that they can figure it out, things start going very badly.

Paul describes the degeneracy well in Romans 1:18-32. When people start thinking they know better, they rebel from the way of God. God allows this rebellion and gives them over to the consequences of this rebellion. Humans then invent their own gods based on what they can perceive in the universe. They then give themselves over to commit immorality and give full vent to their animalistic impulses. Meanwhile, virtue is cast aside.

It never takes too long to see this degeneracy in action. We most assuredly see it in our own day with a generation which does not speak a coherent language of morality and which is content with individualistic moralism. The god of this age seems to be the self: what I think, what I want, what is best for “#1.” It certainly seems that many people today actively snub their nose at any concept that it is not within them to direct their own steps.

But how well is this turning out for everyone? Are we all better off because we believe we are the pilots of our own lives? Hardly. Pain, misery, and suffering abound, and a lot of it is a direct consequence of our choices and behavior. People today seem content to lose their humanity in order to keep consuming and producing, thinking they are in control of it all.

The details might be different, but the story has been the same throughout time. People in Jeremiah’s day thought they knew better. People in Jesus’ and Paul’s day thought the same. Many of our ancestors did as well.

We do well to learn this fundamental lesson: no, we are not good at directing our own steps. No, it is not within a man to figure out how he should go. We are not much better off than when we were children and did things that seem quite stupid on reflection but somehow made sense to us then. When we try to figure it all out, things get distorted, because despite our pretensions, we do not know everything. We do not know much of anything when it comes down to it. The way we live, what we choose to do, and what we choose not to do exemplify that!

Once we learn that lesson we can turn to God and follow His steps. We can learn from Jesus, the exact imprint of the divine nature, and walk as He walked (Hebrews 1:3, 1 John 2:6). When we go in the way our Creator intended us to go, we will find ourselves truly human again, since we have returned to intended purpose of humanity. We will not go after the distortions, perversions, and degeneracy that comes with believing ourselves more important and better informed than we truly are.

It takes a lot of humility to learn from God; there is always that impulse within us seeking to go its own way. But how well has that ever gone for us? Let us learn our lesson, not trusting in ourselves, but instead placing our trust in God through Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Fool Speaks in His Heart

The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have done abominable works; There is none that doeth good (Psalm 14:1).

The Psalmist’s declaration in Psalm 14:1 (and Psalm 53:1) is understandably famous and often used these days when referring to those who do not believe that God exists. While it is true that many people turn to atheism in order to get around having a superior moral authority than themselves, and the presumption that there is no spiritual power beyond our ability to comprehend or perceive is folly, such is not really what the Psalmist addresses here.

The problem in Psalm 14/53 is not that people do not intellectually concede the existence of God– instead, the people act as if they do not believe in God! Their “atheism” is functional more than ideological. They go about their lives and act in corrupt, sinful, and ungodly ways– ways that show that they have no fear of a higher power than themselves!

The Psalmist continues:

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there were any that did understand, That did seek after God. They are all gone aside; they are together become filthy; There is none that doeth good, no, not one (Psalm 14:2-3).

The Psalmist declares that the problem is greater than any of us could imagine– this is not a problem limited to just “the wicked.” Everyone has turned aside. Everyone has acted in sinful ways. There are none that only seek after God’s purposes! Paul will later use these verses to demonstrate how all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and understandably so (Romans 3:10-12; 23)!

If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that when we decide to do things our own way, to seek after what we want, and to live according to our own will, we are playing the role of “the fool.” We have declared in our heart that there is no God, no matter how much we may protest that declaration in our minds.

God made things clear when He spoke through Jeremiah: “I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). It is not for us to direct our own steps; instead, we must seek after God. We must seek to understand His will so that we can walk in His steps (2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:3-6). We must not live for ourselves and our own will, but subject ourselves entirely to God and His will (Romans 6:16-23, Galatians 2:20). We ought to know He who will render judgment for every work we do (Romans 2:5-11).

Atheists do trust in a series of foolish propositions, but they are at least intellectually honest with themselves. Far too many others may profess to believe in God and yet act as if there is no God, and we have all played that role at various points in our lives. The greatest fool is the one who says in his heart that there is no God and lives however he wishes. Let us not play the fool any longer. Let us serve God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Trust Test

Then said the LORD unto Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not” (Exodus 16:4).

The LORD had done most impressive things for the people of Israel. It had not been that long ago that the Israelites were hopeless servants of the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt. The LORD then struck Egypt with ten plagues, led Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground, and drowned the Egyptian army (Exodus 6-14). Israel believed in the LORD and feared Him on the basis of these experiences (Exodus 14:31). But how deep was that belief and trust?

It was now God’s intention to test the people of Israel to see whether they would really follow His law or not. After all the great demonstrations of God’s loving kindness toward Israel, would Israel lean on its God?

They were now in the wilderness– an inhospitable desert. They would not be able to find much food or drink “naturally.” They would have to rely on God if they were to survive!

God would provide the people with food. They were to go out and gather a day’s portion daily save for the sixth day, when they would gather for two days (Exodus 16:4-5). The next morning, after the dew evaporated, a “fine flake-like thing” covered the ground– the “manna” that would sustain the people for the next forty years (Exodus 16:14-15). They were to gather an omer, or about two quarts, per person (Exodus 16:16). These were very simple and straightforward instructions.

Yet many in Israel did not listen. They gathered less or more than an omer per person, and discovered that no matter what, each had his omer (Exodus 16:17-18). Moses then told them to entirely consume it on that day and leave nothing over (Exodus 16:19). Yet again, some did not listen, and they discovered the next day that it had worms and was rotten (Exodus 16:20).

On the sixth day they gathered two omers per person, and Moses commanded the people to prepare it all but save half for the next day, the Sabbath day, a day of solemn rest (Exodus 16:22-23). They were to do no work on the Sabbath day, and they should not expect manna to fall on that day (Exodus 16:25-26). Yet many of the Israelites went out to obtain manna on the seventh day (Exodus 16:27). God was quite displeased with them because they kept refusing His commandments, and then and only then did they abide within His law (Exodus 16:28-30)!

This whole episode reflects mankind’s natural fearfulness and desire to test boundaries. In effect, God is testing Israel to see whether they will truly trust Him or not. Will they follow the commandments regarding the food He provides for them or not? At every turn, many fail to trust God. Some do not go out and get all of the required omer, and others try to get much more. Many do not trust, at first, that there will be manna out there every morning, and so they try to preserve some for the next day. And when God provides extra manna that does not go bad overnight, the people still try to go out and get more on the Sabbath day!

Israel has to learn to trust God, apparently, for they are not doing well at trusting God’s good will toward them and that what He says, goes. They have to find that out for themselves.

Every generation, in some sense or another, goes through the same process. Each generation is warned sternly about the pitfalls of life, and yet plenty of people in each generation must learn the “hard way” through experience. Humans are too bent on their own way!

Wisdom teaches us that it is best to learn from the mistakes of our own past and the past of others. Wisdom also would teach us to follow God’s commands, for they are designed for our own benefit (1 John 5:3). He establishes His will for us for our own good, to help us be more like Him (Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20). In a sense, God tests every one like He tests Israel: He has decreed His guidelines in the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and He will see whether we will follow Him or not, and whether we truly trust in Him.

Therefore, will we trust in God’s loving kindness, or will we doubt and have to push the boundaries like Israel did? Will our faith prove to be only skin-deep, or will we prove ourselves to truly trust in God no matter what? Let us strive to pass the trust test and not be like Israel!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God’s Chosen People

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: and they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the congregation, called to the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them,
“Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:1-3).

With these actions and words Korah begins his rebellion. The motives of his rebellion are far from pure, and he may just be interested in a power grab. The logic of his argument, however, is a problem that Israel must deal with perpetually.

Israel certainly understood the message that they were God’s chosen people. Korah saw that God’s presence dwelt in the midst of Israel, and to him that meant that the people must be holy. If the people are holy, who are Moses and Aaron to condemn them?

This idea does not go away. Almost a thousand years later, the people of Judah do not pay sufficient attention to the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah. Instead, they trust in the fact that the Temple of God is in Jerusalem, and since God is in the Temple, the city and the Temple will not be harmed by Babylon (Jeremiah 7:4). After all, God struck the Assyrians when they drew near. Would He not again do so with Babylon?

In the days of John the Baptist and Jesus the Jews trusted in their lineage. They were children of Abraham– that was what mattered. They had never been enslaved to anyone (John 8:33)!

All of these made a similar mistake. Indeed, God chose Israel from among all the nations. Yes, God made a covenant with Abraham, and his offspring were the beneficiaries. Yes, God chose to dwell in the midst of Israel. But that was never enough. For God to continue to bless Israel, they had to be faithful. They had to obey His commands. They had to serve Him properly.

Yet they constantly sinned and rebelled. The earth swallowed Korah for his sin. The Babylonians came and ransacked Jerusalem and the Temple because of the sin of the people. Judgment again came upon Jerusalem 40 years after the death of Jesus.

We now live under the new covenant of Jesus Christ, through whom we have been reconciled to God if we have obeyed Him (Ephesians 2:1-18). Yet, just as in the days of old, it is not sufficient just to wear the name of “Christian.” We cannot expect that God will give us an easier time or that He will look aside as we commit sin just because we believe in Jesus. We cannot expect God to bless whatever we want or do just because we think we are part of Him.

Instead, we also must be obedient servants. We must do His will, not our own (Galatians 2:20, Romans 12:1-2). Do we think that somehow we will escape the same condemnation as Israel of old if we profess to be of God but do not obey His will?

“Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?’
And then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity'” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Queen of Heaven

“As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly perform every word that is gone forth out of our mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off burning incense to the queen of heaven, and pouring out drink-offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine” (Jeremiah 44:16-18).

The fateful day of reckoning had come and passed, and the people of Judah were left to sort out what happened. Their land was taken; their city destroyed; the Temple of YHWH obliterated. How could this have happened? Where was God in all of this?

Most of the Judeans were taken into exile to Babylon, but some were left in the land. After more misfortune, they decide, against God’s will, to go to Egypt. There many again serve the “Queen of Heaven,” among other gods and goddesses. After all, their reasoning went, life was good in Judah when they served the Queen of Heaven. It was when Hezekiah and Josiah interrupted that service that everything turned for the worse! Thus, they reasoned, there was no point in obeying the word of the LORD.

Their logic may be understandable, but that does not make it right. Notice that the “Queen of Heaven” did not tell them any of this; instead, they are reasoning based only on what they perceive. Meanwhile, Jeremiah is speaking directly from God, not only condemning their current deeds, but making it clear that this disaster did not come without sufficient warning. God made it very clear through the prophets that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people exiled if they did not change their ways (Jeremiah 44:1-14). The people do not deny any of that. But they still justify their wives’ behavior and idolatry!

What ends up happening to these Judeans? We do not know. We do know that those who believed in YHWH and put away their idols were those who returned to the land of Judah, and a large proportion of more idolatrous Judeans simply assimilated into the cultures among whom they were exiled and thus no longer part of the covenant. A sad fate indeed!

These Judeans are not the only ones to experience great trauma and difficulties and left to sort out what it all means. Unfortunately, many maintain a hardened heart toward God throughout the process, and latch on to whatever reasoning exists that justifies their continued behavior. The reasoning might even make sense. But does that make the reasoning right?

While we cannot and should not say that all difficulties and sufferings that we experience mean that God is punishing us, we are to remember God throughout the process, and realize that it is not within ourselves to direct our own steps, and that we are not sufficient in and of ourselves (cf. Jeremiah 10:23). When God does discipline us, we ought to endure it for our own good (Hebrews 12:3-11). Will we have the faith to turn to God regardless of our circumstances, believing that they will all work out for good somehow (Romans 8:28)? Or will we try to find some way to justify our God-dishonoring behaviors to our own hurt? Let us listen to God’s message and live!

Ethan R. Longhenry