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

Divorce

“It was said also, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement’:
but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).

Jesus addresses a matter controversial in almost every age.

It is no secret that marriage, divorce, and remarriage (MDR) issues are tearing the church and the Lord’s people apart. People prove too eager or not eager at all to discuss divorce and remarriage. Nevertheless, we do well to consider what Jesus is saying in context and to what end He says what He says.

In Matthew 5:31-32 Jesus speaks about divorce and remarriage as the third of six contrasts between “what was said” and what “I say unto you” in Matthew 5:21-48; these six statements are framed by Matthew 5:17-20 with the expectation that one’s righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter the Kingdom. The previous two contrasts both emphasized not only the avoidance of the physical behavior of sin but also the thoughts and feelings that lead to such behaviors: not just to not kill or commit adultery, but not to hate in one’s heart or look upon a woman with lustful intent (Matthew 5:21-30). In all these things the Pharisees would stress the letter of the Law and the physical behavior only; Jesus shows how those who would serve Him in His Kingdom must be as concerned about the heart and mind as the behaviors of the body. Yet this section of the “Sermon on the Mount” is not just about thoughts and feelings vs. behavior; Jesus will go on to exhort believers to not swear at all (Matthew 5:34) and to not resist the evil person (Matthew 5:39), behavior matters indeed. The consistent contrast is between what Jesus’ audience understood as not only the Law but the acceptable and approved interpretation thereof by the scribes and the Pharisees versus the greater standard of righteousness necessary to enter God’s Kingdom (Matthew 5:19-20, 23:1-2).

It is worth noting that Jesus only speaks of marriage, divorce, and remarriage when involved in conversations with or about Pharisees (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9, Mark 10:1-12, Luke 16:18). The reason for this becomes clear in Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:1-12: the Pharisees attempt to test Jesus in terms of how to understand Moses’ legislation in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 and whether a man has the right to divorce his wife for almost any reason or only for sexually deviant behavior. Pharisaic understanding of the matter was no certain thing as is evident in Jewish sources:

The school of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he finds in her a matter of lewdness, as it says, “If he finds in her an unseemly thing” [Deuteronomy 24:1], but the school of Hillel say: Even if she burnt his food, as it says, “If he finds in her an unseemly thing”. Rabbi Akiva says: Even if he found one more beautiful than she, as it says, “If she should not find favour in his eyes” (Mishnah, Gittin 9:10).

A wide dispute within not just Second Temple Judaism but even among the Pharisees thus stand as a backdrop behind Jesus’ teachings about divorce and remarriage. In Matthew 5:31 He paraphrases Deuteronomy 24:1-2, having the entire scenario in view. He then declares that anyone who would thus put away his wife makes her to commit adultery, and that whoever would marry a woman thus having been put away commits adultery (Matthew 5:32). For many the way Jesus phrases His declaration seems curious: how can it be that a man divorcing his wife causes her to commit adultery? We do well to remember that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is case law based on a particular scenario in which a man might attempt to remarry a wife he had put away who in the meantime had been married to another man. Deuteronomy 24:4 declares such would be an abomination; he cannot have her back since she had been the wife of another. Thus in the legislation as written the assumption exists that the woman will take the certificate of divorce and become the wife of another man (Deuteronomy 24:2). Jesus is saying that in the Kingdom if a woman thus divorced went and became the wife of another, her (ex-)husband has proven guilty of the divorce and has put her in the position whereby she is committing adultery, and the new husband is committing adultery by being married to her as well (Matthew 5:32).

How can it be that marrying another means a person is committing adultery? Many suggest that Jesus is adding a new definition of adultery when in fact He is returning to the simplest definition of adultery: having sex with someone other than your spouse. On the surface Jesus’ statement does seem paradoxical yet is rooted in what He will declare in greater detail in Matthew 19:6: what God has joined man is not to separate. Man can commit the sin of separating what God joined, and God recognizes that he has done so; God does not legitimate that separation unless done because the spouse has committed sexually deviant behavior. Thus, according to the rule, if either spouse has sex with another person, they are having sex with someone other than the one to whom God joined them. This is the case when either the (active) divorcing spouse or the (passive) divorced spouse marry and have sex with another. Jesus’ statements are pretty clear and comprehensive. It is only because of sin that His truths regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage seem so difficult to understand.

Jesus’ contrast is blunt, shocking to His audience, but entirely consistent with what He has been saying. The Law and the Pharisees may justify divorce in many circumstances, but from the beginning it has not been so. God does not want separated what He has joined, either by sexually deviant behavior (which involves one spouse joining themselves to another, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:13-20) or by divorce. It may be a more difficult standard, but it is the standard of righteousness in the Kingdom of God in Christ. What God has joined let not man separate: may this be true of us in terms of both our spouse as well as with God in Christ!

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

Hung Upon a Tree

“And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree; his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him the same day; for he that is hanged is accursed of God; that thou defile not thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

It was just one more law explained in a series of other laws. At the time it was given, it perhaps did not merit much more thought or consideration than the laws given before it or after it; it might have seemed tame, in fact, compared to the law of stoning a rebellious youth in Deuteronomy 21:18-22. And yet this law would have profound consequences for Israel and all humanity.

The law given by Moses in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is an example of case law, a frequent feature in this part of Deuteronomy. The law is straightforward enough: if a person has committed a capital crime, and the manner of punishment is hanging on a tree, the body should be taken down and buried the same day. Likewise, if a criminal were executed in some other way, and then his body was hung upon a tree as a public spectacle (cf. Numbers 25:4), the body should not be left up all night. The body should be taken down and buried because anyone who is hanged is accursed of God, and to allow a cursed person’s body to hang around for a few days would defile the land.

The law is understandable and the people would most likely have accepted it without difficulty; most of them, as far as we can tell, were not planning to commit capital crimes. Yes, other methods of execution had their place: stoning (cf. Deuteronomy 13:10), burning (cf. Leviticus 21:9), and stabbing (Exodus 32:27); nevertheless, various forms of suspension (hanging and the like) seemed to be the most common way of executing criminals, particularly in those cases where the Law did not specify stoning or burning. Even in those cases where other forms of execution were used, it served the interest of the executioners to hang the body up on a tree so that all would know what happened to the person and that they would share the same fate if they committed capital crimes. We can understand how such criminals, however executed, were seen as cursed: to be executed for a capital crime means that one must have done something truly terrible so as to deserve such a fate. To leave the body of such a one around would cause contamination!

Years later the Romans took over the land of Israel. The Romans had great confidence in crucifixion as a means of executing insurrectionists and other particularly nasty criminals. It was a horrendous and public way to die; it sent a very strong message to the rest of the inhabitants of the land: obey or suffer the same fate!

Around the year 30 of our era, a Man was brought before the Roman governor Pilate, and accused by the Jewish authorities of insurrection against Rome. At first Pilate did not want to see Him executed; nevertheless, he was more concerned about his own welfare than anything else, and when the crowd looked like it was about to riot, Pilate agreed to the sentence. The Man was crucified with two others outside of the city walls of Jerusalem. Since the time was of the Preparation for the upcoming Sabbath during the feast of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in consideration of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, the Jews asked the Romans to have the legs of the criminals broken, so their bodies might be taken away and buried (cf. John 19:31). The legs of two of the men were broken, but the first Man was already dead. His body was taken down and buried before sunset (cf. John 19:32-42).

These three, as well as every other Jewish person crucified, were reckoned as cursed because they hung upon the “tree” of the crucifix. In normal circumstances the reputation of such people were forever tarnished; everyone would know that they were now accursed because they hung on a tree. It was shameful; it was terrible. Even if one were really innocent, one would become accursed because of hanging on that tree!

Yet, within a few weeks of this event, some who believed in this one Man stood up before the Jewish religious authorities and declared how they had hung Him on a tree (Acts 5:30). They did not do so in shame or in defeat; instead, they did it in power and victory! They did so because this one Man was no ordinary person; He was Jesus of Nazareth, whom God had raised up as a means by which Israel (and later, all nations) would receive repentance and remission of sins (Acts 5:30-31). How could this be?

These people who believed in Jesus had earlier established that Jesus suffered death on the cross to fulfill the words of the Law and the prophets (cf. Acts 3:18). On the third day God raised Him up in power and He now rules as Lord (Acts 2:23-24, 36). A lot of people, when confronted with a story such as the one told regarding Jesus, would be tempted to minimize the humiliation, suffering, and shame, or at least not boldly proclaim it. Yet these early Christians did not just say that Jesus was crucified; they spoke about His death on the cross in the very language of Deuteronomy 21:22-23, well expressed in Acts 10:39:

“And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree.”

It would seem as if the early Christians, to an extent, gloried in how Jesus died on the tree, and therefore was accursed!

Another early Christian, Paul, would explain why Jesus’ method of execution, the cross, was so critical for the work which He came to do.

In Galatians 3:10 Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 and declares that all who are of the law are under a curse: they have subscribed to do the law but have actually not kept the law. Therefore, according to the law, they are accursed of God. Then, in Galatians 3:13-14, Paul explains how Jesus Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us as it is written in Deuteronomy 21:21-22!

This is why early Christians talked about Jesus’ death in the way they did: Jesus was not accursed because of anything He did. He took on Himself the curse with which all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God are accursed; He who had no sin and did no wrong God made to be sin on our behalf so that we could be forgiven of our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus, in “his own self[,] bare our sins in his body upon the tree” (1 Peter 2:24)!

It might have been just a small detail in one case law among others, but that detail was there for a reason. Jesus became accursed so that accursed humans could be set free from sin and death. Jesus endured capital punishment to redeem and restore sinful humanity. Let us praise God for His wonderful grace and mercy, and let us die to sin and live to righteousness through Him by whose wounds we are healed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Two or Three Witnesses

At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is to die be put to death; at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:6).

God exhibits concern for fairness and justice as He provides legislation for Israel through Moses. Many of the laws involve serious matters with life-or-death consequences for the defendant. In Deuteronomy 17:2-5, Moses provides a case law regarding anyone who is found guilty of having committed idolatry and served other gods. Such people are to be put to death. But there is one caveat given: there must be at least two or three witnesses. One witness is not sufficient to establish guilt and thus execution. Furthermore, even if there are at least two witnesses, the witnesses must be the first one to throw the stones of execution (Deuteronomy 17:7). All of this serves to underlie the seriousness of not just capital offenses but also any accusations thereof.

This is wise policy. It might be tempting for one person to bear false witness against his neighbor in order to gain some advantage, exact revenge, or on account of some other nefarious purpose. It is not foolproof; situations could be imagined in which two or more people decide to conspire against someone and bear false witness, as some of the Jewish people themselves imagined in the apocryphal story of Daniel and Susanna. Nevertheless, in such circumstances, their stories could be proven as inconsistent to their own detriment (as the aforementioned story attempted to make clear).

Yet it also protects the defendant even in cases where a person gives testimony honestly but not according to reality. Human memory is not like a video camera accurately capturing every moment and then perfectly archiving the information for later use; our memories can change slightly, especially if prompted by suggestion. One person could see something, honestly believe the person was committing a capital crime, but be mistaken. That is far less likely to be true if two or more people saw the same offense.

There is also value in having the witnesses be the ones to begin the execution. It is one thing to make accusations and let others do the “dirty work”; it is quite another to have to take the stone in your hand yourself and throw it at the accused. This is especially true when everyone knows everyone, as was likely the case in most Israelite villages and towns. This was a serious matter: it required strong commitment to the principles God set forth in the Law, but it also required absolute certainty of the guilt of the accused.

This is not a principle abandoned after the end of the Law. Bringing two or three witnesses is the second phase of the attempt to reconcile with a brother who has sinned (cf. Matthew 18:15-17). Paul warned the Corinthians of the matter in 2 Corinthians 13:1; he exhorts Timothy to not hear any accusation against an elder of the church except if there be two or three witnesses in 1 Timothy 5:19. Serious matters require validation by more than one witness!

The principle is not just valid in terms of legal matters and capital offenses: it is a good principle by which to live our lives. Accusations should require validation from more than one source.

We humans have a habit of playing “judge, jury, and executioner” with others. We are tempted to confuse our subjective perceptions with objective reality. It is easy for us to be sure that someone else acts in uncharitable ways, does not like us, does things to injure us, and so on and so forth. Perhaps there are times when such persons actually do harbor ill-will, but many times it is just a matter of mistaken impressions or misunderstandings of intention. But the feelings of jealousy, envy, and hostility engendered by these judgments prove toxic to marriages, friendships, business partnerships, family relationships, etc.

At such times we must remind ourselves how we judge ourselves by our intentions but others by their actual performance, or, as Jesus put it, we see everyone else’s specks in their eye while missing the log in our own (cf. Matthew 7:3-5). There is a reason why people with logs in their eyes are not trusted to provide reliable testimony on the witness stand! It proves too easy to project all sorts of negative motivations and intentions on others when it is quite possible and perhaps likely that no ill will was intended. Just because we feel wronged does not mean that we actually have been wronged; just because we feel as if the other person is not well disposed toward us does not make it so.

Far too often too many people make too much out of quite a little. We do well to consider the wise standard of having two or three witnesses in regards to serious matters, and not be so quick to malign and judge others on the basis of our subjective perceptions. Let us wisely give others the benefit of the doubt, establishing all things by the mouth of two or three witnesses!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Choice

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love the LORD thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

It was a deal that they should not have refused.

The LORD had been quite faithful to Israel. He delivered them with His strong hand out of the house of bondage and slavery in Egypt. He had led them throughout the parched desert wilderness; He had given them His instruction; He sustained them despite terrible conditions; He had even given them military success against their foes. He was about to fulfill another promise He had made to their ancestors– He was going to give them an inheritance in the land of Canaan.

So much promise; so many blessings. And yet God was willing to give even more– the hope of long and prosperous life in the land which He was giving them. It seemed so wonderful!

But there was a “catch.” Israel had to choose to follow God and His instruction. Over the generations, many would choose God and life. In pretense, most made the same choice. But, in practice, too many acted in ways contrary to God’s purposes and thus chose a curse and death!

But what would we think about God if He did not give them that choice? What if God compelled and coerced them into choosing life and blessing, and they had no real opportunity to refuse? Or what if He compelled them to choose death so as to display His wrath? What kind of God would we think Him to be?

There are many who think that such is the way God really is. To them, humans are really just puppets of some divine force. They feel as if we are all on some kind of supernatural strings and all direction is coming from elsewhere. In such a view humans ultimately have no choice: they are what they are from their genes and from the impulses they follow.

Yet such a view of God is not consistent with the revelation of God throughout Scripture. God wants all men to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), just as He exhorted Israel to choose to follow Him and to receive life and blessings. God greatly desires for us to choose Him and to walk in His ways, but there is no compulsion or coercion to do so!

Think about it for a moment: if God was going to be the sadistic monster of a divinity that many make Him out to be, why would He make such agonizing pleas to Israel so that they would repent (cf. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea)? Why would He send His Son to experience such terrible cruelty if He just intended to still show people cruelty (cf. Romans 8:32-39)? Why would He bother with the creation after mankind sinned and it was corrupted with decay (Genesis 3, Romans 8:20-25)?

God’s commitment to man’s free will is very strong. Consider everything God has done to facilitate man’s salvation: He has given the creation, He has sent His Son to die for our sins, and through Him He has promised eternity in the resurrection and every spiritual blessing (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Romans 8:1-39, Ephesians 1:3). He has constantly exhorted His people, be it the Patriarchs, physical Israel, or spiritual Israel, to live according to His instruction. Wouldn’t it have been much easier for God to just compel us to do what He wants? How much heartache He would have saved Himself had He just fashioned mankind to do everything He told them to do!

Yet, as we know all too well, God did not make us that way. For whatever reason known to Him and not to us, God wants us to choose to serve Him, not to be forced into doing so. He has been willing to suffer the anguish of seeing His people turn their backs to Him, rebel against Him, and suffer the consequences both here and in the hereafter. Yet He still shows love toward mankind, having sent His Son to manifest His characteristics in the flesh and to provide the way to eternal life (Hebrews 1:3, 1 John 4:7-21)!

We are not pawns or robots in some contrived supernatural machine. For better and worse, we have been created as free moral agents, and the loving Creator God beckons us to choose Him, and in so doing, choose blessings and life. This is not a guarantee that life will be a walk in the park, but is the assurance that if we seek to serve Him, God will always be there for us, will love us, and will ultimately reward us beyond our imagination (Romans 8:17-39). Therefore let us all choose God and thus life, and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Firstfruits

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:23).

Despair turned to excitement on that first day of the week so long ago when Jesus arose from the dead (John 20:1-31, etc.). In the midst of all the excitement, however, there was one theological conundrum that needed to be addressed.

The idea of resurrection was not foreign to the Jews; the Pharisees believed in the resurrection (Acts 23:8), and no doubt many other Jews did also. But “the resurrection” in which they believed was the resurrection on the last day. That is what Daniel 12:2 seemed to indicate. It certainly was the expectation of Martha when Lazarus died (cf. John 11:24).

But someone rising from the dead in the resurrection before the end? This was not something you would automatically take away from a reading of the Old Testament, nor was it something immediately obvious to Pharisees and others. Perhaps this was part of the challenge the disciples faced in not understanding Jesus’ predictions of the event (Mark 9:30-32, etc.). How could it be that One could rise from the dead before everyone was raised from the dead?

The Holy Spirit, through Paul, would make this understandable. Jesus was the firstfruits of the resurrection!

The idea of the firstfruits comes from passages like Deuteronomy 18:4:

The first-fruits of thy grain, of thy new wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him.

The firstfruits were the first part of a harvest– the first wheat or barley harvested, the first wine processed, the first of the fleece shorn, and so on and so forth. The Israelites were to devote the firstfruits to God (Exodus 23:19), and God gave them to the Levites for sustenance (Deuteronomy 18:4). After the firstfruits had been offered, the rest of the harvest belonged to the people for their own consumption and use.

The firstfruits image, therefore, helps us understand the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection on the final day. Jesus is the firstfruits– the first to rise from the dead, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15:20). He had been given as an offering to God to atone for the people (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 9:1-15). He paves the way for the resurrection to come, the resurrection of which we all take part (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:12-57)!

There is something obvious about the firstfruits that is important for the resurrection. The firstfruits are not different in kind or type from the harvest that comes later. The firstfruits of wheat are wheat just as the “second fruits” or “third fruits” would be; the same goes for barley, wine, fleece, and the like. So it is with the resurrection: we should not believe that our resurrection will be something different from Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23). The difference involves time, not type or kind. As Jesus died in the flesh but remained alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18), and was then raised bodily from the dead, the tomb being empty, and His flesh being transformed for immortality (Luke 24:1-49), so it goes with those who serve Him. All who have died, and those who will be dead before His coming, remain alive in the spirit, but will then be raised bodily and transformed for immortality (1 Corinthians 15:35-57, Philippians 1:21-23, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)!

In reality, the resurrection is a challenging concept, for one of the few “guarantees” in the physical realm is that once one dies, one is always dead. We do not see people rising from the dead, never to die again.

Yet that is precisely the hope by which the Christian must live (cf. Romans 8:20-25). And we have confidence in that hope because of Jesus the firstfruits. We do not have to wonder whether God can or will raise the dead, for we know He raised Jesus from the dead. If He is able to raise Jesus from the dead, He is able to raise us from the dead also, and He has promised to do so (Romans 8:11)!

The last enemy, indeed, is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship, believers now can have confidence in their spiritual regeneration in this life (Romans 6:1-23, 8:1-9). The believer is able to be a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), yet we are all still cursed with physical death.

But death will be abolished. The day will dawn when we all will have the victory over not just sin but also death through Jesus Christ our Lord, and on that day the rest of the harvest will be brought in to the praise and glory of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:53-57, 1 Peter 1:6-7). We can have complete confidence in this because Jesus gained the victory over sin on the cross and over death in the resurrection, and He is the firstfruits! Let us all serve God so that we may attain to the resurrection of life (cf. Philippians 3:11-13)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Testing Temptation

Then the devil taketh him into the holy city; and he set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, “If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, ‘He shall give his angels charge concerning thee:’ and, ‘On their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.'”
Jesus said unto him, Again it is written, “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:5-7).

Satan was not able to get Jesus to “bite” at the temptation of turning stones into bread and to satisfy His great hunger (Matthew 4:1-4, Luke 4:1-4). Next, according to Matthew’s Gospel (the last temptation in Luke’s, Luke 4:9-12), Satan transports Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple for the next temptation.

The temptation this time is for Jesus to again “prove” that He is who He says He is. Satan challenges Him to throw Himself down, for, if He is the Son of God, then the promise of Psalm 91:11-12 would be true regarding Him. After all, it is thus written in the Scriptures!

We have no reason to doubt that the Scripture is true. If Jesus had decided to take up Satan’s challenge and would have cast Himself down, the angels would have protected Him.

Yet Jesus does not take up Satan’s challenge but reminds him of another Scripture that is written– you shall not put the LORD your God to the test (Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus has already demonstrated His confidence in the Father and Source of His sustenance (cf. Matthew 4:1-4); He now makes it evident that testing that Source is unseemly. He does not have to perform the action to know or to make demonstration that He is the Son of God. He can be confident in His trust in God without such a trial.

Furthermore, the location also plays a role in this. The Temple was not just a large building; it was also the center of Jewish life. There would have been, no doubt, thousands of Jews present who would have likely seen these events played out. While God’s power would have been displayed, it would all be for show, without any substantive benefit or teaching moment. People would have spoken about Jesus in terms of a freak or some kind of stuntman. Worse would be if some were to get it into their heads that He was the Messiah according to their understanding of the Messiah when He had not yet taught about the true nature of the Kingdom!

It is important to note the role of Scripture in this temptation. Satan quotes Scripture against Jesus, and this goes to show that Scripture can be used for malicious purposes and to distract from the greatest good. Jesus’ response demonstrates powerfully that the Bible is not designed merely to be a proof-text for our desires. Just because God has promised to protect the Messiah does not mean that the Messiah needs to test out that promise!

Thus, while we all can agree that quoting Scripture is good, a bad point is not somehow made good because some Scripture has been forced to fit into it. One statement of Scripture may, at times, need to be understood in terms of another Scripture so that the text remains consistent and God’s true will is properly discerned. And let no one be deceived into thinking that the Evil One does not know Scripture or how to use and abuse it!

There is much to gain from the substance of the temptation. Humans have an innate impulse to believe all things by experimentation or observation. It is much more challenging for humans to trust without testing, as evidenced by Thomas (John 20:24-25). This remains true to this day. Humans are always pushing at the edges of knowledge, endurance, and capability. There tends to be an ethic of “if we can, we should,” without necessarily thinking about the implications of what we are doing.

Therefore, there would be the natural, human impulse in Jesus to cast Himself off, just to see what would happen. Many thrillseekers would love to have the opportunity to jump off of large buildings, experience the rush, and know that they would be caught before they fell!

But Jesus reminds the Devil– and ourselves– that we should not put the Lord to the test. Who are we to test God? We are the clay, after all, and He is the Potter (Romans 9:20-21). He has already provided us with life– this creation and the promise of eternity (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Romans 6:23). He has given of His Son and stands willing to give us all things– if we ask in faith (cf. Romans 8:32, James 1:5-8).

And yet we make a bargain. We will say that we will believe in God if He does x or y. If we are believers, we decide that we will re-commit to God if He answers our prayers in the way we expect Him to answer them. We are willing to step out in faith but only after we have a “sign” or some guaranty of what we are about to accomplish.

This is putting God to the test. Perhaps God will answer us in our folly and ignorance; perhaps He will not. A non-answer does not make Him any less God, or, for that matter, any less good.

Instead, we must have confidence in God like Jesus did. We should trust that the Lord will protect us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves if we are His. Even if we die, our souls are in His hands. Thus, we should be willing to believe no matter what. We should commit to God no matter what. We ought to step out in faith no matter what. God has proven His faithfulness and we have no reason to doubt His promises.

The only reason we have to doubt His promises is that impulse to test and examine, and we must understand that we do not need to test God. Instead, let us trust in His goodness and seek His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Temptation of Bread

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered.
And the tempter came and said unto him, “If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But he answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:1-4).

Thus begins what seems to be a rather strange incident in the life of Jesus, recorded both by Matthew and Luke (Luke 4:1-4), and mentioned quickly by Mark (Mark 1:12-13). After His baptism by John, right at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus is compelled to go out into the wilderness and to withstand the temptations of the Devil.

Most of us spend our times attempting to avoid temptation; such seems to be the reasonable thing to do, considering our predilection for falling into temptations and sinning (James 1:13-15). Nevertheless, the ultimate glory is for those who endure despite temptation (James 1:12)– and Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God, must prove Himself to be able to withstand temptation (cf. Hebrews 4:15).

Why the temptation had to take place in the way it does is never revealed. Perhaps Jesus must first take on Satan face to face before He can truly minister to the people. Maybe Jesus is fully experiencing the travails of humanity so that He can understand the difficulties of His people. Or perhaps He is fulfilling the example of Elijah, enduring the wilderness and temptation without sin (cf. 1 Kings 19). All we know for certain is that He goes out into the wilderness– a desert landscape– for forty days and nights.

Forty days and nights represent a complete period of time. Such is the duration of the rains during the Flood (Genesis 7:17). In a close parallel, such is also the duration of the time that Elijah spent journeying on in the wilderness toward Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Spending forty days and nights in the wilderness– a remote and quiet place– would be challenging enough; to do so while fasting is unbelievably challenging for a person. All one can do in such a circumstance is think. The feelings of hunger and thirst would become more and more acute. It would be easy to see hallucinations in such a condition. One can easily imagine food or water to satisfy the earnest desire of the flesh to persevere and continue!

It is only after this time that the tempter– the Devil, Satan– comes to Jesus. His first temptation for Jesus involves that which is most acutely felt by Him in His humanity– hunger. Satan challenges Jesus to make bread from stones. After all, if He is truly the Son of God, He certainly has the power to sate His own hunger, does He not? What kind of Son of God is He if He cannot even provide food?

Could Jesus have made bread from stones? He Who turned water to wine (John 2:1-11) and Who fed over five thousand with only five loaves and two fishes (Matthew 14:15-21) could most certainly and easily make bread from the stones. But that was not the heart of the matter.

It is easy to be a little confused by this “temptation” from Satan. Jesus eats bread on many occasions (cf. Matthew 26:20-26, etc.). There is no sin in taking one’s daily bread and being sated (Matthew 6:11). So what’s the temptation?

We learn why it is a temptation from Jesus’ answer. Jesus responds by quoting what is written in Deuteronomy 8:3: man does not live by bread alone but by every word from the mouth of God. It is right that we emphasize how Jesus uses the Word of God to combat the temptations of the Evil One, but the substance of this Word is extremely important.

How was Jesus sustained over the forty days and nights? For that matter, how is Jesus sustained throughout His work? As He says in John 4:32, 34, He has food that we do not understand. He is sustained by doing the work of God, and this is only possible because God the Father is the One sustaining Him.

An unaided human could not have lived in the wilderness forty days and forty nights without food and water. Even if Jesus brought water with Him, chances of unaided survival would still be low, considering the temperature extremes and the lack of vitamins. Therefore, to survive in such conditions required something beyond food and water– the strength of God. God, after all, provided the Israelites providentially throughout their wanderings in the Wilderness, as Deuteronomy 8:2-3 attests. Elijah is sustained for forty days and nights on his journey because of the food and drink God gave him (1 Kings 19:5-8). Jesus is currently surviving through the sustenance He derives from God His Father.

This is why Satan’s temptation is so strong. Satan is tempting Jesus to rely on the flesh and satisfy its impulses. We can only imagine how strong a pull his words had on the fleshly impulses of Jesus. And yet Jesus remains strong in the face of that temptation, remembering the connection that is truly important. Food is not truly life. The words that come from the mouth of God are truly life.

No disciple is above his teacher (cf. Matthew 10:24), and so it is with us and Jesus. We do not have to go out into the wilderness and fast for forty days and nights in order to experience the same temptations, for Satan tempts us in similar ways all the time. He appeals to and flatters our fleshly impulses, attempting to provoke us into satisfying our lusts despite our inclinations to serve God (cf. Romans 7:15-25). There may be times when the actual impulse satisfied is not sinful, as with eating food, but when we do so by betraying our confidence in God, it has become sin to us!

Choosing the physical over the spiritual– the lusts of the flesh over the direction of the spirit– has been one of Satan’s most pervasive and successful temptations of humans since the Garden. By our own strength we will always ultimately fail; yet in Christ we can succeed, as He succeeded in the wilderness (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). We can only succeed, however, when we have crucified the flesh with its passions and have determined to always look toward God our true Sustainer and not the temporal pleasures of the world (Galatians 5:17-24). Let us stand firm against temptation; let us be sustained by every word that comes from the mouth of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Secret Things

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).

We humans are curious to a fault. It does not matter if you speak to a child or an adult: tell someone that they cannot do something, and you have just challenged them to try. Humans keep trying to push every boundary– to learn more, to investigate more deeply, to plumb greater depths and ascend to greater heights. Many believe that there is limitless potential with human beings.

Yet we are the creation. Our brains, while magnificent in their complexity, are still finite. There are some things that we are just not going to be able to understand. There are some depths that we cannot plumb; some heights we will not climb.

Three of the hardest words for humans to say are, “I don’t know.” And yet, especially in many spiritual matters, they are very humble and powerful words.

God never intended to reveal everything to humanity– there are many things that we just cannot understand (Isaiah 55:9-10). They are the “secret things” that belong to God. He knows and understands, and we may gain a better understanding when we stand before Him.

Until then, however, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know,” when the Bible has not revealed it. How can God be Three in One, or One in Three? We don’t know. How will the resurrection take place, and what will we be? All we know is that we will be as Christ (1 John 3:2). Why is there evil and suffering? In the end, we can’t really know.

But we can know what God has revealed to us, and we are to be content with devoting ourselves to that. Let us diligently consider what can be known, and leave what cannot be known to God who knows all.

Ethan R. Longhenry