N = Nebuchadnezzar, will I see you in heaven?

My family loves Cheaper by the Dozen (2003), a triple-win, big-family congeniality and clean humour, all served-up Steve Martin’s wit. One scene stands out, where he, the stressed-out and guilty father, has to perform an impromptu funeral for his oft-forgotten son’s favourite pet.

“Beans was a good frog. He was, uh, not like a lot of the bad frogs…you hear about today, all hopped up. He was loveable. He was almost human. He was like, uh, one of the family. Except that, of course, he was green and he ate flies. But he was a hopper. He hipped and he hopped. He loved hip-hop.”

Nebuchadnezzar was no Beans. In the Bible’s story, this Babylonian king had one of the most remarkable personal turn-arounds in the whole Old Testament. But he was not one of God’s people; he was their chief captor. If someone asked you to give him a eulogy, what would you say?

“Nebuchadnezzar started off as a bad king, he became a good king. He wasn’t like those other kings you hear about who never humbled themselves. At times he killed and burned. At other times he bowed and he kneeled. For his arrogance, become like an animal and ate grass. But by the end, he lifted his eyes to heaven.”

Eulogies suppress the horrific and highlight the best. In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, now ancient history, there is not much to be gained by praising him, nor burying him. But, can we ask a dangerous question?

Jesus preached about heaven and hell, eternity with God’s blessing, and eternity with God’s judgment. What is the fate of Nebuchadnezzar? Will we  see him at the great banquet with our Lord Jesus Christ, and all who trusted in him?

Nebuchadnezzar, will I see you in heaven?

1. Before we think about Nebuchadnezzar particularly, is it ever right to ask this question?

There are perhaps three immediate objections that my imagined reader might have. I have sympathy for the first two, but find the third one unreasonable.

A. God is the judge, we should never ask that question.

There is a lot of wisdom in this, particularly when someone dies who has never made a clear profession of faith. However, in the New Testament, even though Christians do not know definitively the hearts of their departed brothers and sisters, they could, and should, say to each other with confidence that if they died in the Lord, they would rise (1 Cor. 15:22-23; 1 Thess. 4:16). We will proceed with caution and acknowledge that we are not God. We can only stand on his promises.

B. It’s not a question the Bible raises, therefore we might not find an answer.

Nebuchadnezzar is not mentioned in the New Testament, neither as a model of faith nor someone who will be with Christ in eternity. To me, this holds a lot a weight. We might reach the end of our investigation without certainty congruent to our curiosity. However, since Daniel, the great book that we’ll examine, begins with the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s possible conversion (1-3) and finishes with the clearest Old Testament passage about the general resurrection of the dead (12), we might be able to say something.

C. Nebuchadnezzar is presented as a cartoon character, not a historical person.

Both liberal academics and dismissive Bible readers tend to treat the King of Babylon as a two-dimensional literary foil, a theological point rather than a person. I disagree. The New Testament treats Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego as historic examples of lived-out faith for others to follow (Heb. 11:33-34). Likewise, internally in the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar is presented as model for the next king, Belshazzar. His repentance was a rebuke to his successor.

2. Bearing this in mind, we need to know, will anyone from the Old Testament be in heaven?

When Jesus spoke to his disciples, he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, he promised paradise, and a new home (eg. Matt. 5, Lk. 23, Jn. 14). His death and resurrection dealt with sin and judgement so that the gospel could hold certain hope for eternity. But was that promise backdated? Could eternity be given to those in the past?

Jesus answered with a strong affirmative. Patriarchs, prophets and Old Testament people of faith will join his followers in rejoicing and banqueting with the Lord. Jesus warned hearers against missing out on this Biblical-theological reunion.

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.  (Jesus. Lk. 13:28-29 cf. Luke 16:22)

Elsewhere the New Testament addresses this question from different angles. Old Testament believers, as much as New, will be part of the Eternal Kingdom.

  • The cross justifies those past, present and future who trust in God’s promise (Romans 3:21-26).
  • God has prepared a heavenly city for all those died in faith before Christ (Heb. 11:13,16).
  • God’s plans, for them, was only to be completed when New Covenant believers are fulfilled in Christ (Heb. 11:39-12:2).

So we must ask if Nebuchadnezzar was a believer?

3. But wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar incredibly wicked?

Yes. Absolutely, as we all are.

But, wasn’t he uniquely wicked, the instrument of God’s judgement on the people of Judah?

In the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s evil is not white-washed. His army besieged Jerusalem twice and took captive the best of those who remained in the land (Dan 1:1). He was the principle antagonist in the Babylonian Captivity. If Jerusalem, like Christ, was handed over to the Gentiles, was mocked, spat on, suffered and crucified, Nebuchadnezzar was the Pilate of the story.  He stole all the precious articles from the temple and placed them in pagan temples (Dan 1:2; 5:2-4). His hubris knew no limits, he built a statue to himself and threatened to kill anyone who wouldn’t bow down and worship it (Dan 3:1-7)!

If anyone fell foul of the Abrahamic and Balaamic curse, surely it was he. “Blessed are those who bless you [Israel], and cursed are those who curse you.”” (Numbers 24:9; cf. Gen 12:3) If God judges people in the New Testament by their reception of Jesus, in the Old Testament, he judges them by their treatment of the men and women of his covenant. And Nebuchadnezzar sins intensely, destroying their city, robbing God’s temple, taking away their freedom and forbidding true worship.

But, there are signs of conversion in Nebuchadnezzar.

4. Was Nebuchadnezzars’ repentance genuine? Was he a genuine believer?

When the four Jerusalem youths arrived to serve Nebuchadnezzar, he was impressed with their wisdom and understanding (Dan. 1:20). As the story develops, three mind-shifts overcome Nebuchadnezzar, each with an accompanying confession to the power of their God.

A. After Daniel revealed the meaning of his dream, Nebuchadnezzar’s paid homage to him personally and proclaimed the greatness of his God (Daniel 2).

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. (Dan. 2:46-48)

B. After Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were saved from the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar offered complete protection for worship of their God (Daniel 3).

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 3:28-30)

C. Nebuchadnezzar’s third confession:  now it’s personal (Daniel 4)

The enthusiastic reader shouldn’t be over-excited about Nebuchadnezzar’s first two confessions. They were fake and flimsy. Praising Daniel’s God was meaningless if he would later build a statue of himself for state-imposed worship. Proclaiming protection was as much a personal-conversion experience as a modern state allowing religious liberty or preference to a minority group.

But Daniel 4 presents the Bible’s last word on Nebuchadnezzar.

What he learned this time around is deeply personal and his praise has all the hallmarks of being real. Chapter 4 is Nebuchadnezzar’s letter, his will and testimony to a pagan world. Isn’t it amazing that a chapter of the Bible is essentially written by a man who destroyed Jerusalem?

King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation. (Dan. 4:1-3)

Nebuchadnezzar recounts his conversion experience. Having received a dream and warning from God against arrogance, Nebuchadnezzar mocked heaven, by praising his own majesty and the glory of his building achievements (Dan 4:30). God kept his warning and this King of Babylon was thrown out of his own self-exalting paradise by God, only to become a degraded animal. In language reminiscent of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t acknowledge his creator, so God handed him over to a debased mind and lifestyle (Rom 1:21-22). But then in humility, he turned to God and a gift from his creator, was transformed by the the renewing of his mind.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; (Daniel 4:34)

The earlier thin-proclamations refer to God as the God of Daniel or his three companions, but this chapter speaks of God as the Most High, King of Heaven (Nebuchadnezzar: Dan. 2:47; 3:28; Darius: Dan. 6:26).  Read by itself, Nebuchadnezzar’s final sentence, speaks loudly as a personal, real acknowledgement of sin and of God’s righteousness.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Dan. 4:37 cf. Moses and the Lamb’s Song in Deut. 34:4 and Rev 15:3-4)

Are we too easily fooled by this? Is the King of Babylon a charlatan or a just a pagan voice-box, like Balaam and his ass?

What God thinks is more important than what we do.

5. Did God regard regard Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance as genuine and permanent?

There is strong evidence within chapter 4 that God regarded Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance as genuine. He judged the powerful, but arrogant ruler; and saved the wretched but humble beast. He would not have restored the Babylonian kingdom unless he acknowledged that heaven ruled (Dan. 4:26).

But couldn’t Nebuchadnezzar have just as easily turned away from God like he had done before? I think not. The next story rules this out.

The heir continued his father’s arrogance and sin, but he did not have his own ‘road from Babylon’ experience. The writing was on the wall for Belshazzar. He should have learned the lessons from the very recent past past. Nebuchadnezzar’s personal conversion is treated as history and is an extra basis for his son’s condemnation.

O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. […] But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. (Daniel 5:18,20-23)

Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, God weighed his Belshazzar’s kingdom and found it wanting, ready to be judged and divided up (Dan. 5:24-27). God saw something different in his father. If only he had followed in his repentance. Would God through Daniel have pointed to Nebuchadnezzar’s learnt humility if he didn’t regard it as genuine?

6. Nebuchadnezzar, Confession and Salvation: Daniel 7 and 12

A. Confession and Daniel 7

Nebuchadnezzar’s final testimony must be read in context of the rest of the book of Daniel. What he confessed about God, in chapter 4, is so incredibly similar to what is revealed in the later visions, of Daniel 7. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that God is the only king-maker and kingdom establisher, and Daniel 7 demonstrates God dealing with the kingdom, and creating his own that will last.

Interestingly, Daniel 7 is set in the first year after Nebuchadnezzar’s reign ends, when a new king who doesn’t acknowledge God ruled (Dan. 7:1). Two very tight points of comparison present themselves:

  • Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony and Daniel’s first vision use almost identical words. Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed that God’s “dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:34).  In the vision, when the Ancient of Days gives his power over to one like a Son of Man, the authoritative voice says that “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14). Nebuchadnezzar’s language is almost verbatim to what God says.
  • The names for God are also identical. Nebuchadnezzar’s calls God, “the Most High”, the same name that both Daniel and the angelic interpreters consistently use in chapter 7 (Dan. 4:1,34; Dan. 7:18, 25, 27). This weakens a potential argument based on God’s name. Yes, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t call out to God’s personal, covenantal name, the LORD, but he did invoke the name for God that Daniel taught and used himself (Dan. 4:23-25). Could this perhaps be the name, by which, God relates to the kingdoms around him?

Perhaps then, Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion in chapter 4 presents itself as a role-model for what would happen in the future in chapter 7. He calls on the same name of God with almost the same proclamation as the divine voice. “Peoples, nations and languages” would serve the Ancient of Days and his appointed king (Dan. 7:14).

Was Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion a flesh-and-blood down-payment to show Daniel and his readers that God could be trusted to keep his promises? If the greatest king of his time could turn in history, then nations might in God’s future eternal plans. If the man who destroyed Jerusalem could serve the God whose name he blasphemed, then the Most High’s plan to call nations to faith and obedience makes sense.

B. Salvation and Daniel 12

But I have hidden a vital piece of evidence, something very important. Nebuchadnezzar was never promised eternal salvation. Even in obedience, he was only promised God’s blessings in his earthly life and rule.

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (Dan. 4:27)

At his repentance, his reason, glory, majesty and splendour was restored and “still more greatness was added to me.” (Daniel 4:36). There is no hint, or mention of any greater salvation beyond the grave. What he was promised, he was given. Nothing more is said.

But before we push this too far, the same is true of Daniel and most Old Testament saints. He is nowhere promised eternal life, heaven or anything beyond the grave. All the blessings he receives in the narrative are honours, protections and promotions—that is, until the the end of the book. The last chapter makes me most wonder, not just about Daniel, but also Nebuchadnezzar.

But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Dan. 12:1-4)

A few observations about this prophetic word:

  • God’s future plans are about a general resurrection. Some will go to a blessed life and others to everlasting shame.
  • The certain promise is only for the people of the covenant. The children of Abraham are on view, ‘your people’ as the passage maintains. Others nations are not mentioned.
  • God’s judgement book is not open for us to read. Likewise, this whole vision was to be sealed up, waiting for fulfilment.
  • However, the clear promise of everlasting life is for the wise and those who turn many to righteousness. While this certainly applies to future generations, presumably the example of these traits up to this point, par excellence, is Daniel, wise and the one who has turned people to righteousness.

But who has he turned to righteousness? Moving backwards, Darius is somewhat affected by his witness, Belshazzar doesn’t learn at all, but one king does turn to God and acknowledge the righteousness of all God’s ways as his final word (Dan 6,5,4). Could Nebuchadnezzar be one of those who have been turned?

7. Are there any other parallels in the New Testament?

Is Nebuchadnezzar a real convert and inheritor of eternal salvation or is he just a model for those from the nations who would genuinely accept God? Is he a visual aid or an heir of heaven?

For this we return to the New Testament and examine key parallels that Jesus mentions. Two other pagan examples stand as warnings against the unbelieving Jews of his day. Christ mentions those of the Assyrian capital who turned to God; and the Queen of Sheba who sought God’s king.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Jesus. Matt. 12:41-42)

The parallels are so tight with Daniel 12, the clearest Old Testament passage about the general resurrection from the dead, the judgement day that Jesus also speaks about. Furthermore, the original word describing the Ninevites rising (ἀναστήσονται) is exactly the same as the Greek of Daniel 12 describing the rising (ἀναστήσονται) of all those asleep (Matt. 12:41; Dan. 12:2).

Jesus is very close to saying that the Ninevites will rise to life. But the nature of metaphor doesn’t remove all doubt. However, he does say that they will stand as a witness against the current generation who won’t repent. Remember that the men of Nineveh were only promised limited salvation against temporal judgement, but their repentance has an effect that continues to speak for eternity.

Is Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance similar?

8. So, what can we say?

I began this discussion comparing Nebuchadnezzar to a dead pet in a family movie. In my first thinking, I must admit, that I thought that there was as much chance for the Old Testament Pilate—the destroyer of Jerusalem, the builder of the self-aggrandising idolatry and the totalitarian oppression—to be be saved eternally as there would be for a fictional frog.

But as I write, I’m not so sure. Universalism and wishful sentimentality are both thoroughly opposed in the Bible.  But if we take God’s word seriously, Nebuchadnezzar was a genuinely broken believer in the Most High God.

He wasn’t promised eternity, and he may not be given it. But he did humble himself before the Lord and repent as almost no other pagan leader in the whole Old Testament.

If God’s purpose with Pharaoh was to harden his heart, God’s transformational heart-work in Nebuchadnezzar was for humility and a confession that God is the true ruler. While the king of Babylon didn’t cast his crown voluntarily before the Lamb, he did have it removed so that he would acknowledge the source and right of all power on earth.

Whether or not Nebuchadnezzar will sit with the patriarchs, prophets, Jesus and all his followers, we do not know and I will not say. But I would not be surprised, if he was. And the history of the world will look very different when viewed from eternity.

Can we use Jesus’ parallel? If so, then Nebuchadnezzar will rise as a testimony against all great ones who claimed to be God’s people but didn’t acknowledge the king of heaven.

He stands as a warning against arrogant presidents who don’t think they ever need forgiveness and toward self-made Australians who think they have created all their own lives. Learn from Nebuchadnezzar.  “O kings, be wise; be warned O rulers of the Earth” (Ps. 2:10).

M = Mining is a massive blessing from God

A young teacher sits in a classroom and enthusiastically tells the kids how bad mining is for our world. The students all agree and post about it on Facebook. That teacher sits on a chair with metal legs, and a seat made of plastic, derived from petrochemicals. On her desk rests a reusable coffee cup, filled with locally brewed coffee, ground and extracted in a machine made of plastic and metal. The students recline at wooden tables, cut, manufactured, painted and transported using, you guested it, tools, treatments and fuel made of substances that have in some way been dug up. The computers and phones they all use, the building they sit in, and the fixed-gear bike the teacher rides home, speak a contradictory message to the well-worn pantomime that mimics education.

Everything that makes the civilised world work is in some way dependent on mining. Go to a hospital and receive treatment for cancer, a broken leg or dehydration and, all you see and experience, is made possible directly and indirectly from the wealth of the Earth’s riches. Eat food, live in a house, use refrigeration, go to a supermarket, flush a toilet, rely on clean sanitation and you should be saying thank you to the miners (and builders and engineers) who made it possible. Healthy drinking water is dependent on electricity, which regardless of whether it comes from coal, gas and nuclear comes from the ground. Even solar, wind and hydro-electric power stations are constructed from materials. Productive farming methods, from ploughs to combine harvesters, that give us freedom as a society for people to sit around and complain about mining, only exist thanks to what mining has given us.

I do not understand why some Christian people thank God for food and farmers, but not for the other blessings that come from beneath the top-soil. In past generations, preachers felt silenced about talking about sex. Today, if you mentioned the blessing of mining, you might be not be booed down, but you would be blogged against. There are obviously huge abuses of people and the environment in mining, but the activity and concept itself is as much a part of God’s good plan as farming. We shall see in what follows that mining is God’s idea and a good blessing for humanity.

1. Mining is God’s good idea for humanity from the Garden of Eden

God made the world perfectly good for humans and perfectly right for our flourishing. He didn’t put minerals, metals and petrochemicals in the Earth, hoping that people would not find them; and if they did that they would not use them. The paradise of Eden extended beneath the surface of the earth.

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. (Gen. 2:10-12)

God saw all he made and it was very good (Gen. 1:31). In Eden, it’s not just the trees that are “good for food”, but also the the gold that is called the same (Gen. 2:9). The gold is good. But who would use it? Presumably people.

Good things can easily be distorted. But there is a tendency for Christian people to go even further, seeing parts of physical creation as inherently evil. When philosophical Neo-Platonism marries cultural Neo-Marxism, mining for fossil fuels, uranium and heavy metals is portrayed as evil.  Human hearts can abuse anything, but the created things themselves are good. Calling a good thing evil is a demonic teaching.

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim. 4:4-5).

If Adam and Eve had lived in paradise long enough, they would have mined. Rather than destroying their Edenic state, it would have fulfilled their creation mandate. Mining was God’s idea for humanity.

2. Mining, together with agriculture, is God’s gift to his people in the Promised Land

“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” (Deut. 8:7-10)

Moses described the land of Canaan as a new paradise. The goodness of that land is described, not just in her waterways and trees, but also an abundance of iron and copper. These metals are not ornamental, but are meant for humans to dig out of the hills.

Here we have a helpful and productive parallel between agriculture and mining. Both agriculture and mining are intended as gifts from God.

If God gives a gift, we should be thankful. If a church holds a harvest festival, why not thank God for our electricity and building materials? If we thank God for our food before we eat, why not thank God for the petrol that enables us to drive our cars? If we pray for farmers doing it tough, perhaps we can also pray for miners who face equally isolated and difficult conditions. We tend to beatify one industry and demonise the other. Instead both are blessed by heaven and equally ruined by human sinfulness.

Mining and farming can both be abused by raping the environment or exploiting the poor for the sake of the very rich. The Old Testament doesn’t warn against bad mining practices, but the prohibitions against wicked farming practices then apply equally to mining now: not paying workers or giving them breaks (Lev. 19:13; Deut 5:12-15); robbing other people of their land (1 King 21; Deut. 27:17); and perhaps even overworking the land (Lev. 25:4). If it’s a gift it must used with respect. The prayer book raises this concern for justice in farming and mining.

Give wisdom to those in authority in every land, and give to all peoples a desire for righteousness and peace, with the will to work together in trust, to seek the common good and to share with justice the resources of the earth. (Common Prayer, 35) 

3. While the fruits of mining can easily distort our relationship with God, they are not rejected by God in true worship

The riches from the earth breed dangers that come from the human heart: greed and idolatry. Both turn the good gift into a god. Here are just some of the Old Testament warnings:

  • False security: “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD.” (Zeph 1:18)
  • False trust: “If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence, if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant or because my hand had found much … I would have been false to God above.” (Job 31:25,28)
  • False worship: “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’ (Deut. 27:15)
  • False praise: “And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honoured … And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. (Dan. 5:23,25)

However, the fruits of mining are still welcomed by God in true devotion. As dangerous as these riches can be, they are not eschewed in temple worship. God gladly received as gifts the mining products of the pagan city Jericho.

And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. (Josh. 6:24; cf. 22:8)

And while Solomon’s mines are not mentioned in the Bible, he must have had some sources to his great wealth. His father David gave greatly to the Temple project from the resources of the earth.

So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble. (1 Chr. 29:2)

David’s view was that he was merely returning to God what is his own anyway. God was, as C.S. Lewis said, “six-pence none the richer”. This is the only way to treat a gift from God, whether we use it for his service directly or the good of our neighbour.

For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.  (1 Chr. 29:14)

Stones, precious metals and jewels were adorning features of the tabernacle, temple and even the breastplates of the High Priests, symbols of God’s beautiful provision to Israel and their extreme valuing of him (Ex. 35, 39). However even these symbols can, when used wrongly, become snare for human arrogance than results in a fall (Ez. 28:1,13).

4. Mining is used as an image for humanity’s search for wisdom

“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold that they refine. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from the ore. Man puts an end to darkness and searches out to the farthest limit the ore in gloom and deep darkness. (Job 28:1-3)

Job 28 is worth its own study, describing humanity’s effort to mine as one of his ultimate achievements. No animal or bird digs so deep, swings in dark caverns and cuts through rocks, “overturning mountains by their roots.” (Job 28:4-11). Humanity alone goes to extreme limits to find the things that God has hidden.

However the greatest thing God has hidden we cannot fathom.Even though humanity can mine, God’s wisdom cannot be obtained by our human ingenuity and resourcefulness.

It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold […] “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. […] And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:16-17,20-21,28)

Mining is a creation gift, but is certainly not the greatest thing we can find. The simple truths of fearing God and turning from evil are much more precious.

5. The New Creation is painted as if the mineral riches of Eden and Canaan were insignificant compared to what God had planned for those who love him

There might be copper in hills of Canaan and gold near the land of Eden, but the heavenly Jerusalem has gold as bitumen and onyx adorning the foundations of the walls. Her description is more luxurious than the temple itself.

The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx … (Rev. 21:18-20)

This is God’s idea and his gift to his people. New Jerusalem has rivers, trees and beautifully built engineering masterpieces. Old Testament prophecies speak in this language.

Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. (Isaiah 60:17-18 cf. Hag 2:7-9)

In the New Creation, the fruits of the earth, the gifts from the ground will be enjoyed with justice and peace. The gifts that God has placed in the earth will be used properly and for his sake. The end point of the Bible is not an unkept Eden, but as Eden was meant to be: inhabited and settled by humanity, dwelling in peace with God himself.

Mining, Solar Batteries and Us

Imagine if there was a way of storing the sun’s power for later use.

God created it. We call it wood. The Bible sees this as his gift to his people. Burning it provides warmth and light, releasing the stored energy.

But, imagine there was a way that the sun’s energy could be stored even more efficiently, for say, hundreds of years. We call it charcoal and peat. But what if there were other more long lasting, efficient and less polluting ways of storing this power? We call them coal, oil and gas. Humanity has leveraged from one form of power to the next, exploring more efficient and clean sources of energy, enabling us to pass from bronze and iron age, through the industrial revolution, to the use of plastic and electricity, and beyond.

If an Israelite chopped down wood and burned it on a fire, shouldn’t they thank God that their kids didn’t freeze to death? Of course they should.

Coal, which is much more efficient and less polluting than individual combustion stoves, means we can provide electricity, refrigeration and water purification, so that billions don’t die prematurely.  Shouldn’t we also thank God for the coal he placed for humanity’s use?

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking for other, even more efficient energy sources, but one thing we must not become: ungrateful. God has given us what we needed to provide unparalleled riches, agricultural advances and medical opportunities, as we keep seeking new ways of mining that are more equitable, less damaging and more beneficial to other people.

My opening picture of a teacher at school was a parody, but was it that far from the truth? We rightly want to oppose injustices and irreversible environmental damage, but sometimes throw out the basis of our modern society. We give people two polar options about mining: either big business exploitation or western civilisation self-hatred. The Christian approach should instead be thankfulness and seeking wisdom. More fruitful discussions should be about justice and better resource management. Schools should not be places of ignorance. Arguably, some places should certainly forbid mining, but that discussion is best premised on balancing competing goods. Individual mines and harsh practices should, at times be strongly opposed, but mining per se, which has been such a boon to humanity’s development should be acknowledged for what it has given us.

As adults we must not act like selfish and petulant children, ungrateful for the efforts of others and of our heavenly father’s provision. Most of us would be dead without the things we dig up from the earth.

Do you see mining as a necessary evil or a God-given good?

Mining was God’s idea. In the Garden of Eden and in the promised land it was a gift. Used wrongly, the moral and spiritual pitfalls far out-way even the most dangerous conditions in a shaft-mine. You can only die in a mine collapse, whereas the love of money and idolatry can take you to hell.

However, these resources are sanctified by thankfulness, the word of God and prayer if used for God’s glory and the good of other human beings. The love of money is a root of all evil. However, the Samaritan’s purse paid for a place at the inn, the widow’s copper coin was a demonstration of generosity, and tested gold becomes a pale illustration of faith under trial.

Even more, God’s future plans in the New Creation are presented physically as the result of unearthing hidden resources, richer than Eden, Canaan and the temple combined.

Even though mining is a massive creation blessing from God, there are so many ‘even-more-massive’ ones. Job spoke about true wisdom and Peter speaks about Christ, more precious than perishable materials dug from the earth.

… you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

God is not as embarrassed about mining as 21st Century young Christians. After all, he invented it and gave it to us as we wait for the New Creation. There is an old industry slogan that points out our utter dependency: “What’s mined is yours”. Christians might say instead “What’s mined is hishe gives it to us to use wisely.”

L = Living Waters

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. (Jer. 17:13)

Kangaroo carcasses, spread on the side of the dirt road, and next to each lifeless heap, deep scratch marks. Recently returned from his outback trip, a friend painted this sensory picture of deadly thirst. Had we been there, we might have seen majestic animals wildly digging up the red dirt, desperately trying to find water.

This year, country New South Wales has endured one of the worst droughts on record. Cattle have been hand fed by desperate and despairing farmers. Sheep have been put down by the RSPCA. In alarming rates, farmers have sadly taken their own lives.

In spite of all this, here in Sydney, I can still water my lawn, take a daily shower, wash my dishes, and drink as much clean water as I desire. In big cities, we don’t know how good we have it. Hike, work on the land, or survive a natural disaster, and you always think about the supply levels of the most precious liquid on earth.

For the ancient Israelites, as for most people, clean, good water was the difference between life and death, riches or poverty, hope or despair. To describe God as the ‘fountain of living waters’ screams and shouts rather than whispers.

Humanity’s utter dependency on her Creator speaks a reassuring word to those going through hardship (Jer. 2:13; 17:13).  God is the only true reservoir in this spiritually arid world. When all other rusty taps only pour out dust, he pours out water, not just a refreshing drink, but the source of life itself. Like the kangaroos, cattle, sheep and farmers, we are dead without it.

Jesus picked up this Old Testament phrase,  ‘living water’, when he talked about creating such wells within believers lives (Jn. 7:37-39). He promised this water to a Samaritan Woman, and he promises it to us (Jn 4:7-15). While drinking afresh from his words, what difference will understanding their source make? Let us see. There are four different ways living water is used in the Old Testament.

1. ‘Living water’ is a very normal and common expression meaning flowing or fresh water

Before we over-theologise  ‘living water’ in every context, we must see that it is often an ordinary phrase. The ESV most commonly translates the two words, ‘living’ and ‘water’, as ‘fresh water’ (Lev. 14:5,6,50,51,52; 15:13; Num. 19:17. Other English Bibles also use ‘running water’).  In the well-digging narratives of Patriarchs there is another use of this expression.  Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water’ (Gen. 26:19; the NIV uses ‘fresh water’ and the KJV ’springing water’). These waters flow, are fresh and hence alive.

Acknowledging this ordinary meaning explains why the Samaritan Woman could respond so naturally to Jesus when he offered her a new source of ‘living water’.

“Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.” (Jn 4:11-12).

2. A man can describe his wife as a well of ‘living water’ (Song of Songs 4:15)

A lover can describe his bride as as ‘a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.’ (Song. 4:15)

Fresh or running water would also work in this context. She satisfies his deepest longings and satiates his sensual thirsts, and vice versa. Like a well, she is not just for one drink, but for a lifetime. She doesn’t need to stray anywhere else, nor does he. A family’s well is their most important asset, likewise their embodied-covenantal expression in the marriage bed. This resonates well with Solomon’s warning, albeit using a different Hebrew phrase. “Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well … rejoice in the wife of your youth” (nb. Prov. 5:15,18; ‘moving water’ in Heb. rather than ‘living water’).

We must be careful to avoid importing every Old Testament use into each New Testament occurrence. However, Jesus’ shift in the conversation with the Samaritan from ‘living water’ to her current distorted sexual relationships with at least six men isn’t that strange. Many preachers quote a 20th Century poet: “I can’t get no satisfaction.” The Samaritan Woman is thirsty for actual fresh water and for human-to-human covenantal unity. But Jesus offers more than both of these needs combined. He offers God himself.

3. God is the oft-forsaken well of ‘living water’ (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13)

The wicked men of Jerusalem who hated Jeremiah’s ongoing message of God’s judgement threw him into an empty waterless well (Jer. 38:6). The irony is not lost. They chose this to be Jeremiah’s prison, perfectly fitting for their crimes, not his. After all they had been rejecting their own water-filled well, and preferred cheap imitations.

“… my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)

Even if translators had used ‘fresh’ or ‘running’ rather than the more theologically evocative and word-for-word, ’living water’, the same essential truth holds. God is the life-giving well, satisfying and sustaining life.

Our sinful human hearts never just reject God. We might not realise it, but our souls are made to thirst for God (Ps. 42:1). Therefore, to avoid insanity, emptiness and hopelessness, we manufacture other sources of meaning, significance and purpose to fill his place.

Many make or buy a carved figurine to worship, serve, and adore. However, worship of idols is not just a worship of God via a different object; it is an attempt to control the object of worship and use him, her, or it to mitigate the uncertainties of this life.

We worship: a Baal or Buddha idol for a better blessing or bonus at work; an Asherah or ancestor shrine for answered prayers about health; a Molech or Mary statue for more me-time. If even the most intellectual atheists can become practicing idolators, how much more the everyday-person who thinks they don’t need God. Deep soul-satisfaction is sought in having the appearance of a good family life, the most exotic stamps on our passports, or the most varied experiences with food, sex or exercise.

We thirst for some sort of water, and we create well-worn neuro-plastic pathway to those familiar broken cisterns of promise, falsely drinking some water-substitute that is not living-water.  God sees this problem as a double-sin, a sin of two movements. First rejecting God, then turning elsewhere for someone who seems like they are less demanding. The parallels with marriage and adultery are pretty apparent.

Jeremiah 17 speaks about the same truth.

 “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country.  … O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. (Jer. 17:1-3,13)

Their sin was turning to different gods, other hopes, and false mirages. Their judgment would be severe for forgetting and forsaking the fountain of living water. Their sin is on record, indelibly written on their hearts and their places of religious safety. However their names will ultimately be written in the dirt, a sign of judgment.

Could this be what Jesus was communicating, when all the accusers came around to stone the woman caught in adultery? He twice bent down and started writing on the ground (Jn. 8:6,8). Was he writing down the accusers in the earth? (Jer. 17:13) I know that John 8:1-11 is not in the earliest manuscripts, but it is fascinating that only a few verses earlier in John 7:38, Jesus promises living waters.

Regardless, the truth of Jeremiah stands. Forsaking the source of life will mean being forgotten, and put to shame ourselves. Jesus warns about this waterless judgment more than anyone else (Lk. 16:24). And in contrast the new heavenly Jerusalem was all about an abundance of living water.

4. Jerusalem will be the source of ‘living water’ (Zechariah 14:8)

“On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.” (Zech. 14:8)

The ancient city of Jerusalem did have an underground water-source, but had no outwardly flowing river. The Psalmist rejoiced in this truth.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.” (Psalm 46:4)

But in the Messianic future, Jerusalem’s internal blessing was going to flow into the whole world. Ezekiel saw a vision of a renewed Jerusalem where water flowed from the threshold of the entrance to the temple. That trickle became a great river, headed east, bringing healing to the Dead Sea (Eze 47:1-12) .

Zechariah’s later prophecy progresses that vision further. He saw the river flowing both east and west, influencing not just the land of Canaan but the world further abroad, Mediterranean as well as the Eastern Sea (Zech. 14:8). Those living waters may have their source in the fountain opened for sin and impurity that we have looked at in a previous article (Zech. 13:1. F = Fountain of Water and Blood).

The waters flowing from Jerusalem are described as living. They will be life-giving fresh water. Is Zechariah also drawing from Jeremiah’s description of God as the fountain of living water? It is hard to say with certainty just from this Old Testament prophet, but when you see where the source of these living waters come from in Revelation, we are left without doubt. The water images of Eden, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah are brought together.

“Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse.” (Rev. 22:1-3)

At the Festival of Booths, Jesus spoke of living waters to the people in Jerusalem. And what was said in Zechariah “of Jerusalem” he now applied to every believer’s heart.

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:38-39)

There is so much here to pursue. Jesus is saying that the living waters are in fact the Holy Spirit; and that every individual believer becomes a source. How much does this colour the other theological uses of living water? If God is the fountain of living waters, God gives life by giving us himself.

As the promised rivers of living water were to come from Jerusalem, they would flow through people, moving from Jerusalem, not just into the land of Israel but the world beyond. The Jewish leaders thought Jesus was going to speak to the Greeks (Jn. 7:35). In a sense they were right and in another sense they were wrong. The living waters would flow out into the western sea, but through believers and the Holy Spirit going with them (Zech 14:8; Jn 7:38).

We could also pursue the cry of dereliction in John’s Gospel. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (Jn. 19:28) The trickle, which became a river came from the self-giving of the only One who always honoured and deserved God’s living waters. There are so many more avenues to explore.



Looking at the Old Testament uses of the phrase ‘living water’ provides colour and texture to the way the New Testament uses it, but also direct promises. It also opens up many other related themes.

Promised water is not just restricted to the phrase ‘living waters’. For instance, Isaiah calls people to “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Is. 55:1). Revelation echoes this truth. “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Rev. 22:17)

However, we have seen in the Old Testament that:

  • ‘Living water’ is a very normal and common expression meaning flowing or fresh water (Gen. 26:19; Lev. 14:5,6,50,51,52; 15:13; Num. 19:17)
  • A man can describe his wife as a well of ‘living water’ (Song. 4:15)
  • God is the oft-forsaken well of ‘living water’ (Jer. 2:13; 17:13)
  • Jerusalem will be the source of ‘living water’ (Zech. 14:8)

So when Jesus promises living water to the woman at the well, she thinks he is merely speaking about drinkable water, but he is speaking about a satisfaction that is beyond covenantal-sex or even receiving something from God. What all creation needs most is their creator. The promise of Jerusalem being the source of living water and the individual believer being a fountain of rivers find their synergy in the story of the spread of the gospel of Christ.

It’s not just kangaroos that die, with holes next to them. Five bedroom McMansions, streams of social media feed, impressive CVs, golf-handicaps, computer-game achievements, attempted relationships, (and even good ones) might be the futile holes we dig to find significance, security and purpose while denying our God. They barely remain in the dirt next to us. They can not give life eternal or connection with our Creator.

We need God’s living waters and must not turn from him.  With that picture in my head, I can’t but help to think of our Australian animals in times of severe drought. As the roo pants ‘for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.’ (Psa. 42:1-2)

K = Kill ’em all


1   “When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, 2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. 3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. 5 But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. (Deut. 7:1-6)

The Israelites were meant to be the hammers of God’s judgment on the abhorrent and violent behaviours of the existing nations of the promised land (Gen. 15:13-16; Lev. 18:24,27; Deut. 18:10-12). The passage before us does not focus on retribution, let alone theodicy, but on the Lord’s prophylactic against ongoing corrupting influences on his treasured people. 

There must be no skerrick in the land of its previous inhabitants, neither familial nor political alliances with them, and no evidence of their pagan culture, human sacrifices or shrine prostitution. Israel’s single-minded devotion mattered. The faith of unborn generations hung on their obedience.

While it might please some readers that the Israelites did not keep this command seriously, that belies something flaky in our Christian constitutions. We think the worst thing that can happen to someone is for them to die.  But there are many worse things, including turning one’s backs on God. The rest of the history of Israel lives out the heart-wish of many modern readers as Israel’s limp devotion to the Lord expressed itself in leaping between two opinions, syncretistically following others gods and forsaking their very own fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:4-13). 

However, the predictions of what would happen if the Israelites were to disobey God in the conquest should evoke great pathos to those who love the Lord. Why didn’t the Israelites fear God rather than people?

Despite the ethical questions that may be raised in the believer, there are real application questions of the New Covenant. To what does this point for us? Is it a warning? And if so, of what kind? Jesus does not call us to conquer the land physically, but rather to take the gospel into all the world. Rather than God driving out the nations, we are a part of him gathering them in. Outside of Christ, I am nothing more than an idol-worshipping Canaanite.

Twenty years ago I had a busy week.  I had to prepare a youth Bible Study on Deuteronomy and a talk on Colossians 3 that I saw such a link. I’m sure it is just one of many. My preparation was cut in half since they fit together so beautifully.

  • Moses prepares the people on the edge of the promised land to live for God (Deut. 1-6)
  • Paul prepares God’s people for living in our heavenly existence at Christ’s right hand (Col. 3:1)

  • The victories of Israelites have been rehearsed (Deut. 2-3).
  • Christ’s victory on the cross is celebrated (Col. 2:9-15).

  • The Israelites were holy people belonging to the LORD (Deut. 7:6). 
  • All those in Christ are ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and loved’ (Col. 3:12).

  • Idolatry is explicitly forbidden for the Hebrews and was the focus of their demolition work (Deut. 4:15-24; 7:5).
  • Heart idolatry is in the target sights for Christians too (Col. 3:5; cf. 3:10).

The strongest link is perhaps the most challenging. Having seen God’s salvation, and preparing to enter God’s promised land, both of these two chapters, Deuteronomy 7 and Colossians 3 contain this command to ‘kill ‘em all’. No treaty, alliance or skerrick of sin should remain. 

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Col. 3:5-8)

What must be conquered is, at the same time ourselves, and not ourselves.  Who we used to be must be removed so we now live out what it means to be a people holy to the Lord, his treasured possession. The instruction is extreme, slaughter and complete destruction. If God didn’t want idolatry to be a snare for the people of the Old Covenant, how much more does he want us to kill what will turn our hearts away from single-hearted devotion to the Lord? 

While many readers arc up against God’s commands for the Israelites to kill and drive out the wicked inhabitants of Canaan, the New Covenant also challenges our modern Western sensibilities. The fixation is on authority, particularly to our own self-determination. People in our churches don’t mind obeying God’s truth when it what they wanted to do anyway, but to live seated with Christ, the killing will be intense. 

Like the Israelites, our danger is half-hearted obedience to this command. 

Some pornography has been removed, flirting toned down, some foul language has been curbed, some envy and covetousness has been dealt with. But just enough remains for us to return to when we are discouraged or tired of living God’s way. We look around and see our Christian neighbours are also just wounding sin, and so we reach a point of respectable comfort in sin.  As Augustine described it, we treat sin as a mistress to be locked up in a cupboard, hidden away to the prying eyes of others, but to be used when we need it. Rather we should put her out, throw out her phone number, and move house so she doesn’t know where we live. We should smash the mobile phone that has her contact info, and cut into pieces the sim card. Of course, I’m just paraphrasing Augustine. 

Yes, we have a new Moses. He brings us to the promised land now by faith, and one day we’ll see it in all its beauty. Don’t forget to be brutal with your sin, or it will be brutal to you. God’s command now is just as savagely important as it was then.

Our removal of sin is also a prophylactic against destroying our faith. We don’t want our history to be the same as that of Israel, do we? 

J = Jethro ‘destroying’ solo ministry

15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. (Ex. 18:15-18)

Moses’ feet had stood firm before the Lord, un-sandled and safe, his wobbly legs kept upright as he approached the throne of Egypt, his stomach un-retched at the stench and repulsive sight of boils, hail-damage, and widespread slaughter. His back was strong in leading the people, lifting the staff over the Red Sea; and unlike the hordes of Hebrews, he didn’t turn his neck back to the oh-so-delicious onions of Goshen.  He kept it towards Mount Sinai, the downpayment, and the promised land to come.

But early on the journey, it was Moses’ head that was almost completely undone, and that by the constant demands and needs of his people. Moses was in danger of ending his ministry with a whimper. And so am I. And so are all of us if we do not listen to the man who should be the ‘patron saint’ of all fathers-in-law, Jethro.

After bringing Moses’ wife and sons from stage left-behind, hearing all that had happened, ‘Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the LORD had done to Israel’ (Ex. 18:9).  But Jethro can’t believe what Moses is doing now, how he is ruling and adjudicating all their problems, ‘from morning till evening’  (Ex. 18:13). He wants to protect Moses from himself.

Jethro echoes something from the creation of the world. Just as God said it was not good for Adam to be alone in the ruling of the garden, so in redemption, Jethro says the same to the man ruling over God’s people. “Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Ex. 18:15) “What you are doing is not good.” (Ex. 18:17)

In its simplest form, we cannot and must not do things alone. Moses certainly couldn’t adjudicate all the disputes of a people upward of six hundred thousand men. How could he? 

And how do we pastor the hundred and fifty adults in our care? Or the youth ministry of sixty? But the answer is not merely delegation, at least, not lazy or foolishly applied. We need to feel the severity of the prognosis before we really take the medicine.

The damage is done to BOTH Moses and the people 

Most people in ministry hear a lot of about self-care and self-protection, but the greater motivation for a good leader is actually the welfare of the people under his or her care. The great shepherd taught us that greatness consistent in serving others, pouring out your own life, giving more (Mk. 10:43-35). Wasn’t this why Moses worked from 6am to 10pm every day: for the people’s sake? Isn’t that what causes so many bad practices in us too?

Moses’ drowning in his duties may have been well-meaning and selfless, and if so, it is Jethro’s words, “and the people with you” that make all the difference. Read the following verse with and without those words.  You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” (Ex. 18:18) Without these words this might be dismissed as a nagging father-in-law, perhaps protective of his own family, loving of his son-in-law.

But this is a truth in all leadership. If you do not bring others along with you, you will not just hurt yourself, but you will damage the flock.  People will be exhausted by you; or me, trying to be a hero. They won’t come to anyone for prayer, for guidance, for instruction, for leading-to-Christ. Newcomers won’t be followed-up; the sick will lay in hospital beds unvisited, without the love and strength of Christian fellowship they need.

If a company only had their CEO answer each clients problem, although it might seem noble, grounded and humble, it will in the long-run either limit the business or annoy everyone. Picking up a phone only to hear waiting-music makes people less likely to ring again. Moses wanted to bring justice and do God’s will on earth, but because of his own selfless, but ineffective work, injustice reigned and he was going to self-combust. The only question was, whether the people would wear out first.

Jethro’s advice spelled out in detail 

Delegation is often done badly and Jethro was not calling on Moses do to that. Delegation did not mean that Moses would recline and watch Netflix, while others worked. Jethro gave advice that would shape Moses’ ministry and set the trajectory of the apostles and the early church.

1. Moses, you pray and teach

“You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.” (Ex. 18:19-20) 

Moses was to give his best energy and focus to prayer and in instruction. And this was his lasting legacy. No doubt the daily debates about unsettled debts, wandering goats, or even the ‘they took my camping spot’ claims were important to their litigants, but this was not Moses’ focus. Moses had to warn and teach the whole body of Israel and represent the many to the one in prayer. He brings to the world the Ten Commandments and pleads for God to spare the people who turned their backs on him. The temporal needs of the crowds needed to be heard, but their eternal needs must not be forgotten.  

2. Moses, you appoint excellent, reliable and godly men to do the daily work 

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Ex. 18:21)

Moses wasn’t called to appoint the closest Tom, Dick or Hezekiah.  Each must be “able”, literally “great” or “valiant men”, who treated God reverently, could be trusted with tasks and were free from financial temptations. This search must have taken time, and be undertaken carefully. Finding people to share the work might have taken him away from coal-face work, the immediate problems of the people, but it was was the only right long-term multiplying approach. Able people must combine right doctrine and worship and marry this with good proven character.

This is the third element of all Biblical ministry. Leaders not only pray and preach, they also appoint people who themselves will do exactly the same. But if the leader appoints unreliable or godless people, both the leader and the whole ministry will be submerged and hijacked.

3. Moses, you deal only with the biggest and hardest issues

“And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Ex. 18:22)

The shared approach to judging does not mean that Moses removes himself from all decision making and adjudicating, instead, he particularly takes the hardest cases. Moses had to deal with the golden-calf, Korah’s rebellion and the Midianite problem (Ex. 32, Num. 16, 26). He didn’t throw hospital passes to his deputies, making his own life easier.  

Bible Study members should be there to help each other, the leaders have a pastoral role, but if the issue involves dangerous false teaching or serious marital infidelity these issues should be referred to the pastoral oversight team. Smaller issues should not clog up the pastor’s desk so that there is room and ability to deal with the bigger and more damaging problems.

4. Jethro’s Abiding Advice is multiplied in the Christian Church

I have already started drawing parallels with our ministries and churches, and for good reasons. Jethro’s advice is re-echoed throughout the New Testament in the early church. Almost every passage about the appointment of leaders resonates with the truths of the ancient priest of Midian. It is not good to do ministry alone, but the appointment of others must be done carefully.

The apostles were weighed down with the very important issues of daily distribution of meals for the most vulnerable in their community. But like Moses, they had to focus on prayer and preaching. And this was their legacy. The character of those they chose was vital.

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4)

These deacons dealt with justice, resolving disputes, but the hardest issues of false teaching, including the council of Jerusalem, had to be taken by the apostles. 

The pastoral letters contain the same truths. Paul calls Titus and Timothy to deal with the most controversial doctrinal and pastoral issues, but for the daily running of the church it was essential the other reliable, local men are appointed (Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3).

If Christian ministers try and do everything solo, they will without-fail injure themselves and their families, but they will also ‘certainly wear out’ the people whom they love(Ex. 18:18). These are not just possibilities, but absolutely guaranteed outcomes. You must listen to Jethro’s advice and give yourself to teaching and proclaiming Christ, appointing reliable people and yet still deal with the hardest issues yourself. And I must too.

It might be that you are not in leadership, but you can see someone sinking under the weight of their own good intentions. They are godly leaders trying to be selfless. Maybe you need to have a private good word with them. Change must take place not only for their sake, but for the sake of the people. Could you be a Jethro to them? This could be such a gift from an older person to someone younger. Remember that Moses was at this stage 80 years old and his father-in-law must have been even older.

Jethro’s promise of God 

But Jethro is not a management guru, a secular paragon of leadership with a Masters from the Midian Business School. The apostles also were not mere pragmatists. 

Jethro’s advice was pretty forceful and it needed to be. “Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you!” (Ex. 18:19). He saw God in it all. “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” (Ex. 18:23)  God’s presence would be with Moses and he would guide. Moses was promised that changing this would sustain him personally and lead to people extending to the people. There is something wonderfully integrated about this approach. When God gave Eve to Adam he blessed them together, and if Moses appoints the right people to rule with him, there would also be a blessing. 

Don’t forget what happened immediately after the apostles put this into practice. The “word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7) Why would we be surprised? 

Solo ministry got rekt by Jethro.

I = “I” in Psalms and Songs in the Old Testament

Back in the 90s, I recall a heightened interest in making sure that all church activities were corporate, and explicitly so. The Apostles’ Creed in some churches was modified from “I believe” to “we believe” and songs were judged poorly if they were not plural. That shibboleth only applied unevenly to new songs, since almost all of the safe favourite hymns were in the first person singular—Amazing Grace, I will sing the wondrous story, When I survey, Be thou my vision, Abide with me, And can it be?, How great thou art, It is well, Jesus paid it all. Even with these notable exceptions, “I, Me” and My” were out. “We, Us and Our” were ascendant. But over the last 20 years reality hit, and no one seems to care now. The Old Testament trajectory right from the beginning, and especially in the Psalms, conforms to this reality. The “I” is an essential part of corporate praise.

Israel’s First National Song of Praise Is “I” All Together

Having escaped the land of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea on drying-land, and witnessed Pharaoh’s cavalry divisions swept away in the torrent, the Hebrews sing. And they sing magnificently. It’s hard to picture the sheer scale of the scene. This is the Bible’s first recorded public hymn of praise.

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Ex. 15:1-2)

Notice how they *together* sing “I” so unashamedly. The Lord is “my strength” and “my song” and now “my salvation”. The cacophony of their terrible groans under the Egyptian slavedriver, and disharmony of their whinging against Moses and God for leading them into a dead-end, is transformed into a tune, in unison, celebrating their real saviour, God himself.  The exhausted octogenarian prophet and the better part of two million Hebrews can sing together of their own personal experience of God. What a moment to be savoured!

The first line, “I will sing”, contains an implicit promise of future and enduring praise to God. If only God had remained their song for their years wandering in the wilderness! Think how much grumbling would have been dispelled if they had just kept singing that same note. A later Psalm reflects on this.

“He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert …. Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.” (Psa. 106:9,12-13)

The same is true for us. Jesus is not just “our song” on Sundays between 10 and 11:15am, and even then only for the three, four, or eight times we get up to vocalise it. The devil’s whispers and our tendency to grumble would be muted if that song was also taken outside of the church meeting (Psa. 8:2; and Phil. 2:5-15). 

There are so many trajectories to follow with this first Israelite song. In many ways it lays the path for almost all subsequent theology of praise. But let’s reflect on a simple point. This first Israelite song makes abundantly clear that a group of us singing “my chains fell of, my heart was free” or standing affirming that “I believe in one God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” can at the same time be the most personal and corporate expression of our faith. They are not in opposition to each other. God himself becomes the song of the individual, and can (and I would add should) be expressed personally to God. This finds its resonant frequency when we are gathered to celebrate the common salvation we have all experienced. Charles Wesley put the individual and the group together magnificently in his longing hymn. “O for a thousand tongues to sing, *my* great redeemer’s praise”. 

The “I” in the Psalms Becomes The Dominant Voice of Corporate Praise

Moving forward a few hundred years to the promised-land-settled events of David, Solomon’ temple and beyond, the book of Psalms continues the tradition of songs that are both deeply personal and at the same time corporate. What David said to God personally became part of the hymnbook. 2 Samuel 22 gives one of the rare occasions of showing how the Psalms were originally given.

And David spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer …. “For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to your name. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.” (2 Sam. 22:1-2, 50-51; which is also the heart of Psalm 18)

Like the Exodus generation, in this prayer, David calls the Lord his own three-fold personal deliver (my strength, my song, my salvation || my rock, my fortress, my redeemer) and makes his own promise to continue to sing to the Lord. David certainly kept that oath. This situationally-based and individual prayer, together with many others, formed the song book for the nation.

One simple observation about the book of Psalms is the sheer number of deeply personal “I/me/my/mine” songs. In my very quick scan through, I have categorised all 150. The first two groups represent almost two thirds of the songs. I do call on my brains-trust to question or fix any errors I’ve made. 

  • First person singular only (I/me/my/mine): 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 21, 32, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 49, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 62, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 73, 77, 84, 86, 88, 89, 91, 92, 94, 101, 102, 104, 109, 110, 111, 116, 119, 120, 121, 122, 130, 131, 135, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146

  • First person singular & plural (I/me/my/mine & we/us/our/ours): 20, 34, 36, 60, 66, 68, 75, 78, 85, 103, 108, 118, 123, 129, 137

  • First person plural only (we/us/our/ours): 12, 21, 33, 46, 47, 48, 65, 67, 74, 79, 80, 90, 95, 99, 100, 106, 115, 124, 126, 132*

  • Neither (most are calls to God’s people to praise him, some are talking about God): 1, 2, 10, 14, 15, 24, 29, 50**, 53, 58, 72, 76, 81**, 82**, 83, 87**, 93, 96, 97, 98, 105**, 107, 112, 113, 114, 117, 125, 127, 128, 133, 134, 136, 147, 148, 149, 150  (** these contains first person “I” but only in the words of God)

Some interesting Psalms are in the second group. For example, Psalms 34 and 36 sound like the voice of a single person, appealing to God to save the collective, “us”. Others like Psalm 66 recount the corporate testing of the nation, and have a singular voice declaring what he will sacrifice and pray, even if no-one else joins him. He, of course, wants them with him. That is the point of the song. 

However, if we dig down into the Davidic psalms, there is an even greater imbalance towards the personal, since his prayers were made corporate. Isn’t it astonishing that his prayers of repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba became the songs of repentance of the people? I’ve heard David being called “the Elvis of his day”.   Imagine the influence that modern Elvis would have had if he also really was the king? David’s songs give shape to the Psalter; and their preference for the “I” gives the nation a very personal songbook.

  • Davidic – First person singular only (I/me/my/mine): 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 66, 69, 70, 86, 101, 108, 109, 110, 122, 131, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145

  • Davidic – First person singular & plural (I/me/my/mine & we/us/our/ours): 20, 34, 36, 60, 68, 103, 108

  • Davidic – First person plural only (we/us/our/ours): 12, 21, 65, 124

  • Davidic Neither (most are calls to God’s people to praise him, some are talking about God): 14, 15, 24, 29, 53, 58, 133

The trajectory from the Old Testament to the New Testament is not the way we may think

I have to be careful here. We don’t have a psalm-book of the New Testament. However, it is striking, that in the Revelation, every song recorded in the heavenly throngs of worship is either a general summons/proclamation about God, or a praise cast in the corporate “we/us”. There are no “I” songs recorded in around the throne of the lamb. The most famous example is representative of the whole book.

 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” (Rev. 19:1)

Even the end-time crystal-sea crossing reprise of Moses’ song doesn’t have the same personal tone as Exodus 15. 

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways,O King of the nations! (Rev. 15:3)

We mustn’t read too much into this since Revelation is a fairly unique book, but it does buck against the assumption that the Old Testament emphasised the corporate interaction with God, while the New is all about individual salvation. The Psalms and songs in Revelation are almost the reverse.

Here on earth, in the overlap of the ages, our New Covenant songs are perhaps best thought of as being modelled on the Psalms and fuelled by the songs around God’s throne in heaven, directed to the God and the lamb on the throne.  In the most famous practical summons for Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, Father glorifying living, the church is called to

“be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19-20).

Songs are directed to God, and the words to our neighbours. Perhaps this is just a development of a theme already seen in in the Israelites on the far shore of the Red Sea and David in the psalter.  *My soul makes its boast* in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. *Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!* (Ps. 34:2-3)

The “I” in the Psalms shows us the voice of the Messiah for generations to come

There is one deeper significance of the “I”s in the Psalms, particularly in the songs of David. They give us insight into the heart of the prototype messiah, and ultimately the mind of the Christ.

The New Testament sees many of the Psalms as Jesus speaking. They belonged to him before they belong to us. When we sing them, we sing from his hymnbook. Psalm 40, used by Hebrews, is clear. “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5). Jesus’ resurrection is seen as the fulfilment of all the prayers that David offered. Jesus is David perfected. While David asked and received in part, Jesus prayed and was answered in full. He was saved, rescued, not abandoned completely in the resurrection.  Psalm 16:10 is quoted as being fulfilled by Jesus in Acts 2:27-31 and 13:35-38. “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”  Psalm 22 and 69 are quoted and alluded to countless times, about his suffering and resurrection, as if Jesus himself were the pray-er of the original song. As a result of his post-cross glorification, Jesus “is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (Heb. 2:11-12 quoting Psalm 22:22)

The Psalm I first referenced shows us the connection of the Messiah to his people. His rescue becomes their rescue. And by implication his song becomes theirs. Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.” (Ps. 18:50, also recorded in 2 Sam. 22:51) We are Christ’s people, his offspring (Isa. 9:6; 53:10; Heb. 2:13-14) 

There are enough reminders in the Davidic Psalms to show us that while ultimately they point to the King of Kings, they were first written as the personal songs of a sinning, fallen version of the Christ (Psa. 32, 51, even 69:5). We sing in David’s shoes as the sinner and in Christ’s clothes as the saved one now righteous before God.

The “I”s of the Psalms still proclaim that we individually and corporately come to Christ because he is the Messiah. The many were saved by the one. And if all the Psalms were “we” and “us” we wouldn’t have access into his mind. Therefore the “I”s of these Psalms are glorious as they show us Christ.

Let’s get personal about collective music

Our churches stand in the face of rampant individualism. We want our lyrics to be different and proclaim that God is central, and not us. The problem with many modern songs is not the subject, but the object of the song.. At their worst, they are less about God’s character and Christ’s works and more about my emotions, in its most aberrant forms the subject can become the object. Our simplistic reaction to the word “I” and “me”, however,  misdiagnoses this real problem.

I’m not calling us to abandon the corporate language and move to exclusively individual language. But let me suggest that it is no accident that the majority of corporate music in the Old Testament as well as in the contemporary church is “I”. It is in fact particularly Hebrew, copying their pattern of salvation from Exodus 15, and in a deep way profoundly Christian, since our Christ came to fulfil and share his songs with us. The Psalms are his first and foremost. And in union with him, what is his, becomes ours.  Along with other songs, we are particularly called to keep the Psalms on our lips. A Spirit-filled person will speak them to each other (Eph. 5:19). Someone controlled by Christ’s word will sing them to God (Eph. 5:19).

This personal faith, hope and love, expressed as a group to our Saviour and Lord, in word and music, separates us from the ravings of Baal worship to awaken God, the endlessly repetitive drones of Buddhist chants, and the anti-music, anti-joy, anti-personal Quranic recitation of Sunni Moslems. 

It’s often joked that Christians just borrow popular music, take away the word “baby” and add “Jesus” in its place. That might be true of some of the worst Christian contemporary songs, unfortunately.

But I wonder, whether in a bigger sense, our Western world, itself historically raised on the Bible and Psalms, has borrowed from its own background. Have they adopted the personal individual, yet corporate song, as mainstream, and made it their own, replacing the true God with the some other substitute saviour and elusive source of fulfilment? 

H = Heroes At Drinking Wine (aka. Intoxicated Masculinity)

“Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!” (Isa. 5:22-23)

The battle-lines have been dug in the conflict about Christians and alcohol, with entrenched positions generating pamphlets, sermons and even denominations. But those trenches are now largely empty. Most of the fighting has already taken place; and the fortifications are largely abandoned with only a small cadre of hold-outs remaining, fighting for abstinence. And while I am not one of those who argues practically for this position, I do see their wisdom. The cost of new generations moving on from this discussion, is that unexamined worldliness seems to be winning. In interest of deeper healing, let’s reopen the wound.

My contribution to this discussion will not be so much a word study on alcohol, but will be about the words “hero” and “valiant”, and its focus will be unashamedly on men, with secondary application for women. The Bible does not overlook women. Christian older women are taught “to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine”. (Tit. 2:3) But men are lined up in the target sights in Isaiah 5. What is on view is an intoxicated masculinity. In its place we need one that is sober, strong and just.

Isaiah speaks into the Eighth Century world of the rich and powerful, safe and secure in themselves, and yet full of arrogance and abandonment of duty. Their religion is completely bankrupt, justice perverted, and widows and orphans ignored (Isa. 1:10-23). God’s future for Jerusalem will be a baptism of fire and judgment. Her filth and bloodstains will be washed clean and a new city will emerge holy to the Lord (Isa. 4:2-4). The old Jerusalem is likened to a vineyard that the Lord tenderly planted, but which produced terrible grapes (Isa. 5:1-7) “He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isa. 5:7). What follows is the most appalling list of charges. These are the reasons God would bring a fury against his own possession and call for nations to take them in exile (Isa. 5:13-30). Six lamentable woes are sung over the people against: greed in property investment, chasing after alcohol early in the morning and late at night; presumptive lies, calling what is evil good, and being arrogant. It all sounds very contemporary. The crescendo of these indictments is their intoxicated masculinity.

“Woe to those who are heroes (gibbor) at drinking wine, and valiant (chayil) men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!” (Isa. 5:22-23)

A distortion of male virtue

God expects heroism and valour. These are particularly masculine virtues. We must not deny that women can be heroic and valiant, but it is especially horrific when absent in men. 

The word “hero” (gibbor) is elsewhere translated in the ESV as “mighty man”,  “champion”, “warrior” and “chief”. Gibbor is most often linked with our other focus word, “valiant” (chayil). When put together these two words are translated “mighty man of valour” or even “worthy man”. The words are not themselves morally loaded. Mighty men include the enemies of God—Nephilim, Nimrod and Goliath—as well as God’s own people—Gideon, Boaz and David’s elite soldiers (Gen. 6:4; 10:8; 1 Sam. 17:51; Judg. 6:2; Ruth 2:1; 2 Sam. 23:8). Violence is not at its core. Boaz, among many others, never takes up a weapon. These are the best of men, the ablest and most courageous. Gibbor is used exclusively of men, with one exception. God himself is called mighty multiple times.

The problem in Isaiah’s day is that this heroism was being distorted, and valour misdirected. They were wasting their manliness in “drinking wine” and “mixing strong drink”. Rather than defending their families, or standing up for what is right or even fighting for their country, they becomes experts in sculling, swigging and sampling the best or the perhaps the most alcohol. This is the problem of wealth and ease. Professional sportsmen are the strongest on the field, but often weakest off. The sporting community seems obsessed with drinking. Former heroes on the tee become legends of the nineteenth hole. Powerful bankers, lawyers and politicians instead of using their strength and intelligence for helping others, live for Friday night drinks, or even a quiet one mid-morning to get them through the day. 

This heroism has a terrible price tag on those whom the men could serve and protect: their families and the community at large. For many, fathers, who are meant to provide and be a rock and pillar for the family, would rather drink and escape his family and responsibilities. For others intoxicated men become predators, inflicting violence and sexual abuse on women. You’re not a hero and you are not valiant when you do this. 

It was a deep part of the Australian culture that you are not a real man if you don’t drink. That is still true in some subcultures. That was the problem for Judah too.

God hates this. Do you? 

In contrast to the justice we should seek

The main problem is that this obsession with alcohol takes people away from what they should give their best manliness toward: justice on earth.  In embracing the wine-glass and a beer-keg they “acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!” (Isa. 5:23). For judges and household leaders, right treatment of the vulnerable matters.  Proverbs warns about alcohol’s affect on those who make decisions.  “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Prov. 31:4-5). The rich and powerful have more money to spend on drink, but they also have a lot more opportunity to use their blessings for the sake of others. Being sober-minded is a repeated call for all Christians, and particularly for leaders.

The first time in the Bible that God is described as gibbor (mighty) is surprisingly on-topic.  “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty (gibbor), and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” (Deut. 10:17)  True greatness pursues justice and integrity, the same issues dealt with in Isaiah 5. If we want to be great like God, and not like the little ‘h’ heroes of the clubhouse, then seek fairness. 

All the greatest commands are affected by valorising alcohol. Love of God is diluted and the neighbour’s need is ignored. You can’t act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God, and be consumed by drink. It was because of this sin that God sent his people into exile. Remember what Jesus taught. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”, rather than inebriating ourselves to a spiritual death (Matt. 6:33). The second of the six woes in Isaiah 5 is also about alcohol. It says that those who chase after strong drink and entertainment “do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands” (Isa. 5:11). False heroism, failure to be just and numbness-to-God walk together very comfortably.

For those who are starting to feel pretty good about themselves—those, who don’t drink much, and perhaps never have—let me apply the acid, by extending the principle. I wonder if the same can be true of the greatest modern expression of false-masculinity: the obsession with computer games. These are an addictive escapism that makes us feel like heroes, but when we stop we are reminded that we have not mowed the lawn, taken out the rubbish, read with our children, helped a neighbour, or prayed to our God. And it is not just computer games: Netflix, novels, and endless YouTube videos can also be just as intoxicating. Woe to those who are online level 65 Barbarians who ignore the poor and those of your own family.

True heroism and valour

We need to see examples—flesh and blood encapsulations of godly principles. One candidate is Isaiah, whose call in chapter 6 comes straight after the woe on alcoholic heroism, and God’s ensuing judgment on the people. Isaiah has a transforming vision of the glory of the Lord. He confesses his own sinful lips, adding his own woe in echo to God’s. From his altar the Lord atones his guilt, and then unfurls his plan (Isa. 6:1-13). Yet unlike the priests and prophets who might be content in gazing at “wine when its red”, and unlike the rich who chase after drinks and entertainment, Isaiah says “Here I am! Send me.” (Prov. 23:31; Isa. 5:11; 6:8)  Here is a true mighty man, in brokenness, and in courage, willing to face down his own people with an unpopular message of God’s truth. What makes him different? Surely it is the work of God in revelation, forgiveness and transformation.

However, the greatest mighty man is Christ, who shares with his Father the most sober, just and impartial valour ever seen on this earth. His life becomes a radical break in the cycle for those of us who have only had heroes of wine and beer. We may follow Isaiah’s example, but we worship Jesus Christ. And that vision of Christ must rebuke our tendency to value the small and insignificant rather than stand amazed at true greatness.

Let me point to a picture of Christ’s courage, involving alcohol, but pointing far beyond the symbol. At the Passover, we see him using his own position to serve others. He serves wine to point to a greater non-toxic and non-intoxicated masculinity that champions self-sacrifice and self-denial. Jesus took the cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 14:24-25). 

We have a true leader, priest, prophet and king. He did not indulge in self-centred pleasure seeking to “acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!” (Isa. 5:23). Instead the innocent one allowed himself to suffer as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45). 

Do you need to change your definition of hero?

G = Guard AND Pray


“And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” (Neh. 4:9)

If falling on your knees in prayer is so powerful, why endure that vomit-inducing totally-debilitating chemotherapy? If God promises to give you the words to speak, why would you spend so much midnight-oil reading the Bible and trying to understand its message? If you run a kids ministry, why not just pray that the children would be protected, and not worry about security and safety in your inner-city afternoon kids-club? If God will grow his kingdom, increase our godliness, or bring about our good in all things, then isn’t prayer enough? 

On the other side of the argument, what is the point of prayer? Isn’t dripping sweat, resolute godly courage and wise skilled hands really what counts? 

Contradictory voices orbit the Christian world-view and try to pull away from balanced Biblical revelation. “Let go and let God” competes with “God helps those who help themselves”. There is some truth in both; but also a lie.

The smallest word from an obscure book in a shadowy part of the Old Testament story made all the difference to me. A-N-D. “We prayed to our God A-N-D set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” (Neh. 4:9)  

A fellow brother and sufferer, someone who had also lost a child showed me this verse; and he ministered to me in deep ways. This word wasn’t nestled in an abstract, theoretical discussion about prayer, but in a practical situation of fear, uncertainty and action.

That was ok, more than ok. Most of us face real issues and we often draw great strength by examples. Our theology must be lived-out in the hospital, court-room, metaphoric ditch or even when we build a literal wall.

The Jews were standing in the promises of God. After the devastation of their country, having returned to the rubble, finally they were rebuilding Jerusalem and its temple. Nehemiah’s mission was to build the defensive wall. 

When God opens a great door of opportunity, a pattern emerges, there is usually serious opposition (1 Cor. 16:9). Sanballat, the Samaritan, and Tobias, the Ammonite, rallied their people in defiance, threatening to attack, destroy the wall as it was being built.  “And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” (Neh. 4:8-9)  

Notice the logical priority of the prayer. Rather than being a backstop catching anything that wasn’t protected by the guarding, prayer is integral to the whole activity. Could any other Psalm touch more closely to the topic at hand?

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psa. 127:1)

God’s action and the people’s action are not in opposition. Prayer often calls God to bless the works of our hands, to work in and through our activity. They were to hold a spear while praying. 

Also, what a difference would be communicated if the word was ‘but’. We prayed, but we also guarded the wall. Do we want to hedge our bets? Maybe we can trust God, but not completely. I will pray for healing, but in case it doesn’t happen I will also seek medical advice. I will ask God for a new job, but will also put in a few applications and go to a few interviews in case God isn’t able to answer my prayer.  God calls us to lean on him and walk in his ways at the same time. 

Rather than just being one isolated verse, the whole arc of Nehemiah’s story is about prayer and action wed together. Our lives can also be this integrated. In chapter 1 and 2, Nehemiah hears about the bad state of the wall. Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the Persian king, prays to God and acts. 

Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” … And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.  (Neh. 2:4-5,8)

Later in chapter 4, confident that any battle would be the in Lord’s hands, they also prepare themselves militarily. 

And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” So we laboured at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out.  (Neh. 4:19-21)

The book opens with prayer, finishes with prayer and there is more recorded prayer than almost any other book of the Bible (see esp. Neh. 9:6-38;13:29-31). And yet there are no miracles, just ordinary people serving God in very hard times.  It is neither merely “let go and let God” nor “God helps those who help themselves”. Nehemiah was a man of planning and action, but also completely dependent on God. While we can learn how the two work together in theory, it is only in practice that this combination makes sense. 

When we turn to the New Testament we find a greater city builder who actively works for God’s plans and also prays. The two go together in his own life. Jesus heals the sick and also leaves the crowds to pray. He gives himself on the cross and is full of intercessionary cries to God. And on the night of his trial, he first spends time in prayer. 

He calls the same of his disciples. “And [Jesus] said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38) Notice the word, A-N-D. Could it be that Jesus is calling on his disciples to do two things here? 

There are also other New Testament issues, affecting all believers, that perhaps we need to learn from Nehemiah’s AND. Here are three.

1. Don’t just pray for unbelievers

Even though it is an established part of evangelical practice, there is no command in the New Testament for us to pray by name for our unbelieving friends. I hope I’m not rocking you to the core; and I’m certainly not suggesting that you stop. 

Perhaps even more surprising is the lack of examples in the New Testament. I can only find two examples in Paul’s ministry of praying for named unbelievers. Both are obscure. The first is his heartfelt, but self-acknowledged impossible, prayer for the salvation of all Jews (Romans 9:3). The second is his prayer for Herod Agrippa.

And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” (Acts 26:26-29)

What is striking about these prayers, is that Paul is actively trying to speak to these people while praying for them. We need to the learn the A-N-D from Nehemiah’s wall. 

The appeals that Paul makes for prayer are very apt. 

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Col. 4:2-4)

Perhaps when you pray for your unbelieving friends, you could be praying that God would open a door for you or someone else to speak to them. We also could be praying for opportunities with others. The best evangelists I know are those who pray AND watch to take the opportunities.

2. Don’t just pray to be godly.

We are nowhere commanded to pray to be obedient. We are called to live out our new lives. Sometimes in our evangelical piety we fall short of a real repentance because we think we have prayed about it. Remember, it is prayer AND.

You’ve had a great Bible Study and you are convicted of soul-destroying sin. You rightly confess that sin and pray for forgiveness and then hand it over to God. And you think that is the end of the application. With the greatest respect, the application is what you do next, how you treat your room mate, how much beer you consume, whether you forgive your repentant mum, express your thankfulness to God in words, or finally get around to being generous. The wise woman is not someone who recognised her need to obey Jesus, not even the one who prayed about it. She is the one who heard his word and put it into practice (Matthew 7:24-27).

Yes, there are deep models of prayers for growing in the knowledge of God that leads to godliness (Phil. 1:9-11; Eph. 3:14-21). But these prayers are all about so grasping Christ so that real obedience will follow. Also note that each of Paul’s letters may start with a prayer but end with calls for action. We must not do either/or. Merely praying about godliness can be a way of delaying or avoiding taking the real action God requires. Nehemiah’s men were not just to pray, but to take up their spears. 

3. Don’t just struggle and suffer

But on the other side, we endure great suffering, sometimes sickness or loss. And we seek remedies, medication, new-employment, safety from a violent person, respite or more advice. That is a good thing to do.

Some Christians think it wrong to take medication; as it displays a lack of faith. But why didn’t Paul just urge Timothy to pray. Rather he said,  “no longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Tim. 5:23)? Why did Paul want his cloak delivered (1 Tim. 4:13)? Couldn’t he just have prayed to keep warm? We are bodily creatures and responsible image bearers of God. God doesn’t treat us as spiritual brains-in-a-vat, he calls us to take action when we need it. Science, medicine and technology are ways that we can express dominion over creation. Therefore we should do all we can in hard times, but we must not forget the AND.

We are called to pray, not as a backup, but as our essential response of faith. Remember that James calls us to pray for wisdom when we suffer. (Jam. 1:5). He puts it even simpler at the end of his book. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (Jam. 5:13)

Hard work, planning and skill mesh with prayer. Remember the AND. Let this simple word in the book of Nehemiah rebuke two sorts of people: the super-spiritual and the super-pragmatic, those who only pray and those who only do. Let it also rebuke the lazy, who do neither. God calls us to do both.

Let it transform the reductionistic thinking of “let go and let God” as well as “God helps those who help themselves”. Wisdom leads us to pray; that same wisdom calls us to action. Man the wall, brothers and sisters; and at the same time, pray.

F = A Fountain of Blood and Water

“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zech. 13:1)

Red-wine stains are removed by first sprinkling salt, wax by ironing with brown paper, and oil necessitates a surfactant detergent. For every domestic disaster, there is a unique cure.

The Old Testament Levitical system prescribes more than one remedy, implying that there were multiple problems, or that the problem affecting humanity has many dimensions.

In the most basic terms, there were two symbolic liquids splashed everywhere in ceremonial rituals. Blood was spilt and parts of the body washed with water. Both altar and basin stood before the entrance to the Holy Place, barriers and conduits, showing that the way to God was only through blood and water. But the visual aid was always limited, temporary and had to be repeated. How do we see this fulfilled in Christ?

Zechariah 13:1

The prophet Zechariah envisioned a spring (or fountain) opening up, continual and complete in its cleansing power (Zechariah 13:1). As one of the prophets who directed the rebuilding of the temple after the return from the Babylonian exile, Zechariah casts this vision into a later age. The restored sacrificial system proved to be less of a final denouement, and more of a pointer to greater things.

“On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zech. 13:1)

The final seven words in the ESV are translations of two words in Hebrew. This fountain will be “for sin” (le-hatta’th) “and for uncleanness” (u-le-nidah). Here we return to the blood and water.

The symbolic liquid that deals with sin (hatta’th) 

Daily offerings, Passover and the day of atonement all include the slaughter of an animal in place of humanity. The consistent voice of the Old and New Testament is that blood is essential.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.  (Lev. 17:11)

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Heb. 9:22)

While hatta’th is translated sin, the expression le-hatta’th (for sin), acquires an almost technical meaning of a sin-offering and is translated that way (Lev. 4:32-33; 5:6-8,11; 7:37; 9:2 etc..)  An unblemished lamb, bird, goat or bull, is slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled and poured at the sides and base of the altar (Lev. 4:32-35; 5:7; 8:2).

Zechariah’s spring in Jerusalem that deals with sin, as a sin offering does, is most assuredly a fountain of blood.

The symbolic liquid that deals with uncleanness (nidah) 

Tame’ is the more common Hebrew word for uncleanness, but nidah has a more limited use, as both the word for the stain and its cure. Here are all its uses in the Old Testament.

Eleven times nidah is used for menstruation (Lev. 12:5; 15:19-20, 24-26, 33; 18:19 cf. Eze. 18:6; 22:10). In chapter 15, the solution, as with all other forms of uncleanness (tame’)—touching a dead body; an emission of semen; or other bodily discharge—is sometimes a sacrifice, but always involves washing with water. Bodily corruption and death, keeping people from God, is to be washed away with water. Then they can worship him.

The other major use of nidah is also intrinsically connected to water. Numbers 19 describes the “water for impurity (nidah)” (ESV) or “water of cleansing (nidah)” (NIV), normal H20 mixed with the ashes of a heifer. This water can be splashed on people who would otherwise be ceremonial unclean if, for instance, they have touched a dead body (Numbers 19:13).

There is one other use of nidah in the Law of Moses. Incest is likened to the impurity of nidah (Lev. 20:21). But hundreds of years later, in and around the destruction and restoration of Jerusalem, that is, around the ministry of Zechariah, nidah is used far more often for the spiritual state of people and their corrupt, dead religion.

  • The holy place in Hezekiah’s time was full of filth (nidah). (2 Chr. 29:5)
  • Jerusalem herself had become filthy (nidah) (Lam. 1:17)
  • Their idols are like an unclean thing (nidah) (Eze. 7:19-20)
  • Their ways were like the uncleanness of menstruation (nidah) (Eze. 36:17)

When Zechariah speaks of a fountain for uncleanness (nidah), it would make sense to be a fountain of water. He probably primary has in mind the “water for impurity (nidah)” (Num. 19:13) and the method of ceremonial cleansing – washing with water. Given the depth of the religious uncleanness of his own people, affecting far more than their own decaying bodies, this fountain was more needed than ever so that God’s people can serve him.

In the same location that Abram learned that “the Lord will provide”, Zechariah says that a fountain will be opened to deal with Israel’s greatest problems: their sinful rebellion and human corruption (Gen. 22:14; 2 Chron. 3:1; Zech. 13:1). This would be a spring of blood and water. Is this just a poetic way of saying that the daily offerings and washings will be restored, blood and water will again flow in Jerusalem, or is this pointing us to something far greater?

When will the fountain be opened?

The promise in Zechariah 13:1 is contained within a cluster of other claims:

  • God will pour out a prayerful spirit of his people (12:10)
  • They will look on God, the one they pierced (12:10)
  • They will mourn like the Egyptians did in the Passover and like Judah at the demise of the last great king, Josiah (12:10-11)
  • Idols and unclean spirits will be banished in the land (13:2)

When we come to the New Testament we see Jesus, as a far greater King, driving out demons, being God-himself who was pierced and ultimately pouring out his Spirit on people so they come back to God in repentance. The crucifixion story is replete with Scriptural fulfilment. John’s Gospel even quotes Zechariah 12:10, “they will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37).  While the water and the blood may have medical meanings as well, “these things took place so that the Scripture might be fulfilled”. (John 19:36) There is an expectation that many prophecies are being fulfilled.

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:34-37)

Strangely the commentaries on John, that I have read, do not make reference to Zechariah 13:1, as referring to the blood and the water, and their effects. Here is a fountain in Jerusalem, and for her, and in the representative of the house of David himself, the blood and the water flowing for sin (hatta’th) and uncleanness (nidah)

What does the cure tell us of the problem?

We often use the short-hand expression that Jesus died for our sins. He certainly took the punishment on himself, but how can we take more seriously that Christ also died to deal with our uncleanness? He opened a spring to cleanse us from our impurity too.

Our human bodies of corruption and death, made even worse through sin’s decaying power, by themselves cannot stand before the living God, let alone serve him. The writer of Hebrews describes the blood (goats and bulls) and the water of cleansing (made with ashes of the heifer). He shows how Christ gives us so much more.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)

It’s only when sin and uncleanness are dealt with, that we can serve God with a clean conscience. The Old Testament cleaned people from corrupt bodies, the New way from corrupt and dead works.

Drawing near in the Old Testament meant going through the altar and the basin, before coming to the Holy Place. In the New Covenant, we go the same way in Christ Jesus. Notice the blood and the water as we approach God.

 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  (Hebrews 10:19-22)

E = Entertaining Angels (and Others)


Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Heb 13:2)

This verse takes us outside our comfortable places. When we talk about angels, we move from speaking about world-view analysis, philosophical frameworks and cultural paradigms. We stand clearly on the ground of revelation. God shows himself as person and spirit; and his revelation includes creatures beyond the animal kingdom, including powers and principalities.

The idea of hospitality also pushes us beyond the normal discourse about taught doctrine and gathered worship. True religion is not confined to a church or synagogue, but it is a matter of the dinner table, and perhaps the fold-out bed.

Hebrews puts these two ideas together: angels and hospitality. Its emphasis is on hospitality and therefore is very practical, but he roots his command on the Old Testament examples of those who have entertained angels. Learning from these examples might push us even further out of the safety of treating our houses as a private fortresses where only a few are welcome.

Surprising hospitality: entertaining angels unaware: Abram and Lot

An uncle and his nephew lived separate lives. Abram wandered in his tent, and Lot in the city of Sodom, among people paradigmatically depraved. Abram had three visitors who brought him the promise of offspring and warned him of the destruction of nearby Sodom (Gen. 18:1-33 and 19:1-29). One man remained with Abram, and the other two left to lead Lot and his family safely out of the city of destruction. While it is unclear whether the one with Abram was actually a theophany of the Lord Almighty himself, the other two men are clearly described as angels in 19:1. There are so many bigger themes, questions and problematic behaviour, especially of Lot’s treatment of his daughters, but what is clear is the way that both men of Terah’s family treated their visitors, not plumbing the depths of who stood at their gates.


And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. (Gen. 18:1-8)


The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth 2 and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” 3 But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. (Gen. 19:1-3)

There are a few similarities and lessons we can draw:

1. Reverential and warm greeting. It is unclear how much they were aware about the identity of their guests, but something must have struck them. Both Abram and Lot prostrated themselves before these strangers and declared themselves servants to them. Abram clearly hoped that he had found favour with them (18:3).

This may not be programmatic example for all our interactions with people at our doors. There may be something unique here, but perhaps there is a something behind the way they treated their guest.  In the New Covenant, Christ calls us to be the servants of the others. The path of greatness is to stoop low (Mark 10:43-45).

There is also a strong warning to treat God’s people whom we may or may not know well. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

Diotrephes, in 3 John, is lifted up as an example of behaviour exactly opposite Abram. He ‘likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority …  And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.’ (3 John 9-10)

2. Insistence on staying. There is a dance when it comes to hospitality. One that seems right. It has to do with the right person pressing and the other not presuming. If the guest pushes or overstays there is a coldness or resentment only matched by a host who doesn’t really want to share.

Let your foot be seldom in your neighbour’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you. (Prov. 25:17)

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. (Prov. 23:6-7)

Abram pushes hard. He makes his plea on the basis of whether he has favour with God. The honour would be his if these men stayed and rested. Lot and the two men took the dance even further. At first they declined and said they’d sleep in the city square. But Lot ‘pressed them strongly’ and prevailed. Lot took the protection of his guests to an extreme level, especially when faced with a hostile crowd trying to smash his door down.

There is something to this kind of hospitality. The host does not have to wait to be asked, but can offer, even press their offer to someone who needs a bed or meal. The writer of Hebrews must have this in mind when he commands hospitality. Likewise Peter when he warns, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9)

This insistence on staying is also seen in the New Testament in two unusual places. First, Jesus insists that he must stay at home of Zacchaeus who was favoured by grace and was indeed a child of Abraham (Luke 19:5-10). This is reverse hospitality, akin to Lydia in Acts . “[S]he urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” (Acts 16:15). Both Jesus and Paul who were seeking the lost, used reverse-hospitality as a way of proclaiming their acceptance of a new believer. One was intentional, the other reactive. Could it be that when someone turns to Christ, we should be quick to take up their invite to have table-fellowship?

3. Foot-washing offered. The men who had travelled to Abram and Lot were both offered water to drink and to clean their feet. This was a custom in the ancient world and was seen as important as providing the basic needs (Gen. 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Jud. 19:21; 2 King 11:8; cf. Ex. 30:19,21; 40:31).

While referred to many times, only once in the Old Testament did the host actually wash the feet of the guests. The shrewd Abigail welcomed David’s men with even more humility than Abram did the three men. She saw herself in a lowly position. “And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” (1 Sam. 25:41) Neither Abram or Lot washed the feet of their angelic visitors.

Jesus was the one whom Abram rejoiced at seeing (John 8:56). He was far greater than Abraham. And yet his hospitality was more like Abigail’s lowly service. He washed his disciples feet (John 13:5) and commanded this for his followers. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)

The godly widow in 1 Timothy is commended for good works evidenced in the fact that she “has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” (1 Tim.  5:10)

Foot-washing itself may not be only way of expressing this lowly practical service, there must be some practical ways of serving one another in self-giving and demeaning ways. Could this include, but not be limited to, doing someone’s laundry, cleaning up after them or giving them the master bedroom? There is a lot of room for discussion here.

4. A feast and bread. Abram not only brings water and a small amount of bread, but he also has Sarah and his servant make more bread and, like the father of the prodigal son, he doesn’t spare the choice calf. He does not withhold anything for his guests. Lot likewise gave the angels a feast. The unleavened bread, probably had to do with unexpected nature of the guests, but is a sure echo of the later passover. Lot and his family had to leave in haste.

Food is an obvious part of hospitality.  Christ opened a banquet for his people as he fed the 5000. He was the bread of life (John 6:41).  When the early church gathered, they extended the ‘breaking of bread’ to all who would join them.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46) The Lord’s supper became an expression of God’s hospitality. “We all partake of one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17)

But Paul was insistent that he would not abuse the food.

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. (2 These 3:7)

There is so much we can learn about hospitality from Abram and Lot. But what about the surprise? What about the fact that they were doing this for angels? Both were blessed. Abram with the news that Sarah would give birth to a child. Lot, was spared the fire and brimstone.

Other Old Testament examples of surprising hospitality

It was not just uncle and nephew who showed hospitality to someone surprising. Here are but a few others:

* Samson’s father, Manoah, tried to detain the angel of the LORD and give him a goat to eat. He refused, but encouraged an offering to be made (Jud. 13:15-16)

* Rahab gave ‘a friendly welcome to the spies’ and was saved by faith (Heb. 11:31)

* The widow of Zarephath gave “a morsel of bread” and water to Elijah and received the prophets reward (1 Kings 17:10-16)

* The wealthy woman of Shunem always “urged [Elisha] to eat some food” and she was greatly blessed (2 Kings 4:8).

The greatest surprising hospitality of all 

There are examples in the Old Testament of people showing great hospitality, even to angelic visitors. They greeted them, insisted that they remain, gave them water for their feet and fed them. In the New Testament we have Christ doing all that for us! And yet we also have his commandment to do this for others.

The greatest surprise of all comes in the parable of the Sheep and Goats at the last judgment.

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

What we did for the least fellow-Christian believer we did to Christ. When you consider giving someone your bed, or lasagna or a lend of your jacket or a visit in hospital, remember that others had entertained angels in the past, but for us, it could be that we are welcoming Christ.  This gives us even more reason to welcome people properly, insist they stay, wash their feet (or equivalent) and give them food.

And in case we think that this is an optional extra, Jesus gives the warning of judgment.

‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’   (Matt. 25:41-43)

D = Day of the Lord


“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” (Mal 4:5)

The day you were born and the day you die, that time you buy your first car, received the award, enter marriage, find out the results of the scan and hear the news of tragedy, as well as the joy of a new baby or a new conquest of physical fitness, let alone the hour we receive Christ as Lord, or hear that your sister has too, these are all significant times to us as human beings. Moments matter. And I hope you can enjoy these as unique times that God has assigned (Eccl. 3:1-10).

And if these individual ‘days’ are important to the way we shape the story of our own lives, how much more the global, universal acts of God in his world,  the day God created the world, when he will call it all to a close, when Christ died, rose, ascended and when he will return. The New Testament describes us as being in the last days, waiting for the day of Christ Jesus and longing for the day of the Lord. But how does the Old Testament talk of these things? And what lessons can we draw?

A. The historical books of the Old Testament look back at the particular days in which the LORD acted

Do a simple word search and you’ll find that the Old Testament historical books mainly look back to the ‘day’ when God acted and the prophets look forward to the ‘day’ when he will act definitively again.

From the Creation of the world to the high-water mark of David/Solomon’s kingdom, you hear the reoccurring descriptive phrase, “the day the LORD …”

  • Made the heavens (Gen. 2:4)
  • Made a covenant with Abram (Gen. 15:18)
  • Spoke to Moses (Ex. 6:28; Deut. 32:48)
  • Brought the people out of Egypt (Ex. 12:51; cf 13:3, 14:30)
  • Gives his commandments (Deut. 26:16)
  • Exalted Joshua as the new leader (Josh. 4:14)
  • Gave the enemies into their hands (Josh 10:12)
  • Saved the Israelites from the Philistines (1 Sam. 14:23; cf 17:46)

In all these, God was openly involved in history, his providence unmasked. His people needed to bind those moments to their hearts. They created the fabric, meaning, purpose and shape of the story of people of Israel, in which they lived. For the God they served is unlike the a-historical God of the dreamtime, cult or mythology, rather he is the Lord of history who reveals himself in time. Days matter, especially those which revealed something of God.

B. The prophetic books of the Old Testament look forward to the particular day(s) in which the LORD will act

The prophets write in the crucible of suffering, tragedy, loss, guilt and opposition. When all is taken away, they are left with God, his rebuke and his promises. Each proclaims the death of Israel and Judah at the hands of the Gentiles, and also her future resurrection unto glory. When the kingship, temple, law, the sacrificial system, and the people themselves fail, the prophets preach their ruin, as well as their reformation into something far grander and more perfect in keeping to the original intension. Four expressions capture this vocabulary of destruction and hope: 1. In that day; 2. Days are coming; 3. The day of his wrath; and 4. The day of the Lord

1. In that day 

The first cycle of the Eighth Century Prophet, Isaiah 1-12, is a good example of proclaiming ‘that day’ to come. The Lord God will humble, strip-bear and hand his people over to the foreign nations. This is not a day when God loses control or steps away for a moment, this is his deliberate plan. For those with spiritual eyes to see this is even more terrifying.

For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; (Is. 2:12)

In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, … Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a belt, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty. (Is. 3:18-24)

In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. (…) In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also.(Is. 7:18,20)

But even in Isaiah 1-12, there will also be a later time of hope, when God will gather many people to himself, including his people from exile, when they will be beautiful again and will, instead of arrogantly opposing to God, be grateful to him.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it. (Is. 2:2)

In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honour of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem… (Is. 4:2-3)

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. (Is. 10:20)

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. (Is. 11:11)

You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” (Is. 12:1 also Is. 12:4)

2. Days are coming

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet of the besieged city of Jerusalem, while also referring to ‘that day’, uses a mostly positive and life-affirming expression, ‘days are coming’. There will be new way or order that God will bring about, a transformation, expansion of the historical realities of the Exodus, David and covenant. God will do it.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ (Jer. 16:4)

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’  “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ (Jer. 23:5-7)

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah …  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer. 31:31-33)

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” (Jer. 33:14)

3. The day of his wrath

The wicked will receive their due. While this language is employed in Job, Psalms and Proverbs, it not a common expression in the prophets, but finds deep pathos in Zephaniah.

The possessions of his house will be carried away, dragged off in the day of God’s wrath. (Job 20:28 cf. Job 21:30 and Prov. 11:4)

The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. (Psa. 110:5)

A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness (Zeph. 1:15)

Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zeph 1:18)

4. The day of the Lord

While a new covenant reader might think of the day of the Lord as a day of unbridled hope, the eighth Century prophet shows it has much more in common with the day of wrath than any other category. It will be a day of judgment that will start with God’s own people.

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18-20)

While good things might come afterwards, the day of the Lord itself is always used synonymously for shuddering wrath. The day belonging uniquely to the holy God will consume those who have no refuge.

Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;as destruction from the Almighty it will come! (Is. 13:6)

Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger… (Is. 13:9)

That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, to avenge himself on his foes. (Jer 46:10)

For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. (Ezek. 30:3)

Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. (Joel 1:15)

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near .. For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it? (Joel 2:1,11)

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. (Joel 2:31 cf. 3:14)

Only once in the Old Testament uses ‘day of the Lord’ itself explicitly as a time of both restoration and judgment, ‘the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.’ (Mal. 4:2).

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” (Mal 4:5)



There is so much more depth in the nature and language of ‘days’, but there are some clear patterns in the Old Testament prophets. ‘Days of coming’ is perhaps the most glowingly positive expression. Before it however, ‘that day’ must happen, the ‘day of the Lord’, the ‘day of his wrath’. Judgment precedes transformation. This is so very different from our twenty-first century sensibilities, and because of this we must listen even more carefully.

C. There is much we can learn this side of Jesus Christ

While there is so much more to explore in the history and the prophet’s use of the ‘day’ when referring to the Lord,  there are obvious connections to the New Testament and how we are to live this life in the light of God’s definitive actions in our time and space, that now define us, with a past that gives us confidence and future that at once, scares and fills us with hope. Jesus is the key.

1. The day the LORD Jesus acted in history

In historical books of the Old Testament the people were told that God had acted and they must remember those moments. And so for us this side of Christ. We also must remember the days when Jesus was born and named (Mt 2:1; Lk 2:21), was baptised in the Jordan river, taught and healed in Nazareth (Mark 1:9), fed the 5000, raised Lazarus, was opposed by the religious leaders, crucified under Pilate.  If there was a prominence in the Old Testament to the great days when God brought his people out of Egypt at Passover, lead them through the Red Sea to life and gave his law on stone, so we have the greatest day of Jesus Christ, his death liberating us, his resurrection defeating our enemies, and Pentecost, his Spirit writing the word on our hearts. The curtain of the mysteries of providence were drawn back and the Lord of history walked among us.

2. That day has come in Jesus, that day will come for us

Jesus becomes the focal point of all prophetic promises of judgement and mercy (Luke 24:25-26, 44-47).  He experienced God’s terrifying wrath in his atoning work on the cross. Having been himself handed over the Gentiles, he experienced the restoration from death promised to the nation of Israel.

However, there will be a time when what was accomplished for us on the cross, will be done in us. The language of  “on that day” is as natural in the New Testament as it is in in the Old. The difference is that, for God’s people, ’that day’ will be still be an awesome judgment, but also a revelation of the blessings Christ has won for his people. Knowing that day is coming means believers can have strength and confidence to serve the Lord even more in this.

… on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:17)

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Th. 5:4)

…when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed (2 Th. 1:10)

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Tim. 1:12)

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:8)

3. The days that were coming are these last days 

The Old Testament uses of the phrase, ‘days are coming’, that we have seen were pointing to the New Covenant, Kingdom and Exodus (Heb. 8:8). These new days are the Messianic age.

‘The last days’ is used of our time when God has spoken to us by his Son and when the Holy Spirit has been poured out (Heb. 1:2; Acts 2:17). But these last days are also times of particular hardship and the rise of those mocking God’s ways (2 Tim. 3:1; 2 Pet. 3:3).

Jesus also uses the phrase, ‘days are coming’, but rather than positive, to warn of future pangs of suffering for the Messianic community.

And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. (Luke 17:22)

For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ (Luke 23:29)

We must know the days in which we live. What has been fulfilled and given to us as well as the accompanying trials.

4. The day of his wrath calls for action now

Like the days of wrath in the Old Testament, the New Testament is clear that God’s just anger is still being revealed in historical ways, but is ultimately kept for a final judgment day, which will be unbearable (Romans 1:18-2:5).

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom. 2:5)

“Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17)

Ultimately the day of wrath is a resounding warning to find refuge in the forgiveness and salvation that Christ’s cross won for us (Rom. 5:8-11 and Rev. 7:10). However there is also a very strong ethic element. The coming wrath reveals the blackness of sin. How can God’s people partner with what God will judge on the final day?

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. (Col. 3:5-7 cf. Eph. 5:6)

5. The day that belongs to the Lord Jesus

The New Testament still uses the ‘day of the Lord’ as a synonym for God’s judgment day, being like a thief in the night (2 Pet. 3:10), when the elements will melt with fire (2 Pet. 3:12) and when the last battle will be fought (Rev. 16:14). But the day that belongs to God, is also confidently called the day of Jesus Christ, yet another affirmation of his divine identity. For his followers, this, together with his first coming, shapes and creates the entire story of the believer. Getting ready, working for this day, being found safe in Christ is the entire rationale for the purpose of living now. If days were important in the Old Testament, looking back to what God has done and forward to his future plans, how much more when God reveals himself in his Son.

who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:8)

that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. (2 Cor. 1:14)

… he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6)

and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ … (Phil 1:10)

holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Phil 2:16)

C = Caleb, Old Man Strength

And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. (Joshua 14:10-11)

“You can take the dog out of the fight, but you cannot take the fight out of the dog.” This expression so aptly fits the Old Testament leader Caleb in two ways. His name is the Hebrew word for dog; and Caleb was a great warrior.

But in a deeper sense, he defies this cliche’s simple logic, because you could never take this dog out the fight, even to his old age, when you’d expect someone like him to retire and step aside for the younger men. Caleb’s decision as a elderly man makes him such a rich example for those who us who have the privilege of acquiring a few grey hairs. Before we look to Caleb, the eighty-five year old leader of the tribe of Judah, who led his family into the promised land, come with me on a short detour about the place of the young and old in the revelation of God.

God cares deeply about young people. After all, he spoke to the boy Samuel, used adolescent David to defeat Goliath, and the youthful King Josiah to turn back his people to the Law. Most especially, nursing babies were used by Christ as a models for belief, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). Children are not potential adults, future members of his kingdom, but God’s own people at whatever age he calls them.

However, in our times we need to hear that the elderly are no less important in God’s sight.

Rather than being a quaint rule of an old-fashioned year-three teacher, or the convicting haunting voice of your mother’s instructions on a crowded bus, the idea of standing up for the elderly is straight from the pages of Scripture. “You shall stand up before the gray head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:32) Deeply honouring those with experience is so counter-cultural to our world, quick to replace wives, male television anchors, church ministers and actresses who get a little bit older than the next rising star or starlet. Our disposable culture has has somehow transferred from plastic to people. However, in his law, God rejects such arrogance and calls for a deep respect that is somehow linked to the way we fear of his own majesty.

Lest anyone think this was a type of ancestor veneration, the previous verse forbids reaching out to the dead, former generations. “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:31) Both the ancestor appeasement of the Eastern world and the elderly neglect of the West are rebuked in these two verses. When we get to the New Testament, it the venerable Simeon and aged Anna who faithfully hold out for the Christ to arrive. The elder men of the church, both in age and godliness, are called guard the flock entrusted to their care (Acts 20, 1 Peter 5:1-4)

Early in the story of the Bible, the example of Caleb shines, being used by God so powerfully as a young man, and so surprisingly in his eighties. Could his example be a rebuke to those of us who dehumanise and demean the elderly and those who give ourselves a hall-pass on leadership, ministry and courage as soon as we reach retirement age?

1. Caleb, the middle aged man, who faced against his own people

On the Western shore of the Jordan river, having been liberated from Egypt so dramatically and having heard their Lord at Mount Sinai, the multitude of the Israelites waited in expectation as twelve spies returned to give a report of the land, intended by God as a help for their conquest. The headline mission report revealed that the land and its fruit were rich, the inhabitants powerful, and their fortifications impressive. (Numbers 13:27-29)

Caleb, being forty, the chief of the tribe of Judah, was one of those spies. He spoke words of courage. “But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” (Numbers 13:30)

But most of the other tribal leaders led the people into rebellion. Rather than being able to conquer the land, they feared it would conquer them. Compared to the giants, said the other spies, “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers”, despondently, and without any acknowledgement of God (Numbers 13:33). The whole assembly tried make a plan to return to Egypt, complaining about the Lord (Numbers 14:1-4).

With Moses and Aaron fallen on their faces, and noticeably saying nothing, Caleb and his one loyal fellow-spy, Joshua, stood up against the crowd, pleading with them not to reject the Lord in this way. Rather than finding success, they were almost stoned to death if it were not for the arrival of the presence of the Lord. (Numbers 14:5-10). Because of this flagrant rejection of God, the Israelites were punished and forced to wander the wilderness for forty years, enough time for the entire generation of culpable adults to die out.

In this defining incident, three things stand out about Caleb’s character.

  1. Caleb was willing to die for the sake of the Lord, at the hands of the Canaanites, or even by the murderous rejection of his own nation. Allegiance to God is often profoundly lonely and alienating. The cross of Christ is the supreme example.
  2. Caleb did not think of his people as grasshoppers, and the enemy as unbeatable giants. “The protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:9) The Israelites had an historical knowledge of God, but no faith in their present day when it counted. Is that true for us too?
  3. God judges Caleb very differently to the people; and makes a special promise to him and his descendants. “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” (Numbers 14:24)

2. Caleb, the old man, who stepped up again to lead his own people

What Caleb experienced as a younger man would have haunted someone weaker, filling them perhaps with regrets, flashbacks, remorse or bitterness. His own people had rejected his leadership, trying even to kill him. But forty-five years later, as the new generation of the Israelites in earnest began to conquer the land, Caleb held the promise of God, as dear to him as his own life. Speaking to Joshua, he said:

7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. 8 But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the LORD my God. 9 And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ (Joshua 14:7-9)

And Caleb didn’t just await his superannuation, his retirement package from the Lord, claiming rights without the risks of death. He acknowledges the Lord God’s perseverance of his own life and faithfulness to his promises. The fight was still there inside him, and there was no way he’d be left behind.

“And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.”” (Joshua 14:10-12)

Fittingly, the part of the land that Caleb received was the part which caused the downfall of the others with him, the most fortified cities, where the enormous people lived.

There is something astonishing in his words. Caleb feels as strong as he was in his peak. Which of us could say this? We usually do the opposite and talk ourselves down as we get older. While the Lord would most certainly have preserved his health so that his promise would be kept, it was also Caleb’s way of seeing himself that is remarkable. Forty years ago, all the other fit spies saw themselves as mere grasshoppers, but with the Lord’s presence Caleb saw himself as fit for the task. There is something very deep about this. If God is for us, who can stand against us.

The story continues with Caleb, and his men from Judah, driving out those enemies and capturing the cities, especially Hebron which was given to him because he remained loyal to God (Joshua 14:13). We then see Caleb commanding the next generations and inspiring them to continue the attack. Is it surprising that they were consistently the first in the attack! Instead of shrinking back, the tribe of Judah, and especially Caleb’s nephew, Othniel, had the same attitude as their aged leader. (Joshua 15:14-19 and Judges 1:1-15; 3:9-11). There is power when old men stand up and are counted.

Here are just there lessons that I draw from this.

A. Lift up the story of Caleb: encourage and honour the godly aged men and women

We can and should physically stand and show respect to all those who are older than us, but there is a way of doing this with our words too. We must especially heap honour on those who have lived long and remained faithful to the Lord. Do we do this? Our Christian gospel imagination needs to be expanded, to include, not just the young, but people like Caleb who were strong even as 85 year-old men. He didn’t cower at 40, like the rest of them, and he would not weaken 45 years later. This story was written for us! May it rebuke us and shape us.

If Caleb were in our time, he might well have had many younger men condescendingly hinting that he would be doing a better job if he made way for the next generation. I have heard this before. Yes he fought well in the past, but it is time for the others. Caleb defies this and ends up inspiring the next generation by keeping on being involved in his service of the Lord.

I heard recently of a church annual general meeting, where the oldest person in the room wanted to make a recommendation to the new leadership team, before they make decisions: 1. That they examine their own hearts each time and 2. That they alway pray. There is so much power in an older person, who doesn’t complain about the young children making noise, but delights in the way the church is reaching new people for Christ. The oldest person in the room sets a tone. And Caleb ended outliving even Joshua and set the tone for his own tribe, at least, to be devoted to God and his ways. See what good it will do if we hear more of these stories.

B. Read the story of Caleb: and stop seeing yourself as past-it because of your age

Some Christian believers are old on the outside, but young on inside; others have youthful bodies and minds, but are so timid that they’ve effectively moved into the Church equivalent of full-time aged-care. This doesn’t have to be the case, whether it be prayer, follow-up of younger believers, evangelism or giving.

Caleb did not see himself as small and useless. He had an appropriate courage and confidence, based on the promises of God. He already knew the lesson Moses and the eleven disciples had to learn. The way that God compensates for feelings of inadequacy of speech, strength or stamina is to remind us of his presence.

  • To Moses: “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12)
  • To the disciples: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)
  • What Caleb already knew at 40: “the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:9)
  • What Caleb still knew at 85: “It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.” (Joshua 14:12)

C. Read both parts of the story of Caleb: Start young, to finish well

While there may be someone, like Moses, who only steps up to serve God in his old age, Caleb is the more realistic model that I have seen in practice. Many of the older godly people who have been Christians for a long time were younger godly confident people before.

Remember that Caleb was not just a fighter in his old age, he was loyal all through-out his life: as a spy, opposing his own people, wandering through the terrible wilderness still holding God’s promise and then in the moment that counted, he led his people into the promised land.

Martin Luther King said beautifully:

“And I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right …”

Caleb didn’t die in his spirit at 40. What about you?

B = Babylonian Exile and Ours

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

The Babylonian exile is often seen by Christians as a paradigm for our current situation; and rightly so. We are in an alien world with contradictory allegiances, values and customs. More than anything, we are not yet home. We await a heavenly city and belong as its citizens (Rev 21:2; Phil. 3:20 cf. Heb. 11:10,16)

There are some notable differences between her exile and ours:

  1. The Babylonian exile was for seventy years, very short compared to the millennia of the New Testament era, albeit not that dissimilar to our own individual life-spans.
  2. Unlike Jerusalem’s inhabitants, Christian people are not physically exiled by another nation. We were born as their citizens. Furthermore, many of us only became exiles later in life, as we turned in repentance and faith to Christ, finding ourselves only now seeking a real home elsewhere.
  3. Unlike the results of Judah’s idolatry, our exile was not a judgment on a particular sin committed by the Christian church. It is our birth-right. The church was born at odds to its world and the moments where the worldly church feels it belongs here are the darkest spiritual blots on her imperfect history.
  4. That being said, our scattering among the nations was a part of God’s earlier judgment on us all at the Tower of Babel, which is the blueprint for the Bible’s whole theological understanding of Babylon (Gen. 11:9). In Christ, God is gathering his own people from the scattered nations of the world.

Yet how do we conduct ourselves in exile? How do we endure? How do we treat the temporary home in which we live?  The book of Jeremiah provides some answers to their situation. Jeremiah wrote a letter from Jerusalem to the leaders who had been taken to Babylonia (Jer. 29). Provoking controversy in its own time, these words attacked what other false prophets were scandalously saying in the name of the Lord (Jer. 29:8-9,24-32). Rather than acting as a fifth column of resistance in Babylon, the letter calls on the people to build homes and gardens, have families, and seek the good of their exiled home (Jer. 29:5-7). The exile will be as long as 70 years (Jer. 29:10). Perhaps the most popular verse in the 21st Century Western Church is found therein.  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11).

Jeremiah 29 has become a flower-bed of individual commands and promises that are quite profound, instructive and life-affirming, but if cut off from their context and the bigger situation they quickly become smelly rotten flowers that will have to be thrown out when no longer useful. These verses have become proof-texts for the prosperity gospel, middle-class protectionism, and a mandate for cultural engagement.

These are some things that this author has heard. God has great plans to bless us. He will make our businesses’ profits increase; he wants us to have our mini-mansion on the estate. The Lord desires that we make movies that are just as good as those that the ‘Babylonians’ make. He wants us to be people of influence who shape the culture around us. We can become a culturally Christian nation again, or at least our city can be culturally blessed by our church. They will like us. We can get on with all the things that those around us love. With these things, the radical teaching of Jesus’ great commission and cross-bearing persecution can be tempered by Jeremiah’s call to the exiles to be more like the city you live in (Matt. 10:38; 16:24; 28:28-20). All Churches to one extent baptise their own situation in Bible verses. Growing churches in thriving metropolises seem to be at the forefront of using these verses to explain what they are doing. Struggling churches in smaller corners of God’s earth see themselves as more marginalised and sometimes are more drawn to verses that predict hardship. At one extreme we have a CNN church and at the other end, we have InfoWars, either affirming or attacking the status quo. We need to think clearly into this situation.

I would suggest that we neither misapply nor dispose of these verses if they don’t work for us. Instead we need to think bigger thoughts about the exile and see the bigger vision that Jeremiah and the rest of the prophets have about the exile. Here is just a beginning:

1. Jeremiah 29 is not the last word on Babylon. 

This is the most important truth that our world needs to understand. If you read the whole book of Jeremiah you must see how it finishes. The exiles live in a city whose days are numbered (Jer. 50-51). This part of scripture also needs deep consideration. Babylon will be cut down, and become a horror (Jer. 50:23; 51:41). “O you who dwell by many waters, rich in treasures, your end has come; the thread of your life is cut.” (Jer. 51:13) Her leadership, intellectual elites, idolatrous objects of art and her way of life will be over (Jer. 50: 35-28; 51:17). This is also a close parallel to our situation. Like the protagonist in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we live in the city of destruction. While I could not find in the New Testament any direct allusion to the words of Jeremiah 29, Revelation makes much of its final two chapters. The world-city will fall before the heavenly city arrives.

”And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! … For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” (Rev. 19:2,3)

All her culture, riches and name will disappear. What difference does this make to us? Obviously, we do not play off one chapter against another, but we must hold the directions in chapter 29 in the context that the city will be destroyed and at the right time they must flee her (Jer. 51:6). In Jeremiah’s time, they are to build extensions, plant cabbages and set up a smelting business, but they must never forget that the city they live in is opposed to God and so will utterly perish. We, also in all our middle-class existences must never forget this also.

We can walk in the theological truth of God’s-future-judgment-on-our-city, while at the same time chewing the gum of living-well-in-her, can’t we?

2. Even in Jeremiah 29, the Jewish exiles were never to become Babylonians. 

Neither are we. The story of Daniel and his friends is instructive. Daniel would not eat the kings food (Dan. 1:80) and would not stop praying towards Jerusalem even when it was against the law (Dan. 6:10) His friends likewise would not bow their knees in worship even when summoned by the rich national musical of their new home (Dan. 3:10-12). Likewise even in the midst of captivity the most skilled amongst them would rather curse themselves than forget their home country. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (Psa. 137:5-6) This was not their home, their joy or even the object of their songs. Jeremiah 29 does not tell the exiles to become like the locals in every way, instead to live, work and breed there as a people who will return to their homeland eventually.

Christians are also are urged to be distinctive and honourable amongst the nations because we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation … that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9-12). We are never to belong here.

3. There is nothing about spreading culture in Jeremiah 29. 

The letter to the exiles does not encourage the spread of culture, but rather the financial prosperity of the city, not for its sake, but strangely to-our-modern-ears, for their own sake. “[P]ray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7)  This is not disinterested altruism and perhaps grates with our Western sensibilities most strongly. But why should it? Babylon will be destroyed. God’s future is with his people, they are the object of his affections. Her culture will be burned up, but God’s people will escape through those flames.

Christians should work hard, pay taxes and honour those in charge (2 Thessalonians 3:12; Romans 13:6-7). We are forbidden to be rebels. 1 Timothy perhaps echoes Jeremiah’s logic the closest.  Our prayers for “kings and all who are in high positions” is “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). This matters more to us than anything else to us, because how God’s people live matters more to God than how our culture is changed.

4. The promises of God in Jeremiah 29 are bigger than our time in exile. 

The most beloved verse in Jeremiah’s letter is verse 11. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)  This is not just about the here and now but has a much bigger picture. It is not just a plan for your business to exceed its five-year expectations, meeting that life-partner who “completes you”, or even having Christmas cards family updates full of victory-after-victory, with every kid topping their classes, winning sports events and raising thousands for charity. Like myself, some of these exiles may have experienced sixteen-year-old children dying. Others we do know about were tormented by their captors, some went to the fiery furnace, and one we know faced a pit of hungry lions.

God’s plans for their welfare is a collective truth and it is not primarily about their time in exile. The “for” in verse 11 is especially important. The verse before talks about what is their real hope. “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” (Jer. 29:10)

The real delightful expectation of the exiles is for God to appear and keep his word. The mere temporary orders of seeking the good of the city and even the provisions of God in Babylon will melt away when they return home and are met by God.

So too with Christians. The biggest problem with us misapplying the exilic theology is that in our cultural engagement, homemaking projects and welfare seeking endeavours we forget that we are not home. God’s biggest plan for us is to bring us home with him when he visits us. The Thessalonian Christians turned from their idolatrous culture and still remaining in that city. They now “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 These. 1:10). While we can get on with the stuff of this life, God’s plans for us are much bigger than to keep us as exiles forever.

A = Abominations in Proverbs


“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)

What did your mother hate? What annoyed your father? What about your kids? Your spouse? Work-colleague, best-friend or neighbour? If you don’t know the answers to such simple questions, you probably haven’t met these people. To know someone is to appreciate what enthrals them as well as what they hate. Loving them entails appropriately aligning behaviours. A young married man not only displays public affection for his wife but also carefully cleans up the bathroom after he uses it, and as an employee, he not only makes every sales call, but also avoids turning up late.  His wife hates the towels on the floor and his boss detests tardiness. What they hate shapes his own practices. How much more must what God hates shape those of us who take his name as their own!

Job 28:28 expresses this essential symmetry, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but to turn away from evil is understanding”.  Whenever the internal compass needle points us to God, it has no alternative but to point us away from he hates.  We turn to Christ in baptism and also reject all that is evil.

In our age, when people like to manufacture a God who is only ever affirming and embracing, it is important to see that he deeply hates certain things. The word abomination cracks open this truth very powerfully.

Abomination is the consistent translation in the ESV of to’evah, perhaps the strongest expression detestation, revulsion and repugnance . However the English word is unfortunately quaint and old-worldly. Our own childhood memories of “the Abominable Snowman” and “abominations of nature” should not cloud what the Bible clearly teaches. When used of God, it is what he hates (see the parallelism of Prov. 6:16 above) in the strongest possible form.

The Egyptians found many of the Hebrew practices abominations (Gen. 43:32; 46:34; 8:26). God revealed his character to his people Israel. In Leviticus the word is particularly used for homosexual intercourse (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). The major use in the Deuteronomy and the historical books is idolatry and false worship (Deut 7:25; 13:14; 18:12; 27:15; 32:16; 1 Kings 11:5-7; 14:24; 2 Kings 21:11, 23:13, 24).⁠1

As well as showcasing what people find abominable (8:6-8; 13:9; 16:12; 24:8-9, 26:24-26, 29:27), the book of Proverbs says a surprising amount about what God himself finds loathsome. Unfortunately, they are not behaviours at the limits and extremes of human experience, but what is very deeply entrenched in the wills and minds of all people. You can be known as one of God’s people, worshipping in the temple, and never turning to idols and yet be detestable in God’s eyes. This is bad news, but deadly important for us to hear.

1. God abhors arrogant ways and all kinds of injustice

  • “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
  • “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.” (Proverbs 15:9)
  • “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, but gracious words are pure.” (Proverbs 15:26)
  • “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:5)
  • “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” (Proverbs 17:11)

Eyes are meant to look to God, tongues to sing his praise, hands were shaped for doing good and hearts to seek God, even the strange looking feet formed to take the gospel of peace wherever we go. It is little wonder that when each is turned into a corruption of its intention, God hates it. God abominates the thoughts, ways and practices of the wicked. He hates it when people are unjust, incarcerating the innocent or setting free the guilty. Proverbs 17:11 even shows us something of the moral problems at the very heart of the gospel that actually required a substitute to take our place. The cross is actually a demonstration of God’s justice rather than an abomination of that same virtue (Rom 3:23-26).

How do you respond to such a great list? Do you believe that God hates these behaviours? Do you see them as-black-as hell’s darkness or just as slightly off white stains on otherwise good peple? God does detest evil behaviours and even displays visceral revulsion at arrogant people themselves.

2. God particularly detests deception

  • “… the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence.” (3:31-32)
  • “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” (11:1)
  • “Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.” (11:20)
  • “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” (12:22)
  • “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” (20:10)
  • “Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD, and false scales are not good.” (20:23)

We saw lying tongues and false witnesses in the earlier list of reprehensible behaviour.  False balances and unequal weights were obviously things that were easy to get away with in the times of Solomon’s kingship. You could swap the scales over if you were buying, selling or bartering. We might find an ambiguous measuring standard, but God has absolute moral standards. He cares so profoundly about how we treat people. God hates deception at work when we put our fingers on the scales, when we rip off the customer selling fruit that is actually already rotten,  when we we provide false addresses on internet so that we can buy products overseas. God hates false witnesses in the court-room, or in the bedroom.  When John sees the new heavens and new earth, there will be no-one there who “loves and practices falsehood” (Rev 21:15; cf. Zech 5:1-5). We are being created in Christ Jesus into God’s image, putting off lying and speaking the truth to each other. (Eph 4:24-25). The true God must hate things that are false.

3. Even good things can become hateful in God’s sight

  • “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.” (15:8)
  • “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.” (21:27)
  • “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” (28:9)

Bringing a lamb, the first-fruits of the crops, or even in the most metaphoric senses a sacrificial ministry of giving, overseas service or Christian leadership will actually be repugnant to God if the person who does so is caring on in wicked opposition to God. Prayer is also not exempt. One of the lies of anaemic evangelical piety is that God listens to all prayers. He most emphatically does not (Isa 59:1-2).  This is one of the problems with the sacrificial system and even human intercession; and is why the prophets also railed against them so much.

“What are all your sacrifices to Me?” asks the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats….When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Isa 1:11,15)

We need someone who is clean and righteous to declare us right with God. This is what makes Christ’s sacrifice all the more glorious. He was at once our passover lamb,  atonement cover, holy of holies, and high priest and as such he was well pleasing. He did not sin and ”neither was deceit found in his mouth.” (1 Pet 2:21).
Often we think that practices “out there” are abominations in the Lord’s sight, and what I do is not that bad. We don’t worship idols or indulge in pagan practices, or do we? Could it be that the Lord hates what you do? It could be, and you must face this truth with real wisdom. Does he hate the way you lie to your spouse, your boss, your clients, your pastor, or even your congregation? Is there an unequal scale that you are using. No one else knows, except the Lord. Or is it more your arrogance. Are you doing acts that seem like living for him, but are really not? If you don’t listen to God’s word, could it be that he thinks your prayers are just the most detestable things ever. After all, why would God want to hear our words if we are not bothered with his.

Abominations matter. We must know what God hates and turn from it. This is the corollary to the the beginning of wisdom.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but to turn away from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28)




1 There is only one use in the food rules, which would be worthy of its own study (Deut. 14:3).