At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul points out how the people of Israel suffered from a variety of sin issues while they were wandering in the wilderness. He used that as a way to encourage the church of Corinth that even though it might feel like they were entirely alone, human beings have been dealing with these issues from the beginning.
1Co 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
1Co 10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
I think that sin has a type of isolating effect. We often times think that maybe we are the only one who has this particular problem. Paul was writing to encourage the people from Corinth that there was nothing that would make God abandon them. Even if they felt tempted by a certain issue like idolatry, God would be able to help them come through it.
We all can identify with this I’m sure. We might all have different sinful tendencies, and what sets me back will be different than what sets you back. God promises that He will help us make it through. It doesn’t matter what the issue is.
What God does not promise is that it will be easy. You will be able to bear it. However, if you think about twisting your ankle, you are able to bear the pain, but it doesn’t mean that the pain is easy. I think that is the same way for us. We are inherently sinful people, and that is what we want to do. To break out of that pattern is not easy, but God will make it possible. It might seem to be the most natural thing in the world, and we might justify our sinful behavior as not so bad or acceptable given my personal circumstances, but we are told to run away from that. We are supposed to use the option that God will provide to us so that we can escape the temptation.
Temptation is not easy, but it comes to each and every one of us. We’re certainly not alone, and God is still right there with us. We just need to make a conscious effort to work for the freedom that He has given us.
Romans 11 provides a more detailed depiction of what happened to Israel and why the Gentiles had been allowed to be grafted into the family of God.
Rom 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Rom 11:12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
It is not as if God gave up on Israel. Even though they had fallen as a general rule in this time of history, the relationship was not lost.
Bringing this to the level of personal application, there are many people that have stumbled in their own lives. There are many people that have made bad decisions that derail their lives. However, there can be good that comes out of those situations. There can be positive outcomes even from negative situations.
However, even out of these negative situations, people can come back. There is always hope. There is always hope because God is good. That about sums it up. As the chapter in Romans points out, yes, the people of Israel fell, but all is not lost for them. The Gentile world became part of the family of God through the fall of the people of Israel, but how much more will everyone benefit when the children of Israel return? The family of God will be better than it ever has been.
Therefore, I think that is what we need to keep in mind when we talk about people falling away. There is always hope, and there is always an opportunity for those people to return. Yes, God can use bad situations to bring about good results. He does that all the time. However, it does not mean that those people who fell away are gone forever. They can return.
Matthew chapter 5 brings us to probably the most popular teaching passage of Jesus Christ. During the Sermon on the Mount, He said a lot of things, and we could spend tons of time here, but for the one day that we have together, I went to call our attention to a summary.
Mat 5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
Mat 5:14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Mat 5:15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Mat 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
The rest of the Sermon refers to what we do. We find out who is going to be blessed. We find out how Jesus came to fulfill the Law rather than destroy it. There are a lot of things here that speak to us about lifestyle.
Set in that context, Jesus is talking to these Jewish people who have come to follow Him. They had the Law. They were used to being a special people. God had always set apart the people of Israel, but He is challenging them here to live up to their calling. The imagery would have been familiar to them in some sense.
The Law was a large part of what made them different, and by following the Law, the consequence should have been a society that did good works and caused people to glorify God in heaven. Jesus was challenging them to remember their calling to ultimately bring glory to God through their lives. Even though He was changing the dimension and making salvation free for all through faith, using this type of chosen language would have resonated with His audience. They would have understood what it meant to stand out even if they did not need the sacrificial system or other Old Testament hallmarks anymore.
I think the same applies to all of us today. We have the Truth. We know what Jesus taught, and we know what He expects of us. As a result, the commands that Jesus spoke to that particular audience seems to be applicable to us as well. If we have the Light of the World within us, should we not be sure to reflect that light on the world around us through how we live our lives?
We have made it to the final book of the Old Testament! Can you believe it?
In Malachi 1, we have a situation where the people of Israel want proof that God loves them. You would think at this point in their history after all of the various demonstrations of God’s protection, they would recognize that God did indeed love them.
God answers with the following problem.
Mal 1:6 A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?
As you read farther in the chapter, they were not obeying the sacrificial laws. The types of animals that needed to be sacrificed were very specific, and the priests were simply not doing their job.
Therefore, we have a bit of a two-way relationship that it seems that God is looking for. The question from the people is whether or not God loves them. God responds by essentially asking if they love Him. Are they keeping up their end of the bargain? It is clear that in this situation they are not.
I will point out though that it is important to recognize that God did not say that He stopped loving them. Rather, He pointed out that they were not loving Him.
The Old Testament is full of similar accounts. The people of Israel never stopped being loved by God at any point, but that did not mean that they were not punished. It did not mean that they sometimes wondered if God really did love them. However, God never said that He did not love them no matter what they did. They did need to get right with Him and come back to a right relationship though.
Bringing this to you and me, God loves us. That is clear from a variety of New Testament passages. That does not mean that we will understand everything that God does or like everything that He does. If we are not following Him, we should expect discipline. It is not that God does not love us.
In Micah 2, there are people who are clearly doing things that are against some of the 10 Commandments. They also know that they are doing wrong, but they continue doing it.
Mic 2:3 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil.
Mic 2:4 In that day shall one take up a parable against you, and lament with a doleful lamentation, and say, We be utterly spoiled: he hath changed the portion of my people: how hath he removed it from me! turning away he hath divided our fields.
We see a contrast here. God has a plan in verse three. He does not approve of what these people are doing. At the same time, because the judgment is not immediate, these people in the beginning of the chapter are still going through with it. They are going to have disaster fall on them, and sometimes you have to wonder why people are walking into this bad situation.
They certainly knew the law of God. Being culturally Jewish at this time, you would definitely know the 10 Commandments. It isn’t as if they are violating one particular provision in Leviticus which are still important, but they are actually breaking the 10 Commandments. Even if the people being referred to are not the most religious, there is no way that people in this time and culture would not know the 10 Commandments.
They might not have known the exact nature of the punishment that was going to be coming from God, but they would have at least realized they were breaking the law of God.
The contrast is what they should know they did and what they actually did. I think it was because they did not take what they did know seriously. Maybe they did not think that God was really going to punish them for breaking His law. Maybe they thought that wealth could protect them from whatever consequences might be coming.
I hope that we don’t do this. We know a lot of things about God, but we need to take them seriously.
We have talked a lot about judgment while going through Amos, and chapter 9 begins that way as well. However, as the book comes to a conclusion, there is hope for some future day that God will restore Israel.
Amo 9:11 In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:
Amo 9:12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.
Amo 9:13 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.
Amo 9:14 And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.
Amo 9:15 And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.
I think that this is interesting. Even after everything that has gone wrong and how so many people have been doing wrong, God has not forgotten those people who are His own. He is not going to abandon Israel.
I think of it almost like a parent. Parents certainly might punish their children for doing something wrong. That is pretty normal, and in the right circumstances with the right motivation, it is a proper part of parenting. However, parents ought not to abandon their children entirely. It is one of those relationships that should have the unconditional love that God has for His children. The relationship is always going to be there even though there certainly can be times where discipline is required.
The Old Testament shows that type of activity pretty clearly. The people of Israel and Judah had a series of peaks and valleys. They were close to God, they fell away from God and then the whole thing started all over again. There was certainly discipline that came along with these times, but God never stopped loving the people. It really is remarkable.
In Amos 3, we find the people of Israel having their judgment handed down to them. However, it is interesting how this chapter starts out.
Amo 3:1 Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,
Amo 3:2 You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.
Amo 3:3 Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
Verse two tells about responsibility. The people of Israel have had the things of God, but they continually turned and ran away from Him. They had the 10 Commandments literally written on stone tablets by the hand of God, but they did not follow them. As a result, because they abused the great privilege they had been given, their punishment is coming.
As we move on to the end of the chapter, we learn a little bit more about the nature of what is going to be happening as a result of this lack of responsibility.
Amo 3:11 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.
Amo 3:12 Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.
It is brutal imagery, but the people of Israel are going to be devoured from the outside. Not entirely, but they are going to be substantially damaged. They are going to go through these trials because they had disregarded the things that God had given to them.
We don’t want to do what Israel did. Those of us who have the Bible have direction from the God of the universe, but we have to make the decision to follow it. We have to make the choice that might be difficult, but as Christians, following God needs to be our top priority.
In Joel 2, we have a mighty army coming at the people of Israel, and they are going to do damage. There is no way that the people can theoretically stop them by themselves. However, there is something that can be done.
Joe 2:12 Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
Joe 2:13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
I find it interesting because God is rather clear with the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament. You can live in His way and reap the benefits of that, or you can live in opposition to Him and have to handle the consequences. It really is not the most complicated system, and this is another instance of what had been going on for the people of Israel.
I think that we face a very similar choice now. I don’t know that the consequences are always as severe as they were for the people of Israel, but we are faced with dilemmas all the time. We can either do what we know God wants us to do, or we can go it on our own.
Certainly, there are times where what we want to do lines up with what God wants us to do. I know that is possible. However, I also know that there are times where we know that the Bible specifically tells us certain things, and we willfully do other things. We’re all guilty of it.
Our response needs to be the same. We need to turn to God. He is gracious and merciful. He will forgive. Just like the people of Israel, we need to turn away from the wrong. I know it is easy to say and much more difficult to do, but it seems to be what we need to work towards.
Welcome to Joel! It is only three chapters long, so we will not be here very long. This book surrounds a plague. It seems as if locusts have come to the people of Israel, and they are in dire straits because of it. However, the thing that particularly stood out to me about this chapter is the fact that we are advised right from the beginning to not let this information pass away.
Joe 1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
Joe 1:2 Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land. Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?
Joe 1:3 Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
I think that this stood out to me because as you read the rest of the chapter, this is not a good time for the people. It is a time of suffering and mourning, but the people are encouraged to remember it.
This is not a popular message for today. We often times try to brush away suffering because we want to go from the mountaintop to another mountaintop. We forget that there certainly can be and many times are significant valleys in our lives. It is not always easy, but it seems that here in Joel there is value in remembering these times. There is value in understanding that we sometimes have to persevere.
It is difficult topic. On one hand, perseverance is a value that seems to be shown here in Joel. We talk about suffering because there is some value in it. However, in order to take advantage of that value, it means that you have to go through. Nobody wants to do that.
I do think though that since a difficult times are indeed a reality on earth and no one is immune, it is actually incredibly comforting to know that there is something to be gained from it.
Hosea 14 brings us to the end of yet another book, and I invite you to remember back to Hosea 3 where Hosea bought his wife back from slavery. After everything that has gone wrong, his love for her was so great that he was willing to take her back.
Now, look at the language used here in Hosea 14.
Hos 14:4 I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.
Hos 14:5 I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
Hos 14:6 His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
Hos 14:7 They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.
Again, we have this kind of redemption here. A love that the people of Israel did not deserve was going to be shown to them, and they were going to have reconciliation, just like Gomer and Hosea.
I know that we read a lot about what God is in the Bible, and one of the most popular things that you hear all over is that God is love. Obviously, I agree with that, but I often times think that we forget about what that means. It doesn’t just mean that God comes along and pats us on the back.
It is so much more than that. It is truly a redemptive love. We have no way of ever earning it ourselves. However, it was freely given. Even in our state of separation from God, we can still receive it. That brings us back from death and into life.
Eph 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
This is amazing love.