A Prelude to Isaiah

The above image is a painting by James Tissot (c. 1896) titled “Isaiah,” from the Jewish Museum

The prologue to Isaiah in The Wycliffe Bible reads, “Isaiah is worth to be said not only a prophet, but more, a gospel, for he declares so openly … of Christ and of [the] Holy Church, that you guess him not only to ordain and profess a thing to come, but to ordain a story of things passed.” Reading Isaiah as Christians leads us to look for nuggets of Messianic material. Having read the New Testament, Isaiah is quoted at large, with passages being connected to the life of Jesus. I want us to resist the urge to read Isaiah that way primarily. Why? That’s likely not how the original audience read it. They were concerned with their lifetimes and the prevailing circumstances and not something centuries ahead. Nevertheless, in the unseen and distant future, some things would occur, and in the immediate context, we’ll see how they would have understood it and how it became just a part of the larger story of God’s people—even to the time of Christ. 

Isaiah was written during a crisis by a prophet bearing that name—which means “Yah is Salvation.” So anytime you see a name ending with –ah or –el, that’s Hebrew for God’s name. For example, Samuel means “name of El” or “El has heard.” Jeremiah’s name means either “Yah will exalt” or “appointed by Yah.” The first thirty-nine chapters detail the crisis Isaiah faced, spanning four kings, the prophet having access to them (7:3). Isaiah’s ministry was from 740–681 BCE, receiving his prophetic call when Uzziah died (Is. 6:1), 740–739 BCE. His access to the kings and priests (8:1–2) has led to the suggestion that he was aristocratic, royalty, or priestly. 

During his tenure as a prophet, he’d see the tiny kingdom of Judah exist in a world of three superpowers—Egypt to the south, Assyria to the north, and Babylon to the east. In 721 BCE, he’d see the northern kingdom of Israel fall to the Assyrians. Judah sought the military aid of Egypt to protect them from Assyria, but Isaiah would preach that Judah needed to trust in God alone. In 701 BCE, he’d see the Assyrians attempt to besiege Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah. After, Hezekiah invites the Babylonians over to see the wealth of Judah and to provide protection from the Assyrians. Isaiah rebukes Hezekiah for this, saying that Babylon would destroy Judah—something that would occur in 586 BCE. In 681 BCE, he detailed the Assyrian King, Sennacherib’s death (37:38), being put to death himself during Manasseh’s reign by, according to tradition, being sawn in two. 

We all have ideas of what a prophet is, but we need to understand (biblically) what a prophet did. The Hebrew nabi is translated as “prophet” but can also be translated as “spokesman.” The prophet spoke for God, delivering His message. But, as Isaiah 6 will disclose, they also saw visions of heavenly matters to talk to their current events (cf. 1 Kings 22:19–23; Ezek. 1, 10; Dan. 7:9–14). One way to think of a prophet is to think of a holy person who counsels kings, peoples, and priests. Their counsel was often the word of the Lord, but at times, it was based on just natural wisdom from being a holy person of God (cf. 2 Sam. 16:23). Prophets could also have a voice in the heavenly court through prayer (Gen. 20:7, 17; 1 Kings 13:4–6), and Moses was said to have received the law through the mediation of angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2) when he was immersed in the clouds (Ex. 24:1–2, 9–11, 15). 

His message is one of judgment and hope. God’s judgment will purify Jerusalem to make it possible for God to fulfill His promises. The first promise is a Davidic king whose kingdom is forever established (2 Sam. 7:12–16). All kings of Judah were descendants of David, but their kingdoms were only temporary. The Kingdom of God through Jesus would be this specific rule of which the Lord promised on the grand scale, while in the context, it may refer to Hezekiah. The second promise was fidelity to the covenant (Exod. 19:5–6). The third promise was that Israel would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:2–3). 

I’m going to suggest we read Isaiah the following way: 

  • Isaiah 6 details the prophet’s call and the focus of his message. 
  • Isaiah 1–6 speaks about Old (current) Jerusalem and New (future) Jerusalem. 
  • Isaiah 7–12 addresses King Ahaz. 
  • Isaiah 13–23 tells about the fall of Israel’s neighbors, including Babylon. 
  • Isaiah 24–27 speaks about the lofty city (sinful Jerusalem).
  • Isaiah 28–35 detail the rise and fall of Jerusalem. 
  • Isaiah 36–38 records the rise of King Hezekiah. 
  • Isaiah 39 records the fall of King Hezekiah. 

This is only the first section of the book with its themes. Once we get to the second section, we’ll set a similar structure, and I’ll address the notion of 1 & 2 Isaiah. 

Eschatology (End Times) Lesson Outlines

Life After Life

  1. What happens when someone dies?
    1. The spirit leaves the body—“for as the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). 
    2. The spirit returns to God—“then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). 
  2. Where does a person go when they die?
    1. Jesus told the thief that they’d be in paradise—“today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus said something similar to the Ephesians—“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). 
    2. Peter preached that Jesus was in hades—“for you will not leave my soul in hades, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption” (Acts 2:27).
    3. The rich man and Lazarus went to hades/Abraham’s bosom—“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in hades…” (Luke 16:22–23a). 
    4. We go to be with the Lord—“For I am hard-pressed between [life and death], having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?’” (Rev. 6:9–10). 
    5. Note: paradise, hades, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are interchangeable. It would appear that they are one-in-the-same in a manner of speaking. These passages suggest: 1) when we die, we are with Jesus, and since He’s in heaven at God’s right hand, when we join Him, we join Him where He is. 2) When God returns, He’ll bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (dead Christians). 3) The souls of the martyrs are beneath the altar in heaven with God and Christ. 
  3. What is life after life like?
    1. One of the best passages to understand this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. We learn a few things from this passage:
      1. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). Notice that the rich man, Abraham, and Lazarus all retain their identities, recognize one another, and the rich man can feel. 
      2. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Luke 16:24–25). From these two verses, we notice that they can communicate, the rich man and Lazarus are noted as feeling either pain or comfort, and that what happened in life follows them to hades. 
      3. “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us’” (Luke 16:26). There is no crossing from one side to the next, so there is no second chance. 
    2. This naturally brings up the question: “If we already know where we’ll be when we die, what’s the point of the judgment?” From what I gather, judgment is when we stand before the Lord to give account. There will be no hiding because heaven and earth flees from the presence of the Lord (Revelation 20:11–13). When Adam and Eve knew they had sinned, they hid from God (Genesis 3:8). There will be no hiding. We will have to stand before God to answer. 
  4. Before judgment comes the resurrection. 
    1. Passages attesting to the resurrection—“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).” “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28–29).” “I have hope in God … that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).
    2. Passages attesting to the redemption of our bodies—“Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21). “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
    3. What will our resurrection bodies be like? Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 15:35–55:
      1. Corruption vs. Incorruption (v. 42)
      2. Dishonor vs. Glory (v. 43)
      3. Weakness vs. Power (v. 43)
      4. Natural vs. Spiritual (v. 44)
      5. Living vs. Life-giving (v. 45)
      6. Earthly vs. Heavenly (vv. 47–48)
      7. Mortal vs. Immortal (v. 54)
    4. We aren’t meant to live eternally as disembodied spirits—“For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2–4). 

The Judgment

  1. Thinking about judgment:
    1. When we think of judgment, we’re likely to think of the event with negative connotations in mind. However, judgment is a good thing, as the Scriptures remind us (cf. Psalm 2, 98; Isaiah 11:1–10). God’s judgment will set things right once and for all. Jesus’ death was the single act to reconcile us to God and no longer dread judgment, but we must realize that it won’t be a great day for some people. 
    2. Any sin is a personal affront to God. 
      1. “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9)?
      2. “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor …” (Lev. 6:2)
      3. “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam. 12:13).
      4. “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” (Ps. 51:4). 
  2. Jesus, our Judge:
    1. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). 
    2. Our standard will be Christ’s words (John 12:48). 
    3. We will be judged concerning our:
      1. Hearts: “[Christ] will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts [at His coming].” (1 Cor. 4:5)
      2. Words: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36–37)
      3. Deeds: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
  3. Condemnation:
    1. Those who give lip service to God will not be saved: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21–23)
    2. Those who do not regard others will not be saved: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting 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 take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    3. Those who don’t know God and obey the gospel will not be saved: “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thess. 1:8–9). 
  4. What doesn’t save:
    1. Sincerity—Jacob sincerely believed that Joseph was dead for years until they were reunited. 
    2. Zeal—Saul of Tarsus was zealous for God, but he murdered many Christians (Romans 10:1–3). 
    3. Religious acts—Cornelius the centurion was well spoken of and often gave alms and prayed, but Peter was still sent to provide him with the gospel (Acts 10:1–2). 

A New Heaven and Earth

  1. What to remember: 
    1. Thus far we’ve studied what occurs when a person transitions from life on earth to the afterlife. 
      1. A person goes to be with the Lord in a place that’s called by various names: heaven, hades, paradise, and the bosom of Abraham. 
      2. While here, we will know whether or not we’re among the saved or condemned. 
      3. Then comes the resurrection at the second coming of Jesus, followed by the judgment. 
      4. After the judgment, a person either goes to the lake of fire (hell), or they go to be with the Lord. 
    2. We will have resurrection bodies in which we will then join God in the new heaven and earth. 
    3. If you would like a copy of the previous two outlines, feel free to email me at schunter@ymail.com (yes, it’s ymail and not gmail). 
  2. Passages regarding God’s concern for creation:
    1. God saw that everything He made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 
    2. Every creature of God is good (1 Timothy 4:4–5). 
    3. Man’s sin subjected creation to futility (Genesis 3:17–19; cf. 5:29).
    4. Disobedience to God by us defiles earth (Isaiah 24:5–6). 
  3. Key passages:
    1. In Romans 8:18–25, creation:
      1. Awaits the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19).
      2. Has been subjected to futility by God for redemption (v. 20).
      3. Will be delivered from corruption (v. 21).
      4. Currently groans within itself (v. 22).
      5. Like us, creation awaits adoption, redemption (v. 23). 
    2. Ephesians 1:7–10.
      1. Note “things” in “heaven and earth.” 
    3. Colossians 1:15–20:
      1. Christ the head of creation (vv. 15–17).
      2. Christ the head of the new creation (vv. 18–20).
      3. The church is the source of the restoration and fulfillment of creation in Christ. 
    4.  2 Peter 3:10–13:
      1. The heavens and elements are destroyed by fire (vv. 10, 12). 
      2. Because such will be destroyed, we ought to be holy and godly people (v. 11), because, in the new heaven/earth, righteousness dwells (v. 13). 
    5. Revelation 20:11–21:27 leads us to believe: 
      1. The new heaven/earth follows judgment (21:1).
      2. Our current heaven/earth is no more (21:1).
      3. God’s dwelling is with humanity once more as in Eden (21:2).
      4. In the new heaven/earth, God wipes away our tears, death is conquered, and sorrow and crying and pain no longer exist because they were a part of the current heaven/earth (21:4). 
      5. Contrasting with the first heaven/earth, God and Christ is the temple of the new heaven/earth whereas earth itself had been (21:22). The first heaven/earth had darkness, but not the new (21:23–25). Unlike the first heaven/earth, no defilement shall enter into the new heaven/earth (21:27). 

“Predestination”

Whenever you hear the word “predestined,” it’s essential to ask the user to define the term. Some people understand it concerning a person’s life is predetermined by God. This would remove any personal accountability, or it should, from the person’s actions. After all, God predetermined it, so why should we pay for it? I believe Romans 8:29 gives us a clearer picture of predestination than anything. 

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (NKJV)

Alternate translations are also helpful. 

Because those he knew in advance he then marked out in advance as being in conformity to the image of his Son, so that he might be firstborn among many brothers. (DBH trans.)

Those foreknew, you see, he also marked out in advance to be shaped according to the model of the image of his son, so that he might be the firstborn of a large family (NTW trans.)

Both David Bentley Hart and N. T. Wright substitute “marked out in advance” for “predestined.” The Greek term proorizo is elsewhere translated as “determined before” (Acts 4:28) and “ordained before” (1 Cor. 2:7). “Marked out in advance” is a suitable translation because it leaves out the element of “destiny.” 

Nevertheless, the order of the passage places God’s foreknowledge at the beginning. This speaks to God’s omniscience at the front of what follows (cf. 1 John 3:20; Heb. 4:13; Is. 49:9–10). Just because God knows ahead of time doesn’t mean that He causes the outcome. He can work within it, but He doesn’t drive it. Some may think it a contradiction that God knows everything ahead of time because then we reflect on passages where God is said to have repented, regretted, or even changed His mind. The former two seem as if He was caught off guard by what occurred and, therefore, regretted it (cf. Gen. 6:6–7; 1 Sam. 15:10–11). I believe the biblical authors meant to convey that God can lament a situation despite knowing about it ahead of time. People whose loved ones are dying do all they can to prepare for the inevitable, but they still cry when the loved one passes away. They knew it was coming, but that fact doesn’t halt the emotion they feel upon its actual happening. When we study passages that say that God changed His mind (Exod. 32:14; 2 Sam. 24:15–16), we are forced to grapple with passages that speak of His unchanging nature (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6). Once more, the authors aren’t conveying that God didn’t know something but that He knew at what point He would change. These are not contradicting premises. 

Because God foreknows, He “predestines” it to be. For those of us who are Christians, God knew we’d be amenable to the gospel. Because of this foreknowledge, He determined that we would be conformed to the image of His Son. Our volition hasn’t been violated, and God hasn’t determined ahead of time that we would obey. He just knew it would happen, so He set things in motion to accomplish what He knew would occur (Rom. 8:30). I contend that predestination should be understood through the paradigm of God’s foreknowledge. We omit God’s foreknowledge if we don’t read it this way and take Ephesians 1:5, 11 as the paradigm. Paul wrote that God “chose” (v. 4) us and “purposed” (v. 9, cf. 11), which one could understand as Calvinists do. A synthesis of both passages is vital and should be understood together.

When the Kingdom of God Encounters Legal Trouble

In the New Testament, we read about something that isn’t present in the Old Testament—the Sanhedrin. This council became the governing body of the Jews after the Babylonians destroyed the monarchy and subsequent exile. Though Israel had a king in the New Testament, he did the bidding of Rome, and it’s clear that Israel didn’t respect his authority given that entanglement. The Sanhedrin grew during the Hasmonean dynasty when they revolted against the Greeks to preserve their religion and identity as God’s people in a period often referred to as Intertestamental. This dynasty of priests recruited legal experts and priests—the former usually being Pharisees and the latter Sadducees. The Sanhedrin consisted of seventy men who were religious and civil authorities. They oversaw the temple and carried out religious duties. They also were a policing force as well as a court of law. Peter and John drew legal trouble for preaching Jesus as Christ (Acts 4:1–3). When they addressed the Sanhedrin, they boldly proclaimed Jesus (Acts 4:8–12). The body attempted to stop them, but they appealed to God as the standard of what they would do (Acts 4:18–21). 

This is how power works. Power corners the market on authority. The authority they had was a responsibility to a nation, and anyone who dared threaten that stability was an enemy. Because they ordered them not to speak in Jesus’ name, they set the stage to punish them if they broke that command. Power issues edicts followed by threats. Why? Because they’re authoritarian and demand to be obeyed. Jesus and the Kingdom’s manner is a threat to how they operate (Acts 4:23–30) because His ways threaten to upset the order by robbing authorities of their power. This was why He was crucified. The Jews offered up Jesus to maintain their standing with the Romans (cf. John 11:49–52), and the Romans crucified Jesus to keep the peace among the Jews. None of what Jewish leaders did stopped the movement Jesus began. However, the attention the Way received was of concern to many (cf. Acts 5:13). Peter and John were arrested a second time and, subsequently, beaten (Acts 5:40). Yet, the Sanhedrin knew that the tide was turning against them (cf. Acts 5:26).  

Notice the players: two former fishermen against highly educated holy men. Luke even points this much out (Acts 4:13). The leaders were astonished because they were “uneducated” and “untrained” (idiotes). The Kingdom of God doesn’t rely on credentials. Nor does it depend on someone having civil power. When a person has that kind of power, it doesn’t necessarily mean serving God. They can, but God doesn’t rely on that. If He did, we wouldn’t see His power but think it’s in our hands. So instead, He worked through them despite not having religious or civil authority. That’s the Kingdom of God. No seeking of esteem or grandeur. Just simple people allowing God to use them.

A Different Kind of King

We all know that Herod was king of Israel when Jesus was crucified, but what may elude us is that all kings of Israel, from the return from exile to that date, were puppets of the ruling power. The last actual king was Zedekiah: “Then they [the Babylonians] killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, bound him with bronze fetters, and took him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7). Jews returned to Jerusalem under the authority of the Persians. Then, they were ruled by the Greeks, and in Jesus’ day, the Romans. All of the prophecies about a king that would come to rule Israel were held tightly by the nation, but they expected a mighty warrior who’d raise the armies of God and conquer the occupiers. That wasn’t what God had in mind. 

When we read the gospels, Jesus never ascribed the title “Messiah” to Himself. In the first centuries BCE and CE, many figures bore that title. They were militaristic and often led insurrections only to be quashed by the ruling power (cf. Acts 5:36-37; 21:38). Israel wanted their Messiah to be the type of king that succeeded in this venture. He would liberate Israel from Gentile rule. The nation would be exalted on the world stage once more and returned to its former glory of the days of David. Jesus, however, preferred the title “Son of Man” (Dan. 7:13). He likely avoided the title Messiah due to the way it had been used. 

The Roman Empire, and preceding republic, often granted triumphs. It was a religious and civil ceremony where a successful military leader, likely a general, was publicly celebrated and sanctified. On the day of his triumph, he wore special attire that identified him as a near-divine or near-kingly figure. Often, his face was painted red as an imitation of Rome’s highest god, Jupiter (Zeus). Then, he rode a four-hour chariot through the streets of Rome with his army, captives, and any spoils of war. He’d then conclude by offering sacrifice to Jupiter. Jesus had a triumph of His own wherein He was acknowledged as King (John 12:13; cf. Mark 11:9-10). 

Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the week He was crucified worried the religious leaders. Subsequently, they sought His death (cf. John 18:14). However, it’s necessary to note that Pilate did not constantly live in Jerusalem or thereabouts. He would arrive in the city in a procession akin to a stately or royal procession before the high holiday of the Jews. Therefore, King Jesus’ triumph followed Pontius Pilate’s grandiose arrival. While on trial, Jesus and Pilate had a discussion revolving around Jesus being called a King (John 18:33-37). Jesus sets His kingdom apart from earthly kingdoms. Warfare is the modus operandi for earthly kingdoms, but Jesus’ kingdom isn’t from the world. Not only is His kingdom different in origin, but it’s also different in kind. 

Jesus was crowned, not with gold, but with thorns. He was robed, not with regal majesty, but mockery. He wasn’t bowed to but struck by the hands of Roman soldiers (John 19:2-3). What sort of kingship is Jesus’? It’s self-sacrificial love. It’s service and suffering. It isn’t the seeking of power or the use of military might. As Christians, do we belong to this kingdom, or are we so entrenched in politics that we fail to live the lives of citizens of heaven? 

Caring Enough When a Christian Needs Restoration

Christians aren’t immune to worldliness and sin. If anything, we may be more susceptible to it because of our profession of faith. Before, we didn’t give as much conscientious thought to trying to be good. We either were or weren’t. It’s easy to be unattached and just live life, but when we confess Jesus and are baptized, we often paint a target on our backs not only to the adversary but to anyone who wishes to troll our imperfections in light of our faith. 

The majority of Scripture doesn’t paint a picture of unblemished saints but people in covenant with God who often stray from the precepts of that covenant. If you’ll notice, a more significant percentage of the New Testament is devoted to correcting misbehavior than is not. Think about it. Can you name a book of Scripture that doesn’t expose the sins of God’s people? Maybe Esther? Yet, throughout the whole of the Bible, we see God’s love for an often straying people. 

Several passages speak about a Christian who has departed the faith or is overtaken by sin and what the rest of us, who are not, should do. 

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20; cf. 1:15)

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1; cf. 2:11-13)

But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. (2 Thess. 3:6; cf. vv. 14-15; 2:15)

But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. (1 Cor. 5:11)

Here’s the rub: most of us feel inadequate and unqualified to be the person who points out another person’s sin and draws a line in the sand. The people who feel qualified make us question their motives and character because, after all, only the self-righteous Pharisee is comfortable doing that. Right? Meanwhile, the rest of us struggle with our temptations, and some of us with our private sins. So why should we point out another person’s sins?

There’s a difference between being a struggling sinner and an embracing sinner. We who struggle with our sins may feel remorse. We often also pray for forgiveness and try to do better. Whether or not we succeed is another matter, but it is a struggle. For others, they don’t struggle with sin. They simply embrace it and make it a part of who they are. I believe this is the difference between the Christian who has strayed and the one who has not. We don’t have to draw a line in the sand because God has done that for us. However, one might wonder when to take action if that line is somewhat obscure.

For example, what does it mean to “wander from the truth,” be “overtaken in any trespass,” or to walk “disorderly?” Furthermore, the sins Paul mentioned to the Corinthians are generic. We can define them however we’d like, either broadly or narrowly. I’ve seen brethren use it in ways that I’m not sure the Holy Spirit intended. “Wander from the truth” means different things to different people, but what did James mean? Walking disorderly is the same, so I have many questions about this process. I believe we should care for our brethren, the good and the bad. We should encourage them all, but those who have wandered and been overtaken should be loved back to God. 

This specific query is focused on knowing when to take restorative actions. If it’s something that alienates a person from God, then we should act. On the other hand, if it’s a matter of personal scruples (Rom. 14; 15:1), we should learn to bear with those and not make them points of faith, which many in the churches of Christ tend to do, sadly. Unfortunately, some people make things a matter of faith that are scruples.  

How do we proceed from here? I believe, first, that we should heed the warning that Jesus gives (Matt. 7:1-5). Next, we deal with ourselves as a starting point, and then we determine the sort of judgment we’re using. Is it of God or man? Is it Scripture-based or tradition-based? Is a soul in peril, or do they just have a different point of view from me? Finally, we should carry out this task according to Paul’s instructions: “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). 

Early Christian Views on the Life of Unborn Children

For Christians today, the conclusion is forgone that life is precious. Regarding most pro-life movements is the emphasis on the lives of the unborn. The struggle to obliterate the barbaric custom of aborting the unborn is as much a reality now as it was in the first century to the earliest Christians. Nevertheless, the battle wages on and Christians continue to advocate that unborn lives be regarded as worthy of the same rights and privileges as those already born.

Political rhetoric attempts to sway the conversation to the side of choice. Attempting to be sympathetic to those who make the decision to abort a life, many hold that the decision is itself agonizing and that women must be in control of their bodies and decisions about their “health.”[1] While the rhetoric often frames the conversation and vilifies those of us who are pro-life, it must be stated that this author is as pro-life for the unborn as he is for the living. I would want to appeal to those who contemplate such a decision to end a life to not do so on the grounds of our religion and the esteem that God our Father has for life.

A Theology for Life

When God created humanity, He created them in His own image (Genesis 1:26–27). Having been made in God’s image, anyone who took life was to lose their own for the reason that they destroyed the image of God: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). In the ancient East, appearing in God’s image implied a “representation of identity relating to the office/role and the value connected to the image …  The image of god did the god’s work on the earth. The biblical view is similar as people are in the image of God, embodying his qualities and doing his work.”[2] Because each human bears God’s image, this is the source of human worth and personhood.

The language used of those unborn gives us a greater understanding of God’s esteem for those in the womb. These pre-born image bearers of our Father have as much worth and personhood as those outside the womb.

For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Marvelous are Your works,

And that my soul knows very well.

My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.

And in Your book they all were written,

The days fashioned for me,

When as yet there were none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16

This particular Psalm gives us an idea of the great care with which God acts during the gestation period of the unborn. While science gives us a technical explanation, the Psalm enlightens us with a poetical explanation of God’s workings. Therefore, we read in another Psalm that “the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). It was the fruit of Mary’s womb that Elizabeth blessed (Luke 1:42). A child is not a burden, but God’s gift.

God reveals that He knows the unborn even before they form in the womb (Jeremiah 1:4–5). Yet, while in the womb, they are regarded as living beings and the discussion about when life begins is unnecessary (cf. Luke 1:41). In the Mosaic Law, if the unborn were harmed, retribution was necessary (Exodus 21:22–25). We also see this reflected in our own laws when a pregnant woman suffers harm along with her unborn child. The treatment of such matters is as if harm were done to two people, but were the vessel to decide that the unborn were unwanted or a burden, they would need only to “chose” and the treatment of the unborn as a person is neglected for the idol of choice.

Abortion in Greco-Roman Society

Hippocrates (c. 460–375 BC) was a pioneer of medical theory as well as the oath that all physicians swore by upon beginning their practice of medicine, and still do today from my understanding. A part of the Hippocratic Oath states, “I will not give to a woman [an abortifacient].” Abortion was rather common in antiquity, but Greco-Roman society wasn’t entirely careless regarding the unborn. In some cases, abortion appears as wrong as we believe it to be today. For example, in Athens, if a man died while his wife was pregnant and she aborted the pregnancy upon his death, she was charged to have committed a crime against her husband. The legal theory was that her abortion was criminal since the unborn child could have claimed the late father’s estate, so it was more a matter of property rights than a moral statute. Fast-forwarding closer to the advent of Christ, we see that not much had changed in this regard.

Ovid’s work Amores was first published in 16 BC. In this work of poetry, Ovid mentions abortion in the early Roman Empire and the unborn child as a “burden” (Am. 2.13). However, in the next elegy, he refers to the fetus as “tender” and the destruction of it as by a “warlike method.” This particular elegy is against abortion because it robs society of her Caesars and other heroes. Furthermore, were this a common practice, Ovid suggests, there would be no humanity. He asked why women would “thrust and pierce with the instrument and give dire poisons” to unborn children, which explains how abortions were performed then (Am. 2.14). The methods of abortion were sometimes as risky for the mother as they were for the unborn baby and many women died from having attempted to terminate their pregnancy.

The Roman statesman, Cicero mentions a disdain for abortion similar to the Athenian law mentioned above. A mother had been bribed by alternative heirs to terminate her pregnancy, which she did. The mother, in turn, was condemned to death because she cheated the father of his posterity and the Republic of a potential citizen (In Defense of Cluentius 32).

The philosophical school of Stoicism held that life began once a child was born. The breathing of a person outside the womb was the moment life began. This thinking allowed abortion to be acceptable, and Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC–AD 65), a Roman statesman and philosopher, was able to use this belief in the legal system. Seneca wrote that “unnatural progeny” were destroyed, which was likely a reference to an incestuous conception. He also wrote about drowning children that were born abnormal and weak (On Anger 1.15.2–3), but I’ll talk more about infanticide in the next chapter. The Stoic idea that unborn babies were not humans came to influence Roman law and only further justified the practice of abortion.[3]

Not all Stoics, however, consented to abortion being a good thing. Musonius Rufus (c. AD 30?–102) saw abortion as inhuman. He saw its purpose as solely of enhancing the firstborn’s inheritance more than anything, which amounted to greedy motives. The lawgivers, he contended, functioned to discern what was lawful and good for the state, as well as what was bad and detrimental to it. The lawgivers, he recalled, urged the increase of the homes as something fortunate. So fortunate was the increase of the homes “that they forbade women to suffer abortions and imposed a penalty upon those who disobeyed” (Discourse 15). His discourse on this matter is likely a referendum against the common practice of abortions in the first century.[4]

Juvenal wrote that wealthy women would not endure labor, but would dull the pain with drugs or obtain an abortion (Satire 6.593–96). He also wrote how Emperor Domitian (c. AD 81–96) impregnated his niece and then gave her abortive drugs. The niece in question, Julia, died in AD 91 as a result of the abortion (Satire 2.20–24). Here we see another example of why abortions were performed (incest). Wealthy people may not have just wanted to deal with it, so they selfishly terminated the pregnancy. However, there was another reason for terminating a pregnancy. Slave women might terminate a pregnancy to avoid bring up a child in slavery.[5] The slave women would have had to have done this in secrecy because a slave’s child was the property of her master and not her own.   

In the second century, the Greek gynecologist, obstetrician, and pediatrician, Soranus of Ephesus, wrote his work Gynecology which explains how medical knowledge at the time treated various related matters. In this work, he distinguished between an involuntary abortion—what we’d call “miscarriage”—and the willful termination of pregnancy. He also distinguished between a contraceptive and abortive. The former was to prevent conception from taking place while the latter was intended to expel the unborn from the woman’s body (Gyn. 1.59–60).

In discussing when an abortive was given, he noted that some would not give an abortive if a woman wanted to terminate the pregnancy due to adultery or because she wanted to preserve her youthful beauty—again, two reasons why abortions took place then. An abortive would be given if it were discovered that the woman’s body, according to the science then, were determined to be unable of birthing a child and thus risk the mother’s wellbeing. However, Soranus preferred contraceptives to an abortive as a preventative risk, because “it is safer to prevent conception from taking place than to destroy the fetus” (Gyn. 1.60). He then went on to list various concoctions that could be used as a contraceptive or abortifacient, but if used to terminate a pregnancy, serious side effects followed that posed significant risks (Gyn. 1.61–63). Yet, this didn’t prevent him from explicitly naming how one might terminate a pregnancy (Gyn. 1.64–65).

While more citations could be supplied to the ends of showing how common abortion was, we also noted a couple of pagans who were against it, but not for the same moral reasons early Christians stood opposed to the practice. Additionally, there were others who opposed abortion in antiquity, but Christians gave a clearer understanding of why it was wrong that distinguished them from others. It’s now to this focus that we turn.

Early Christians as Pro-Life

What we must admit is that there are no clearly stated prohibitions against abortion in the New Testament. However, early Christianity borrowed their moral understanding of various issues from Judaism, so we, first, look the Jewish historian, Josephus (c. AD 37–100). He wrote about the Jewish prohibition against abortion on the basis that it was a matter of Jewish law.

The law, moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind: if anyone, therefore, proceeds to such fornication or murder, he cannot be clean.

(Against Apion 2.202)

The Ten Commandments were used by early Christians just as they were by Jews—as teachings that pertained to moral living. Notably, the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” was given a greater exposition in Christian thinking. When in the late first, early second century, a document known as Didache was written, attention turned to the sixth commandment and stated, “You shall not murder … you shall not engage in sorcery; you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide” (2.2). This document understood the sixth commandment as extending to the unborn. The reason I included “sorcery” as a part of this understanding is that the Greek term translated “sorcery” is the word from which we get “pharmacy.” Therefore, “sorcery” here likely included taking abortifacients—drugs that induced abortion. Our modern understanding of the sixth commandment was clearly understood as extending to the life of the unborn.

Also in keeping with the Mosaic Law, the paths of life and death (Deuteronomy 27–28) are recast as darkness and light in another early Christian writing.

But the path of darkness is crooked and full of cursing, for it is the path of eternal death and punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul …  Here are they who are persecutors of the good, haters of truth, lovers of lies; they who know not the reward of righteousness, who cleave not to what is good nor unto just judgment … murderers of children.

(Barnabas 20.1–2)

Christian writers believed that life began at conception. Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 160–215) inferred from Luke 1:41 when John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb that very belief (Instructor 2.10.96). Athenagoras, in the late-second-century, pointed to Christianity’s rejection of abortion as proof that Christians were moral when he wrote that the Christians “say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion” (Leg. 35).

Later church councils forbade abortion and actually levied punishments against any who murdered their unborn. The Council of Elvira (c. 4th century) reflects such beliefs.

If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again, even as death approaches, because she has sinned twice. (Canon 63)

A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches. (Canon 68)

Even some of the most notable early church theologians supported this stance. Both Augustine (c. AD 354–430) and John Chrysostom (c. AD 347–407) viewed abortion as murder.

What are we to make of this information? Life is precious and worthy of being protected. Moreover, even without the testament of church history, the Scriptures give sufficient enough evidence for us to believe this once one examines the passages that speak about the life of the unborn. However, for those who desire greater proof, early Christian history is without apology in holding that life begins at conception, so the unborn ought not to be aborted. These two beliefs led to another moral issue. The problem that arose as a result of unwanted children led to the abandonment of children throughout the Roman Empire, so what did Christianity do? They practiced pure and undefiled religion and cared for the orphans.


[1] Perhaps the best source that I’ve read about pro-life principles from a philosophical and practical standpoint is by an obstetrician and former politician, Ron Paul, Abortion and Liberty (Lake Jackson, Texas: The Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, 1983). For a complete classical evaluation of abortion, I’d urge a reading of Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1982). 

[2] John H. Walton, ed., Genesis, in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 21.

[3] Cf. Justinian, Digest 35.2.9.1.

[4] Caesar Augustus issued edicts in 18 BC and AD 9 promoting childbearing, but he did not explicitly outlaw abortion (Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church, 27). 

[5] Dio Chrysostom (c. AD 40/50–110/120), Discourses 15.8.

Gregory the Theologian on Celebrating the Birth of Christ

Contrary to the popular claim that Christmas is pagan in origin, early celebrations had little to do with pagan rituals. Instead, they began as a sincere desire to celebrate a part of the life of the Savior—His Incarnation. Disputes existed as to whether or not to count Jesus’ conception or birth as that specific day. Some believed conception was preferable to birth.

Gregory the Theologian, writing in the fourth century, suggested that Christians celebrated Christ’s birthday, then, as a way to tell the story of how God wanted to restore humanity through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who came in the flesh. Christians, so Gregory wrote, celebrated God coming to man so that man might return to God by putting off the old person to put on the new person renewed after Christ through baptism (Oration 38.4).  

Furthermore, he encouraged that the celebration not be observed as the heathens observed their festivals.

Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, not enervate the nostrils with perfume, or prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin.

Orations 38.5

To read Gregory’s words is to understand that any Christmas celebration was meant to exalt Jesus and distinguish Christianity from paganism through the very festival itself. Yes, some of the same things we do today would be defined as heathen by this fourth-century theologian.

This Native American Heritage Day

My Choctaw grandmother’s maiden name was “Tubby.” I always wondered what kind of Indian name that was, until I researched it. “Tubby” derived from “Tubbee”–which was my great-great-grandfather, Simpson’s surname as spelled out on the Dawes Rolls.

“Tubbee” was the ending of our ancestor’s name, Mushulatubbee. The records of this name were written by white men, and they likely wrote it how it was pronounced. There are variations in the spelling of his name, however, but it goes to show how up until my grandmother’s time, some of our people’s identity was erased. When we think of “tubby” today, we think about a chubby person. Then, we think, “What an odd Indian name.”

A monument to Mushulatubbee in Oklahoma gives his name as originally being “Amosholi T Vbi.” It can be translated based on its compounds: “vbi” means “to kill.” The “t” in the middle joins two words when one ends and the other begins with vowels. The “v” is pronounced as “ah” as in “father.”

So, the maiden name of my grandmother, “Tubby,” is originally pronounced as “tahbee,” meaning “to kill.” The first part of Mushulatubbee’s name, “amosholi,” can be translated as “resolute,” or “determined.” Hence, his name given to him as a war chief when he led raids against the Osage is “Determined to Kill” in English.

From the time of Indian Removal, when indigenous peoples were forced to assimilate, they were taken to boarding schools and their names changed. The Choctaw Academy in Kentucky shows evidence of this. Meashpulah’s name was changed to John Allen; Elahtahbee’s name was changed to Samuel Cornelius; Annutona’s name was changed to C. A. Harris; Okelumbee’s name was changed to Samuel Worcester.

A Choctaw lady just a few years younger than my late grandmother, in the 1950s, was relocated to Henning, TN. Government officials came to her home and told her parents that if they didn’t send her and her siblings to school, then the government would take them. She and her siblings stayed at a white families home through the week to ride the bus to school and they’d go home on weekends. They were forbidden to speak their native language.

Tubbee was the suffix to Choctaw names of the warrior class. Mushulatubbee was a warrior and Chief. His descendants, as with many others, were forced to assimilate. They had no say and choices were made for them regarding certain things.

As a way to honor my ancestors and demonstrate my own indigenousness, I petitioned to have my name amended. I’m now Steven Chad Hunter Oklatubbee. “Okla” means “people,” so I’m from the Tubbee people. Literally, “killer people.” While I’m no killer, I can choose to honor those who couldn’t choose for themselves by making a choice.

From the time I was a child, I was told that because I was more white than Choctaw, my indigenous blood didn’t matter. Yet, my father is obviously not white. Nor was my grandmother. I was nearly convinced that this part of me didn’t matter. When my grandmother died in 2018, I realized that my link with my Choctaw people was severed. I’m taking it upon myself to make sure my children know and are proud.

Nearing Moab

I want us to keep in mind that we’ve all been given moments of mercy, not what we deserve. So much of what we can say about Israel in Numbers in some way or another could be said about us. We, too, are obstinate, rebellious complainers. Maybe not all the time, but enough of the time that we should deserve what God might give us. Yet, we have mercy. 

Miriam was dead, Aaron had recently died, and Israel was getting closer to the Promised Land. Everything that occurs from the waters of Meribah to the end of Numbers does so in one year, and it’s a busy year. After a thirty-day mourning period for Israel’s first high priest, a brief skirmish broke out when a Canaanite king heard that Israel was in transit to the land. Then, after they were utterly destroyed, Israel returns to her ways of disobedience and striving against God. 

Speaking against God and Moses because of discouragement (Num. 21:4), Israel hits replay on a somewhat regular complaint that they’ve had, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread” (Num. 21:5). God sent seraphim nahasim (fiery serpents) among the people so that many of them died. This may seem mean on God’s part, but He had already said that this generation wouldn’t see the Promised Land. Rather than seeing God as the one misbehaving, we ought to see Israel’s behavior as faithless and blasphemous. Once more, the people go to Moses (you know, the guy they spoke against) and ask that he pray to God. God gives a moment of mercy: a fiery serpent is fashioned out of bronze, and anyone bitten who looked upon it did not die. 

As Israel continues their trek through the wilderness, they send messengers ahead asking for safe passage. When it’s denied, they are once more forced to fight and defeat their enemies. As they enter the plains of Moab, the king of Moab, Balak devises a plan. Because Moab and Midian were petrified at the prospect of Israel entering their territory, Balak sends for Balaam to come and curse the people (Num. 22:6). However, God intervenes (Num. 22:12). Balak sends for him once again, and Balaam replies (Num. 22:18). God instructs Balaam to go with them should they come again, but he is only to speak the words given to him by God and nothing else. 

As Balaam goes the following day, an exciting thing occurs. As he rode his donkey, the angel of the Lord stands in his path, but only the donkey sees it. She turns aside, Balaam strikes her. She crushes his foot against a wall. He strikes her. She laid down, and he hit her. The Lord opened the donkey’s mouth to speak to Balaam, then his eyes were opened, and he saw the angel of the Lord. Perhaps to emphasize to him that he ought to be careful to speak only what God tells him, Balaam gets the point (Num. 22:38). Balaam pronounces several prophecies in favor of Israel. God blesses these disobedient, complaining, obstinate people. We see here a moment of mercy. 

While in Moab, Israelite men consort with Moabite women and begin their idolatry (Num. 25:1-3). God orders the judges of Israel to kill their men who played the harlot. Israel, meanwhile, weeps at the doors of the tent of meeting when one Israelite man takes a Moabite woman to the tent of meeting. Phineas, a priest, so moved with zeal, runs them both through with a spear. Seeing this and knowing Phineas’ heart, God relents from the harm He is visiting upon the guilty. Once more, we see a moment of mercy. 

As the year goes on, another census is ordered, and inheritance laws are given. Then, Moses is instructed to go atop Mount Abarim and view the land Israel is to possess. God reminds Moses of his rebellion and wouldn’t enter the land (Num. 27:12-14). Moses only requests that a worthy successor be chosen to take his place once he’s gathered to his people. God selects Joshua (Num. 27:18-21). This is a moment of mercy because God doesn’t leave Israel without a leader. Offerings are made, and laws are given, then Israel settles east of the Jordan (Num. 32). Next, God gives instructions for the conquest (Num. 33:50-56). Further administrative commands are given, but before Israel takes the land, they’re to be reminded, once more, of the law of Moses. That’s what Deuteronomy is, a second giving of the law. 

Israel in Paran

Most of us have been on a trip we looked forward to. Leading up to the trip, we packed, planned, and made sure we were prepared. Then comes the time to leave. We set out and go on our way, excited and ready to arrive. However, traffic jams, plane delays, and other things make the actual travel part miserable. We become impatient, tempers flare, and before you know it, if we’re not careful, the trip could be ruined by a conflict due to these circumstances. 

Israel is en route to Paran, and as they neared the area, the people began to complain (Num. 11). After God gave a solution, one might think that all is well. Now, however, there’s discord among the leadership. The High Priest, Aaron, and Moses’ sister, Miriam (a prophetess), begin to oppose Moses’ leadership. Jealousy seeped in among them, and they, first, took issue that Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman. Talk about nitpicking. Of course, when you consider the law and its command not to marry among other nations, we might see why they became frustrated. Nevertheless, rather than staying on point with finding issues in his choice of spouses, they turn to Moses’ leadership (Num. 12:1-2). 

Even more interesting is Numbers 12:3, which has led to the (wise) suggestion that the book was redacted. Otherwise, could we believe that Moses would have said that about himself? No matter, because this was said, God heard it and dealt with the issue, explaining Moses’s special relationship with Him. This resulted in a plague upon Miriam that Moses interceded on her behalf (Num. 12:6-16). 


The challenge to God’s authority figure, Moses, doesn’t end here. As Israel encamps in Paran, spies are sent to scope out Canaan. This isn’t a quick day trip. They spend forty days spying out the land (Num. 13:25). The land itself looked appealing, but it was populated with solid people. Caleb quieted the people and urged them to possess it, but those who went with him deterred the nation (Num. 13:30-33). Caleb and Joshua were the only ones of the spies to demonstrate faith in God’s ability (Num. 14:6-10). 

God, as you might imagine, is tired of Israel’s demeanor. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time they’ve misbehaved either (Num. 14:22), so their punishment is that they will not enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:23). Those who led a rebellion of unfaithfulness suggested returning to Egypt, and God judged them except for Caleb and Joshua because they had faith. After the news that they’d not enter the Promised Land, the people didn’t take this consequence well but did an about-face and mounted an assault to enter the land, but were repelled. 

The rebellion doesn’t stop there. Korah, a Levite, challenges Aaron and Moses’ authority. Everything up to this point occurred in one year, but Korah’s rebellion occurred nineteen years later. This also didn’t end well (Num. 16), so God demonstrated His chosen by causing Aaron’s staff to bud before the entire nation (Num. 17). Afterward, instructions are given regarding the Levites (Num. 18-19). Another nineteen years later, Israel sets out to continue their journey and arrive at Kadesh. Moses’ sister dies and is buried in Kadesh. 

Yet, another issue arises, demanding attention. There’s no water, and, as you might imagine, the Israelites become melodramatic once more, wishing they would die—these people. Moses has a horrible lapse in judgment too. God told Moses to take Aaron’s rod, speak to the rock, and it would give water, but Moses, in anger at the congregation, strikes the rock twice. God isn’t thrilled about this. As a result, Moses is accused of not hallowing the Lord and will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:10-12).

Reading Numbers

Oxford University is believed to be the world’s second-oldest university. Some records show classes as early as 1096, but the establishment of the university isn’t altogether clear. Around the year 1230, they began appointing a vice-chancellor to run the school. In 2015, after 785 years, the first woman was nominated to be vice-chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson. Given the rise in women’s suffrage in the early twentieth century, and many laws granting women equality in the ’60s and ’70s, you might have thought that this day would have arrived sooner. Yet, as we always say, “better late than never.” Some might say, “That took longer than it should have.” 

When you think about the Book of Numbers, think, “That took longer than it should have.” From Exodus 19 all the way through Numbers 10, Israel is in Sinai. From Sinai to the Promised Land is a two-week journey, but Israel will wander in the wilderness for forty years. It takes longer than it should. The name of this book in Hebrews is not “Numbers,” but bamidbar, which translates to, “In the wilderness.” The book can be broken up into three sections: chapters 1-10 are in Sinai; chapters 13-19 are in Paran; chapters 22-36 are in Moab. The chapters not mentioned in this list are the chapters of their traveling from place to place. 

Why is it called the Book of Numbers? In the opening of the book, God orders that Israel be numbered. He even tells Moses how to organize the people in the camp. God’s presence is central to the people, His dwelling place being in the tabernacle (Num. 2:17). Surrounding him are the Levites and priests, and surrounding them are the rest of the tribes. God’s presence in the center of the nation is meant to convey that He is central to their existence. Over the tabernacle is a cloud indicative of His presence, and when the cloud moves, they move (Num. 9:15-19). The Levites break down and carry the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant (Num. 1:47-53). The ark leads the way to communicate that God leads Israel, and the tribe of Judah follows immediately behind with the other tribes in tow. 

So why did it take longer than it should have? Because Israel followed God, and God hindered them from the Promised Land. This book is about why, and the why, simply answered, is Israel’s unbelief and sin. 


Chapters 1-10

Notice, first, where we are in time. We are two years removed from the Exodus (Num. 1:1). God has Moses organize and number the entire nation, which we can guess took some time. Then, He orders for the special role of the Levites (Num. 3:5-13). From there onward, the Levites as a whole are numbered, and the various heads of the families of the Levites are given their special roles. The sons of Kohath were responsible for carrying the holy furniture of the tabernacle (Num. 4:1-20). The sons of Gershon were to carry the structure of the tabernacle (Num. 4:21-28). The sons of Merari were to carry, if you will, the nuts and bolts of the tabernacle (Num. 4:29-33). Imagine a package arrives for a new desk, but it’s one you have to build. In one bag are the nuts and bolts, then there are the actual parts of the desk, and, finally, the things you put in and on it. This is sort of the division of the Levites as it regarded the tabernacle. They were charged with maintaining the sacred space. 

God gives instructions regarding lepers, restitution, and unfaithful wives (ch. 5). Then, He gives the outline for the law of the Nazarite, a person who wanted to consecrate themselves to God for a specified period. One specific aspect of this vow, among others, was that a Nazarite’s hair was to remain uncut while keeping the vow (e.g. Samson). Aaron is given the word of the Lord as to how he can bless the children of Israel (Num. 6:22-27). Hereafter, the leaders of Israel present offerings to the Lord and they celebrate their second Passover. Afterward, God ordered two silver trumpets, shofars, made to sound to call Israel to relocate and in battle. Then, they leave Sinai. 

Everything seems to be going well. That is until Israel begins to complain only after three days of travel. These people seem to be more of a settled than moving people. They complain because they miss the land of slavery’s food, and they’re sick of manna (Num. 11:4-6). Even Moses becomes exasperated (Num. 11:11-15). Leadership isn’t always pomp and circumstance. The only time many leaders hear from people is when there are complaints. Be sure that you don’t only go to the elders of ministers when you’re unhappy. I’ll tell you now if that’s all you approach me for, it won’t be long before I actually quit listening to you and you’ll lose any effectiveness you may have. Complaining isn’t a spiritual gift, so don’t use it as one. 

God gave Moses aid in seventy elders on whom He gave His Spirit. One man shouldn’t bear the burden alone. Even seventy among the many of Israel is too little, but it’s better than nothing. Then, he listened to the people and promised to give them meat for one month, to the point that they loathed it. How quickly we go from zeal to dissatisfaction. Only because circumstances change and we aren’t as comfortable as we once were. Sometimes following God and His plan takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us move. Israel wasn’t meant to reside at Sinai, and they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. God was taking them to a wonderful land, a place better than where they were and had been. But, getting there was too hard. Don’t be afraid to put in the work. Don’t allow comfort to paralyze you. If it seems or is known to be God’s plan, trust Him and go.

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