God’s Faithfulness

‘God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So He called his name Israel” Genesis 35:10

More than twenty years had passed since Jacob left his father and mother in fear for his life from his twin brother, Esau. In that time his experiences with his uncle, Laban, and his meeting with the Lord on the return journey prior to meeting Esau had made him a much changed man.

Before he left the promised land the Lord appeared to him at Bethel and affirmed that the covenant He had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob in all three aspects; land, descendants and a blessing to the nations (Genesis 28:13-14).

At a time when Jacob was unsettled in his relationship with Laban and began to fear him, the Lord called him back to his father, Isaac. Interestingly it was again fear that disposed Jacob to have a listening ear toward God. That remains a provocation for people to have an ear toward God still. At this time the Lord reminded Jacob of their previous meeting and Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20-22; 31:13).

The incident at Shechem (Genesis 34) again stirred up fear in Jacob which apparently disposed him again to have an ear toward the Lord. By commanding Jacob to return to Bethel, the Lord was again reminding him of his vow (Genesis 35:1).

Jacob obeyed all that the Lord said and again the Lord affirmed that the covenant that he had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob and his descendants. The message to Jacob and to us is that God is faithful to His word no matter how circumstances may appear.

The seal of this affirmation came from the Lord in the new name given to Jacob. First mention of the change of name was given by the Lord after the night long encounter Jacob had with Him (Genesis 32:28) but it was not applied until Jacob had fully returned, built an altar to the Lord and removed all association with false gods. At this time the Lord now called him Israel (Genesis 35:10) and affirmed the three key aspects of the covenant made with Abraham. This name became the name for all Israel’s descendants and remains so to this day and forevermore.

The name means, “Prince with God” and that is what Israel is and shall always be (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-37). The very name, Israel, shouts the faithfulness of God to His word.

Trembling at His Presence

“In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria – a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” Isaiah 19:24-25

Considering the current Middle East environment it is quite a mental exercise to accept that these three nations will one day get along as one. The previous verse tells us that there will be a highway between Egypt and Assyria which, of geographic necessity, must pass through Israel. People who have not experienced the power of God in salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ might be inclined to say that such talk is but a dream. However, the Lord says He will perform it when He comes. Jesus is the solution to the problems in the Middle East. The question, “If there is a God, why doesn’t He do something?” will be answered forever.

This outcome will not come progressively over a long period of time. Verse two indicates a time of civil unrest or even civil war in Egypt from which a cruel and oppressive leader will arise (v 4). The river Nile will dry up most likely by drought inland. Without the Nile hunger and disease will afflict the nation. Out of this severe trial Egypt will turn to the Lord and He will deliver them (vv 20-21).

Leaders of the nations of the world carry on in futility trying to resolve the Middle East unrest, terrorism and wars but they reject the One who would show them the way. They refuse His counsel and wonder why things are getting worse. Paul describes them and their actions in Romans 1:18-32 summing up their words and actions in verse 22, “Professing to be wise they became fools.”

In the Proverbs we read, “The Lord gives wisdom” (2:6) and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). As long as people reject God’s wisdom, knowledge and understanding they will fail at every turn. When the Lord returns He will resolve all the divisions but tragically people will suffer because they refuse the wisdom of God.

Isaiah would cry out for the Lord to tear apart the heavens and come down “to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence” (Isaiah 64:1-5) and the Lord will do so but there was still the need of the cross first. In mercy God gives time for people to repent and in this He shows His patient love. “God demonstrates His own [kind of] love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8; cf. 1 John 3:1).

The “rich man” in Luke 16:19-31 begged the Lord to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers of their great error but Jesus responded, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [the Bible], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (v 31). In great power Jesus rose from the dead and there are hundreds of recorded witnesses but the exhibit of God’s power by itself is ineffective to save. Salvation only comes when a person chooses to believe God’s Word and trust Jesus Christ.

No Need to fear

“I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear” Zechariah 8:15

Just how determined is the Lord to do good to Jerusalem and Judah? The latter half of Zechariah’s prophecy gives us the answer. It describes some events leading up to and the Lord’s fulfilment of the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In Genesis 12:2, 3 we read, “I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing … and in you all the families of the world shall be blessed.” In Zechariah 8:13 we read, “So I will save you, and you shall be a blessing. Do not fear, let your hands be strong.” This prophecy is about the Lord fulfilling His covenant promises with Israel. That He says twice, “Do not fear” (vv 13 & 15) is an indication that the process of fulfilment will give ample reason to fear.

This will be a horrific time for Israel in which the Lord says that two-thirds of the people will die (13:8). Only one-third will survive the lord’s refining fire (13:9). Only for those who love truth, justice and peace and love their neighbour (8:16-17), which are indications that they love the Lord and believe His word, is there comfort and no need to fear. Instead, they will trust the Lord.

They will know that their King entered Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey (9:9) and died on a cross (12:10) for their sin, rising the third day as the Scriptures foretold. They will not fear because they believe that just as Christ was pierced for their sin they will see Him come in glory just as Zechariah’s prophecy and other prophets and Jesus have said.

They will not fear because they know that there is a day soon coming in which the feet of Jesus Christ will stand on the Mount of Olives and the mount will split in two (14:4-5) creating a large valley through which they shall escape.

They will not fear because they will know that “The Lord shall be king over all the earth” (14:9).

They will not fear because in there is soon to be a day when the peoples and nations will not come to Israel for war but “to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (8:22).

They will not fear because they know that “everyone who is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (14:16). This is what Peter was thinking of when he suggested building tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was thinking of this great era when everything will be engraved with HOLINESS TO THE LORD (14:20). Maranatha!

While the Bible reveals terrible times ahead for Israel and the world those who believe God’s word see a most glorious world on the horizon over which Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. We have no need to fear. Who is able to withstand the determination of the Lord? No one!

Either by bodily death or by the calling up of His church we will be delivered from this corrupt and evil world into Christ’s presence. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

The Last Joshua

“Then He inaugurated Joshua the son of Nun, and said, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land of which I swore to them, and I will be with you.’” Deuteronomy 31:23

The New Testament records for us the words “first Adam” and “last Adam” but nowhere will we find the words “first Joshua” and “last Joshua.” Even so, there was a “first Joshua” and a “last Joshua” with regard to the plan and purpose of the Lord and Israel.

Moses was given his name by Pharaoh’s daughter because he was found in water but it would also be an apt name when we consider that it was Moses who led Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea to a life of separation from slavery to serve the living God. Though they didn’t even get their feet wet it is said that they passed through the waters. This is later likened to baptism. The nation was separated from the world (Egypt) and separated to God. There was no way back even though they often desired to return. Christian baptism is symbolic that one has been separated from the world to God and there is no way back even though we may at times desire the things of the world.

Israel’s rebellion at the opportunity to enter the land God had promised brought about forty years wandering in the wilderness while God prepared the next generation. Even that generation was at risk of not entering (Numbers 32) but the possibility of another forty years in the wilderness was enough to overcome that threat. Moses also lost the opportunity to lead Israel into the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. In his place would be the “first Joshua.” Joshua was one of the two spies who believed that the Lord would give Israel the land just as He had said. He knew that the giants and fortified cities of the land were no match for God. Joshua believed God, knew God and trusted God. One who trusts God will show it by obedience to His word. This Joshua led Israel into the land.

Much later Israel was dispersed from the land because of persistent rebellion by successive generations. Was the Lord unfaithful to His promise to Abraham? Is He powerless to fulfil that which He promised? The answer to both these questions is emphatically “No.” A believing generation of Israel had entered the land under the leadership of the faithful “first Joshua.” The Old and New Testament authors all affirm that a believing generation of Israel will take possession of the land God has given to Abraham and they will do so under the leadership of the “last Joshua,” Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul writes, “I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’” (Romans 11:25-27).

Where is that Donkey when you Need Him?

“The word that the Lord puts in my mouth, that I must speak” (Numbers 22:38)

What if all the preachers in the world followed Balaam’s conviction? Surely we would have a much different world with many less confused Christians. Of course, Balaam didn’t come to this position without the Lord’s most unusual intervention. Tempted by gold and silver Balaam tried to have a foot in both camps. Surely God would let him have wealth and remain in His service! There have been and are many Christians who have followed in Balaam’s shadow and want the benefits of being a Christian without surrendering what the world offers. Enter the donkey! Balaam seems so set on this path that even his donkey speaking and debating with him didn’t seem unusual.

Sadly, today we do have preachers who do not follow Balaam’s eventual conviction and they do curse Israel. Where is that donkey when you need him? Balaam refused to curse those whom God has blessed. “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce who God has not denounced? (23:8) he questions rhetorically in his response to Balak. The anticipated answer is that he cannot go against the word of the Lord.

Balak may be a representation of the world of unbelievers whether they attend a nominally Christian church or not. He wanted Israel cursed and destroyed. He thought Israel’s God was like his own god but they are vastly different. Balak’s god comes from the imagination of men and remains an imaginary god. Israel’s God is the living Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.

Balaam reaffirmed the Abrahamic Covenant, “Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you” (24:9) and nothing has changed or will change in this regard. “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (23:19). There is no way God is going to revoke or change His covenant with Abraham. If we believe that He has or will then we will never have assurance of salvation. If we believe that He will break His covenant with Abraham then, to be consistent, we must believe that He could break His covenant with all who have trusted Jesus Christ for salvation. This is contrary to all Scripture. It is unthinkable that God would demand that we be faithful to Him and His word when He is Himself is unfaithful!

Anyone who believes that God has broken His covenant with Abraham and replaced Israel with the church follows after Balak in his comprehension of God. Such people are attempting to curse Israel whom God is blessing but instead they will receive the curse. They have a god of their own imagination that is not derived from the Bible and is most certainly not the God of Abraham and bears no resemblance to our Lord Jesus Christ. That which Balak desired for Israel came upon himself. The same will happen today to those who curse Israel. The word of the Lord to Abraham remains the same, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3). Balak did not know this but after the donkey spoke, Balaam did know it.

For the Lord’s Sake

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16)

One may wonder whether James had Daniel’s prayer in mind when he wrote this. The prayer of Daniel recorded in Daniel 9:4-19 seems to exemplify what James wrote centuries later. In brief let us summarise the content of the prayer.

First, this prayer was motivated by reading Scripture, in particular, that written by the prophet Jeremiah (v 2).

Secondly, Daniel was determined to commune with the Lord with a view to understanding Jeremiah’s prophecy and it’s relevance to his present day (v 3).

Thirdly, he majors on the nature of the Lord: The Lord keeps His covenants and is faithful to His word (v 4), is merciful (v 4, 9, 18) and forgiving (v 9, 19). The Lord is righteous in Being (v 7) and therefore righteous in all His actions (v 14).

Fourthly, in contrast to the nature of the Lord, Israel had been quite the contrary. Israel had not been faithful to the covenant on Mount Sinai (v 5, 7); it had not heeded the warnings and word of God that came through the prophets (v 6) and had been disobedient to the word of the Lord that came through Moses (v 10, 11).

To sum up, Daniel affirms to the Lord that the Lord is right to judge Israel as He has for in doing so He has remained faithful to the word that came through Moses and to His Divine Nature (v 13).

Israel had nothing worthy of merit as a reason for the Lord’s favour (v 18) yet Daniel asks for it. Israel had sinned against the Lord (v 8) and there was no reason or means by which they merited any favour in themselves. If Israel was to be forgiven and restored it had to be based solely on the Lord’s nature and expression of that nature.

It isn’t surprising therefore that we find Daniel basing the hearing of his prayer (v 17) and Israel’s forgiveness (v 19) as being for the Lord’s sake, for the sake of the revelation of the Divine Nature in the world, and not for Israel’s name.

Daniel was a righteous man who least needed such a prayer for himself. He did not characterise the nature of Israel as described in his prayer. But it was this very absence that qualified him to pray such a prayer. Besides, who else would? Those who love sin will never even consider praying anything.

In this Daniel is a kind of foreshadow of the Lord Jesus Christ. The only Righteous One, the one who had no need of suffering for sin, took upon Himself our sin for His own name’s sake and most definitely not because we, even in the slightest, merited any favour.

We do well to keep in mind that God responded to the prayer of just one man, just as James later wrote He would, and gave us one of the most blessed revelations in all Scripture.

Who will be a Daniel today?

A Remnant of Israel

“Ah, Lord God! Will You make a complete end of the remnant of Israel?” (Ezekiel 11:13)

Ezekiel was not the first person and will not be the last to ask this question. It is still being asked today. In this respect nothing has changed through the centuries. As in the days of Ezekiel there are people who claim to speak for God who have not heard from Him.

As the Lord says, “They hope that the word may be confirmed” (13:6). That is, they prophecy according to their own wisdom and then wait to see if it comes to pass. A true prophet does not act in such a way. He speaks that which the Lord puts in His mouth to speak. The test of a true prophet that people have had for a long time is given in Deuteronomy 18:22. However we also have the Bible, God’s own word to us, as a measure.

Israel had a choice to listen to the prophets who spoke from their own wisdom or to a prophets who told them what God said. The choice is no different for us today. We can either use our own wisdom to answer life’s questions or we can rely on what God has said.

How many times does God have to say something for it to be so? The revelation of the Bible is that once is absolutely sufficient. There are many occasions and circumstances in which God affirms His patient and longsuffering purpose for Israel and affirms that He will accomplish it. This is the reason God gives for Israel’s repeated and continuing refining through tribulation. The very fact that Israel, while in unbelief, is suffering tribulation gives assurance that a glorious day lies ahead for the nation.

Among the many occasions that the Lord affirms that He will never bring an end to Israel is the one in answer to the above question:

“Thus says the Lord God: ‘Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel’ (11:16, 17).

The context of this passage (and all similar passages in the Bible) dictates that it is meant to be taken literally. Verses 19 and 20 affirm that this is tied to the fulfilment of the New Covenant as recorded in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

We watch in anticipation as the “bones” of Israel returns and the “flesh” is added (ch. 37). This was the expectation of Jesus (Matthew 24, 25) and Paul (Romans 11:26, 27).

Anyone who believes that God cannot or will not literally fulfil His Covenant with Abraham and David must of necessity live without assurance of salvation because that one sees God as either impotent or unfaithful. He is neither!