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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 15:10-35

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-15:35. Saul is rejected

We’re coming to the end of our series on 1 Samuel, at least for now. We’ve been looking at Saul’s downfall, and since we haven’t gone over this since the beginning of October, I think a bit of review is in order.

We saw how –

Saul’s core weakness is fear

This was his main temptation and struggle. In chapter 10 after God gave him three providential signs and the Holy Spirit came upon him, out of fear, he hesitated to attack the Philistines. Also, in chapter 10 he was afraid of being chosen as king, so he hid in the baggage when the lots were drawn.

His fear eventually led him to outright disobedience to God. In chapter 13, because he was afraid that the Philistines would attack quickly, he didn’t obey God and wait for Samuel to come before the battle. He offered up his own offering to God. If God was merciful before, here he is judged. He will not have a dynasty. After him, his kingdom will be over.

Saul continued to walk in foolishness (13:13), doing what he thought was right, regardless of God’s will – making his army swear a foolish oath and nearly killing his son Jonathan because of this foolish oath.

And today we reach the breaking point, when out of fear, once again, he disobeys explicit instructions from God. We saw last time how God commanded Saul to devote to destruction the Amalekites and how he did this, except that he left king Agag alive, and the best of the livestock.

So God sends the prophet Samuel to confront him – and it’s an epic confrontation.

1 Samuel 15:10-35

Samuel finds Saul

10The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.

Regret can be translated “change your mind,” although this doesn’t really fit here. God had set up the terms for Saul to be king and these included him being obedient (12:14-15). So, God is just recognizing that Saul has broken these conditions and judgment is about to happen. And God is sad about this. (God’s regret here echoes Genesis 6:6 regarding the creation of humanity, just before the judgment of the flood.)

God is saying, ‘he just won’t do what I tell him to do.’ He does what he thinks is right based on the circumstances and his fears.

Samuel was upset also. He invested a lot in Saul and was genuinely rooting for him.

12And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”

Setting up such monuments was common among ancient kings. Saul certainly seems set on exalting himself for the victory. (The Carmel here is not the mountain in the North but a small town in Judah. Gilgal is the site of their last confrontation.)

The confrontation: part one

13And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”

If Samuel and God are unhappy, Saul is pretty happy with himself. He seems to really think that he’s obeyed God, even though he hasn’t. Is he self-deceived?

Samuel points out the obvious –

14And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”

There was to be no livestock left; no plunder. All Samuel had to do was listen, to know that Saul didn’t listen to God (Bruce Birch).

Saul then deflects and rationalizes –

15Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”

His deflection is saying that the people did it (not him). It’s the soldiers’ fault, if there is any. And he rationalizes that these are for sacrifice, which is a good thing, right? Even though God told him to destroy them all and take no plunder. And note – even if they are sacrificed, Saul and the men would get some of the food (Tsumura)

16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.” 17And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

Stop deflecting. You are in charge of “the people.” You were given the mission. You are responsible. And stop rationalizing. You pounced on the spoil, you did what was evil in God’s sight. When, in a similar context Achan took spoil from Jericho, he was killed for it.

Saul goes on to insist he was obedient, even while undermining his defense . . .

20And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

Now we learn that the king, Agag was spared – probably as a trophy of war, which is another evidence, along with the monument, to Saul’s pride. And he continues to deflect and rationalize. The people did it. It was for sacrifice.

Then Samuel destroys his pretense with what has become one of the most well-known OT passages –

22And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 23For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as the evil of idolatry (italics NIV).”

Sacrifice is good, but obedience is better. And besides what good is sacrifice if it comes from a disobedient heart? God is not interested in mere outward ritual, but with a heart of love for him that is expressed in obedience.

  • Saul has rebelled. He willfully refused to do what God said, which is a rejection of God similar to divination.
  • And he has presumed to do what he thought was right, instead of God’s will, which is a rejection of God similar to the evil of idolatry.

This is no little matter. These are capital crimes. And because of this he is judged.

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

He may continue on in the role, but not under God’s blessing.

The confrontation: part two

With his pretense shattered, Saul fesses up.

24Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.

He went from insisting, “I have obeyed” to “I have not obeyed.” And he even confesses why – he feared the people. (The conditions for his kingship were that he was to fear God and obey his voice. Here he feared the people and obeyed their voice – 1 Samuel 12:14.)

25Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

Saul asks for forgiveness, but is it sincere? Saul wants Samuel to come with him for his own reasons. To project that everything is OK. Which is why Samuel refuses. His repentance isn’t right, because he’s using it to get what he wants – his status.

27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.”

To grab the hem or skirt of someone’s robe is to take up the position of a supplicant. He wants Samuel to change his mind. But this accidental tearing becomes a metaphor of God’s judgment. The kingdom has been torn from him and given to another, that is, David.

29And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

God regrets making Saul king in vs. 11 and 35, but here God doesn’t have regret? (It’s the same Hebrew word). As we saw in v. 11, it is not so much that God changed his mind, as it is that he was sorrowful because Saul broke the conditions of his kingship.

Here Samuel seems to mean that, as opposed to Saul, whose kingship was conditional, David’s kingship will be unconditional. God will not change his mind about choosing David and his line. (2 Samuel 7:15) (See Terrence Fretheim)

30Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” 31So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.

Here we see more clearly his real motive is not forgiveness. He drops this request. What he really wants is to be honored before the elders. He is interested in his status.

Samuel acquiesces, because Saul finally gets it that he has been rejected and that God will not restore his kingship.

 Conclusion

32Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

Samuel finishes what Saul left incomplete.

34Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death . . .

This represents a full break in their relationship. Samuel no longer recognizes him as the rightful king. (And notice throughout this passage Saul’s use of “your” God (vs. 15, 21, 30), which his own recognition that he is alienated from God.)

And then our story ends as it began –

but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Lessons

What do we learn from this. Let me highlight three things.

1. Saul show us how not to respond when we sin. Even when caught in the act, he blamed others, he rationalized his wrong choices, he made excuses and he lied. Even when he confessed, it was to get what he wanted from Samuel.

This is a portrait of the sad state of humanity. And we do these very things ourselves when we are caught in our sin.

The right way to respond to sin is displayed by David, Saul’s replacement. When Nathan the prophet confronted him, he simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord” 2 Samuel 12:15. He confesses with no strings attached. And then he accepted the consequences.

2. God’s patience has an end. And then comes judgment.

God was very patient with Saul. He told Saul ,do what I tell you and your kingdom will be established forever over Israel (13:13). But Saul chose to disobey God’s specific commands over and over. And judgment came.

When we are not obeying God, we ought not test God’s patience with us. Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 that God’s patience and kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. But if we don’t repent, eventually we will be judged.

Are any of us here this morning presuming upon God’s patience?

3. God demands our full obedience.

Saul gave partial obedience. But partial obedience is no different than disobedience. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of God’s will be put into practice.

And outward expressions of religion will not make up for our disobedience – going to church, saying you are a Christian, feigning respect for God, wearing a cross or a Christian T-shirt.

What delights God is a heart set on loving him, expressed in careful obedience to his Word. Do we keep “the word of the Lord?” Do we obey “the voice of the Lord?”

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 4:11-22

We are continuing on with several stories about the ark of God in 1 Samuel that prepare us for the emergence of Samuel as the prophetic leader of Israel.

As you will remember from earlier in 1 Samuel, God has foretold judgment on the high priest Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt, taking the best portions for themselves. And also his two sons treated the women workers at the tabernacle as prostitutes. 1 Samuel 2:12 says of these two, “They were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

And so an unnamed prophet came and told Eli that his house would no longer be the high priestly line – 2:27-33. And that the sign that this will surely happen is that his two sons would die on the same day – 2:34. And then the Lord told Samuel as a boy, “11Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” – 3:11-14

The title of the sermon is “The other shoe drops.” You know the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” right? It means waiting for something bad to happen. Something bad has happened and something else bad will happen. If these pronouncements of judgment are the first shoe that drops, then waiting for the fulfillment of these words of judgment is the other shoe. And it drops decisively in our text today.

Our story picks up with the fallout of the battle between Israel and the Philistines that we looked at last week, where Israel was severely defeated, even though they brought the ark of the covenant to help them.

Judgment on Eli and his house

4:11And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Not only did the use of the ark not bring victory, it was captured by the Philistines. It was under enemy control.

And just as the Lord had said, Hophni and Phinehas died on the same day as a sign to all that Eli and his house were being set aside as the high priestly line in Israel.

12A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.

So this man ran for some twenty miles from Aphek/Ebenezer to Shiloh, quite a feat. And he comes with torn clothes and dirt on his head as an indicator of mourning for the many who have died.

13When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God.

Eli was devoted to God in his own way. We see this in his teaching Samuel about the Lord and here in his concern for the ark. Despite his sin, he still had this.

And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.

As the Lord said to Samuel, God would “do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” (3:11). And they must have all been stunned to hear the report. They are crying out not just in general, but because many of their own fathers, brothers, husbands and sons were now dead. And their lives may well be in danger, as we will see.

14When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. 15Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see.

So Eli can hear – he hears the city cry out, but he can’t see, which is why he didn’t see the messenger or how he was dressed. He is still wondering what’s going on. So the messenger comes and tells him the report in person.

16And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” And he said, “How did it go, my son?” 17He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

The man tells Eli in ascending order of importance about Israel’s defeat, the death of his two sons and then that the Philistines now have the ark of God.

Eli doesn’t seem that concerned about his sons, for the story continues . . .

18As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

His sons are dead and now he dies after hearing the fate of the ark. In a way his own sin is a part of this, for he fell off his chair and broke his neck not only because he was old, but also because he was heavy –perhaps related to his eating the best portions of the Lord’s offerings.

This is the only place that mentions Eli as a judge; he ruled for 40 years. The Hebrew word for “seat” here (and also in v. 13) also means “throne.” So Eli is symbolically dethroned and his reign comes to an end.

19Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.

The bad news induced her labor. She was so overcome by what happened that she didn’t even care that she had given birth to a son.

21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Before she dies, in the naming of her son she gives insight into the situation that is going on in Israel. Ichabod is taken by her to mean “the glory has departed.” This a reference to God, who is the glory of Israel (1 Samuel 15:29). 1) God was not with the Israelite soldiers, even though they brought the ark; 2) the leaders of Israel are now dead – Eli and his sons, including her own husband; 3) but above all else, repeated twice here (5x in whole story) the ark of God is now gone. God has truly abandoned them. What was apparent, even when the ark was present, is made perfectly clear with the capture of the ark. God had already left them because of their sin and unfaithfulness.

In the phrase “the glory has departed,” the word “departed” can also be translated, “has gone into exile.” God has gone into exile in a foreign land. God is absent. Why? Israel’s sin drove God away.

If the pattern later was Israel left the land and went into exile, here God leaves the land in exile. And they become slaves in their own land (1 Samuel 4:9; Psalm 78:62-64). (But also see Ezekiel 10:18 where the glory leaves and the people go into exile.)

Psalm 78:59-61 says of this event, God “utterly rejected Israel. He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt with people, and delivered his power to captivity.”

And then we have something that is not recorded in this passage, but almost certainly happened at this time –

The destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh

In Jeremiah 7:12, several centuries later, the Lord says, “Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.” In other words, God is saying to the people of Jerusalem, “you think I won’t judge you because you have the temple in your midst? I’ve don it before! Just as I destroyed the tabernacle in Shiloh, so I will destroy the temple in Jerusalem. (Also 26:6, 9)

And this fits with what we find in 1 Samuel. Shiloh is never again mentioned as a worship center in Israel; the ark is not taken back there when it is recovered from the Philistines later; and Samuel goes back to his home in Ramah as his center of operations. (Bergen. Even Eli’s descendants are later found in the city of Nob.) 

Given this, along with the capture of the ark, this was surely the lowest point for Israel since their time of slavery in Egypt.

What do we learn from all this?

1. Our sin drives God away from our lives, just as we see in this story. In Isaiah 59:2 the Lord says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Our sin creates a barrier or a wall between us and God. And so we have to deal with our sin through confession, repentance and receiving forgiveness from God, so that we can have a relationship with God. This is what Israel failed to do, but this is what the story teaches us. Don’t be like them! Act and make decisive changes so that you can be reconciled with God and experience renewed relationship and help.

2. God keeps his word. Now we like it when God keeps his word to bless us and help us. But God just a surely keeps his word when it comes to judgment and the many warnings that he gives us about walking in sin and unfaithfulness.

In Eli’s case God spoke it through two prophets – and as Scripture says, let everything be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). And it surely came to pass. And just as surely God will keep his word of judgment if we walk in sin. We may think we are fine because nothing bad has happened yet, so it seems like God doesn’t care or that God won’t act, but the other shoe will drop – whether it is today, tomorrow or on the final day. We will reap what we sow. There are consequences for our unfaithfulness to God. Our sin will find us out. And so this should encourage us all the more to deal with our sin and come back into a right relationship with God.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 2:11-3:1

We are moving forward in the book of 1 Samuel, after the stories about Hannah, Samuel’s mother. The next two stories are about Samuel as a child. And today we look at the first of these, which is a contrast case between Eli and his family, and Samuel and his family and how they are going in different, even opposite directions. Eli and his house will fade from the scene due to God’s judgment, while Samuel’s family is blessed, and he himself is getting ready to do great things for God. We will look at the verses that treat Eli first and then Samuel.

The wrong direction: Eli and his sons

We begin with the sins of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, starting in chapter 2:12.

12Now the sons of Eli were worthless men.

Worthless can also be translated as scoundrels. It literally means “sons of wickedness.”

They did not know the Lord. 

Wow! What a way to begin the story. Worthless and don’t know the Lord. You certainly get the impression that things are going downhill from here and that is correct.

13The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.

Priests lived off of the offerings given to the Lord. And what portions of meat the priests got was legislated in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 7:28-36; Deuteronomy 18:3). The custom here at the Shiloh tabernacle is different than what the Law of Moses prescribes, but the real problem shows up in the next verses.

15Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” 16And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.”

Eli’s sons didn’t want boiled meat. And they took their portion before the Lord got his. And if there was resistance they threatened violence to those who came to sacrifice. They even took the fat, which was strictly reserved for the Lord (Leviticus 7:22-25)

This would be something like church officials today stealing the offering of the people for their own use and then threatening violence if church goers to give more.

17Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.

And as if this wasn’t enough, there’s more.

22Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” 

So their own father, the high priest and judge of Israel, testifies against them and warns them. (For women at the tabernacle see Exodus 38:8)

But v. 25 goes on to say, 

But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. 

In other words, it was too late for them. God’s mind was made up. They had moved past the point of grace due to their previous sins.

Now we turn to Eli’s sins. 

27And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? 28Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel.’ 

Eli’s house, among all the Levites, was chosen to be the chief priests in Israel.

29Why then do you scorn (or, look with greed on) my sacrifices  and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’

Here is where we see that Eli is not without sin. All the “yous” here are plural. He warned his sons, but allowed the abuses to go on. As high priest he could have removed them from service (1 Samuel 3:13). He even seems to have benefited from their taking whatever meat they wanted. The prophet says, you all have “fattened yourselves,” and later we learn in chapter 4:13 that Eli was overweight. Perhaps there is a connection.

30Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. 31Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house.’  

A promise that God made forever is revoked because they despised the Lord. This is really serious!

32Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever.’ 

Notice how the judgment fits the crime. They were greedy with God’s offerings and now they will be cut off from the support of the offerings of Israel, even as Israel is about to enter into a time of real prosperity. 

33The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men.’

This part of the prophecy was fulfilled when King Saul killed 85 of Eli’s descendants in the city of Nob (1 Samuel 22:6-23). Only Abiathar was spared. And although he served David for a time, during Solomon’s reign he was exiled and this prophecy is referenced when this happened in 1 Kings 2:26-27.

34And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day.’

This is narrated in chapter 4:11.

35’And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. 36And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, ‘Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.’” 

This was fulfilled with the choice of the house of Zadok, another of David’s priests, to be the chief priests over Israel (1 Kings 2:35). Eli’s descendants will beg from them for an opportunity to receive of the Lord’s offerings for support.

Well, this is certainly the wrong direction – sin and fearful judgment. Now we move to –

The right direction: Samuel and his family

And first we look at his parents Elkanah and Hannah. 

18Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. 19And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.

Both the ephod and the robe here were priestly attire. It is very sweet that his mom brought him a new robe each year. This gives us a picture of a loving and caring family, despite their distance. 

20Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home. 21Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. 

So Hannah was blessed with six children, including Samuel.

And then we come to Samuel himself. In the midst of all the sin and judgment on Eli and his sons narrated here there are five statements about Samuel, skillfully woven in, that show he is going in a different direction. The first and last are the same and begin and end this story:

2:11bAnd the boy was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest. 

3:3Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. 

He was under apprenticeship to Eli. And so even as a child he is carrying out various duties in the tabernacle.

Then we have:

v. 18 – Samuel was ministering before the Lord

v. 21 – And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord

v. 26 – Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man 

This presents a picture of one who is getting ready, even with all the corruption around him; getting ready to serve the Lord in great ways.

Let me highlight –

Three themes

– that stand out to me and that we can take with us today.

1. God judges sin. And this is true no matter what position you hold – being important priests or even the high priest and judge over all Israel. And this is true no matter what promise you have from God, as Eli’s house had a promise “forever” from God. In the end this truth stands clear – “those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt” (v. 30). And we see the terrible results on Eli’s sons, Eli himself and his household.

And if we take the path of sin and walk in this direction, we too will find sorrow and judgment. No matter what position we have or what promise we may think we have from God. God judges sin. 

But just a surely, 2. God blesses faithfulness. We see this with Elkanah and Hannah and how God gave them 5 more children after giving up Samuel to serve the Lord. And we will see this for sure in Samuel’s life as he grows up.

And if we take the path of faithfulness to God and walk in this direction, we will be blessed as well. We will go through hard times too, but we will be blessed.

3. We must honor God above our family. Eli’s key sin is stated in v. 29 – you “honor your sons above me.” Faithfulness to God must come before our loyalty to our family. But he had it the other way around. So, when he had to make a choice, because his sons were sinning terribly – he chose to overlook their sin or even benefit from it, instead of being faithful to God. Notice he didn’t commit the sins his sons did, but since he could as high priest and judge stop them, but didn’t,  he became responsible for them also.

And we might one day have to make a choice like this as well. When we do what God calls us to do, or do what we know to be right, our family might reject us. But we must be faithful to God anyway. We must always choose God when faithfulness is at stake even in difficult family situations.

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We are finishing up our “series within a series” on Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus. As we get started here today I would remind you that last week we discovered how it is now possible to be born of the Spirit or receive eternal life – through Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross and then on into heaven and pouring out the Spirit. 

By way of introduction today, let me say that I take verses 16-21 to be the words of John, the Beloved disciple, the writer of our Gospel. John is here, I believe, reflecting on the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, especially vs. 14-15. (Most writers agree).

Let’s take look at our first set of Scriptures –

John 3:16-18

And we begin with the well known v. 16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his beloved (only) Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

There are three key themes in this verse – God’s love; God’s purpose to save the world through Jesus; and the role of faith in Jesus as the means of salvation. I believe the reason this verse is so popular has to do with these basic and essential themes, and the way they are brought together in a concise and understandable way here.

First, the theme of God’s love. (The other two will be developed more in vs. 17 and 18.) 1) We learn that God’s love is sacrificial. “God so loved . . . that he gave his beloved, Son.” The extent, the depth of God’s love was such that he was willing to do what it took to save us. It cost him. He sacrificed for us.

Notice the echo here of Genesis 22:2 and the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac:

  • In Genesis, God told Abraham, “take your son . . . and offer him as a burnt offering . . ..” In v. 16 we are told that God gave his Son on the cross as a sacrifice.
  • Abraham’s son is called “your beloved son, whom you love.”  In v. 16 God’s Son is the Father’s “beloved” Son.

Now Abraham did not have to go through with it, God provided a ram. But it presents a picture of what God himself has now done for us and his sacrificial love for us.

2) God’s love includes all. Who does God love? “The world” – speaking of every single person who has ever lived or will live. Who can receive of God’s love? “Whoever” or as it can be translated “everyone.” It is available to every single person. This is not talking about a sub-set of humanity. It is emphatically talking about all people.

3) God’s love blesses us greatly. God acts for our good, to help us in our need, which is what love does. We are in danger of perishing, but God gives us “eternal life,” a gift of inestimable value. 

God’s love for us is so amazing and astounding, especially given our lack of love for God.

v. 17 picks up and expounds on the second theme of v. 16, God’s purpose in giving Jesus is to save the world. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We have two purpose statements here, one negative and one positive. God’s purpose is not to condemn; “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” Positively stated God’s purpose is to save; he acted “in order that the world might be saved.” Again, “the world” is all the people in this fallen world who are in danger of perishing (v. 16).

This teaches us that it is not God’s will to condemn anyone in the world. God’s purpose, God’s choice, God’s will, is the salvation of the world.

  • As Ezekiel 18:23 says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
  • As 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “God our Savior . . . desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • As 2 Peter 3:9 tells us, the Lord does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

It is not from God’s end that people are not saved. There is no limit in what Jesus has done on the cross (1 John 2:2). There is no choice he has made that hinders anyone. He loves all and gives his Son freely for all. If it were left to God, all would be saved. His choice is clear. No, the difference has to do with us; what happens on our end.

v. 18 then, picks up and expounds on the third theme of v. 16, the role of faith in Jesus as the means of salvation. 18The one who believes in him is not condemned, but the one who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the beloved Son of God.”

Now, all of salvation is from God. And without God’s love and initiative, and without Jesus death and resurrection, none would be saved. Not a single person. But as this verse makes clear whether we receive the gift of salvation, or not, has to do with whether we put our faith in Jesus, or not. In this respect our faith in Jesus, or lack of it, is the difference.

God doesn’t force his grace on us; he doesn’t choose for us. The one who believes is saved and the one who does not believe is condemned – v. 18. (They remain under the condemnation they already had. As it says here, “is condemned already” (see also 3:36).

So as I said, the problem is on our end. If we are not saved it is because when we hear the good news of Jesus, we choose not to believe.

But then, why do some choose not to believe? Why don’t they accept of God’s love and gift of salvation? If it is not God’s purpose to condemn them, why are some still judged? This is what our next set of verses speak to.

John 3:19-21

19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” He is saying, this is how judgment works. They don’t believe and they don’t receive because, despite God’s love for them, they “love the darkness.” And they love the darkness because they hide under its cover so they can continue their evil deeds. This is what they want.

John goes on similarly in v. 20, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” They not only love the cover of darkness, they hate being exposed by the light of God so that their wrongdoing is made know. They know that what they do is wrong, but they want to hide this.

So how does judgment work? It is a self-judgment. They choose to reject Jesus because they like their situation and want to keep it. This is why they don’t believe.

But then we have the other side. 21But the one who does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Some have already responded to God’s light prior to the coming of Jesus. They do “what is true.” God has already been at work in them. As it says, their “works have been carried out in God.” And so when the light of Jesus comes, they believe in him. They are not afraid of exposure. The light simply shows that God has already done a work in them.

[Notice that this last section of verses parallels the first section – 2:23-3:2. (See the literary structure handout). The first section of this passage has Nicodemus comes to Jesus, the light, “by night.” And here the light of Jesus comes into the world and people come to him.]

The language of these verses echoes chapter 1, which provides a framework for understanding what’s going on here. Chapter 1 tells us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5); and that this light “enlightens everyone” (1:9).

God’s light has always been shining in the darkness; in the world enlightening everyone. But then, as 3:21 says, “the light has come into the world.” Chapter 1 spoke of “the true light . . . coming into the world.” (1:9). And this light has now come into the world in the person of Jesus.

  • So some, having already rejected the previous light of God and God’s work in their lives – reject the further, brighter light of Jesus. As John said, they need the cover of darkness to do what they love; and they don’t want to be exposed.
  • Others, having already received of the previous light of God and God’s work in their lives – receive the further, brighter light of Jesus. As John said, so that it may be clearly seen that their works have been carried out in God.

Now, this is not to say that those who love the darkness can’t at some point repent and respond to Jesus as his light continues to come to them. Think of the Samarian woman in chapter 4. No, John is simply laying out in general terms why some don’t believe in Jesus; why they are judged despite the fact of God’s love for them and his purpose to save them.

As you hear the good news of Jesus and as God’s light shine forth – Where are you at? Are you open to God? How will you respond?

The message for you today

God loves you deeply. Every single one of you! No exceptions. And he has sacrificed greatly for you.

And God’s purpose for you is salvation, not judgment, but rather that you be born of the Spirit; that you receive eternal life.

And this is what you need to do – believe in Jesus! Believe that through his lifting up on the cross there is no more condemnation and that through his ascension into heaven he pours out the Spirit upon us to give us new life.

Will you believe? Will you receive of this gift of new life today?

William Higgins

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We are ending our series on Habakkuk today, with a message entitled ‘Habakkuk on the end.’

Let me begin by saying, it’s not unusual when prophets speak, for there to be more meaning than even they know in what they say. That’s because the Spirit is the one who speaks through them. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And Peter says in 1 Peter 1:10-11 that the prophets “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating . . ..” That is, they did not always fully understand what the Spirit was doing through them. But now with the coming of Christ we have the benefit of hindsight.

This surplus of meaning can be seen in relation to various prophecies about the day of the Lord. These passages speak to specific acts of judgment by God in the time frame of the prophet. But they also point beyond this to the final day, which is also called the day of the Lord in the New Testament; the end of all things (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10)

Here is one example from Isaiah 13:6-7. “6Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! 7Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.” This is specifically talking about a judgment on Babylon. But just from this small sample you can see how it becomes a picture also of the final judgment.

Habakkuk can be read in this way as well. Even though its most basic meaning is of a literal judgment on Babylon and the resulting salvation of Judah, that has already happened centuries ago – there can be more to it than that.

Hebrews 10:37-38

– reads Habakkuk in just this way. “37Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” He is quoting Habakkuk 2:3-4. The coming of the vision of judgment and salvation, or “the coming one,” according to the translation he is using, has to do with the second coming of Jesus. [The Greek Old Testament or LXX. Also in this translation the phrase, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him” is rendered, “If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” The author of Hebrews then puts this phrase after the phrase, “my righteous one shall live by faith.” He departs from the LXX by not having the “my” before “faith” although some LXX manuscript traditions do have this.]

So he sees in these verses a reference to the final judgment, not just the judgment of Babylon; and a reference to the salvation of all God’s people throughout the world, not just the righteous in Judah. And living by faith has to do with faithfully waiting for Jesus’ return (v. 36) in the interval of Jesus’ first coming and his promised return. This is the context of the broader passage here in Hebrews. [The word faith in Habakkuk 2:4 can mean faith or faithfulness. Also, in Greek the word faith means both trusting in God and God’s promises, and also faithfulness – faithfully continuing to believe and faithfully living according to the promise. The latter is emphasized here in Hebrews.]

If we read Habakkuk in this way, we get an idea of what will happen on the final day. So let me share with you five things we learn about the end of all things from Habakkuk.

1. On the final day all nations and peoples will be judged

Habakkuk said much about the judgment coming upon Babylon; the bulk of his book is about this. And this was literally fulfilled not long after his time. But this judgment on Babylon, like in Isaiah 13, points us also to the end-time judgment.

Habakkuk 2:3 also takes us in this direction. When it talks about the vision of judgment having to do with “the end,” well, this can have a double meaning – the end of Babylon for sure, but also, the end of all things. And as we just saw the author of Hebrews sees in this also a reference to the end of all things.

Read in this way, we can say that those who are like Babylon – arrogant (2:4,5), violent (1:9), greedy (2:5), those who are strong, but use their strength against the weak – to take advantage of, shame and kill them (2:6-17) – all of these will be judged. And just as with Babylon in the five woe oracles in chapter 2, they will receive as judgment, what they did to others. They will get from God what they gave to others. For instance they killed, and so they will be killed (2:10); they shamed others, and so they will be shamed (2:16).

2. On the final day all mouths will be silenced

As a part of the judgment on Babylon Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” There is a fulfillment of this just after Habakkuk’s day, when Babylon was judged.

Babylon had its idols who couldn’t even speak, but when the one, true God speaks and acts the result is that everyone has to be silent. And Babylon was silenced as it saw God’s judgment unfold against it.

But the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment; a time when this will literally happen, as it says over “all the earth.” It points us to what will happen on the final day. This will be God’s day. God will speak and act and there will be nothing that anyone can do. And as we see the greatness and righteousness of God revealed, and as we see the depth of our sin – there will be no excuses, no rationalizations – only the silent acknowledgement that God is right.

3. On the final day God’s people will be saved

Habakkuk mostly talks about waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to judge Babylon. It doesn’t say a lot about the salvation that Judah will experience when this happens. Although this was certainly expected. 

As he says in reference to the Red Sea deliverance, “you went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed” – 3:13. And this is what was pictured as about to happen in his day on Babylon. And he ends his book with a reference to “the God of my salvation” – 3:18. This is what he was waiting for.

And sure enough, just after Habakkuk’s time Judah did return from exile, like the children of Israel escaping Egypt, as is pictured in chapter 3. The fig tree did have fruit, and the fields did have a harvest, in contrast to 3:17.

  But as we saw, the author of Hebrews reads it also as a reference to the salvation that God’s people will experience when Jesus returns.

But there is more. Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith” and especially the phrase “shall live” can have a double meaning.

  • The most basic sense of “shall live,” and what the book focuses on is living life while waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Their lives will be characterized by faithful waiting on God.
  • But it can also be read, not as waiting for the fulfillment, but as having to do with receiving the fulfillment. The phrase, “shall live” then means what is received when the promise is fulfilled – new life, salvation, God’s blessing.

“The righteous shall live by his faith” means that by faith they will receive the promise, which is new life; God’s blessing as they return to their land.

And this second, double meaning can also be read as pointing to the end time when God’s people will be raised from the dead. They “shall live” because of their faith in God’s promise.

Paul uses the double meaning of this verse. When he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 it refers to what we receive when the promise is fulfilled. And he sees it as referring to God’s end-time promise to give his people new life by the Spirit. We “shall live” because by faith we receive the Spirit, the same Spirit who will raise us up on the final day (Romans 8:11).

4. On the final day evil will be fully defeated

Habakkuk 3 teaches us that God didn’t just defeat Egypt when he battled at the Red Sea. He defeated the spiritual powers behind Egypt. Habakkuk saw in this vision God fighting and overcoming the cosmic powers of chaos and evil –  “the sea,” “the rivers,” “the deep.”

And as we saw, the sea is pictured as a sea serpent or dragon. The word “sea” is Yamm, the name of a sea serpent. It had a tail – v. 13, and it was trying to devour the Israelites – v 14. But God crushed its head, so that it was laying down – 13, and then he trampled it with the horses of his chariot – v. 15.

This vision of what God did to Egypt is then what is forecast for Babylon, which was fulfilled. It will be defeated, along with the spiritual powers behind it.

But this serpent language continues on in the New Testament and is applied to Satan.  Revelation 20:2 talks about “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.”

Well, God will defeat once and for all Satan and all the spiritual powers behind evil in this world. On the final day Revelation 20:10 tells us that God will throw the devil “into the lake of fire.” And then notice what Revelation 21:1 says. “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” No more chaos, turmoil and evil.

5. On the final day God’s glory will be everywhere

Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” So the metaphor is that just like the waters cover every part of the sea, so the knowledge of God’s glory will fill the earth; it will be everywhere.

Now this was fulfilled in that when Babylon was judged and his people came back to their land, just as predicted by God’s prophets, all who heard of this exalted Yahweh and his power. “What an amazing God!”

But once again the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment, because it speaks of the whole earth and a filling that goes beyond what happened in the ancient world.

And indeed on the final day, when God’s goodness and righteousness is revealed everyone will actually know and worship Yahweh – all over the earth. Even those who have rebelled against him, who have scorned him will have to bend the knee and acknowledge his greatness.

William Higgins

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We are continuing on in the book of Habakkuk today and for the whole month of June.

Remember with me last time how Habakkuk complained that God wasn’t doing anything about Judah’s sin; about the powerful who were preying upon the weak; about injustice and oppression. Then God answered him that he is raising up the Babylonians to be his instrument of punishment on Judah.

Today we will cover the second interaction between the prophet and God – another complaint and God’s answer.

There are a number of verses to look at today so I will just briefly comment on them as we read through it. There are also some translation issues in this passage that I will not get into, but you can refer to the handout regarding the text I am using.

Habakkuk’s second complaint

“12Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.” Babylon is God’s instrument to judge and teach Judah regarding its covenant unfaithfulness.

“13You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at the treacherous and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” He is saying, since you are a holy God with pure eyes – why do you look without acting, and why do you remain silent when Babylon, who is more sinful than Judah, judges and destroys Judah?

Then we have a poetic picture of the situation, of all the nations that Babylon is overtaking.

People as prey: “14You make people like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler.” There is an allusion here to the Genesis account of creation. It is as if humanity has been displaced from having dominion to the place of being like the fish and animals that are hunted, here by the Babylonians.

Net/dragnet: “15He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet so he rejoices and is glad.” Babylon is the fisherman.

Net/dragnet: “16Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich.”

People as prey: “17Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” Will Babylon keep on destroying? God, will you not judge them??

Habakkuk waits

“2:1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.”

God’s answer: Judgment is coming

“2And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.’”

He is to write the vision down and then to wait for it to come to fulfillment, which it surely will.

Then we have the beginning of the vision.

The arrogant: “4Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him.” Talking about Babylon.

The righteous: “but the righteous shall live by his faith” or faithfulness. In contrast to the arrogant, God’s people are to trust in God’s promises and remain faithful to God – as they wait for the vision to come to pass; as they wait for God to act to save them.

The arrogant: “5Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.” Babylon conquers and wants more and more, but never has enough. Like an alcoholic wanting more drink, or Sheol always taking in more and more of the dead.

And then our passage ends with five woes on Babylon. This is the vision that will surely come to pass. A woe came from a funeral setting, for grieving the dead. It was used in oracles of judgment, perhaps because there will be grieving by those who are judged. In each of these their evil is described and there is a reversal that will take place. It begins – “6Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say:”

1. They are judged for taking the goods of others. “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own – for how long? – and loads himself with pledges! 7Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?” It is as if they borrowed all the items they stole and now owe them back with interest.

“Then you will be spoil for them. 8Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.” With killing and violence against the earth and destruction of cities they have plundered. So, they will be plundered.

2. They will be judged for killing others to make themselves secure. “9Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! 10You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. 11For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.” Even the material they unjustly took to build their empire will cry out against them. Those who have killed, will be killed.

3. They will be judged for building an empire through killing. “12Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! 13Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?” All their work to be great and honored, will be burned, it will come to nothing. (Jeremiah 51:58).

“14For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” In the end, only God’s glory will be left over all the earth. (Isaiah 11:9).

4. They will be judged for violence that shamed people. “15Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink – you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! 16You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! 17The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.”

They have violently judged others and put them to shame by this. Specifically they destroyed the ancient forests of Lebanon and its animals. For this they will be violently destroyed and shamed.

5. They will be judged for idolatry. “18What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! 19Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. 20But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

An idol is not real. So it is silent; it cannot speak or teach. You can only speak to it. The opposite is true of Yahweh. He is real. And he speaks. And everyone must be silent before him. In this case, all people must be silent before him and learn from him as this judgment unfolds.

A summary of God’s answer. Yes, it is true. Babylon is a worse sinner than Judah. But God will judge Babylon as well for all the evil they do. The righteous must faithfully wait, trusting in God’s promise of this.

And this is what happened. The empire of Babylon was overcome and destroyed some 60 years after God’s promise given here to Habakkuk.

We will look at the theme of the righteous living by faith in the weeks to come, but for now let’s end with some –

Lessons

 – on the theme of God’s judgment. 1. True justice does not always take place on this earth. The wicked often prosper, even at the expense of the righteous – as in this case with Babylon and Judah in our verses. When you look at the world and think that things are not as they should be you are right.

But for everyone, there comes a time for justice; a time of reckoning. Galatians 6:7 says, “we will reap what we sow.” Matthew 16:27 says, the Son of Man is coming and “he will repay each person according to what he or she has done.”

God will see to it that justice reaches every single person who has ever lived. As I said, it reached the people of Babylonia 60 years later – at least in part. And true justice will come in its fullness on the final day.

This is a comfort to the righteous, who suffer injustice – knowing that all things will be made right some day. And it should cause fear to those who do evil.

Getting even more specific, 2. God will judge superpowers for their sins. Babylon was the superpower of its day. And in our verses, it is condemned for a number of things:

  • for being arrogant (2:4-5)
  • for being greedy for more and more wealth and power (2:5)
  • for the pursuit of glory at the expense of shaming others (2:15-17)
  • for trust in and glorification of military might  (1:16)
  • for taking the goods of other smaller nation and then living in luxury (2:6, 8, 9; 1:16)
  • for building its empire by “cutting off many lives” (2:9-10)
  • for killing others for its own sense of security (2:9-10)
  • for violence against the earth, for instance, cutting down the ancient forests of Lebanon and killing its animals (2:17).

We live in the superpower of our day. Now the US is not the same as Babylon was – but there are some parallels. What does this mean for us as God’s people; God’s nation, the church – living as exiles in the midst of this country?

3. God really does punish evildoers. Today many are not comfortable talking about God as “punishing” evildoers. We don’t want God to seem mean or vindictive.

But what we need to understand is that if there is to be justice in the world, then there must be a time of reckoning for all.

And this does not conflict with our call to love our enemies. In fact, it enables us to love our enemies. We can set aside our desire to punish our enemies; to make them pay, and rather act in mercy and love toward them – precisely because we know that God will take care of issues of justice in his own time. As Romans 12:19 indicates, we do not need to seek vengeance because, “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

William Higgins

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Series: How to overcome sin

I want to share some teaching with you this week on – “How to Overcome Sin” in our lives. Our focus is how to grow in our faithfulness to God and specifically how to get rid of our sinful behaviors and habits which keep us from experiencing all that God wants for us; which enslave us, make us miserable and destroy our life with God.

This is a crucial topic because you can be sure that there will be no renewal among God’s people until we take sin seriously. And I don’t mean looking at other people’s sins, I mean focusing on and dealing with our own failures and transgressions.

Perhaps it is:

  • Anger – where this has come to control you and it harms those around you.
  • Bitterness – where you allow resentments to poison your heart, so that your life is full of complaining, criticism of others and unforgiveness.
  • Sexual immorality – where your sexual desires have led you to act wrongly in thought and deed.
  • Dishonesty – where you come to depend on lying, deception or half-truths to get what you want or to get yourself out of trouble.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse – which you think is no big deal. You’re just having fun with friends. Or you think it will bring some relief from your problems, but it only enslaves and makes things so much worse.

And there are many other areas that could be named and we will look at some of these. Whatever your struggle, the message this week is the good news that: Jesus has provided for our freedom. Freedom from the slavery, misery and destruction of sin.

The point today is that before we can experience the freedom Jesus brings, we have to hear and respond to the call to stop sinning; to stop giving in; to stop excusing it in our lives. We have to recognize how serious sin really is. It’s not something that can be put off, ignored or dealt with another day. It must be dealt with even now as God speaks to us and challenges us! As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “now is the day of salvation.

But someone might ask –

“How can we stop sinning?”

“We’ll never be perfect!” And that is certainly true. We will fail, and we will continue to be involved in sins of ignorance – doing what is wrong without even knowing about it. So we don’t need to worry about the question of perfection. That’s not what this is about.

The call to overcome sin, so that we stop sinning has to do with sins that we know about, and yet choose to do anyway. This is what has to be dealt with. And, brothers and sisters, this will keep us more than busy! And then we can trust that in time God will show us other sins, that we are not aware of yet, so that we can deal with these as well.

The call to stop sinning isn’t about being ‘perfect.’ It’s about walking in the light you have and then getting more light as you go along.

Now, let’s hear the clear and consistent call of the Scriptures to –

Stop sinning!

  • Jesus tells us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 4:17. The word “repent” means that you have a change of heart and mind that leads you to do God’s will from now on.
  • Jesus told a man he healed, “Sin no more” – John 5:14.
  • Paul said – “Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more” – 1 Corinthians 15:34.

This is clear enough, right? It only needs to be said once to demand our agreement and obedience. But sometimes repetition can have its own persuasion. And I’m trying to make an impression on you this morning. So in that spirit, let’s continue on.

  • Hebrews says, “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run the race that is set before us” – Hebrews 12:1
  • Peter says, “You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” – 1 Peter 4:3. Any amount of time is enough already! As he says in v. 2, we are now to live the rest of our lives not by “human desires, but by the will of God.”
  • Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Romans 6:2
  • Paul says, “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” – Romans 13:14

The call to stop sinning is consistent and clear.

The seriousness of this call is confirmed when we look at –

What happens if we don’t stop sinning

These Scriptures speak for themselves. “The person who sins shall die” – Ezekiel 18:20. “The wages of sin is death” – Romans 6:23. Both tell us that sin leads to death.

Paul says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” – that is, eternal death – Galatians 6:7-8. James says, “Sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters.” – James 1:15-16. Notice these two Scriptures have the phrase, “do not be deceived.” That’s because we always think there will be an exception for us; that we are special; we are different. But you’re not special in this case, and there will be no exception for you or for me. If you indulge your sin, it will destroy you.

Paul says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-21. If you indulge your sin it will exclude you from the eternal kingdom.

And then finally, “If we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” – Hebrew 10:26-27.

These Scriptures are numerous and clear, and could be greatly expanded. And if we have any sense, they should cause us to fear allowing any sinful pattern to take root in our lives and to act with speed and determination to get rid of any that have already taken root.

But someone will ask –

“How can we stop sinning??”

“We’re simply forgiven sinners!” What we need to realize is that grace isn’t just about having our past sins forgiven. Grace also transforms our lives so that we can now do God’s will. We can’t do it in our own strength, in the power of the flesh. But God can enable us to do this.

As Peter says, God’s “power has given us everything needed for life and godliness” – 2 Peter 1:3. Nothing is lacking. As Paul says, “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you to will and to work for his good pleasure” – Philippians 2:13.  God can empower us to walk in such a way that we please him.

And this is what this series is about, learning how to do this from the example of Jesus. And when we do this –

We can be free!

Free from our sinful habits and behaviors. Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” We know what this is about. But he also said, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” – John 8:34, 36. Do you know what this is about? Have you experienced this?

Paul said to his converts, “you . . . were once slaves of sin.” We have all experienced this. But he also said, “. . . having been set free from sin, (you) have become slaves of righteousness.” – Romans 6:17-18. Have you experienced this? Do you know what this is about?

Jesus can set you free! He provides you with God’s power and grace through his death on the cross. And he teaches you how to put this into practice through his life example.

This is the good news of the gospel. Are you struggling this morning? Is life hard for you? Are your despairing? There is hope because of Jesus!

Let me end today by encouraging each of you to be honest and identify an area of struggle in your life – name it. Let the Spirit work in your heart. Humble yourself. Be honest. Where are you failing? Remember not to compare yourself with others. Compare yourself with Jesus. He is the goal toward which we are all moving.

And then as we move forward in our meetings to come, I encourage you to put into practice what you learn, so that you can experience the freedom that Jesus brings.

William Higgins

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