The Need to Prepare for Trials

Since we can expect trials, we must prepare for them.

An Old Testament Example that Encourages us to Prepare for Trials

Unfortunately, sometimes people read the Old Testament and think, “What does this have to do with me? How can I learn from people whose lives are so different from mine?” The New Testament states the Old Testament provides us with examples:

  • Romans 15:4a—“For whatever things were written [in the Old Testament] were written for our learning.”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:11a—“Now all these things happened to [the Israelites] as examples, and they were written for our admonition.”

Church Age believers can learn from Old Testament accounts. Often, they provide a backdrop for New Testament instruction.

Prepare for Trials During Times of Peace

Asa was one of the  good kings in the Old Testament, and he reveals how (and when) to prepare for trials. Early in his reign, God gave him peace. What did he do during this restful time? He built! Part of 2 Chronicles 14:5–7 records:

The kingdom was quiet under [Asa]. And he built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest; he had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest. Therefore he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and make walls around them, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us, because we have sought the Lord our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.

Like Asa, we should prepare during peaceful times. While Asa strengthened his nation physically, we should strengthen ourselves spiritually. Pray and read the Word regularly. Serve the body of Christ. We do not serve others so they will serve us. We serve others because we want to serve Christ, but one blessing often produced is brothers and sisters who will “weep with [us when we] weep” and “suffer with [us]” when we suffer (Romans 12:15b, 1 Corinthians 12:26a). I have seen people enter trials and become frustrated that nobody was there for them, but in many of those cases they were not there for others who were “weeping” and “suffering.” Continue reading “The Need to Prepare for Trials”

How did forgiveness take place in the Old Testament?

Marriage-Gods-Way-author-Scott-LaPierre - Forgiveness in the Old TestamentDid forgiveness in the Old Testament take place through sacrifices or human effort? Forgiveness was received in the Old Testament the same way it’s received in the New Testament: by grace through faith.

Psalm 25:14 says, “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and the Lord will show them His covenant.” The Lord reveals the New Covenant and the grace and mercy of it through David, before Jesus instituted the New Covenant at the Last Supper (Luke 22:20).

According to God’s Law, David committed two sins that should’ve resulted in death: adultery and murder. A few things made David’s terrible sins even worse:

  • David’s accountability. He knew God’s Law well.
  • David had been very blessed. God brought him of that shepherd’s field where he was a nobody born to a no-name family. Then God turned him into the rich and powerful king of Israel.
  • David’s sins were premeditated. He planned out all the details, even writing a letter to Joab that he had Uriah himself carry. It was one of the darkest moments in the Old Testament.

David’s sins should not have received forgiveness

If anyone deserved death it was David, but this is also why David’s situation provides one of the greatest examples of God’s grace and mercy in all of Scripture. Nathan the Prophet confronted David, and he responded, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:13a). Continue reading “How did forgiveness take place in the Old Testament?”

Israel’s holiness and the ceremonial commands

Why did Israel have to follow the ceremonial commands in the Law?
Why did Israel have to follow the ceremonial commands in the Law?

One of the more common questions I receive relates to the ceremonial commands in the Mosaic Law. People will ask, “Why did Israel have all those weird rules in the Old Testament?”

The simple answer is so Israel could be a holy people. Now the longer answer…

The Mosaic Law contains 613 commands divided into two categories:

  1. The moral – or “common sense” – commands. You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, or lie. These commands are based on God’s holy nature. God doesn’t change, so these commands are unchanging as well and carried into the New Testament. They are part of the Law of Christ and are still binding for Christians today.
  2. The ceremonial commands are not obvious or common sense:
    • Killing a perfectly good animal for a sacrifice. All the sacrifices and offerings are ceremonial commands.
    • The feasts and festivals.
    • Abstaining from certain foods, such as pork and rabbit.
    • Farming a certain way.
    • Wearing – or not wearing –clothes a certain way, including not mixing certain fabrics together.

The purpose of the ceremonial commands causes the most confusion. Nobody wonders why God told Israel not to murder, commit adultery, steal, or lie. But people wonder why Israel wasn’t supposed to eat certain foods or combine certain fabrics.

The ceremonial commands deal with holiness, not morality.

Continue reading “Israel’s holiness and the ceremonial commands”

Blessings of the Old Testament

In yesterday’s Easter sermon, Genesis 22:1-4 A Father’s Love, I discussed the primary purpose of the Old Testament: leading us to Christ. Paul said, “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ” (Gal 3:24). After we’ve come to Christ, the New Testament contains a number of verses discussing the new relationship believers have to the Law. We are “free from the Law” (Rom 7:3), “dead to the Law” (Rom 7:4 & Gal 2:19), “delivered from the Law” (Rom 7:6) and “no longer under the Law” (Gal 3:25 & 5:18). In Romans 10:4 Paul said, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” and in Galatians 3:19 he said the Law was only “until the Seed (Jesus) should come.

The Old Testament primarily accomplishes this two ways. First, there were prophecies of Christ. Second, there are clear pictures and types of Him.

You could read all these verses and wonder what this means for us as believers: “What should we think of the Old Testament? What should be our relationship to it as New Testament believers? Is the Old Testament as beneficial as the New Testament?”

Considering how much I’ve taught from the Old Testament, I’d like to hope it’s obvious to my congregation how much I love it, value it, and recognize its equality with the New Testament. The fact is, Scripture nowhere presents any books or verses – say nothing about Testaments – as being superior to another. The blessings God’s Word afford are afforded from anywhere in Scripture. Every verse accomplishes the following blessings…

  • Equips: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16, 17).
  • Cleanses: Christ…cleanses [the church] with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:26, 27).
  • Convicts: For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4:12).
  • Sanctifies: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).
  • Imparts faith: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17).

One of the other blessings of the Old Testament is it provides examples for us to learn from:

  • Romans 15:4—For whatever things were written before [referring to the Old Testament] were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:11—Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

The Old Testament provides a backdrop for New Testament instruction. Certain accounts and individuals in the Old Testament help us make practical application of New Testament commands. Sometimes the individuals will serve as positive examples through their obedience, while other times they will serve as negative examples through their disobedience.

Jesus’ Miracles Prefigured in the Old Testament

marriage-gods-way-author-scott-lapierre-jesus-miraclesThe Old Testament is about Jesus. There were prophecies He would fulfill, as well as pictures and types of Him: the manna, the rock in the wilderness, the bronze serpent, etc. The three miracle workers in the Old Testament (Moses, Elijah and Elisha) even performed miracles that prefigured some of the miracles Jesus would perform…miracles He’d often perform in a greater way.

Here are a few examples:

  • Moses unleashed ten judgments on one nation (Exodus 7-12), but Jesus will unleash twenty-one judgments on the whole earth (attributed to Him in Rev 6:16 with the words “wrath of the Lamb”).
  • Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), but Jesus ascended to heaven on His own (Acts 1:9).
  • Elisha fed one hundred men with twenty loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44), but Jesus fed 5,000 and 4,000 men with five and seven loaves (Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-39).
  • Elisha cleansed one man of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14), but Jesus cleansed ten men (Luke 17:11-19).
  • Elisha knew what Gehazi had done (2 Kings 5:26), but Jesus knows what all men have done (John 2:24).
  • Elisha’s death gave one man temporary life (2 Kings 13:21), but Jesus’ death gives many eternal life (John 3:16).

There’s another example in yesterday’s sermon: when the Man of God heals King Jeroboam’s withered hand, it prefigures Jesus healing the man with the withered hand. Compare these verses:

  • 1 Kings 13:4 His hand, which he stretched out toward him, withered. 6 So the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and became as before.
  • Luke 6:10 [Jesus] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.

As you read through the Old Testament, for your enjoyment and for your benefit, look for the tremendous prophecies, pictures and types of your Savior! In Hebrews 10:7 Jesus said, “Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me.”

The true and better Sabbath rest found in Jesus

The true and better Sabbath rest found in Jesus
Are you exhausted striving to be accepted by God in your own effort?

“How is Jesus our Sabbath?” I’ve received this question a number of times. Now I can point people to this post!

The Old Testament is about Jesus. He’s revealed through prophecies and types:

  • The sacrifices looked forward to Jesus as the true and better sacrifice (1 John 2:2).
  • The priesthood looked forward to Jesus as the true and better High Priest (Heb 4:14).
  • The judges looked forward to Jesus as the true and better Judge (John 5:22).
  • The prophets looked forward to Jesus as the true and better Prophet (Deut 18:15-19).
  • The kings looked forward to Jesus as the true and better King of Kings (Rev 19:16).

And the Sabbath looked forward to the true and better rest found in Jesus!

Jesus provides a Sabbath rest that’s as continual as God’s rest after the sixth day of creation.

Hebrews 4:9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

The Greek word for “Sabbath rest” is sabbatismos, and this is the only place it occurs in Scripture. The definition is, “the blessed rest from toils and troubles looked for in the age to come by the true worshippers of God and true Christians.”

Genesis 2:2 On the seventh day God ended His work and rested.

God didn’t rest for one day only to begin working again on the eighth day. He began a rest that continued indefinitely. Hebrews 4:9 and 10 look back to God’s rest to make the point that this is the same rest that’s available to believers. Hence the words, “a Sabbath rest for the people of God…ceased from his works as God did from His.” 

Believers can rest from their labors as much as God was able to rest from His. This is a rest that goes on as indefinitely as God’s rest went on indefinitely. This rest found in Christ is much better than the one day of rest found in the Old Testament.

Jesus provides a Sabbath rest from working for salvation.

People labored under the Law to be accepted by God. They constantly disobeyed His commands, so He graciously provided sacrifices that restored fellowship with Him. But these sacrifices couldn’t take away sins. Hebrews 10:4 and 11 both state, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Animal sacrifices atoned for, or covered sins, but that’s a far cry from having sins removed. Jesus was sacrificed because He was able to do what Old Testament sacrifices could not do:

  • When John the Baptist saw Jesus, in John 1:29 he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
  • 1 John 3:5 [Jesus] was manifested to take away our sins.

Until Jesus, people struggled under the Law. Just as they continued working after a one-day rest, so too did their sacrifices continue. Contrast these verses:

  • Hebrews 10:1 The law can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
  • “[Jesus] offered one sacrifice for sins forever, then sat down at the right of God” (Heb 10:12).

Jesus did the work for us, then He rested. Now He offers this rest to us:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

God wants us to enter this rest for ourselves. That’s why Hebrews 4:9 says, There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

How do you enter this Sabbath rest?

Hebrews 4:3 We who have believed do enter that rest.

If you believe the Gospel you’ve entered God’s rest. You’ve ceased working for salvation and trusted Christ’s work for you. The Sabbath found in Jesus is bigger than resting one day per week: it’s realizing salvation is by grace through faith and trusting in that everyday. Are you still working for salvation or are you resting in Christ?

Do you have any questions about the Sabbath or the rest you have in Christ? What does it mean to you to rest in Christ? Share your thoughts or questions below!

Barry Branaman: a great friend and mentor

Barry Branaman
Barry with his wonderful wife Kathy on the day of his graduation from seminary in 2009.

When people discuss their blessings, they’ll usually mention spouses, children, friends, health, finances, etc. If you asked me to discuss my blessings I hope I would mention the godly men God has put in my life. One of the most important is Barry Branaman.

He was a mutual friend of Elwyn and me when I taught in Marysville, CA. I met Barry through his two daughters who attended a young adults’ Bible study I started attending. He became my mentor soon after I became a Christian. The first Bible study I ever led took place in his living room under his supervision. He rarely said anything, but it was a constant source of encouragement and comfort to have him present. I knew he could answer any questions that I couldn’t.

Barry taught me to make time for people.

I spent many hours in Barry’s living room talking to him about the Bible. People have told me that I ask a lot of questions, and I would agree; however, Barry was the person God put in my life at that time to answer all the questions I had as a new Christian…and there were a lot. If I had to single out the one person who helped me understand the Old Testament it was Barry.

Barry taught me about stewardship.

I told a story in a sermon about Barry helping me see our possessions as a stewardship. When I thanked Barry for letting us use their home for our bible study, his simple response was, “That’s what it’s for.” With Barry everything he had was for serving God’s Kingdom. When Katie and I visited California in December 2012, we stayed with Barry and his wife Kathy. From the moment Barry and I saw each other I felt like no time had passed. He was as gracious answering my questions then, as he had been eight years earlier.

When I moved to Lemoore, CA in 2004 I remember standing in Barry’s kitchen telling him goodbye and that I really loved him. In return he gave me A Harmony of the Gospels, which I just took off the bookshelf behind my desk to read the note he wrote inside:

“To Scott,

May the Good News ever grace your heart and lips, thoughts and life. may the love of God always surround you and keep you in all ways. May your service in Christ be ever for His glory. May the Holy Spirit be your continued guide and Comforter, “empowerer” and keep.

Your brother forever,


Barry still speaks.

On Thursday I received the news that Barry Branaman passed away at the age of 59. Last week’s sermon was about finishing strong, and Barry is an example of a man who did that wonderfully. I’m very thankful God blessed me with such a great friend, mentor, and brother in Christ. I’m much better for having known Barry, and by “better” I mean I have a deeper love for God and His Word because of him.

Hebrews 11:4 says, “Abel still speaks even though he is dead” and that could be said of Barry. I learned so much from him that when I’m teaching the Bible, often I’m passing along what he taught me.

If you knew Barry Branaman and would like to share a memory about him, I’m sure it would be a blessing to anyone who reads this post.

Part I – OT Believers and the Afterlife…

If you’ve been a Christian very long, and especially if you’ve read the King James or New King James Versions of the Bible, you’ve probably wondered what the deal is with Hades and Sheol. Are they the same as hell? You’ve probably also heard of Gehenna and the Lake of Fire. What do all these places (that is if they are places) have to do with each other?

We’re going to take a look at those terms over the next few blogs, but first let’s establish an important point regarding Old Testament (OT) believers and unbelievers: they were saved by faith, just like us…

Heb 11:13These (The OT believers discussed earlier in the chapter: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah) all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Notice the words died in faith. They didn’t receive the promises God made to them. They had to look forward to them in faith. They had to trust God just like we do, and their belief was accounted to them as righteousness (Gen 15:6).

Charles Ryrie sums up the matter of faith succinctly in this way: “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various ages.” In other words, no matter when people lived, their salvation is ultimately dependent on the work of Christ and a faith placed in God, but the amount of knowledge people had concerning the specifics of God’s plan have increased through the ages via God’s progressive revelation. Obviously those living after Christ’s First Coming will know much more than those looking forward to it in faith. Combine that with the revelation found in the New Testament and you have a monumental amount of information available to Church-age believers that wasn’t available in the OT.

Here are a few interesting verses dealing with the topic showing that although their revelation was limited it was still sufficient enough for salvation:

  • A little further in Hebrews 11 the author says Moses “[esteemed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (11:26). This is to say Moses considered abuse suffered for Christ greater than the wealth and prestige of Egypt. Moses knew he was suffering, or forfeiting the blessings he’d have in Egypt for the Messiah; the author implies Moses knew he was doing it for Christ.
  • Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So this verse even says the Gospel was preached to Abraham when God established the Abrahamic Covenant with him. We probably wouldn’t think of those words as constituting a solid Gospel presentation, but because of the limited revelation in the OT, simply believing in these words was enough to save.
  • John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. This refers to Abraham’s joy in looking forward to the day of the promised Messiah. Although we assume Abraham’s revelation of the Messiah was limited, we’re still told he looked forward to it with joy.

The point is, OT believers had saving faith in Christ. They were saved looking forward to Christ like NT believers are saved looking back on Christ. Interestingly, I think most people feel it was easier to believe in the OT where there were numerous miracles and supernatural events. We assume everyone would have faith then; however, the irony is OT believers would probably assume the same about NT believers since we all live after Christ came. To them, how could anyone possibly not believe when Jesus has already come?

The OT revelation of the afterlife was very minimal. It wasn’t until Jesus Christ that eternal reward and eternal punishment were clearly revealed. Although insignificant compared to the revelation in the NT, the OT did discuss eternal life and eternal punishment, but on a much narrower scale:

  • Dan 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
    Some to everlasting life,
    Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
  • Isa 66:22-24 “For as the new heavens and the new earth Which I will make shall remain before Me (so it’s important to know He’s looking forward to eternity here talking about the New Heavens and New Earth),” says the Lord,
    “So shall your descendants and your name remain. 23 And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord. 24 “And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
    (Jesus quoted most of this verse and applied it to hell in Mark 9:47-48).

The idea is in verse 24 Jesus is describing the eternal punishment of the unrighteous.

That’s really about it for OT verses dealing with eternal reward and eternal punishment. Limited, huh? There are plenty of verses though about death and individuals going somewhere when they die (as opposed to being annihilated) and that will be the topic of the next blog!

Ecumenism – Part II – 2 Chr 25: Amaziah

In my last blog we briefly defined ecumenism and then looked at an example of it in Ezra 4. I’d encourage you to check out that blog (at least the introduction of it before reading this one). Now we’re going to look at another example from the life of Amaziah, king of Judah…

2 Chr 25:1 Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. 2 And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a loyal heart.

Other versions say he obeyed God, but not wholeheartedly or not with his whole heart; he’s a great picture of half-hearted devotion to God. The problem with half-hearted devotion is it leaves half of your heart for something else and we’ll see that play out in Amaziah’s life.

3 Now it happened, as soon as the kingdom was established for him, that he executed his servants who had murdered his father the king.

Amaziah’s father was Joash, and in the previous chapter you can read about him being assassinated. Amaziah punished the men who murdered his father.

4 However he did not execute their children, but did as it is written in the Law in the Book of Moses, where the LORD commanded, saying, “The fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; but a person shall die for his own sin.” (Deut 24:16)

You might wonder why there’s discussion about him sparing the children of the men who murdered his father, and the reason is the standard practice in the Old Testament involved executing the children as well to prevent any of them from later taking revenge. God strictly forbid that though and to Amaziah’s credit he obeyed God in this area, which was a big deal because of how hazardous it was to let the children live. Basically, he put his faith in God to protect him instead of taking matters into his own hands

Bible scholar C. Knapp said, “He made a good beginning in thus adhering closely to the law. Happy would it have been for him and for his kingdom had he continued as he began.”

5 Moreover Amaziah gathered Judah together and set over them captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, according to their fathers’ houses, throughout all Judah and Benjamin; and he numbered them from twenty years old and above, and found them to be three hundred thousand choice men, able to go to war, who could handle spear and shield.

He’s getting ready to go to war against Edom and he has 300,000 soldiers, but he felt like this wasn’t enough so…

6 He also hired one hundred thousand mighty men of valor from Israel for one hundred talents of silver (approx. 4 tons).

Here’s the ecumenism!!!

Amaziah decided to hire an additional 100,000 soldiers, or mercenaries, from the northern kingdom of Israel as well. 4 tons of silver is 120,000 ounces and silver is valued at about $35 per ounce, so this would be around $4.2 million today.

More than likely most of this money was paid to the king of Israel who ordered the mercenaries of Israel to aid Amaziah against Edom. In other words, the mercenaries probably didn’t receive any money; their pay would come from the plunder of the battle.

7 But a man of God came to him, saying, “O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the LORD is not with Israel—not with any of the children of Ephraim.

“man of God” is a technical term used about 70 times in the Old Testament to refer to people who spoke for God.

Ephraim was the largest tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel, so sometimes Israel was simply called Ephraim.

The man of God came to Amaziah and told him he couldn’t go to battle without the 100,00 mercenaries he just hired, which means he’ll be out the money he spent. Now why didn’t God want Amaziah using these mercenaries from Israel? There are probably two reasons…

First, Amaziah’s great-grandfather was King Jehoram, and King Jehoram’s father was King Jehoshaphat (Amaziah’s great-great-grandfather). They both got into a lot of trouble for working with Israel. Specifically, Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, the king of Israel, husband of Jezebel. If you took a poll of the wickedest men in the OT, Ahab would be near the top of every list.

To seal the alliance between Jehoshaphat and Ahab their children (Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s son and Athaliah, Ahab’s daughter) married. Obviously nobody should marry a woman whose mother’s name is Jezebel. If you took a poll of the wickedest women in the OT, Athaliah and Jezebel would be number 1 and 2 on every list. They make Delilah look godly. Jezebel is the woman who slaughtered hundreds of God’s prophets and had Naboth murdered for his vineyard. Her daughter Athaliah murdered all her own grandsons (except for one that sovereignly survived to continue the Messianic line), so she wouldn’t lose the throne to them.

The point is that by now Israel was really wicked and God didn’t want Judah having anything to do with them and Amaziah should’ve known that. In fact, when Jehoram was king, you’d think Judah would’ve been stronger because of their alliance with Israel, but they actually became weaker because their real strength didn’t come from political alliances, but spiritual health. Judah is about to go to war against Edom, who used to be vassals to Judah. Edom actually rebelled against Judah during Jehoram’s reign, because his relationship with Israel weakened the nation so much they were no longer afraid of Judah.

The other reason God didn’t want Judah working with Israel is because he wanted them to depend on Him, and not some other nation for support. If Judah succeeded in defeating Edom (which is what’s going to happen) it would have looked like it was because of Israel’s help instead of God’s help.

The point is God doesn’t want His people working with anyone and everyone just for the sake of success.

Some people say, “Sure God wouldn’t want us working with Muslims and Buddhists, but He must be okay with Christians working with groups that call themselves Christians.” Consider this: God wasn’t discouraging Judah from working with some foreign nation like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Moabites, etc. He was discouraging the Jews from working with Israel, their brother nation!

8 But if you go, be gone! Be strong in battle! Even so, God shall make you fall before the enemy; for God has power to help and to overthrow.”

First the man of God tells him if he goes he’s going to lose, then he uses some sarcasm and says, “If you go and take those mercenaries, you better be strong, because God won’t be with you.”

I like the way he says this. Don’t you feel like saying this to people sometimes? You suspect people are going to do what they want to do anyway, so you say, “If this is what you want to do, then go ahead and do it.” It’s like when Jesus told Judas, “Go and do what you want to do.”

9 Then Amaziah said to the man of God, “But what shall we do about the hundred talents which I have given to the troops of Israel?”
And the man of God answered, “The LORD is able to give you much more than this.”

Amaziah was more concerned with the money he’d lose than obeying God. We might be quick to judge Amaziah, but I remember feeling this way after I became a Christian when I had to throw out a lot of movies, music, books and fitness magazines I had. It’s completely worth it though because there’s no amount of money worth being able to lay your head down at night and know you’re obeying God.

Besides: don’t worry about the money. God isn’t broke. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. You say, “I’ve already invested so much…there have already been all these expenses…we already formed a partnership…I’ve went to such great lengths already.” It would be better to forfeit all that for God.

Let’s say you’re at work and you’ve got the opportunity to make more money, but it involves being deceitful, shortchanging someone, stepping on someone to make progress…it would be better to swallow the financial loss and obey God. This is one of the great lessons from the passage that obeying God might mean giving some things up, maybe even losing some money sometimes, but if you honor God, you’re going to be in a better place.

It surprises me when people who say they believe in God aren’t upright in their finances as though their compromise will leave them in a better place:

  • Sometimes people are deceitful on their tax returns. I feel way safer being upright with my taxes and trusting God to provide for us than be deceitful and maybe make a little more money, but not obey God.
  • We knew a guy who called himself a Christian and his son messed up his truck. He lied to the insurance and said he was driving to save some money and I thought, “Wow, you’re that concerned about money and now you think you’re in a better place financially after taking yourself outside God’s will?”

If you ever face a situation where you want to obey God, but it involves some sacrifice, remember the prophet’s words: “The LORD is able to give you much more than this.” I’ve quoted this to people numerous times in counseling when they wanted to make a compromising decision based on greed or covetousness.

Think about Moses’ example. Hebrews 11 says, By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, he thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures in Egypt; for he looked ahead to his greater reward.” Moses was willing to give up so much to be in God’s will, including a life of tremendous luxury and wealth in pharaoh’s palace.

10 So Amaziah discharged the troops that had come to him from Ephraim (or Israel), to go back home. Therefore their anger was greatly aroused against Judah, and they returned home in great anger.

To Amaziah’s credit he obeyed the prophet, lost the money and sent the mercenaries home.

These mercenaries were angry for two reasons:

  1. They were probably insulted at being hired and then sent home like there was something wrong with them
  2. They were counting on additional plunder and spoil from the battle as income.

11 Then Amaziah strengthened himself, and leading his people, he went to the Valley of Salt and killed ten thousand of the people of Seir.

Seir is where the Edomites live, so to say, “the people of Seir” is to refer to the Edomites. So Amaziah had a huge victory with thousands of less men! He experienced great success with much less favorable circumstances.

The application for us in ministry is we shouldn’t look at numbers. We shouldn’t try to produce more favorable circumstances for ourselves. We should obey God and trust Him to make us successful.

Ecumenism – Part I – Ezra 4

If you don’t know what ecumenism is, maybe you clicked on this blog just to find out! defines it as: “A movement promoting cooperation and better understanding among different religious groups or denominations.” That sounds good, doesn’t it? To an extent it is, but in my next two blogs I’d like to look at a couple of Old Testament (OT) examples of bad ecumenism:

  1. The first deals with the Jews in Ezra 4
  2. The second deals with Amaziah King of Judah in 2 Chronicles 25

First let me provide a couple reminders from Paul about the purpose of the OT:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things (the events in the OT) became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:1 Now all these things (again, the OT) happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
  • Romans 15:4 For whatever things were written before (again, the OT) were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

So according to Paul the OT contains examples for us and was written for our admonition and learning. In other words, even though it discusses events from thousands of years ago, we can find plenty of application for today.

Before we look at the passage, I need to provide a little background information to help the story make sense…

The united nation of Israel consisting of twelve tribes, split into a northern and southern kingdom in 931 BC. The northern kingdom consisted of ten of the original twelve tribes and kept the name Israel. The southern kingdom became known as Judah after the larger of the two tribes (the other being Benjamin). The people from Judah were called Jews.

The Assyrians in 722BC (thank you for the correction Mary!) conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Their practice involved deporting conquered people and importing previously conquered people to resettle the land, spreading out the conquered nation and preventing the people from reuniting and revolting. When Assyria resettled the land of Israel and imported foreigners, they came with their own religions and intermarried with the Israelites who remained. The capital of Israel was Samaria, and the newly established people consisting of half-Israelites and half-foreigners or Gentiles became known as Samaritans.

The religion of the Samaritans was very much like their race: half-Israelite and half-pagan. 2 Kings 17:33 says, “They (the Samaritans) feared the LORD, but they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations they came from.

In 586 BC the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, but their practice was different than the Assyrians: they brought people into their land and hoped to prevent them from revolting by providing them with a somewhat comfortable existence. You can read all about this in the two books discussing the exile: Daniel and Ezekiel. The Jews were in exile in Babylon for around seventy years, and then they were allowed to return to their land. You can read all about this in Ezra.

Since the Babylonians provided such a comfortable environment for the Jews, and since most of them had established roots in the land after being there for seventy years, many of them chose to stay in Babylon as opposed to making the 900-mile, 4-month trek back to Jerusalem. Although we can’t say for sure, most scholars guess around only ten percent of the Jews actually returned. That’s not a lot of people for the monumental building project they had before them. Their city was destroyed and had been desolated for seventy years. They had to rebuild the city, the walls (which you can read about in Nehemiah), and their lives in general.

The main point is this: if there’s ever been a group that had a lot of work to do and could have used the help, it was this group of Jews.

With all that in mind, let’s look at Ezra 4. The verses are in bold with my thoughts in regular font…

Ezra 4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity (the Jews who returned from exile) were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel (the leader of the Jews at the time) and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

The people who wanted to help the Jews were the Samaritans we discussed earlier. Notice they said, “we seek your God as you; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” This is referring to when the king of Assyria conquered Israel and resettled the land. The really important point though is they didn’t really sacrifice to God even if they thought they did. They had a religion that was as much pagan as it was genuine. If they were sacrificing to God, it meant they were doing it without a temple, because the temple had been destroyed, and without a legitimate priesthood. In a way, it was almost like their own made-up religion with some elements of truth mixed in.

Remember when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well? She thought she was worshiping correctly, evidenced by her words, “Our fathers worshiped God on this mountain…” and Jesus said, “You Samaritans worship what you don’t know (in other words, you don’t really know God…you think you’re worshipping God, but you’re not…just like the Samaritans in Ezra’s day)…true believers worship the Father in spirit and truth…God is Spirit and He must be worshiped in spirit and truth.”

You almost have to understand all this about the Samaritans to really appreciate the Gospels. The Jews in Jesus’ day hated the Samaritans because the Jews:

  • Viewed them as half-breeds and not true Israelites
  • Believed they betrayed their nation and their God by marrying foreigners
  • Hated their religion

Now interestingly, Jesus came along and completely ignored the long-standing prejudice between the Jews and Samaritans and told the story of the Good Samaritan. Of course this contributed to the Jews’ hatred of Jesus.

3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Even though they had a tremendous amount of work to do, very clearly they said, “You will have nothing to do with our work for God!” This was a very courageous and uncompromising move on the part of Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the Jewish leaders.

God exiled the Jews in Babylon in the first place because of their idolatry. Fortunately they were wise enough to recognize the Samaritans’ idolatry represented a grave danger. This was a terrible partnership that could have gotten them into a lot of trouble, so to their credit they rejected the help.

I’m sure most people would have looked at them and said they were being intolerant, judgmental, maybe even unloving. I’m sure there were probably a lot of people who wanted to say, “What are you doing? We need all the help we can get!” or “Wait, wait…if they join us, we can witness to them!” or “With their help think of all the work we can get done!” Zerubbabel and Jeshua knew the Samaritans would have had some influence on the Jews as well as the work that was done.

4 Then the people of the land (the Samaritans who offered their help) tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Now you can see one of the reasons it was a good idea for the Jews not to work with these people: they were bad! As soon as they were rejected, their true colors came out. They got angry and started causing the Jews as many problems as possible. You can read all about this in the subsequent verses.

There are some great lessons for us here:

  • One other reason God might not have wanted the Samaritans to help, is so He’d be seen as the One who helped the Jews. There might be some things God wants you to do so He’s shown to be the One who helped you.
  • Sometimes it’s better to have less and do things right with God’s help, then have more, but not do things the way God would have them done.
  • If you’ve got the opportunity to accomplish something involving some ungodly people or involving some form of compromise, it might look like you’d be increasing your chances of success that way, but it’s better to do things right and trust God.

In my next blog we’ll look at another example of ecumenism from the OT in the life of Amaziah, King of Judah.