Outward strength through internal compassion and unity

Believers must always stand for peace and righteousness with one another and with all others.

Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of compassion, and how compassion and unity with one another can provide a foundation for reaching others with the message of the Kingdom.

1 Peter 3:8-9 – Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other in brotherly love. Be compassionate, and keep a humble attitude.  Do not give back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, give blessings, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.

According to Peter, being compassionate is simply one of many expected traits believers should exhibit. The compassion he is speaking of here is extended not just to those outside of the faith, but to one another. If we cannot be compassionate with one another, how can we be truly compassionate towards others who are not believers?

For us to be truly compassionate with others, we should be operating from a base of harmony with one another, and recognizing one another’s needs sympathetically. Once we are able to show brotherly love to each other through humility and compassionate actions, we can then have a united purpose with those outside the faith.

Humility is a challenging trait to exercise because almost everything we are involved in on a daily basis in our current culture urges us to succeed over others to achieve goals and progress in our careers, or to draw people to our online content. If we remain humble about our skills and abilities, we may be passed over for promotions at work or for other opportunities where we could exercise those skills.

We all know how social media is purposely designed to generate “likes” and followers based on unique or controversial topics, and so it tends to breed a continual stream of those who are posting their opinions to pose as knowledgeable or successful in areas where they may or may not be. It is common knowledge that most people’s feeds are nothing but contrived and arranged photos to highlight only the best of what they want to share, not the reality of their lives.

It is this type of conditioned social response that is becoming “hard-baked” into our culture more than it ever has before due to the ubiquitous presence of being connected online. And yet, though we as a society are more connected than ever before, we have never been so distant and segregated than we are today. We are becoming lost in the echo chambers of our own fantasies that we think are the representative journals of our lives, and we are seeking only to elevate ourselves to appear more successful than we really are.

Peter’s direction to maintain humility and compassion among each other could not come at a more needed time in the history of society. However, he was only building on the teaching of his master. Yeshua taught, “Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth,” (Matthew 5:5) and, “Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” (Matthew 11:29).

The apostle Paul also taught humility:

  • Romans 12:16 – Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
  • Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.
  • Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…

Likewise, James taught humility:

James 4:6, 10 – …God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  … Humble yourselves before Yahweh, and he will exalt you.

As we survey these apostolic writings we find that humility is a constant and recurring theme like a drumbeat against the selfish and hypocritical show-boating of the religious leaders of their day. The true faith of God is based not on outward show, but on inward sincerity and demonstrative concern for others.

Humility and compassion are tied together at the hip because they are both concerned with the needs of others above the needs of oneself. Consider that if every believer put the needs of other believers above their own, each person would be amply supported through the collective encouragement and assistance of others. It is this type of mentality that Yeshua taught and instilled in his disciples so that they would be able to faithfully teach it to others.

Peter says that with humility and compassion, we can then sympathize more effectively with one another, and it is in sympathizing with one another we become united.

How desperately unity is needed among believers today! We have isolated ourselves into our creeds and denominational strongholds, rejecting others who are not in 100% agreement with every aspect of our own beliefs. We gather weekly in similar but separate chambers, attempting to worship the same God but in separate ways that we deem best.

I recognize it is a fine line between remaining vigilant for truth and yet attempting to bridge the gap between others who may not be in total agreement with our views, but if we as believers don’t have the ability to at least begin these conversations, then how can the rest of the world do it, as well? We are supposed to be the light of the world, not the poster children for disunity and isolation from one another.  When we can’t even find the humility and compassion to begin conversations over doctrinal differences, we are likely to never bridge those gaps at all, much less make an impact with those outside the faith.

This leads to Peter’s next point about being examples to others through our humble and peaceful actions in the process of blessing others. In a moment, we will explore a little deeper the need we have for building unity with one another in order to serve as a springboard for creating peace amidst the rest of the world.

Once he establishes their preferred base actions with one another, Peter expands his directives to their attitude toward others who did not agree with their positions or their beliefs.

1 Peter 3:9-14 – Do not give back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, give blessings, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing. For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of Yahweh watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But Yahweh turns his face against those who do evil.” Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.

Peter is here quoting directly from Psalm 34, a psalm which focuses on the protection and blessing of Yahweh which rests upon the righteous. The entire psalm contextually enriches this passage in 1 Peter. But if we widen the context of Peter’s quote by even a few surrounding verses, it helps to provide a little more substantial basis for the point he is making in his letter.

Psalm 34:11-16  – Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of Yahweh.  Who is someone who desires life, loving a long life to enjoy what is good?  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech.  Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it.  The eyes of Yahweh are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry for help. The face of Yahweh is set against those who do what is evil, to remove all memory of them from the earth.

The psalm states that those who practice what is right in seeking peace with others are the ones who are truly demonstrating the fear and respect of Yahweh. This was a very real need and an accurate assessment of the social status of the early believers. They were always in danger not only from the civil strife of their day, but from the religious antagonism and persecution of their Jewish brothers and sisters. Additionally, they were challenged with resisting the influences of the pagan society. Through all of this, Peter encourages them to repay evil with blessing and seeking to maintain the peace, because “this is what God has called you to do.”

Notice also the dichotomy in how Yahweh makes himself known among the people: “The eyes of Yahweh are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry for help. The face of Yahweh is set against those who do what is evil, to remove all memory of them from the earth.”

Our society today has this backwards. The cultural tendency today is to glorify and maintain the memory of those who do evil and to erase the memory of those who are righteous. The Bible and those who are honest and upright are mocked or viewed as simpletons and backwater fools, while those who are notorious criminals and murderers are glorified and memorialized in books, movies, and television. Just look at the popularity of TV shows that do “hard-hitting” documentaries and series on “true crime” stories. Consider the glut of books and dramatic shows and movies that are based on law enforcement and legal themes, all dealing with those who do evil. True crime as a genre is so wildly popular it has also spawned a whole industry of podcasts, all relating how these vicious crimes have affected the lives of ordinary people.

With this steady diet of aberrant behavior constantly portrayed in our social consciousness, is it any wonder that these types of behavior are more and more becoming the hallmarks of modern society? The psalm states that God is set against these types of individuals to remove all memory of them from the earth, and we instead magnify their wickedness for the sake of ratings, popularity, and morbid curiosity.

By contrast, Peter says that the believers have been called by God to consistently swim upstream against the current of wickedness around them.  We must maintain righteous behavior, not to be congratulated for doing so, but because it is simply the right thing to do. And when we do so collectively as believers, we demonstrate a unity with one another that can be recognized by others. We create a firm foundation to then stand united in the face of opposition and evil. Not only that, but more than just standing firm against opposition, it is the believer’s obligation to turn away from evil, to provide blessings in return for insults, and to seek and pursue peace with all others. We have no other alternative approved by God; we must always stand for peace and righteousness with one another and with all others.

For our part, peace in the world may not happen in this generation or even in the next five or ten generations, but if it grows with each generation, then we are making progress. According to this passage, peace grows through humility and compassion; there is no other way. If it doesn’t begin with us, those of us who have experienced the grace of God and live and move in his Spirit, then who has the ability to accomplish it in any lasting way?

For us to fulfill our obligation and our calling, as Peter says, we should mimic those early believers in their harmony, humility and compassionate actions with one another so we may be able to effectively stand together for God’s purpose. When we openly demonstrate the fear of Yahweh by doing what is right with one another and actively seek peace with all of those around us, we serve this higher calling we have received and build on the legacy of Messiah in continuing to establish the Kingdom of God in this world for all time.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Isaiah’s outline of the steps to forgiveness

The Word of God comes to life through our obedient thoughts and ways.

Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of forgiveness, and how we have the ability, through faith in Messiah, to gain the privilege of being reconciled with our Maker when we recognize that our lives are not in alignment with his purposes. To accomplish this, we must repent of those things that are outside of his will for us.

Isaiah 55:7 – Let wicked people abandon their ways. Let evil people abandon their thoughts. Let them return to Yahweh, and he will show compassion to them. Let them return to our God, because he will freely forgive them.

Throughout the Bible, forgiveness from God for wayward actions has always been graciously available for those who seek it.

2 Chronicles 7:14 – if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Notice this forgiveness is conditional on his people’s conviction to humble themselves, seek God, and turn from their wicked ways. The Bible also has examples of those whom God would not forgive, not because he is arbitrary, but because the individual or group of people demonstrates non-repentance.

Deuteronomy 29:18-20 – Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from Yahweh our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.‘ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. Yahweh will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of Yahweh and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and Yahweh will blot out his name from under heaven.

Joshua 24:19-20 – But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve Yahweh, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake Yahweh and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”

These examples show that forgiveness is possible only after a recognition of having done something against God’s revealed instruction. However, many people today don’t seek God’s forgiveness because they are not aware of having violated any of God’s commands. So perhaps in our discussion of forgiveness, we need to start there. One can’t ask for forgiveness if one is not aware of how some revealed instruction of God has been violated.

The revelation of God’s instruction to an assembled group of people has happened in two primary and distinctive portions of the Bible: the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, and the Sermon on the Mount. One was transmitted directly to the people from God himself, the other was related to an assembled group of followers through God’s Anointed One, Yeshua. One provides the basis for all godly and human interaction in concrete commands, the other provides the basis for the spiritual emphasis of God’s concrete commands. Taken together, these two great passages form the core of the Bible message, and God’s expectations of human interaction with himself and others.

If a person seeking God recognizes that their life is outside the bounds of these very basic parameters that God has provided to all people, then they may feel the need to change the pattern of their life in those areas. When this occurs, they sense a real and urgent need to be forgiven. Whether it’s from wrongs they have committed with other individuals or whether it’s for seemingly irreconcilable errors committed in life, humans will typically reach a point within their lives where forgiveness becomes a real need. It may not be something obvious to others or sometimes even themselves, but the need exists and persists until a crisis point is reached. Once that happens, something must be done to meet this need.

In the passage today, Isaiah outlines three things necessary to accomplish this with God when confronted with the basic expectations God has for people in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount: abandoning wicked ways; abandoning wicked thoughts, and returning to Yahweh.

Isaiah 55:7 – Let wicked people abandon their ways. Let evil people abandon their thoughts. Let them return to Yahweh, and he will show compassion to them. Let them return to our God, because he will freely forgive them.

First, Isaiah says that the people must abandon their rebellious ways. This individual is named with the adjective “wicked.” The Hebrew word implies the idea of someone who is guilty of doing wrong, or worthy of condemnation because of moral depravity. This is typically used throughout the Bible for an individual with bitter and hostile intent toward God or others, or just a bad person.

The problem that arises in our modern context is that most people, even bad people, do not consider themselves as bad people. They justify themselves in their actions based on their own rationale stemming from comparing themselves with those around them who may do even worse things, thinking themselves better and therefore not guilty of wrongdoing.

However, God’s standards are uncompromising. As mentioned previously, even at the most basic level, the Ten Commandments exhibit a baseline standard for people to evaluate themselves in any culture and in any time in history. The universality of the commandments stand as a testimony against every individual as a performance standard that God expects of people who would consider themselves as his own people. That was the purpose of delivering them to the assembled congregation at Sinai, as God was laying out the constitution or charter of his Kingdom to be evidenced among his people for all time. The commandments lay out the appropriate actions toward God and toward others, and all other instruction from God’s Word stems from this blueprint.

Yeshua taught this as well.

Matthew 22:37-40 – And he said to him, “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

These two commandments are the summary of two tablets of the Ten Commandments: the first half of the instruction relates how to love God, and the second half relates how to love others. When people compare themselves to these standards and not to the corrupt culture around them, they can reach no other conclusion except that they are guilty of morally wrong actions, and therefore by the Bible definition, bad or wicked.

Yeshua expanded on the spiritual motivations behind the Ten Commandments with his Sermon on the Mount. This teaching appears in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke in slightly different settings, highlighting the likelihood this was a basic teaching of Yeshua’s which he shared wherever he went.

Back to Isaiah’s instruction for the wicked to abandon their ways, the word for abandon implies leaving, forsaking, loosing and letting go. The way of a person is their manner, habit, course of life and intentions. When a person’s plans and purposes are against the plans and purposes of Yahweh, then God is not able to accomplish his purpose through that individual. The cycles and patterns of personal behavior have to be changed with a commitment to move beyond them.

Yeshua relates a similar purpose when he states, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” (Matthew 6:33). When the individual can lay down their purpose at the feet of God and the purposes of his kingdom, then God has the ability to direct and provide what is needed for an obedient life. When this conclusion is reached, it is a huge step towards the fulfillment of completing the other steps Isaiah lays out in our subject verse.

The next step Isaiah mentions is that of not just abandoning wicked ways, but of abandoning evil thoughts. This is not an injunction to mindless obedience, but a directive to change the habits of thinking that can keep individuals trapped in the loop of non-productive or harmful behaviors. Nothing changes in the actions until thought patterns are revised.

The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are not just about actions, but about intentions. By putting God first, not worshiping images, respecting his Name and set apart time, we demonstrate to him how much we love him in our thinking. When we desire to abide by the rest of the commandments in our thinking, we tend to act out those thoughts through honoring others created in his image. These intentions and thoughts then keep us focused on him and his Kingdom, and not our own ways.

The methods of seeking God’s Kingdom first are laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, as I have covered in detail throughout the various teachings presented on this site. These methods and intentions involve integrity, vigilance, holiness, trust, forgiveness and compassion. When people truly evaluate their actions in view of the standards God has provided to us in these teachings of Moses and Yeshua, and not the standards of society, then there is a more complete picture of their standing before God.

The third aspect is what Isaiah describes as returning to God. While this admonition was originally spoken to those in Israel who were familiar with God but had rejected him, the same encouragement exists for us who have been confronted with God’s standards and are seeking for a measure of spiritual peace that comes from reconciling with the Creator of all things. Isaiah confirms this in the context of this passage when he writes:

Isaiah 55:3-5 – Open your ears, and come to me! Listen so that you may live! I will make an everlasting promise to you – the blessings I promised to David. I made him a witness to people, a leader and a commander for people. You will summon a nation that you don’t know, and a nation that doesn’t know you will run to you because of Yahweh your God, because of the Holy One of Israel. He has honored you.

Isaiah alludes to the fact that foreign nations would be drawn to the God of Israel because of the example of God’s faithfulness with David, and with his people. What was future to Isaiah is the present age we are living in. Because of the faithfulness of David’s “son,” Yeshua the Messiah, we have the ability, through faith in him, to gain the privilege of being reconciled with our Maker when we realize that our lives are not in alignment with his purposes.

  • John 1:12-13 – …he gave the right to become God’s children to everyone who believed in him. These people didn’t become God’s children in a physical way-from a human impulse or from a husband’s desire to have a child. They were born from God.
  • Isaiah 55:6 – Seek Yahweh while he may be found. Call on him while he is near.

He is near even today and able to accept and forgive all who come to him with sincere motives and a willingness to abandon their past wicked ways and past disobedient ways of thinking. That need for forgiveness can be met today.

Romans 8:5-7, 13-14 – For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. … For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

For all those who recognize they have transgressed the commands and intentions God has provided in his Word, forgiveness is always available, along with strength through his holy Spirit which can enlighten and guide in the correct ways. Repentance of wicked ways and thoughts paves the way for God to expand his influence in the life of not only those who have not yet experienced spiritual regeneration, but in the life of the believer, as well. The Word of God comes to life through our obedient thoughts and ways, and God is glorified when we lay down anything that offends or transgresses his instruction for us. This is how the Kingdom of God continues to expand and grow, and we become privileged to become his co-laborers in the fulfillment of these things.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Experiencing peace through trusting God and his will for his Kingdom

We exhibit the ultimate trust in God when we pray for God’s will to be done in our lives according to the needs of his Kingdom.

Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of trust, and how we exhibit the ultimate trust in God when we sincerely pray for his will to be done in our lives according to the needs of his Kingdom. This alone provides a peace that passes understanding. In our study today, we will be reviewing how the teachings of both Yeshua and Paul can provide detailed actions that can help us to pattern our lives after the faithful lives of the early believers.

Let’s begin with understanding how Yeshua taught about priorities in the believer’s life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua taught two ways that anxiety in life, caused by focusing on worldly needs, can be overcome.

The first way is to recognize spiritual priorities.

Matthew 6:31-33 – “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the nations seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Here we see that Yeshua is explaining how anxiety is the result of over-focus on self and selfish needs. By contrast, when becoming engaged with the things of God, personal problems and concerns tend to fade into the background. A commitment to the Kingdom of God helps to keep the correct perspective that allows balance in daily living. Recognizing that the needs of the Kingdom outweigh self-directed problems helps believers to remain productive and fruitful in walking with God. Looked at from the opposite perspective, when believers focus on their own problems to the exclusion of all other things, they are likely being unproductive and unfruitful in their spiritual walk. In this condition, they have allowed themselves to become self-absorbed and overly consumed with personal worry. 

It’s been said that the smallest of pebbles when held at arm’s length is of no consequence, but when brought to within inches of the eye can block all of our vision. If we view our personal problems as that pebble, then it is in our best interest to keep them at arm’s length by focusing on the Kingdom first, rather than keeping our problems close to the eye to the exclusion of everything else around us. The perspective Yeshua provides us can free us from self-absorption with our own issues.

The second way Yeshua teaches about overcoming anxiety, in addition to his teaching for us to stay focused on the Kingdom, is to focus on one day at a time. Each day has its own challenges, so just take the challenges you face one day at a time. 

Matthew 6:34 – “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

By maintaining a focus on the Kingdom, and taking one day at a time, Yeshua provides a practical two-step plan for overcoming anxieties that the rest of the world may be experiencing.

Further, Yeshua provides a demonstration of the outworking of this teaching from his experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his prayer to God regarding the trial and crucifixion he was about to undergo, he simply prays, “Not my will, but yours be done.” This is the prayer that demonstrates ultimate trust in God. When believers can fully consign themselves to God’s will, then their personal needs or situations become of little or no consequence. This is the outworking of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about seeking first the Kingdom of God. Here, Yeshua is putting the needs of God’s Kingdom above his own.

People always say they want to know what God’s will is for their lives. Well, God’s will and the activities surrounding his Kingdom are one and the same. His will is that his Kingdom becomes visible through the faithful actions of his people living out his standards in their lives. When believers start praying in this way for God’s will to be done, they must remain open to seeking and recognizing what the needs are of his Kingdom in any given situation. This comes through consistently being in his word, receptive to his Torah, or instruction, in all things.

This is a solemn teaching for the mature believer. This is no surface admonition, but a commitment that can only come from the deepest recesses of spiritual insight and understanding. This teaching separates God’s true children from those who are only loosely affiliated with him. Only a true child of God can put aside all personal connections to remain devoted primarily to God and to his Messiah as Lord. Yeshua stated it this way:

Matthew 10:37-39 – Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:24-25 – Then Yeshua told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mark 10:29-30 – Yeshua said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

This is what is required to walk in the way of God, and to follow the Messiah. This is putting God’s Kingdom first. In this state, there is no opportunity for selfish worry or anxiety. Worry is selfish; seeking the Kingdom and following Messiah is selfless.

In a moment, we will examine a famous teaching of the apostle Paul, and how he expands on this theme of selflessness with specific actions that he encouraged believers to follow in order to remain steadfast and experience the peace that comes from trusting in God.

Philippians 4:6-7 – Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Messiah Yeshua.

Before we dive in to an application of these words for believers today, we must always remember to keep the words we read in the original context as much as possible for us to receive the full benefit and understanding of what is being discussed. So, let’s look at the overall point of what Paul is trying to convey and who he his audience is.

First of all, this was a letter intended for a specific group of believers for a specific purpose.

Philippians 1:1, 9-11  …To all the saints in Messiah Yeshua who are at Philippi…it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Messiah, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Yeshua Messiah, to the glory and praise of God.

Paul is writing to encourage these believers who were residing in Philippi in the first century to excel in love, knowledge and discernment, that they would be pure and blameless for the day of Messiah, to God’s glory. The rest of his epistle is primarily focused on this encouragement toward fruitful actions of righteousness so they would be counted worthy of attaining the Kingdom of God at the appearing of the Messiah.

Continuing throughout the epistle, we can see there is this constant theme of holding fast, standing firm, not allowing themselves to fall from the faith that they had received.

3:16 – Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

4:1 – Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

This standing firm was to be based upon the hope of the immanent return of Messiah who would transform them into the heavenly Kingdom. If they could hold true to what they had already attained, then they would be able to remain steadfast in the faith until the day of Messiah. He then reiterates the immanence of this day of the Messiah, and how their focus on heavenly things (the Kingdom of God) would allow them to patiently await the Messiah when he was to come and transform them.

Philippians 3:20-21; 4:1 – But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Yeshua Messiah, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

So, against this backdrop of hope and standing firm comes the famous passage about the peace of God which passes all understanding. How we all would love to experience such peace! Here is where we find the source of that peace that Paul was teaching those Philippian believers about.

Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua.

Paul says to remove anxiety by prayer and thanksgiving in everything. This is the pattern of behaviors that instills peace that only God can provide. Paul’s instruction to the Philippian congregation is to pray and be grateful for everything. When we express ourselves and our thanks to God, we are recognizing him as the one who is ultimately in control of all things. This recognition is the basic foundation of our trust and faith in God to begin with. We are deferring to him as the ultimate authority in all aspects of life. We are allowing God to be God.

However, where we sometimes err is in thinking that if we pray about a situation, God will control the outcome to make us happy and content, fulfilling all of our desires. When we think this way, we are lapsing back into a selfish focus on worldly challenges we may be facing. But in this recognition of God’s ultimate authority in all things, we should ensure that our desires always fall under the category of trusting in his judgment for the outcome that is best for him and his Kingdom, not necessarily what we think we desire. Remember, Yeshua taught about seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, not selfish needs or ambitions. Our practical focus should remain on others. Paul reiterates this to the Philippian believers as well:

Philippians 2:2-5 – …complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Messiah Yeshua…

And this is the crux of the issue that can plague us: separating our selfish desires from those things that fall in line with accomplishing God’s purpose for the continued growth of his Kingdom. As our spiritual maturity level grows, we can learn to focus on this “mind of Messiah” by thinking, praying, and acting more on the needs of others, or at least as much as our own needs.

And when we can learn to sincerely pray, as Yeshua did, “Not my will but yours be done” in everything we pray about, we then move into a place of faith and trust that God knows what’s best for us, regardless of what we may want for ourselves. Paul says that our hearts and minds can have peace “in Messiah Yeshua.” To be “in” the Messiah is to follow his ways, his teachings, and his example. When we do so by seeking first the Kingdom  of God and his will, our lives will bear the fruit of righteous actions that he desires for his people.

Yeshua taught the two most important things are to love God with heart, soul, and strength, and to love others as yourself. When our concerns for others become as natural as the care that we have for our own needs, then we are moving into a place of truly following the example of the Messiah, and the incomprehensible peace of God will stand guard over our hearts and minds.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The steep price of holiness and purity of heart

We must present our bodies as living sacrifices, sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to God through denying selfish impulses.

Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of holiness, and how God has outlined a refining process for every individual who is seeking holiness and purity of heart.

2 Timothy 2:22 – Flee from youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

As Timothy was a young leader within the Yeshua movement of Judaism, Paul was encouraging him to focus on being a positive example to the believers. His commitment to the Messiah would need to be evident in every aspect of his being so that people would sense his sincerity and pureness of heart, thereby spurring confidence in his teaching, and honor towards his Lord. This admonition comes amidst a discussion on faithful workers versus those who had been spreading falsehood among believers.

2 Timothy 2:16-18 – But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Paul was encouraging Timothy to stick to these basics of Kingdom living to ensure he would remain separated from falsehood. To pursue righteousness, Paul argues, one needed only to focus on faith, love and peace with all, especially those within the community of Messiah. This would breed righteous actions, indicating pureness of heart among the believers and all would be encouraged.

While this may come across as being too simplistic, it certainly was not an easy task for the early believers. Maintaining faith and pursuing righteousness in an environment of doctrinal oppression and brutal, physical persecution was a lifestyle of daily challenge. Demonstrating real love not only for the brethren but also those who were opposed to the gospel of the Kingdom was a monumental task. And pursuing peace with everyone who was essentially against the teachings of Yeshua required the deepest levels of reliance on the Spirit of God working within them to establish God’s Kingdom in that generation.

John 14:25-26 – “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

Yeshua had promised his disciples that the Spirit of God would bring to remembrance everything he had been teaching them, and in doing so, they would continually be taught how to interact with others. As God dwelt among his people, there was a unity that would stand as a testament to outsiders because the believers were operating within peace and love that God desires among his Kingdom people.

Acts 2:42-47 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

In another teaching context with the Roman congregation, the apostle Paul highlights the fact that righteousness, peace, joy, and encouragement in the Spirit were what would unify the believers and build up the Kingdom.

Romans 14:16-19 – Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Messiah in this way is acceptable to God and receives human approval. So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.

Here we can see how Paul was essentially laying out the foundation of all interactions in the Kingdom which had already been evidenced by the early believers within their emerging community of faith. Paul says in Romans 14 that, “The kingdom of God is…righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit. Whoever serves Messiah in this way is acceptable to God and receives human approval.”

Now compare this definition to the example of the early believers described in Acts 2. Look at how those first believers were “conducting themselves in righteousness”:

  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
  • to fellowship
  • to the breaking of bread (eating of common meals)
  • to prayer
  • all the believers were together and held all things in common
  • They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need

They also demonstrated “peace and joy”:

  • They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts

They were “acceptable to God and receiving human approval”:

  • praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

And the end result was:

  • Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved

So, how is it that this early group of Messiah believers could be so focused on the Kingdom and be such a bold and powerful witness to others? Is there a way that we can somehow mimic their faithfulness today so that we can also be a powerful witness to our own generation? In a moment, we will review a critical yet challenging teaching of Yeshua that can help us to do just that.

As we have seen so far, the early believers began operating within the dynamic parameters of peace and unity as they were taught by the holy Spirit through the apostles. As the Spirit brought to mind the teachings of Yeshua, the apostles were faithfully teaching and living out the principles for the believers to see and follow. And one of those principles of Yeshua is that he had said that those who were pure of heart and peacemakers would be blessed.

Matthew 5:8-9 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Yeshua also illustrated with his own life the steep price that that his followers would have to pay in order to live out these principles in the process of following him.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Yeshua told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

So, now we get to the heart of the matter. Being set apart as pure of heart and a peacemaker involves a critical practice: denial of self. To deny oneself is to set oneself apart for some other, greater purpose. When we can get outside of ourselves and our personal, selfish impulses, it is then that we have the capacity to be filled with God’s Spirit so he can teach us how to become the pure and peaceful people he wants us to be. The characteristics Paul mentions in this passage to Timothy all involve our outward actions towards others based on an inward transformation: righteous actions involve denial of self; faith involves denial of self; love involves denial of self; peace involves denial of self. Therefore, we can conclude: the steep price of holiness or being set apart involves a continual outward focus on behalf of others.

But, since almost everything we encounter in this life and our current culture tells us the exact opposite (that we need to exert our rights, our privileges, our selfish impulses) we really need to evaluate ourselves in light of not only our personal walk, but in the context of our usefulness to the purposes of God.

Paul leveraged this concept of usefulness within the Kingdom by drawing an analogy to household articles.

2 Timothy 2:20-21 – Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

Based on Paul’s analogy here, there is a purging or cleansing of oneself from what is dishonorable that allows one to become set apart and more useful to God. The root meaning of the Greek word means” to cleanse by taking away; to thoroughly scour and clean out that which is impure.” This, according to Paul, is something that one must do for oneself. God is the one who makes our hearts new, but we as individuals must provide a clean working environment for that new heart to operate within. Believers have a responsibility to scour and clean out those things that offend God because of his holiness and presence in our lives, and in turn we become set apart as holy, ready for every good work towards others.

This whole chapter in 2 Timothy is sprinkled with admonitions to faithfully conduct this work of cleansing oneself (mentioned in verse 21) in every area of life. Paul instructs Timothy to have his hearers work at the sanctification in their lives in the following ways:

  • 14 – avoid wrangling over words
  • 16 – avoid profane chatter
  • 19 – let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness
  • 22 – shun youthful passions
  • 23 – have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies
  • 24 – the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome

On the positive side of the equation, purity of heart is demonstrated by the following:

  • 15 – doing your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him
  • 15 – rightly explain the word of truth
  • 21 – being ready for every good work
  • 22 – pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace
  • 24 – being kindly to everyone
  • 24 – being skillful in teaching
  • 24 – being patient
  • 25 – gently correcting opponents

All of these actions, whether avoiding that which is not beneficial or conducting those things which are, come at the steep price of denial of self. Remember what Yeshua said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The imagery conveyed here by Yeshua would have been a familiar one to his hearers, as they would have watched many crucifixions of capital offenders in their days. The offender would be forced to carry the very thing upon which he must die. I can think of no greater illustration of the life of the believer that conveys the necessity of continually bearing the instrument of death (denial of self) in the practice of doing what is right. Once we deny ourselves by avoiding that which is unhelpful, we then need to “pick up the cross” of doing what is right in place of those things. It is such a powerful metaphor for a very real and tangible discipline that should be touching every area of the believer’s life.

Paul calls this being a “living sacrifice;” a sacrificial offering that lives on and through the continual act of dying to self.

Romans 12:1-2 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This is the same message he is urging Timothy to convey to his hearers: to present their bodies as living sacrifices, sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to God through denying their selfish impulses, not being conformed to the world. But they are also to be transformed through renewal, learning through the act of being tested what actions are good, acceptable and perfect according to his will.

Paul himself suffered intense persecution, and he knew it was a reality for believers who were separating from falsehood, but that they should remain steadfast in their faith.

2 Timothy 3:12-14 – Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Messiah Yeshua will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them.

Paul reminds Timothy to rely on the faithful teaching which he had received as the basis of all he would strive to impart to his hearers.

How like Timothy and those early believers we should strive to be! We must remain steadfast in the things we have learned, cleansing ourselves from every false way so that we may live righteous lives that honor God. By demonstrating righteousness through faith, love, and peace, we will also be honoring the memory and faithfulness of those early believers which they had suffered through their sacrificial examples and through intense persecution. But we will also be honoring the God who calls us to the same life of useful work in our generation. As his people continue to set themselves apart for his use, he is glorified in every age and his Kingdom has opportunity to grow as it continues to fill the earth.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Keeping the commands of God over our traditions and impulses

Observing, guarding, and watching the covenant and commands of God is as much a responsibility of God’s people today as it ever has been.

Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of vigilance. Keeping the covenant and commands of God requires multi-faceted vigilance, as cultural influx that negates or destroys the foundations of God’s word is as rampant today as it has been since ancient times.

The Bible is filled with admonitions to keep the covenant or to keep the commands of God. We read about it so often that we may sometimes gloss over the significance of what it means to keep the words of God.

Psalm 119:57, 60, 63 – Yahweh is my portion; I promise to keep your words. … I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments. … I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.

God had conveyed many specific directives to the ancient Israelites through Moses, including this necessity to keep his commands.

Exodus 19:5 – “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples…”

In this passage, God made it clear that those who obey him by keeping his covenant would be his people. The word we translate as keep or to keep in English comes from the Hebrew root word shamar which at its most rudimentary level means to observe and watch. In its primary sense, it means to heed, pay attention to, or observe (in practice) the covenant and the commands of God. This is the generally accepted meaning when it is used.

However, it also means to guard, preserve, or protect. This is a huge concept in Hebrew thought as it relates to the commands of God. Based on passages like Exodus 19:5 that we just reviewed, both the ancient and modern Israelites have understood themselves to be the receivers of God’s wisdom above all other nations in the world. As such, it was their responsibility to preserve his words through oral traditions and written records. Thankfully for all believers today, it was due to this dutiful caretaking of God’s words that we even have a Bible today.

But over the centuries some of the caretakers of the written records had taken this instruction to the extreme by making additional traditions and rules which were intended to guard the Torah even further, to prevent people from violating the original commands. The original intent of creating these extra rules may have been sincere enough, but soon the traditions and rules became equivalent, or even superior to, the original command of Yahweh and they ended up elevating the man-made traditions above the word of God itself. By the days of Yeshua, there were so many rules and regulations about the rules and regulations of God that it had become a hot mess of traditions mixed over the top of the original commands of God.

According to rabbinical lore, the motivation behind these Jewish traditions and rules was to “build a fence” around the Torah by designating specific actions as a way of protecting people from violating the actual commands of God. This is known as halakha, or the way to walk. These are the religious rules, sometimes called the Oral Law, that rabbinical thinkers and teachers have provided over the centuries. Since approximately 200 A.D, these oral teachings have been summarily encapsulated in the body of Jewish literature known as the Talmud.

To be fair, Jewish thought distinguishes between explicit commands and those derived from rabbinical teaching in the Talmud. For example, the command to observe the Sabbath is explicit right in the text of Exodus:

Exodus 20:8-10 – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy:  You are to labor six days and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You must not do any work ​– ​you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates.”

As we can see, the command to observe the Sabbath clearly involves not doing any work on that day. But in Jewish practice, there is also a “fence” command that the rabbis have created to where even holding a tool is against the Torah. It does not say that in the scriptural text, but the logic is that if you are forbidden from holding a tool, you are less likely to accidentally break the command of not working on the Sabbath.

In orthodox circles, both the text of Torah and the principles of halakha in the Talmud are considered legally binding in matters of practice. This Sabbath command is only one example of thousands of added commands to the Torah that orthodox Jews were and are expected to observe. So it can be seen that the original “guarding” of God’s word, the keeping of the commands, had eventually become corrupted into a convoluted system of man-made traditions and rules, even by the days of Yeshua. In fact, Yeshua famously chastised the religious leaders of his day for this very thing:

Mark 7:8-13 – “…you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.” He said to them, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban, that is to say, given to God;”‘ then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this.”

In this example, rather than taking care of parents as Torah commands, the rabbinical halakha allowed that same potential care of mother and father to be considered an offering to God; a loophole to release people from taking care of their parents yet still appearing as pious and observant. These various interpretations of the commands led to many differing opinions and loopholes in the Torah that were (and still are) argued over and debated in the synagogues and among the people. Yeshua is recorded as exposing these fence commands as being too strict and derailing the original intent of the Torah in the first place.

However, in his own teaching and doctrine, Yeshua is recorded as having established his own type of halakha in regards to the Torah. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua speaks about at least two of the Ten Commandments (the explicit commands of God) and expresses a specific halakha for each.

Matthew 5:21-22 – “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the Gehenna of fire.

Matthew 5:27-28 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Here we can see how Yeshua takes the base, textual commands of Yahweh and defines a specific halakha or “fence” command for each. To avoid breaking the commandment against murder, one must control their anger. To avoid adultery, one must control their attention and desires. But notice the difference between the halakha of the Jewish authorities and Yeshua: the Jews focused on specific actions to prevent breaking the commands; Yeshua focused on specific attitudes of the heart from which would flow the correct actions and the true keeping of the Torah commands. Rather than constantly having to remember a bunch of man-made rules to avoid breaking the Torah, Yeshua taught that a right heart will by default keep Yahweh’s commands perfectly.

This is the good news of the New Covenant theology of Yeshua and the Kingdom of God! It is the fulfillment of the aspirations of all of the old prophets who foretold that Israel would receive a new heart that would be obedient to the Torah.

Jeremiah 31:33 – For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 – And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The New Covenant is based on the Spirit of God dwelling among his people and causing their hearts to be changed to follow his Torah because it will be internalized, “written on their hearts.” With their hearts made righteous, his people would then by default accomplish his will and be the light to the nations that they have always been destined to be. This is why Yeshua told Nicodemus that he must be “born again” to see the Kingdom of God; an act of creation as decisive and real as physical birth. Those who receive the teaching of Yeshua and the commands of God are re-created into new beings with new hearts that produce new actions, actions that honor God and keep his Word.

The other definition of keeping as it relates to the covenant and commandments is to watch. Watching implies an alertness, being aware of surroundings, looking for any holes in the perimeter defenses to maintain the security of what is being guarded. This is the level of vigilance necessary to make sure that what God has provided is not being diminished by outside influence.

This is probably the most under utilized aspect within the concept of keeping the covenant and commands. Cultural influx of worldly ideals is and has been the biggest adversary to the people of God over the centuries. Living in an environment with a constant stream of values that negate or destroys the foundations of God’s word is as rampant today as it always has been. Unfortunately, with our Western worldview, the current efforts of God’s people to prop up defenses for God’s Word is many times based on arguments regarding literal interpretations of biblical events rather than standing firm on the text with literary defenses. In discussions today, we waste time trying to set historical dates and evidences for things like Noah’s flood or the age of the earth which only cause further debate and strife, both within and without the kingdom.

If we would instead recognize and defend the literary nature of the Bible and recognize the intent of the stories and what they are trying to teach rather than when they physically occurred, we would go much further in honoring God’s purpose in having an eternal record of those things. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I don’t believe those events occurred within history, it’s just that the biblical record is not a newspaper account that can be completely catalogued and charted in the realm of scientific study; it has never been intended to be such a record as that. And when believers attempt to become scientific about the Biblical accounts of various things that were never intended to be viewed in that fashion, they end up dishonoring the very One they are intending to honor, much like the Pharisaical leaders of Yeshua’s day.

We have to remember that the ancient Hebrew mindset was more symbolic and figurative than literal when it came to relating their events and history. Because of this, we must exercise care in our determination of historical events, common phrases that were used for familiar items and processes for them, and spiritual experiences that conveyed God’s truth in symbolic fashion. Just like the Pharisees of old, we can become so consumed with the minutiae of the letter of the Word that we miss the spiritual meaning of what it actually means.

There are also different emphases when it comes to being vigilant and watching as related in the teachings of Yeshua and his disciples. Some of the watching involves care in what type of teaching you expose yourself to:

Mark 8:15 – And [Yeshua] cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

This would indicate a measure of discernment that would be needed in the information being received both from religious and political authorities. Another type of watching comes from vigilance with our own actions, to ensure we are not carried away by worldly desires.

Galatians 6:1 – Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

2 John 1:8 – Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.

Another type of watching involves the care of God’s leaders among his people, to be diligent in ensuring that those who have been given into their care are properly provided for so that the people can effectively serve God.

Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

In our practice of watching carefully over God’s Word, ourselves, and each other, we must ensure that our vigilance in keeping his Word centers on honoring God, not on our personal theories about God or our personal traditions beyond what the text really says. The stories and message of the Bible are all meant to express the reality of God’s Kingdom, and his faithfulness with his people, reassuring us that God is the Creator of all and that he always does what he says. If this is the case, and we are to be his children, then we should also always do what we say so we can honor  and represent him faithfully in all things.

Observing, guarding, and watching the covenant and commands of God is as much a responsibility of God’s people today as it ever has been. As we remain faithful to the intent and the spirit of his word, not just the letter of the law or loyalty to our religious traditions, we can guarantee a fulfilling future for our descendants whom God will draw to himself and his Kingdom in ages to come.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Keeping God’s Word before us at all times

Believers should be so imbued with God’s Word that it causes them to act with the integrity of his commandments as a reflex.

Today we will be looking at one of the seven core Bible principles: integrity. Reviewing the information today I hope to show how believers should be so imbued with God’s Word that it causes us to act with the integrity of his commandments as a reflex.

Deuteronomy 6:18, 25 – Do what is right and good in Yahweh’s sight, so all will go well with you. … For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands Yahweh our God has given us.

As Moses was preparing the Israelites to enter the land of Canaan, he encouraged them to continually be reminded of doing what is good and right so that they would be sure to follow all of the commands of God’s law. If they were to do what was right from the heart, that is how they would be sure to be following all of God’s commands and they would be considered righteous.

In the same way, Yeshua taught that believers should demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands.

Matthew 5:20 – “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

What Yeshua was teaching the audience of his day was nothing new. God had continually put before the Israelites that the integrity of the actions they were to pursue and the decisions they made should have been coming should have been coming from a genuine place in their hearts, not just outward compliance. Moses had urged this of the Hebrew community over a millennia earlier:

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 – Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one: and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart

In order to continue this focus in their culture Moses had provided them a specific set of instructions or a template that they could implement in the lives of their communities. Over the years, the Israelites would form many traditions around his original template.  Ultimately, this was by design to help them to maintain a continuous recognition of the commands of God.

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 – and you shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for symbols between your eyes. You shall write them on the door posts of your house, and on your gates.

One of the primary methods used by Hebrew believers over the years to accomplish this doing of the commands stems from the ongoing recitation of the Shema and the practices associated with it. What is the Shema? As outlined from a popular Jewish website Chabad.org, this process has become a daily declaration of their faith.

Shema Yisrael (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) (“Hear, O Israel”) are the first two words of a section of the Torah that is the centerpiece of the morning and evening prayer services, encapsulating the monotheistic essence of Judaism: “Hear, O Israel: G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is one.” In its entirety, the Shema consists of three paragraphs: Deuteronomy 6:4–9, Deuteronomy 11:13–21 and Numbers 15:37–41. Its recitation twice daily (morning and evening) is a biblical commandment. In addition, we recite it just before retiring for the night, as well as in the Kedushah [set-apart] service on Shabbat. Indeed, this succinct statement has become so central to the Jewish people that it is the climax of the final Ne’ilah [closing of the gates] prayer of Yom Kippur, and is traditionally a Jew’s last words on earth.” – Chabad.org – What is the Shema

So let’s take a closer look at the principal section of the Shema that we reviewed a few moments ago in Deuteronomy 6.

First, Moses states the purpose of this instruction in the opening verse: “These words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart…” This is his over-arching objective in the instruction he is about to reveal: to have the words that God commands on their hearts, not just in their minds. When God’s Word is on the heart of the believer, then all of the actions that stem from that foundation will be correctly motivated and acted upon.

Moses then proceeds to explain how to imbue the entire community with the richness of God’s Word.

Deuteronomy 6:7 – “Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Notice the progression he outlines here. First be sure the children are taught the truth of God’s Word. If they are not exposed to the Word of God on a regular basis, they will likely form their own opinions based on the corrupted cultures around them and they will potentially fall away from the one, true God to a belief system of the popular culture or one of their own making.

“You shall teach them to your children…” The Hebrew phrasing in this passage could be literally rendered as, “You shall diligently sharpen your children.” The imagery is that children need to be constantly honed in the things of God in order to be a useful implement to God throughout their lives, much like a sharp knife is much more useful than a dull one. This is a process, not a program. It is something they must be exposed to on a regular basis through the course of their lives.

Moses continues, “You shall talk of them…” The commands of God are something that should be a topic of discussion as situations are encountered each day, whether at home or out and about in the community, or traveling on an extended journey. How do God’s commands apply to what the children are experiencing, or the family situation that is at hand? What better way to demonstrate the truth of God’s Word than to live it out in our daily, practical experiences? But in order for believing parents to do so, they must also be imbued with God’s Word. Adults must take the time to understand how God’s Word applies in their lives as parents so they can faithfully share that wisdom with their children.

Moses says to talk about the commands of God “when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road.”  This constant focus on God’s commands would show that his Word is being implemented within the daily fabric of the family, not only at home but when running errands or traveling. When children see that the God’s Word is a vital part of the parents’ lives at all times and in every place, they are more likely to be receptive to it themselves seeing that it has universal application.

He says to also be sure to review it “when you lie down and when you get up.” This is where Judaism derives the principle that the Shema should be recited twice daily: in the evening (when you lay down) and in the morning (when you get up).

As an aside, notice how the day is reckoned in Hebraic culture: first there is evening, then there is morning. We get a glimpse here of how sunset begins the day and the morning begins the second half of the day. In our Western culture, we might have stated it as “talk about God’s Word every morning, noon, and night.” But for ancient Hebrews, a total day is halved between darkness first, and light second. This mirrors the Creation narrative:

Genesis 1:2-3, 5 – Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. … God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” There was an evening [listed first], and there was a morning: one day.

Ancient cosmology aside, the focus of Moses’ command is to indeed have a constant attention to God’s Word throughout the totality of every day. If the Israelites were to do so, the commands of God would always be the constant focus of his people, acting on it from the heart in all they do.

The next section of the Shema illustrates another picture of the constancy of the Word within the hearts of the believing community.

Deuteronomy 6:8 – “Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.”

Now from this one sentence has come a Jewish tradition that was practiced up through the days of Yeshua and is still practiced by Jews today: the wearing of tefillin or phylacteries. From the website of the Jewish Virtual Library, we gain the following definition of tefillin:

“Tefillin are two small black boxes with black straps attached to them; Jewish men are required to place one box on their head and tie the other one on their arm each weekday morning… The Pharisees … took the text literally; the words of the Torah are to be inscribed on a scroll and placed directly between one’s eyes and on one’s arm.”

However, with the entire section of this instruction from Moses beginning with “these words shall be in your heart,” the command has also been understood to be figurative, in the sense that every thought (between the eyes) and every action (of the hands) should be prompted from the commands of God. The Jewish Virtual Library article also points out how various Jewish groups have had this type of interpretation over the years.

“Certain Jewish groups — including probably the Sadducees, and definitely the medieval Karaites — understood the last verse to be figurative; it means only that one should always be preoccupied with words of Torah, as if they were in front of one’s eyes.”

In my view, I believe that is the intent of Moses’ instruction, seeing how the primary emphasis is not on any outward show but on ensuring that the words of God are in the hearts of the believer. I think this is illustrated most clearly by seeing how this phrasing of signs and symbols on the hand and between the eyes is used in another section of Scripture where Moses is explaining about the annual practice of observing the week of Unleavened Bread at Passover.

Exodus 13:6-10 – “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there is to be a festival to Yahweh. “Unleavened bread is to be eaten for those seven days. Nothing leavened may be found among you, and no yeast may be found among you in all your territory. On that day explain to your son, ‘This is because of what Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ Let it serve as a sign for you on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that Yahweh’s instruction may be in your mouth; for Yahweh brought you out of Egypt with a strong hand. Keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.”

Notice how the practice of observing the week of unleavened bread was to be a sign on the hand (in practice) and a reminder on the forehead (in the mind). It was established as an annual object lesson to remind the ongoing Israelite descendants of the significance of the flight from Egypt. By keeping this command in a physical way, the believing community would be bringing to remembrance, as a memorial, the event that formed them into a nation of God’s own people.

Well, so far we have looked at the commands of Moses and how some Jewish traditions have sprung up around those commands. In a moment, as we continue to look at other commands and traditions, it is my hope that we can glean an understanding of the importance of keeping God’s Word at the foremost of our thoughts and actions every day.

Having reviewed some of Moses instruction in Deuteronomy, we now switch gears for a moment to review a secondary passage of the Shema that Israel recites each day from the book of Numbers.

Numbers 15:37-41 – Yahweh said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and tell them that throughout their generations they are to make tassels for the corners of their garments, and put a blue cord on the tassel at each corner. These will serve as tassels for you to look at, so that you may remember all Yahweh’s commands and obey them and not prostitute yourselves by following your own heart and your own eyes. This way you will remember and obey all my commands and be holy to your God. I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am Yahweh your God.”

So, a secondary practice that has arisen out of the texts of the Shema passages is the wearing of tassels on one’s garments. The tassels were to be reminders to be diligent in following all of God’s commands. There is nothing in this command that suggests it is a figurative type of imagery, but by all accounts it appears to be the literal description of a specific practice. When worn on one’s own clothing, the tassels were to be a personal reminder to keep God’s commands throughout every daily situation. Seeing others wearing the tassels would also bring to remembrance the diligence needed in keeping God’s commands.

But over the years, as the practice grew within the leadership of the community, it had become corrupted as well. The tassels had become the equivalent of a religious status symbol, and, as with all social trends, it began to be abused. People began to change the appearance of their tassels to appear more righteous than others by lengthening them beyond what the typical tassel might be. Between this and the practice of wearing tefillin as mentioned previously, these things led to a pious hypocrisy of the religious leaders that Yeshua ultimately called them out on. But note: Yeshua didn’t condemn the Jewish leaders for the wearing of tefillin or tassels, but he did confront them because those things had become status symbols depending on how large the scripture boxes were, or how long their tassels had become. The outward show had replaced the inward meaning, and this opened them up to pride and hypocrisy.

Matthew 23:2-7 – “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.'”

When the object lessons we use to remind ourselves of God’s commands or to teach others about his Word become the primary focus of our practice, then we have lost sight of the spirit of God’s Word and we have succumbed to the idolatry of our traditions. This can be a slippery slope, which is why I believe God prefers simplicity from the heart. If a believer today wants to wear tassels as object lessons in the genuine spirit of the command of being reminded of the significance of God’s Word throughout the day, then I believe they should be free to do so. But if the wearing of tassels is only for attempting to appear more righteous than others, then the tassels have become idolatrous. It’s not necessarily the practice itself (excepting outright idolatry) but the motivation behind it that has any value.

Returning now to the Deuteronomy passage, the final admonition from Moses regarding the commands of God in this section was to, “write them on the door posts of your house, and on your gates.” Again, this constant and intentional placing of God’s Word where everyone in the household and where guests would pass on a regular basis would serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in providing his people with his instruction. God’s instruction only has meaning when hear it, see it, and know it. The repetition of talking about it in the house and when traveling, to wear the tassels and see them on others, and to touch the commands of God in the entering and leaving of the home all work together to keep the believing family knowing the one true God.

It’s been said that immersion in a foreign culture is the best way to learn another language. In a sense, the Kingdom of God is foreign to the cultures of this world, and it takes immersion for us to truly understand the scope and power of its presence here in the lives of believers.

The idea of being intentional about how we handle God’s Word is the key. In reality, as Yeshua illustrated, there is nothing wrong with using physical reminders as object lessons for the deeper spiritual significance. A problem only arises when those physical reminders and traditions become the objective that surpasses the underlying spiritual meaning.

The method Moses outlined of identifying what is most important in the Bible and reviewing it in an intentional way should be an example to us today. It demonstrates the tenacity required to imbue our culture with a recognition of an obedient life, an upright and righteous life, a life of true integrity.

How diligent are we in making sure the words of God are in our hearts so we can act on them without even thinking? Like physical reflexes, we should respond to our situations and conditions in ways that honor God because his instruction is thriving in our hearts. When situations arise that demand our obedience, we shouldn’t have to seek commentaries and biblical concordances; we should be so imbued with God’s Word through our daily practices that his Spirit can bring those insights to the forefront of our thinking (between the eyes), and therefore our actions (through our hands), whenever needed.

Moses’ method in his template for the family and the community involves a constant, daily, repetitious routine that would saturate the culture of the people with God’s Word. Some of the practices were to become symbolic object lessons that would keep God’s Word before them at all times. If we could find ways to incorporate this level of diligence in our daily routines for ourselves and within our families, we would not only be following the commandments as God outlined through Moses, but we would also be living lives of integrity that would be clearly and intentionally patterned on God’s Word.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The Kingdom law of restitution and generosity

A heart of covetousness can lead to a theft of the generosity he desires us to extend to others on his behalf.

Core of the Bible podcast #93 – The Kingdom law of restitution and generosity

Today we will be looking at the topic of the Kingdom of God. Within God’s Kingdom, the law of God provides the guide for all behaviors that God expects of his people. One of the primary boundaries of God’s law concerns security of individual belongings where stealing is prohibited. Interestingly, God’s solution for discouraging theft is its exact opposite: a type of forced generosity. Those who violate the law must give abundantly or they must give themselves.

The commandment as it was stated by God from Sinai in Exodus 20:15 is simple and direct: “You shall not steal.” As we look at this topic today, I feel I need to restate the perspective I have of the Ten Commandments. Far from being done away, the Ten Commandments form what I consider to be the founding charter of the Kingdom of God. These are the basic yet comprehensive rules that God has established for those participating in his Kingdom for all time.

This Kingdom pattern was exemplified by the ancient Israelites being removed abruptly from the nation of their residence into the wilderness of a harsh desert environment. In this new environment, they required rules to function as a society. Certainly, since this was an act of God drawing a people to himself, these rules would need to set them apart from all other nations with higher standards than their counterparts. This new nation was designed to be a godly society founded on godly principles.

Within this new society, theft was expressly declared as forbidden. When theft is tolerated, then societal security begins to degrade and personal property can be violated at any time. Looked at from this perspective, the right to private and personal ownership is sort of “baked in” to the Kingdom of God. By definition, theft is the taking of something that belongs to someone else. Therefore, if stealing is wrong then there is an underlying premise that God respects his people owning things, whether animals for farming, houses for living in, or fields for growing food. Private ownership is necessary for the stability and growth of the community because people who own things produce a need for those things to be produced and maintained. This feedback loop then generates an economic engine of production and service capable of growing active, vital communities. Theft interrupts that cycle and creates a deficit of trust and security within a community requiring some sort of accountability for those who don’t respect the rights of others.

Within the entire Biblical narrative, theft is never looked upon as a positive characteristic. To be a thief is to knowingly take something from someone else, usually associated with violent acts or even murder.

Proverbs 1:10-11, 13-16 – My son, if sinners entice you, don’t be persuaded.  If they say ​– ​”Come with us! Let’s set an ambush and kill someone. Let’s attack some innocent person just for fun!  … “We’ll find all kinds of valuable property and fill our houses with plunder.  “Throw in your lot with us, and we’ll all share the loot” —  my son, don’t travel that road with them or set foot on their path,  because their feet run toward evil and they hurry to shed blood.

Proverbs 28:24 – Anyone who steals from his father and mother and says, “What’s wrong with that?” is no better than a murderer.

The thief upsets the system of civilized conduct because they feel that the same rules that govern others do not apply to them. Whatever their justification is for taking something that belongs to someone else is to consider their reason more important than obeying the command to not steal and the rights of others to enjoy their own possessions. Theft is dangerous because it mocks the integrity of civil order in any society, and must be punished in order to maintain the economic integrity and security of the community.

However, interestingly, the torah or instruction of God reveals that theft is not punishable by death. Instead, a thief must face a fate that very well could be worse than death for them: they must pay restitution.

  • Exodus 22:1 – “When a man steals an ox or a sheep and butchers it or sells it, he must repay five cattle for the ox or four sheep for the sheep.
  • Exodus 22:7 – “When a man gives his neighbor valuables or goods to keep, but they are stolen from that person’s house, the thief, if caught, must repay double.
  • Exodus 22:3 – “… A thief must make full restitution. If he is unable, he is to be sold because of his theft.

At a minimum, they were to pay double what they stole (if the goods are recovered). But if what had been stolen had been sold or, in the case of a stolen animal, killed, then they were to pay up to four or five times the amount. If they were unable to pay, then they were to be sold into forced servitude to pay off the debt.

So it turns out that God’s solution for discouraging theft is its exact opposite: a type of forced generosity. They were to give abundantly out of their own possessions, or they were to be forced to give of themselves through servitude.

With the principles regarding theft clearly outlined in God’s law, it makes sense that those principles would also carry over into God’s spiritual Kingdom. However, not stealing and respecting the rights of others is only half of the equation that God wants us to practice. While the letter of the law required forced giving for those making restitution, the spirit of the law encourages us to be voluntarily giving from the heart at all times.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 – The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart ​– ​not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver.

So, with this foundational understanding of property rights and appropriate behavior of his people, God, through Yeshua, has the ability to take this principle to the next level, and he does so through teachings regarding giving.

Yeshua taught that he did not come to abolish the law; in fact he upheld it at all times and fulfilled it in all he said and did. He was known for repeating the commands, including the law against stealing.

  • Matthew 19: 18 – Yeshua said, “Never murder. Never commit adultery. Never steal. Never give false testimony. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 
  • Mark 10:19 “You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.”
  • Luke 18:20 “You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.”

Yeshua also taught that not only should believers not steal, they should be generous.

  • Matthew 5:42 – “Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
  • Matthew 10:8 – Freely you received, freely give.
  • Luke 6:38 – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

On the one hand, Yeshua upholds the law, yet on the other, he elevates it. For example, he takes the command against adultery and elevates it to the avoidance of even thinking promiscuously. He takes the command against murder and elevates it to the avoidance of even being angry. In a similar sense, to address the issue of covetousness in the life of a wealthy young inquirer, Yeshua also mentions a similar “restitution of generosity” for covetousness, which makes sense, since extreme coveting can also lead to theft.

Matthew 19: 18-22 – Yeshua said, “Never murder. Never commit adultery. Never steal. Never give false testimony. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The young man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments. What else do I need to do?” Yeshua said to him, “If you want to be perfect, sell what you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me!” When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he owned a lot of property.

In this sad instance of the man who was not willing to pay the price of following Yeshua, we see a bit of ourselves. How have we coveted the things of this world and the luxuries we have attained to where they keep us from exhibiting the generosity we should be providing to others? A heart of covetousness actually leads to a kind of stealing from God, a theft of the generosity he desires us to extend to others on his behalf.  According to Yeshua, this is the perfection that God seeks: not just not stealing, but giving and following his Messiah.

The spiritual Kingdom of God cannot be guided merely by restrictions against natural bad behaviors through the letter of the law only. If that were the case, the Kingdom would be made up of those who are really good at not doing anything wrong, but who also never do anything good for others. No, for the Kingdom to be eternal and growing to fill the earth as prophesied, it has to also produce the positive influence of God’s spirit and desire in the hearts of those who belong to him. This is how it can be a lasting influence in the world for all time.

In a similar way to the teaching of Yeshua, the apostle Paul taught that the solution for breaking any of the commandments, including stealing, was to demonstrate love to others.

Romans 13:9 – The commandments, Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and any other commandment, are summed up by this commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Paul also taught that those who practiced stealing should earn an honest living, not just for their own benefit, but so that they would have an opportunity to bless others with what they earn.

Ephesians 4:28 – Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Finally, let’s review one of the most dramatic examples of these principles in the life of Zacchaeus. He had become enthralled with the notoriety of the Messiah, and when Yeshua singled him out to be a host for him and his group, Zacchaeus was ecstatic with the recognition. While we don’t have the details of the entire process of his acceptance of Messiah, Yeshua made it clear that his renewed heart was genuine and he was no longer lost.

Luke 19:8-10 – But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord. And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much.” “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

In recognizing the immeasurable grace and mercy of God’s salvation, Zacchaeus, in both the letter and spirit of the law, offers not only to pay back those whom he had extorted four times over as required in the law, but also to go above and beyond by giving away half of everything he had on behalf of the poor. By his actions, he demonstrated his heart of covetousness had been fully changed, and he was a new creation through faith in the Messiah.

Therefore, in keeping with the torah or instruction of God within his Kingdom, and as a follower of Yeshua, we should never secretly take anything that does not belong to us. Instead, we should always be willing to give generously of all resources that have been entrusted to us. And because the life he has given us is a debt we can never repay, the remainder of our existence should become an offering of voluntary servitude to the one who has provided us this immeasurable gift of life.


If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Becoming compassionate givers

By being willing to give and loan freely, we demonstrate we are God’s children.

Core of the Bible podcast #92 – Becoming compassionate givers

Today we will be looking at the topic of compassion, and how God is honored when we respect him in all things, including how we demonstrate that compassion to others through obedient and intentional generosity.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 – If there is a poor man among your brothers within any of the gates in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, then you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him whatever he needs.

The concept of giving to those in need is evident all through the biblical writings. Traditionally, this has come down to us through the ages as the giving of “alms.” Alms is a word that is not used much in modern English these days, but it is interesting to note a little about the history of the word.

It’s definition is typically along the lines of “charitable relief of the poor,” especially as a religious duty, or “that which is given to relieve the poor or needy.” It comes from the old English word aelmesse, which was based on a Latin version of the Greek term eleemosyne, meaning mercy, pity, or compassion as exhibited in charitable giving. This Greek phrase is used in Bible passages describing the charitable obligation to help others. For example:

Matthew 6:1-4 – “Be careful not to practice your charitable giving in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. “But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, “so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Acts 3:1-3 – One afternoon Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to ask for charitable giving from those entering the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked to receive a charitable gift.

But the term in its wider usage really means any act of compassionate giving across a spectrum of generous actions. For example, it can mean kind actions towards others.

Acts 9:36 – There was a believer in Joppa named Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas). She was always doing kind things for others and charitable helping of the poor.

Acts 10:1-2 – There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a devout man and feared God along with his whole household. He did many charitable deeds for the Jewish people and always prayed to God.

It can also mean charitable offerings for the purposes of God’s people.

Acts 24:17 – After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people…

However when it comes to giving to those in need as mentioned in our passage in Deuteronomy 15, the idea of helping the poor is depicted as lending to them, not outright giving. Why is it important to understand this distinction?

Well, it has more to do with the receiver than the giver. Many times, people will struggle to accept outright handouts because of their pride. They don’t want to be made to feel they are unable to meet their needs on their own. This is actually an emotionally good and healthy response for anyone who is otherwise able to provide for themselves but may have just fallen on hard times; it happens. When encountering someone who is need, whether a friend or relative, to provide them assistance with the idea that they can pay back what was lent to them whenever they are able to allows for a sense of dignity in providing that assistance.

In ancient Israel, those who would beg for charitable handouts were typically those who had no other means of income: the lame or blind who could not work, widows and orphans (who had lost their husband/father as the provider). In the Hebraic culture, these were considered legitimate reasons for true charity, and helping and giving donations to these individuals was commanded by God and highly commended within their social culture.

Deuteronomy 26:12 – “When you have finished paying all the tenth of your produce in the third year, the year of the tenth, you are to give it to the Levites, resident aliens, fatherless children and widows, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.

Zechariah 7:9-10 – “This is what Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.

Notice, foreigners or resident aliens were also included in this social order, as they would suffer from having the status of immigrants, and were typically afforded only the most menial of jobs in that ancient society.

However, for those who had the ability to work but had simply gotten into financial straits, the Bible conveys the idea of loans from family and friends as legitimate assistance until they could get back on their feet.

Exodus 22:25 – “If you lend silver to my people, to the poor person among you, you must not be like a creditor to him; you must not charge him interest.

Leviticus 25:35-37 – “If your brother becomes destitute and cannot sustain himself among you, you are to support him as an alien or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. “Do not profit or take interest from him, but fear your God and let your brother live among you. “You are not to lend him your silver with interest or sell him your food for profit.

In our passage above, God, through Moses, is urging that the Israelites would open their hearts to those who were poor, and lend freely. This was a necessary urging from him because many times people would take these loans and never repay them, and it would cause bitterness between family members and friends.

In a moment, we will look at how all of this background was built upon by Yeshua in his teachings of giving and loaning to those in need. As is typical, Yeshua not only reinforces these principles of Torah, but then elevates them to new levels of generosity that is to be expected within the kingdom of God.

As we move into the New Testament writings and the teaching of Yeshua, we find that some of the familiar passages where Yeshua is teaching on generosity have even more meaning when he relates how believers should be viewing acts of giving and loaning to others. For example:

Matthew 5:42 – “Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Notice the emphasis on not turning away from those who would seek to borrow.

Luke 6:35 – “But love [even] your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.

Now, here is where we begin to see God’s true heart of compassion for those in need. Yeshua teaches that even if our intent is to genuinely help others by providing them a loan of some sort, he says if you are doing so, don’t expect anything in return. This echoes the instruction of Moses in not expecting to receive interest on the loan, and takes it to the next level of not even expecting to be repaid at all.

This is a radical upgrade to the principle of generosity that the Jewish culture of his day would have been familiar with from the previous passages of Torah. Just as Yeshua upgraded the command against adultery to not even looking at a woman with lustful intent, Yeshua here upgrades the command to not charge interest to not being concerned about being repaid at all!

This is an indication of how Yeshua continued to uphold Torah yet demonstrate its true intent when operating from the heart, not just the written command. It’s as if he was saying, “You think you are upholding Torah by not charging interest, but if you really want to uphold Torah, don’t even expect to be repaid.”

To take it even further, this wasn’t just a command for fellow Israelites, but it was to be applied towards enemies, as well! In the economy of the Kingdom of God, there was to be no more social distinctions between foreigners and natives, men and women, slaves and free. Paul illustrates this in the context of describing the equality of those who were demonstrating faith in Messiah.

Galatians 3:26-28 – for through faith you are all sons of God in Messiah Yeshua.  For those of you who were baptized into Messiah have been clothed with Messiah. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.

Even though we are off on a bit of a tangent, this sense of equality before God in Messiah is the glue that held the remnant assemblies together through the persecution they endured from their fellow Jews and from the oppression of the Romans. Having a united stance in the face of adversity can overcome all odds.

Back to to the topic at hand of generosity that Yeshua taught, if believers were to loan money with the idea of not expecting anything at all in return, they would be operating in the true spirit of generosity that God desires. This accomplishes two purposes: it maintains the dignity of the receiver and it removes any chance of hard feelings for not being repaid in the future. If anyone was to “loan” to someone in need, that loan should be treated as a donation and any repayment as a bonus. All types of giving are highly recommended in the Bible, as we know that “God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor. 9:7). Giving freely is a required dynamic within the economy of the kingdom of God.

Additionally, God has proclaimed that those who demonstrate generosity and compassion toward others will receive generosity and blessing in return.

Psalm 41:1-2 – Happy is one who is considerate of the poor; Yahweh will save him in a day of adversity.  Yahweh will keep him and preserve him; he will be blessed in the land. You will not give him over to the desire of his enemies.

Proverbs 19:17 – Kindness to the poor is a loan to Yahweh, and he will give a reward to the lender.

Psalm 112:4-5 – Light shines in the darkness for the upright. He is gracious, compassionate, and righteous.  Good will come to the one who lends generously and conducts his business fairly.

Having a larger understanding of the context and social dynamic of biblical giving can make us more responsible givers. In outwardly loaning to those who have need, we can allow them dignity. Inwardly considering these helper-loans as outright donations or charitable giving, not expecting anything in return, we free ourselves from any negative ties to those relationships if the money is never repaid in the future.

God is honored when we honor and respect him in all things, including how we manage our finances and our relationships with others. By being willing to give and loan freely, we demonstrate we are his children by operating with the same compassionate principles he provides to us.


If you enjoy these daily articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks

If forgiveness resides in our heart, we can then speak and act on that forgiveness.

Core of the Bible podcast #91 – Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks

Today we will be looking at the topic of forgiveness, and how it relates to the condition of our heart. If forgiveness resides in our heart, we can then speak and act on that forgiveness. However, if what we say is unforgiving, then the words we speak illustrate or reveal what is actually in our hearts.

Luke 6:45 – The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.

I knew a man who was recently honored at his work for being an outstanding performer, always receiving gracious comments from customers with whom he interacted on a regular basis. He even received national recognition and many accolades from his company for his achievements. However, when a particular crisis arose and he was challenged by his boss with a sharp disagreement over his mishandling of a particular situation, what began as a discussion of strategy degraded into a string of profanity and lashing out. He ended up blaming a customer for what was in reality his own inability to bring a situation to its proper conclusion. This indignation, it would seem, was always simmering and bubbling under the surface of the polished outward appearance of his performance. When a situation challenged his work, what was truly in his heart boiled over and out of his mouth, revealing the true nature of his character.

Yeshua calls this the “fruit of the tree.” The wider context of our verse today demonstrates this idea.

Luke 6:43-45 – For there is no good tree that brings forth rotten fruit; nor again a rotten tree that brings forth good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For people don’t gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.

If, as Yeshua teaches, “each tree is known by its own fruit,” then we can ascertain very quickly what is in a person’s heart by what they say, how they say it, and what they do. What we say is important, because our speech is what makes the contents of our heart known to others; it is the authorized (by us) commentary on what is in our heart.

Proverbs 10:20 – The tongue of the righteous is pure silver; the heart of the wicked is of little value.

Notice how the tongue of the righteous is contrasted with the heart of the wicked. By locking these two themes together, Solomon is passing commentary on how the tongue (that is, what we say) and the heart are absolutely connected.

In a heated discussion with the Pharisees, Yeshua says the following:

Matthew 12:34-37 – “Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good person produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil person produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Yeshua teaches that the heart is like a storeroom where either good things exist, or where evil things exist. The underlying Greek term is where we get our word thesaurus from. Consider what a thesaurus is: a thesaurus is a storehouse of words that have similar meanings. Our heart is a storehouse where similar things are stored, either good or bad. It implies a wealth, abundance, or treasure; either a treasure of positive, helpful things or an abundance of unhelpful and wicked things. We make deposits in our hearts with every thought, every interaction, and every distraction. Based on what we allow ourselves to be engaged with every day, it is up to us if those things that we are storing up are good or evil. Either way, Yeshua teaches that the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart, so whatever we have stored up in our heart is what is going to come out at some point.

According to the logic Yeshua uses here, the words we say are evidence that can be used in our favor, or against us. This is the same principle today used in courtrooms to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals. How many times on a courtroom drama on TV or a courtroom scene in a movie have you seen the story lead up to a climax when an individual becomes trapped in the witness stand being confronted with information that varies from what they are testifying under oath?

This is the same type of process that goes on in people’s minds when we are interacting with each other. We all pass judgment on others, not necessarily to be overly critical, but to gauge the sincerity of an individual to see if their words line up with their actions. When they do, we consider that individual trustworthy; when they don’t, we de-value what that person says because they are inconsistent and therefore unreliable. In essence, we are conducting “fruit inspections” as part of our normal course of interacting in a society of individuals.

Looking at these passages, we can see how Yeshua is teaching that the heart is the driver of what we say and do. If our speech and actions are not where they need to be, we may be in need of some work on our hearts.

This is where things can get challenging.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 – The heart is more deceitful than anything else, frail and weak ​– ​who can understand it?  I, Yahweh, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.

Notice how Yahweh lets us know that the difficulty we face when we explore our own hearts is that we can easily be deceived when doing so. It’s like being dropped into a dark cavern without a map and being expected to know where every winding passage leads. The light from our headlamp only shines for a limited way in front of us. From time to time, the cavern walls crumble with the threat of cave-in due to the frailty and weakness of the structure. We may travel for hundreds of yards down  a passage only to reach a dead end.

Additionally, we have difficulty being objective when we explore our hearts because we are intimately and inextricably emotionally tied to outcomes that are based on our heart motives which can be weak and unsupported. When we discover long-standing perspectives that may be unfounded or not as we expected, we can become disoriented and lose our way within the emptiness of failed ambitions or missed opportunities.

But the good news, according to Jeremiah, is that Yahweh also says that he understands our heart by searching out its depths, and testing and trying the mind. He provides everyone according to their way, “according to what their actions deserve.” In this type of biblical karma, God is providing an experience for each person based on what actions are being driven by the heart’s disposition.

If this is the case for all of humanity, then it is in our best interest to look to Yahweh as the Creator of all to understand the true condition of our heart.  This is not something we should attempt on our own due to the potential dangers we just discussed. If the heart that we have is so frail and deceptive, how can we control what comes out of its overflow in our speech and actions? How can we fill our hearts with love and forgiveness that is necessary to engage with others in ways that our Creator desires?

In a moment, we will see how God has provided a solution to the challenges we face in the wayward directions of our hearts. He himself can provide the motivation and strength that is so critical to living a life that has real and demonstrable love for others.   

If we revisit what Yeshua taught in relation to our hearts, that we speak comes out of the overflow of whatever good or evil is stored up in the heart, then it is in our best interest to know how to ensure that we have only good in our hearts. However, from what we have learned so far, the heart is frail and can be deceptive even to our own reasonings.

There was a promise made to ancient Israel that we can look to to help us understand how God views the situation. Israel had become corrupt before God, and because they refused to listen to his instruction, they were removed from the land he had promised to them and they were spread among the nations as a punishment for their disobedience. Yet, God reveals this happened as a way of teaching them that they would need to rely on him, not their own strength and reasoning, to accomplish his Word.

Ezekiel 36:23-28 – “I will honor the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations ​– ​the name you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am Yahweh ​– ​this is the declaration of Yahweh GOD ​– ​when I demonstrate my holiness through you in their sight.  For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

This is an amazing passage that provides us some critical information in the discussion of the heart. Yahweh said in order for Israel to be the light to the nations that they were destined to be, he would need to not just renovate or repair but to replace their collective heart with a new one. This new heart would provide the motivation and strength, guided by his own Spirit, to actually follow his statutes and ordinances, as he had originally intended for them.

This same thing is also mentioned in the famous passage in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – “Look, the days are coming” ​– ​this is Yahweh’s declaration ​– ​”when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. “This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt ​– ​my covenant that they broke even though I am their master” ​– ​Yahweh’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days” ​– ​Yahweh’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. “No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them” ​– ​this is Yahweh’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.

This teaching that would be in their hearts would be placed there by God himself. He would provide them the new hearts of obedience that would accomplish his purpose in the world. Ezekiel relates that the nations would come to know Yahweh when they saw him demonstrate his holiness through them by restoring them to himself, even though they had strayed so far from him.

When Yeshua arrived to instruct the nation one last time before they would disappear from the world stage, he pronounced the same message to Nicodemus, a leader in Israel, this message previously revealed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

John 3:3-8 – Yeshua replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  “How can anyone be born when he is old? ” Nicodemus asked him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born? ”  Yeshua answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

To be born of the Spirit of God was another way of saying they needed to have a new heart. This was the only way for Israel to have the contents of their hearts switched from evil to good. God was doing a work with the remnant of his people who would hear this message of the kingdom to become the born-again people of the new covenant and the new Creation. In doing this work in their lives, God would be demonstrating his holiness among his own people, and through this faithfulness those from among the nations would be drawn to Yahweh, as well.

Romans 15:8-12 – For I say that Messiah became a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, and so that Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praise to your name.  Again it says, Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people! And again, Praise Yahweh, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples praise him!  And again, Isaiah says, The root of Jesse will appear, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; the Gentiles will hope in him.

God knew all along that once he chose Israel, they would fall away and he would have to scatter them throughout the known world. But this was also with the understanding that in drawing them back to himself through Messiah, others from among the nations would also be drawn to him. This was and is the method that God has set in place to draw all people to himself through Messiah Yeshua. God has demonstrated himself faithful with Israel, thereby providing a firm foundation for those of other nations to come to him, as well.

If we are to be speaking and demonstrating forgiveness and reconciliation with others, then that forgiveness and reconciliation will truly need to be in our heart. This can only be accomplished when we step out of the way of our old natures and allow God to work through our renewed nature in those situations.

2 Corinthians 5:16-19 – Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Messiah after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Yeshua Messiah, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Messiah, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us.

As this message of reconciliation spreads, more and more people have their hearts changed out to become hearts of obedience guided by the Spirit of God. That’s the good news of the kingdom. The even better news is that, knowing we still have the capability to slip and fall accidentally from time to time, we still retain the ability to ask for ongoing renewal when we mess up.

1 John 1:6, 9 – If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” and yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. … If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If, as Paul writes, we are new creations, then we need to operate within the new Creation of God’s kingdom, and live and abide by its principles, not the principles of this old Creation. Both Yeshua and Paul convey that the principle of reconciliation and forgiveness is a core principle of God’s kingdom. If our hearts have been renewed, then that forgiveness and reconciliation can truly reside in our new hearts. What we place in our heart from that time on is up to us.

Our ability to speak this forgiveness and reconciliation to those around us appears to be a choice that we have every day, but only when we recognize and remember who we really are. It is in this fashion that God is honored among the nations when his children are operating with the righteousness of his kingdom regardless of the outward situations and conditions they encounter. When the abundance of the heart is good treasure, then that good treasure can’t help but be shared with those who need it most.


If you enjoy these daily articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Hezekiah demonstrates how trust in Yahweh is the opposite of idolatry

Exhibiting a strong trust in God should be based on defending God’s honor for his glory.

Core of the Bible podcast #90 – Hezekiah demonstrates how trust in Yahweh is the opposite of idolatry

Today we will be looking at the topic of trust, and how exhibiting a strong trust in God should be based on defending God’s honor for his glory and not relying on the idolatrous practices of our culture. To do so, we are going to be reviewing a pivotal event in the life of King Hezekiah, considered to have been one of the most faithful kings in all of Israel’s history.

2 Kings 18:5-6 – Hezekiah relied on Yahweh God of Israel; not one of the kings of Judah was like him, either before him or after him. He remained faithful to Yahweh and did not turn from following him but kept the commands Yahweh had commanded Moses.

One of the primary achievements of Hezekiah’s reign was the removal of idolatry from Israel.

2 Kings 18:3-4 – He did what was right in Yahweh’s sight just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles.

As we look at the descriptions of some of his actions, we find that he had “shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles.” These are descriptions of the implements that were used in the worship of false gods. The sacred pillars were roughly the equivalent of a type of memorial obelisk made of stone used in the worship of false gods. Poles of Asherah were wooden carved images or sacred trees, sometimes translated as a grove. These were locations where idolatrous worship of the Phoenician goddess Ashtoreth or Asherah took place.

However, it is important to note that Hezekiah also removed the worship sites known as “the high places.” These were ancient worship sites that had been used by the Canaanites long before Israel inhabited the land. Especially before there was a temple in Israel, and sometimes after, it was a common practice to worship gods, including Yahweh, in areas on high mountains that were considered sacred. Both the prophet Samuel and Solomon are recorded as frequenting high places in the worship of the one true God, Yahweh.

1 Samuel 9:19 – “I am the seer,” Samuel answered. “Go up ahead of me to the high place and eat with me today. When I send you off in the morning, I’ll tell you everything that’s in your heart.

1 Kings 3:2-4 – However, the people were sacrificing on the high places, because until that time a temple for Yahweh’s name had not been built. Solomon loved Yahweh by walking in the statutes of his father David, but he also sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.  The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there because it was the most famous high place. He offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.

It was from this environment, the high place at Gibeon, that God appeared to Solomon in a dream and granted him wisdom above his contemporaries.

From these few examples, it can be seen that the worship of Yahweh had become intermixed with the worship of the false gods of the land of Canaan. But this was something that God had specifically warned the Israelites not to do.

Deuteronomy 18:9 – “When you enter the land Yahweh your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations.”

Albert Barnes in his commentary on this passage relates how the high places had become part of the culture of the land.

“They were the rural centers for the worship of Yahweh, standing in the place of the later synagogue, and had hitherto been winked at, or rather regarded as legitimate, even by the best kings. Hezekiah’s desecration of these time-honored sanctuaries must have been a rude shock to the feelings of numbers…”

For Hezekiah to remove the high places and re-direct everyone’s worship to the temple in Jerusalem was a monumental task. In today’s terms from an American perspective, it would be the equivalent of a state governor essentially destroying rural church buildings in every small town and telling everyone they can only worship God “officially” in the capital city of the state. Not likely to be a popular move. But Hezekiah was not doing this as a popularity concession; he was dutifully upholding the law of God, as a king should:

Deuteronomy 12:10-11, 13-14 – “When you cross the Jordan and live in the land Yahweh your God is giving you to inherit, and he gives you rest from all the enemies around you and you live in security, then Yahweh your God will choose the place to have his name dwell. Bring there everything I command you: your burnt offerings, sacrifices, offerings of the tenth, personal contributions, and all your choice offerings you vow to Yahweh. … Be careful not to offer your burnt offerings in all the sacred places you see. You must offer your burnt offerings only in the place Yahweh chooses in one of your tribes, and there you must do everything I command you.”

Hezekiah took this command seriously because the people had strayed back into their comfort zone of local idolatry. But by any standard, this was a bold move that demonstrated just how zealous Hezekiah was for God’s honor. In fact, his zeal was so strong that he even took action against a shameful practice of his own people regarding the one, true God.

2 Kings 18:4 – He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made, for until then the Israelites were burning incense to it. It was called Nehushtan.

The Israelites had become so corrupted in their idolatry that they had even begun to worship the bronze snake that Moses had made during the wilderness journeys of Israel six or seven hundred years earlier. Apparently it had become a religious relic that was elevated to the status of an object of worship. Ironically, that which had brought the Israelites healing in the desert had become the corrupted focus of worship rather than keeping their focus on the God who had healed them.

From these examples, it would seem that, left to our own devices with no regard for God’s law, people will always default to a type of personal worship of our own choosing based on the cultural norms of their environments. All of these actions that Hezekiah was forced to take on God’s behalf only underscore the reforms that were necessary against the ingrained idolatry of the land. He was adamant he would not succumb to the cultural influences that continually crept in among the people of God, and he would stand firm for God’s honor at all costs.

In a moment, we are going to look at the pivotal event in Hezekiah’s reign that forced him to rely even more strongly on his trust in Yahweh than he had demonstrated with his reforms against idolatry. In doing so, I’m hopeful we can glean some principles which we can apply in our own lives to grow our own trust in God for his increased glory and honor.

—–

The events surrounding Hezekiah’s encounter with Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, are so prominent in Israel’s history that the story is recounted in three different books within the Tenakh or Old Testament: 2 Kings 18, 2 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 36. Assyria at that time, roughly 700 B.C, had become the equivalent of an ancient superpower and was on a military campaign against the surrounding nations when Israel had come into its sights. In pursuit of his objectives, Sennacherib had declared war on Jerusalem. Prior to setting up a siege, the commander of Sennacherib’s army was declaring the king’s intent to the people of the city. This was a common practice as a form of intimidation and as a way of undercutting potential resistance against the forces that would seek to overpower them.

To begin this process of intimidation, he first tries to destroy the character of Hezekiah in the minds of the people who were within earshot of his message:

2 Kings 18:22 – “Suppose you say to me, “We rely on Yahweh our God.” Isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You must worship at this altar in Jerusalem”?’

Notice how he zeroes in on the contempt many in Israel likely felt when Hezekiah had destroyed the high places which were their familiar places of worship. He tries to undermine the righteous actions of Hezekiah by accusing Hezekiah of destroying the altars of Yahweh in the high places. But the reality, as we have seen, is that God forbade the Israelites from worshiping at all the “sacred places” that they would see when they entered the land. He never authorized worship of himself at the high places, only at the place he would name. By removing the high places as worship sites for Yahweh, Hezekiah had actually been upholding the law. Sennacherib tried to use this righteous action against him, and convince the people that Hezekiah was against the worship of Yahweh.

So, one of the first principles we can see is that our detractors will try to use our righteous actions against us, because when we act in faith according to God’s Word, our actions typically don’t line up with the cultural norms.

Next, we see how the commander of the Assyrian army levels his sights on the trust and faith in Yahweh that Hezekiah had been trying to instill in his people.

2 Kings 18:30-32 – “Don’t let Hezekiah persuade you to rely on Yahweh by saying, “Certainly Yahweh will rescue us! This city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.” ‘  “Don’t listen to Hezekiah, for this is what the king of Assyria says: ‘Make peace with me and surrender to me. Then each of you may eat from his own vine and his own fig tree, and each may drink water from his own cistern until I come and take you away to a land like your own land ​– ​a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey ​– ​so that you may live and not die. But don’t listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, “Yahweh will rescue us.”

Our next principle for application is that if the detractors can’t malign our character and actions, they will then turn to undermining our faith. They will attempt to provide reason and examples as to how our faith in Yahweh is worthless in the face of their superior reasoning and practical provision.

Notice he says he would allow them to return to their own homesteads and have autonomy until he was to take them away to a land like their own land. He essentially is trying to get them to trade their faith and trust in Yahweh’s protection for a return to their homes and a larger security that he claims he can provide. “No need to believe in all this Yahweh stuff,” he says, “when I can clearly provide you what you really are expecting from Yahweh anyway.” Believers need to be aware that the detractors will always offer some form of security outside of the provision of God to compromise their faith.

Finally, after defaming Hezekiah and the peoples’ faith in Yahweh, the commander then crosses a line that spells the doom of the Assyrian campaign against Jerusalem: he maligns, not just the character and actions of Hezekiah or the faith of the people, but the character of Yahweh himself.

2 Kings 18:33-35 – “Has any of the gods of the nations ever rescued his land from the power of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my power? Who among all the gods of the lands has rescued his land from my power? So will Yahweh rescue Jerusalem from my power? ‘ “

This is the common mistake of those who would come against the people of God: they equate Yahweh with the rest of the false gods in the world, and in doing so, they attempt to set themselves in the place of, or even above, God himself. They position themselves as the final authority, claiming the ability to operate independently of any deity, and in their own interests. The sad reality, though, is that in taking this stance, the commander had now made the conflict with Israel not about Hezekiah, or the faith of the people in the city, but he had set the Assyrian army in conflict with God himself.

Having heard this rant of the commander of the Assyrian army and having received a letter outlining their demands, Hezekiah, being strong in faith and not being deterred by the king’s arrogance, did what all of us should do when confronted with intimidation against the honor of God: he brought the situation before God. He laid out the demands of the Assyrian king before God in the temple, and simply prayed for God to make himself known in the midst of the conflict.

2 Kings 19:14-19 – After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to Yahweh’s Temple and spread it out before Yahweh. And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before Yahweh: “O Yahweh, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Yahweh, and listen! Open your eyes, O Yahweh, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God. It is true, Yahweh, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all these nations. And they have thrown the gods of these nations into the fire and burned them. But of course the Assyrians could destroy them! They were not gods at all–only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. Now, O Yahweh our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Yahweh, are God.”

Notice, Hezekiah recognized that this was not a battle of armies or protection, but a battle for the honor of God’s Name. “Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against [you], the living God.” This isn’t about Hezekiah’s honor, or the faith of the people, but about the Name and character of God himself. Hezekiah knows that this is the opportunity for God to demonstrate his superiority over the fake gods of the land, and to let the other kingdoms know he really is the one, true God. Hezekiah rightly places the battle in God’s hands, since it was to be a demonstration of his power against the enemies who had defied him. If God were to deliver Jerusalem, known even to his enemies as his favored city, then “all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, Yahweh, are God.”

Although Hezekiah had previously attempted to placate the king of Assyria by sending him silver and gold, he knew that now was the time, not to act, but to step out of the way and to trust Yahweh to accomplish his purpose in defending his chosen city and his Name. Through this act of incredible trust and humility demonstrated by Hezekiah, God responded through the prophet Isaiah that he would indeed protect Jerusalem and the honor of his Name.

2 Kings 19:20, 32-34 – Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “Yahweh, the God of Israel says, ‘I have heard your prayer to me about King Sennacherib of Assyria.’ … “Therefore, this is what Yahweh says about the king of Assyria: He will not enter this city, shoot an arrow here, come before it with a shield, or build up a siege ramp against it.  He will go back the way he came, and he will not enter this city. This is Yahweh’s declaration.  I will defend this city and rescue it for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

True to his word, the very next day, almost the entire Assyrian army was dead:

2 Kings 19:35-36 – That night the angel of Yahweh went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there.

It’s one thing to trust God for one’s own private needs or the needs of one’s own family, but consider how much faith Hezekiah was displaying by trusting God for an entire city, and even the nation of Israel against a foreign invading army! Think of some of the alternatives he could have reasoned through with his advisors: he could have mustered troops to come out in battle against Assyria, trusting in the might of his own army. Or he could have sent word to Egypt trusting in a foreign country as an ally to come and defend the city, but he didn’t do either of these things. When he recognized the battle was really not about him or his faith, but about God’s honor, he simply laid out the situation before God and prayed humbly and sincerely for God to act. Through his simple act of faithfulness, the aggression of a military superpower was averted.

So, what other kinds of applications can we draw from the story of this encounter?  Well, the main thrust of the story appears to center on Hezekiah’s faith and trust in Yahweh, relying on Yahweh to provide the necessary and appropriate resolution to the defense of his favored city. When we truly trust God, we need to learn to get out of his way and allow him to move in situations and arrange outcomes that are far beyond our capacity.

But there is also a strong, underlying subtext regarding Hezekiah’s zeal against the idolatry and complacent worship prevalent throughout the land. It took a clear understanding of God’s Word and bold action to re-set the time-honored practices of God’s people who had strayed from the truth. This corruption of idolatry is contrasted with the faith and zeal of Hezekiah. That which can be seen (a false god) is devalued in light of that which cannot be seen (the one, true God). We must not only repent of our own idolatrous tendencies, but to provide God’s perspective for those who may not yet realize the depth of their own complacency and compromise with the culture, much like those who would worship Yahweh at the idolatrous high places throughout the land of Israel.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Consider the things we worship today (that is, things that we look to for refuge, rescue. or solutions to our problems). Things like our phones and devices, social media, television, movies, celebrities, politicians, sports, our homes, sometimes even ourselves. On the religious side, we may have a favored denomination, or place of worship, or tradition that does not line up entirely with God’s Word. What types of “Hezekiahan” reform would be necessary in our culture today to honor God? How is God’s honor and Name being maligned today? How can we lovingly but firmly present the case for God’s honor to those who are wrapped up in the idolatry of these worldly distractions?

But be aware, as we remove some of those “high places” in our lives, we may begin to feel the pressure and resistance of those who have not yet reached that same level of trust and faith. This is where we have to consider deeply where we are making our stand for God, and like Hezekiah, be prepared by laying out the oppositional positions before God and praying for his honor to be maintained, not ours. Hezekiah staked everything on God’s honor and reputation above the gods of the invading force and the culture around him. He had reached the point where he had removed himself as being able to do anything further in his own might over these false deities, and instead allowed God to manifest himself as a demonstration to others that “all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, Yahweh, are God.”

As individual believers in Messiah, we can only look at the patterns and habits of our own lives as examples to others. We are not authorized to go around tearing down other peoples’ idols, but we are authorized to teach them how to do so. When we not only trust in God for ourselves but live out actions and practices in our interactions with others match that internal perspective, we honor God and then have the potential to rally others to the cause of Messiah in this world.


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