The continual, watchful prayer for all of God’s people

Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your petitions for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:18

This passage comes on the heels of a very famous passage from Paul regarding the putting on of the armor of God, and yet this integral instruction on perseverance in prayer for all of God’s people is often omitted.

Paul’s original audience for this instruction was experiencing persecution: real, life-endangering persecution on a regular basis, and this type of exhortation would not have fallen on deaf ears. While most of us can only imagine the severity of their situation, in a crisis it becomes quite natural, almost a reflex, to defer to prayer on a regular basis. But this type of crisis-prayer is typically centered around the individual, and praying for personal safety. However, Paul is here admonishing the Ephesian believers to pray vigilantly and unceasingly for all of God’s people, not just for their own personal needs and desires.

Two types of prayer are mentioned here: prayer which is a type of worship, and petitions for specific needs that are urgent and immediate. All of these are to be offered “in the Spirit,” that is, in accordance with the operation and fruit of the spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…Galatians 5:16, 25 I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfil the lust of the flesh. … If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

To walk in the Spirit is to have the path of one’s life patterned on the principles of the Spirit that Paul mentioned in this very passage.

Paul was encouraging the believers to pray in this fashion for all of “the saints,” that is, all of those who were set apart within the remnant of Israel, for their specific needs and protection during a time of extreme social and civil duress.

The urgent necessity of this praying for the saints is highlighted by a term that is used for wakefulness and alertness; they should never stop lifting up their brothers and sisters with all the principles of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, etc.

I believe this type of dynamic, urgent, and constant prayer lifting up their brothers and sisters in the Spirit is what allowed that generation to be a positive example for all time, through which God ushered in the new life of the eternal kingdom to all nations.

The example is there for us to receive this instruction for our own generation.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, 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 here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The vigilant guarding of our hearts keeps our way sure

O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways.

Proverbs 23:26

The proverbs of Solomon contain a wealth of instruction regarding the necessity of the righteous person to stay within the boundaries of God’s wisdom. The writer appears to be conveying all of this information and instruction to his child. As a parent wants to instill their children with all of the right information they can, he continually reminds him to maintain what is right in the face of surrounding adversity.

Proverbs 5:1 My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen carefully to my wise counsel.
Proverbs 6:20 My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.
Proverbs 7:1 Follow my advice, my son; always treasure my commands.

In the fourth chapter, in typical Hebraic fashion, he lays out a string of admonitions that support and strengthen one another:

My son, pay attention to my words. Open your ears to what I say. Do not lose sight of these things. Keep them deep within your heart because they are life to those who find them and they heal the whole body. Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it. Remove dishonesty from your mouth. Put deceptive speech far away from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead and your sight be focused in front of you. Carefully walk a straight path, and all your ways will be secure. Do not lean to the right or to the left. Walk away from evil.

Proverbs 4:20-27

The root of remaining vigilant and keeping one’s way pure is centered on the heart: “…keep [my words] deep within your heart…Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it.”

A pure heart means a pure walk. In like fashion, when we keep God’s word deep within our hearts, our walk becomes more sure. Dishonesty and deceptive speech disappear. Distractions from the way of truth become less frequent. Our way becomes more firm as we stay on the path laid out for us. We find the strength to walk away from evil.

Yeshua instructed his followers that what one says, and thereby does, comes from what is within the heart:

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil person out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

Luke 6:45

The vigilance to stay on the right path begins in the commitment to keep our hearts pure. By remaining faithful to the deep truths God has placed there, then, just like the child of Proverbs, we can find deep reserves of strength to always do what’s right, and bring forth “good treasure” for his purposes.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, 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 here.

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

Keeping the covenant and commands of God requires multi-faceted vigilance

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples…

Exodus 19:5

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.

The word we translate as keep or to keep in English comes from the Hebrew root shamar which at its most rudimentary level means to observe, guard, 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 above, the ancient Israelites 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, it was due to this dutiful caretaking of God’s words that we even have a Bible today.

In Yeshua’s day, however, some of them had taken this measure to the extreme by making additional traditions and rules which were intended to prevent people from violating the original commands. The original intent was sincere enough, but soon the traditions and rules became equivalent, or even superior to, the original command and they elevated the man-made traditions above the word of God itself.

Yeshua chastised them for this very thing:

…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.”

Mark 7:8-13

So the original guarding of God’s word became corrupted into a convoluted system of man-made traditions and rules, which, sadly, is still practiced by Jews and many Christian denominations even to this day.

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 that negates or destroys the foundations of God’s word is rampant today and is feebly defended by those trying to prop up defenses based on literal rather than literary defenses. 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 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 occurred, we would go much further in honoring God’s purpose in having an eternal record of those things. It’s not that those events didn’t occur within history, it’s just that the biblical record is not a newspaper account that can be 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 dishonor the very one they are intending to honor, much like the Pharisaical leaders of Yeshua’s day.

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, we can guarantee a fulfilling future for our descendants whom God will draw to himself in ages to come.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, 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 here.

The ongoing vigilance of seeking the things of God

If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3

Yeshua taught that we should always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, have doors opened, and to find what it is we’re searching for. Paul carries this theme of searching forward into a mindset that should continually guide us in our ongoing new life in Messiah.

To Paul, placing one’s faith in the Messiah was a matter of life and death: death to self and traditions of men, and new life as a new self that seeks after the things of God.

For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:13

Therefore, put to death whatever is worldly in you: your sexual sin, perversion, passion, lust, and greed (which is the same thing as worshiping wealth).

Colossians 3:5

This putting to death of our worldly passions and desires was considered to be an ongoing practice, one to where the believer becomes the dichotomous “living sacrifice;” that which is constantly being offered up, yet continually alive, as well.

Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2

This renewal of mind comes as we vigilantly “seek the things that are above,” not only looking forward to a heavenly eternity, but finding ways to enact heavenly principles in the here and now, incorporating our new life into the life we are living now.

This seeking involves ongoing aspects that are wrapped up in the definition of the original wording used in the text: to seek in order to find a thing; to seek in order to find out by thinking, meditating, reasoning, to enquire into; to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after; to require, demand; to crave. These types of urgent and continual qualities of vigilance are the intent of Yeshua’s exhortation to keep seeking until the objective is found.

In like fashion, Paul uses the same wording to emphasize the believers desperate motivation to know God and his Messiah, to learn more about the things of God and to keep our focus there through the trials of life.

In this way, we end up “putting to death” our selfish desires and we rise to the new life of our new self, created to be like him.

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

Colossians 3:10

Peter demonstrates vigilance in keeping the instruction of God without hesitation

[Peter] became hungry and wanted to eat, but while they were preparing something, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. In it were all the four-footed animals and reptiles of the earth, and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” “No, Lord! ” Peter said. “For I have never eaten anything impure and ritually unclean.”

Acts 10:10-14

This story of Peter’s vision is typically used as a way of teaching that God was declaring all foods “clean” or acceptable to eat. However, looking more closely at the context and outcome, we can learn some aspects of vigilance in our walk with God.

Firstly, it is impressive to see how Peter had maintained his ritual purity throughout his life. He claims to have strictly followed the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 without fail. In his day and age, there were many opportunities to eat the wrong foods, even if by accident. There were meats that may have been acceptable for Jews to eat sold in the marketplace, but they may have been “contaminated” by previously being offered to other gods before being sold. This was a serious issue that Paul deals with in his epistle (1 Cor. 8). Many Jews were challenged to make sure they always knew where their food came from. This has been the basis of many kosher designations even to this day. Peter demonstrates that he was always vigilant to ensure he never violated the commands of God.

Secondly, Peter understood that this vision presented to him was not about foods that are acceptable or not acceptable to God, but about how God was opening a door to all people for the message of the kingdom to be propagated.

Peter himself states this is the meaning of the vision as he shares with Cornelius and his companions:

While talking with him, he went in and found a large gathering of people. Peter said to them, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner, but God has shown me [through the vision] that I must not call any person impure or unclean. “That’s why I came without any objection when I was sent for. … Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, “but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Acts 10:27-29, 34-35

Peter took the real meaning of the vision to mean that God was breaking down the barriers between men of different nations, and that the door of faith in Messiah would be opened to all who were willing to come. This was even confirmed to be the correct interpretation as the foreign men were visibly affected by receiving the Spirit of God (10:44-45).

You see, vigilance in our walk comes in many forms, whether our own personal commitment to holiness, or our obedience to the things that God may reveal to us. Peter exemplifies for us a measure of personal vigilance that we can learn from and follow in our own lives. When we receive instruction from God, whether through his word or through personal insight, we must be faithful in keeping it at all cost and without hesitation.

Vigilance on the Narrow Path to Life

Core of the Bible Podcast Episode 11 – Vigilance on the Narrow Path to Life

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of vigilance necessary in a believer’s life to follow the narrow path that leads to a small entranceway of life.

Yeshua stated it this way:
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

This narrow path analogy runs deep in religious circles. There is a general recognition of the unique nature of this path in the believers’ quest for life; it is narrow and rarely traveled compared to the broad way that leads to destruction, as Yeshua says.

The images usually used to convey this concept have to do with a narrow footpath, perhaps through a wilderness or along a mountain ridge. The idea typically put forth is that it is a path in out of the way places, away from the wider conveyances of the general population, just as a hiking path differs from an interstate highway. They are completely different ways of getting from point A to point B, and they take travelers to two different destinations.

All of this is not untrue in the context of the passage at hand, but if we dig a little deeper into some of the words Yeshua used to express this concept, we may come away with a slightly different and more profound understanding.

Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
Narrow is the way.–Literally, pressed, or hemmed in between walls or rocks, like the pathway in a mountain gorge.

This narrowness is defined by obstacles that are standing nearby, preventing movement in either direction but forward. It is also expressed as a way that is “compressed,” there is affliction and tribulation associated with this way.

To summarize this type of understanding, in the Core of the Bible paraphrase I have restated it this way: “There is a constricted entryway into life which has many obstacles standing about it. Labor fervently to stay on the difficult path that leads through the cramped passage to life along with the few others who also perceive its value and find it.” In my view, this description sharpens some of the terms in our English versions like “small gate”and “narrow path.”

A typical understanding of this verse might leave one with the picture of a small, one-person garden gate that must be entered after walking along a beautiful, winding, narrow path through meadows and forests. The sun has been shining, the birds have been singing, and beautiful flowers line the sides of the path. The way has been relatively flat and we have rarely had to exert ourselves in our protected way.

However, I would like to propose a slightly different picture, a fictional parable designed to illustrate the narrow path that Yeshua speaks of.

The way of life is to traverse the desolate high plateau of Arizona or Colorado through a narrow slot canyon which twists and turns in confusing patterns. You are never able to see more than 100 feet in front of you, and confusing side-canyons are passed from time to time. It’s where rockfalls tumble in front of you and must be climbed over; where poisonous reptiles lurk in sun-warmed hand-holds while you are consistently scraping through passages only wide enough to pass through sideways, sucking in your stomach and putting your arms out flat to ensure you have clearance to get through.

Finally, after braving the obstructions and challenges of the slot canyon, the destination is not a single-person garden gate at the end of the meadow path, but a weathered and heavy door that opens to an indiscriminate rough cave opening at the end of the canyon. To enter the darkness of the cave, you have to get down on your already-scraped and bruised knees as you move into a cramped passageway with loose rubble strewn in the way.

Ahead, the darkness gives way to some dim light peering around the bend ahead. Sweating due to the exertion of the journey, and repeatedly hitting your head on unseen obstacles hanging from the cramped cave passage, you reach forward with a dirt-stained arm to push through the rubble of the partially blocked passageway ahead to see where the light is coming from.

Okay, so this slot canyon analogy expands quite a bit on the narrow path contained in the imagery used by Yeshua. I think you might notice a slight difference between this depiction here and how that concept is typically presented.

But that’s the point. We have to look at things differently because it really isn’t all sunshine and roses and mountain meadows on the path to life.

ou see, believers have chosen a difficult option when it comes to a life path. One cannot just fall into the Kingdom of God by accidentally stumbling into it; it requires grit, intentionality, and determination to pursue the things of God.

It’s not just a sunny walk on a garden path (although it can be at times), but it’s more typically a perilous journey around obstacles and through constricted passageways, all the while wondering if you’ve heard God correctly. Then a confirmation appears on the way ahead, but only far enough to get you to the next corner or the next obstacle, and then you must continue pushing on.

Testing happens at every corner, but testing is for the purpose of strengthening. Strengthening provides stability of footing and the opportunity to grasp the hands of others whom you may encounter inside this narrow canyon and help them on the way.

Vigilance on this path means being intentional, listening for God’s direction. It includes being strengthened through testing, and looking beyond yourself to the needs of others along the way. This is the path of the disciple of Yeshua, the narrow path of vigilance that leads to the constricted entrance of life.

However, in learning about the path, it is necessary to discuss why one would even seek such a path in the first place. If someone is to go through all of the struggle and hardship mentioned previously, then it makes sense that they should have a clear understanding of the goal. Yeshua says “the way is narrow that leads to life.” What is this life he mentions?

First of all, the type of life mentioned here must be some other sort of life than just raw existence somewhere. We know he can’t just be speaking here of life as existence, because someone who is striving for a goal is already physically alive.

Looking at some perspectives from over the centuries since Yeshua spoke those words, we find different ways of viewing this concept of life.

Matthew Poole, a British theologian in the 1600’s, states what is likely a very common understanding of this passage when he writes:

The sum of what our Saviour here saith is this: There are but two ultimate ends of all men, eternal destruction and eternal life. The course that leadeth to destruction is like a broad way that is obvious to all, and many walk in that. That course of life and actions which will bring a man to heaven is strait [not straight, but as in a narrow, restricted passageway], unpleasing to flesh and blood, not at all gratifying men’s sensitive appetites, and narrow, (the Greek is, afflicted), a way wherein men will meet with many crosses and temptations; and there are but a few will find it.

John Gill, also a British theologian living a generation after Poole, in his Exposition of the Bible states a similar view:

which leadeth unto life: unto eternal life: it certainly leads thither; it never fails of bringing persons to it; believers in Christ, all that walk in Christ the way, though they are said to be “scarcely” saved, by reason of their afflictions and trials they meet with in their way to the kingdom; yet they are, and shall be certainly saved: they shall be safely brought to glory; which will be an abundant recompense for all the troubles and sorrows that have attended them in their journey.

I find it interesting that those who equate the kingdom of God with some ethereal after-life existence will typically align the term “life” with “eternal life,” as in, unending after-life as a reward for faithfulness during this temporary existence.

However, various commentators over the centuries have described this idea of “life” that Yeshua expresses here in different ways than just eternity. Some have thought of this life as more of a description of an ideal than just a state of existence.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament states it this way:

The right way… is described as narrow and contracted, and as leading to life.—, a pregnant word, true life, worth living, in which men realise the end of their being—the antithesis of [destruction].

Pulpit Commentary

That leadeth unto life. Observe, Christ does not say, “life eternal.” He only cares to emphasize the thought of life in the fullest nature of life – life as “the fulfilment of the highest idea of being: perfect truth in perfect action”

Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

Which leadeth unto life.–Noteworthy as the first passage in our Lord’s recorded teaching in which the word “life” appears as summing up all the blessedness of the kingdom. The idea is developed as we advance; the life becomes “eternal,” and finally we are taught that the eternal life consists in the true and perfect knowledge of God and Christ (John 17:2-3).

We will explore John 17 further in a little bit.

Matthew Henry straddles both the concepts of this present life and eternity when he writes:

And yet this way should invite us all; it leads to life: to present comfort in the favour of God, which is the life of the soul; to eternal bliss, the hope of which at the end of our way, should make all the difficulties of the road easy to us.

Throughout Yeshua’s teaching, he always spoke of the kingdom as being near or “at hand.” In my view, the life of the kingdom should not be relegated solely to some after-life existence or some future worldwide paradise. Life and kingdom are a reality now, as we live obediently and faithfully in our present existence.

By contrast, the way of destruction that is broad and contains many travelers is then a life without knowing God, without knowing Yeshua. That life leads to destruction or loss because the things done in that life have no lasting value.

Some other Jewish writings from the time of the New Testament state the plight of the wicked from their perspective as they realize the error of being on the wrong road:

Wisdom 5:6 So it was we who strayed from the way of truth,
and the light of righteousness did not shine on us,
and the sun did not rise upon us.
7 We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction,
and we journeyed through trackless deserts,
but the way of the Lord we have not known.
8 What has our arrogance profited us?
And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?

That’s a sad commentary on a life that is recognized as having been wasted. If we were to view those on the wide road of destruction as lost from the narrow path, and not just on some inevitable  conveyer belt to damnation, we might be more inclined to reach out to them to at least show them the option of the way of life, the way of the kingdom, and to exemplify its standards. They may not be attracted to it because of the challenges it presents, but some will. 

GK Chesterton is quoted as saying, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

But even though this may be the case, we should never give up hope for others to also be drawn to this Way. Some will instinctively know it is the right way to go, regardless of the challenges. After all, we are here, and learning from each other how to move further down the canyon, and identifying which side-canyons and areas to avoid. It is possible for others to come off of the way of destruction as many of us had when we saw the alternative potential of the, albeit more challenging, way of life.

Earlier, I had mentioned in a portion of the Ellicott commentary how I liked his bringing of John 17:3 into the discussion at hand, as that verse captures this view of life that I also hold as my own:

John 17:3- And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Eternal life is knowing God and recognizing Yeshua as sent from God. This life that is stated as eternal here is expressed through the Greek word aionios. While it certainly conveys the idea of enduring, perpetual and everlasting (what we would consider eternal), it also implies that which has always been and will always be. It is typically translated as age, as in distinguishing one era of time from another.

If this eternal life is “life of the age,” what is the age that Yeshua is speaking about here? I believe he is speaking of what, to Yeshua’s listeners, would have been considered a “new” age to them; an age of life available through faith in Messiah, an age that would never end. I believe we are continuing to live in that age today.

The path of that life is narrow, constricted, and full of hardship and travail. Yet it is one that results in true life: knowledge of the only true God and his Messiah Yeshua. That is a life worth striving for.

If we are to conclude our fictional parable of journeying through the constricted passageway to life, the description might proceed as a milestone is reached, making our way toward the faint light ahead:

The final obstructions of rock tumble down a slope ahead of you as you push through the cramped passageway into a lighted cavern beyond, which opens up into a hidden paradise. A waterfall empties into a vast lake of clear, cool water. Sunlight from above, hurtful to eyes which had strained through the darkness, streams abundantly over all , nourishing the fruit trees and berry bushes lining the shores of the lake.

Tumbling headlong down the slope, you stumble wearily to the refreshing waters and drench yourself at the shore, cupping the running water coming from the waterfall and drinking liberally. You and your companions take pleasure in having reached this place of rest and refreshment along the way. The knowledge of this place reassures you that you are on the right path. On the opposite end of the lake, another canyon beckons toward the continuing journey.

The way of life is a way of vigilance, of watching for obstructions and challenges, and it is a way of grit, determination, and effort. But the reward is a knowledge of our Creator and his Messiah that enhances our every step in the here and now. He provides the refreshment and strength we need to complete the journey.

As we seek to follow Yeshua, we are drawn not only to him, but to each other. And if we have this perspective of reassurance and reward,  we can hold one another up and help each other on the way.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Vigilance is a challenging way of living, of keeping an eye out for the dangers around you while intently listening for God’s direction and constantly scanning and looking for the continuation of the narrow way to life.

We need to keep in mind that vigilance is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, holiness, trust, forgiveness and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.

Have questions about todays topic, or comments or insights you would like to share about your own path? Perhaps you have found this podcast helpful or encouraging. If so, I would love to hear from you and include listener comments in future episodes, so feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

If you found today’s information helpful, you can view all other episodes of the podcast by clicking here.

There can be no compromise with the sinful practices of the surrounding culture

One of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman to his brothers. He did this right in front of Moses and the whole community of Israel while they were crying at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of the priest Aaron, saw this. So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man.

Numbers 25:6-8

The type of vigilance required for maintaining righteousness is extreme and rarely practiced. Yeshua spoke of it in hyperbolic terminology, that even if your eye or hand causes you to sin, you should be prepared to gouge it out or chop it off.

In the example of Phinehas, a priest in Aaron’s line at the time of the wandering in the desert, he demonstrated this commitment to righteousness in an extreme way that he is famously remembered for to this day.

The men of Israel had become complacent in their commitment to Yahweh. They began to succumb to the idolatry of the local Midianite population as they were being seduced by the women of Moab.

While Israel was staying at Shittim, the men began to have sex with Moabite women who invited the people to the sacrifices offered to their gods. The people ate the meat from the sacrifices and worshiped these gods. Since the Israelites joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor, the LORD became angry with Israel.

Numbers 25:1-3

Due to this rampant idolatry, God sent a plague among the general population that was killing thousands of people. He revealed to Moses and the leaders what must be done to put things right.

The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people, and execute them in broad daylight in the LORD’s presence. This will turn the LORD’s anger away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must kill the men who have joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor.”

Numbers 25:4-5

There were no compromises, no discussions, no negotiations; those who had sinned in idolatry had to be removed from the population of Israel. The offenders had become so brazen in their sinfulness that they proceeded in their practices, even as Moses and the assembly leaders were seeking God’s direction and favor.

Upon seeing this, Phinehas instantly jumped into action in obedience to God’s command. He didn’t hesitate or wait for a committee to decide on the right timing; he simply got up, grabbed a spear, and followed the offenders into their tent.

So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man. He drove the spear through the man and into the woman’s body. Because of this, the plague that the Israelites were experiencing stopped.

Numbers 25:7-8

Phinehas is remembered because he unhesitatingly did a difficult thing that God required, and in so doing, saved the rest of the assembly. In his vigilance for righteousness, he saw the iniquity and took immediate action.

This story is a metaphor for us today. The example is extreme because God wants to make sure we understand how serious it is for us to remain in blatant disobedience to his purposes.

In like fashion to the men of Israel, we can be easily seduced by the surrounding idolatry of our day and age. The culture and technology we are immersed in provide ample opportunities for us to be led away, seduced as by Midianite women, from our commitment to the one true God.

It is only when those disobedient thoughts and actions are decisively put to death that we can be restored to wholeness with God. Yeshua used the example of gouging out eyes and chopping off hands (Matt. 5:29-30). Paul writes about it this way:

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.

Romans 8:12-13

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Colossians 3:5

The same vigilance and determination of Phinehas for the righteousness of his people needs to be evidenced in us today for our own standing in God’s presence. The only way we can be truly set apart for God’s purposes is by brutally putting to death, gouging out, chopping off, and stabbing a spear through the heart of those things in our lives that offend God.

This is the determination needed to remain on God’s path. This is the vigilance it takes to be a child of God. Be a Phinehas, not waiting, but taking immediate and decisive action on the habits and practices in your life that are offensive to God.

Who can attain to the ideal of the woman of noble character in Proverbs 31?

She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.

Proverbs 31:27

The thirty-first chapter of Proverbs contains a famous passage providing the characteristics of a “noble” or “virtuous” woman. Many a wife has reviewed this passage with trepidation, as the ideal set forth in these verses can indeed be intimidating.

However, instead of describing the ideal woman and holding wives to an unreachable standard, this passage can be viewed from a different, and perhaps more attainable, perspective that aligns with the middle-eastern propensity to couch word pictures and ideas in parabolic language.

Especially in the prophets, God has revealed himself as desiring his people as a husband desires the pure love of a faithful bride. He is equally disappointed when that love is not returned to him, but is instead wasted on the idolatry of the nations around them.

“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight.

Hosea 6:4

But he holds out the promise of renewed faithfulness and marital fidelity for the people of Zion.

Never again will [Jerusalem] be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

Isaiah 62:4-5

This theme is echoed in the book of Revelation:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.

Revelation 21:2-3

If this noble woman in Proverbs is viewed as the ideal for all of God’s people as his prophetic bride, then it begins to make sense of the overall passage lining out the expectations God has for his people, not just wives.

One of the characteristics God expects of his people is the vigilance with which this woman watches over her family, that nothing is outside of her purview. She carefully looks ahead to the needs of her family, identifying dangers ahead of time, like a watchman on the walls of a city.

This vigilance is contrasted with laziness, or more literally the eating of “the bread of idleness,” as one who sits idle, concerned only with their own appetite and nothing else. In today’s terminology, they might be considered a “deadbeat mom.”

However, we have the opportunity to view the passage in its entirety of what God expects of his people, and his goal for us is not to remain trapped in the idleness of our own selfish passions, but to be ever watchful, caring for the welfare of those of our “family.”

As an ideal for wives, Proverbs 31 can be intimidating and unattainable. However, viewed as an ideal for all believers, collective attainment of its lofty ambitions suddenly becomes more applicable and practical. We would do well to imbue our lives with her character of vigilance for her family in respect and honor of our Husband and Provider.

How to remain firmly established in the ways of God

Make my steps secure through your word, and do not let any wrongdoing control me.

Psalm 119:133

Yeshua admonishes us that all stumbling-blocks to righteousness must be removed from our lives with extreme diligence. One of the surest ways to ensure this is the case is for us to remain vigilant in the word of God.

All through the Bible, those who would be wise are encouraged to sit at the feet of those who exhibit God’s wisdom. The wisdom of God is to be pursued as a treasure, as a most precious possession. Possessing, and practicing, the wisdom of God keeps one on the right path.

This verse in Psalm 119 (among myriads of others within this same psalm) extol the virtues of overcoming wrong behavior by remaining faithful to the words of God.

The principal idea conveyed is that the word of God establishes our way, makes a firm place for us to walk, when we struggle with the vanity of our own efforts. It implies that, left to our own ways, we will ultimately exhaust ourselves, panting breathlessly with those things that have the sum value of zero in the end.

By contrast, God’s word protects us, directs us, establishes us in the correct paths that we may remain faithful and fruitful for God’s kingdom.

The constant work of weeding

And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries and cares of the world [the distractions of this age with its worldly pleasures], and the deceitfulness [and the false security or glamour] of wealth [or fame], and the passionate desires for all the other things creep in and choke out the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19, Amplified Bible

In this parable of the sower sowing his seed, Yeshua explains that the seed represents the word of God, and he describes the conditions of the hearts of those upon whom the seed is sown. The seed being sown among the thorns represents those individuals who receive the word of God, but their hearts are so overcrowded with worldly cares and other ambitions that the seed cannot grow to maturity; it gets choked out and cannot bear fruit.

If we are to reflect on our own lives, how much of our time and attention is spent on the distractions of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and passionate desires for other things besides the kingdom? We need to remain vigilant that the “weeds” of these other concerns do not overcrowd the truly important and impactful things that surround the kingdom: hearing and understanding the word and bearing fruit.

Just like a farmer preparing the soil in the garden, we need to constantly churn the earth of our hearts, ensuring there is sufficient compost and nutrients to receive what is planted so the seed can successfully multiply and grow to its fullest capacity.

Without constant attention, the garden soil of our hearts can be quickly overrun by weeds. We must weed the garden at all times to ensure that as the seed grows, it is clear of any other obstructions to the light and moisture that it needs. The weeds can block the light and consume the water of the rain and irrigation meant to nourish the seed for maximum growth.

Removing weeds can be hard work, especially if we have neglected to review it on a regular basis. Mind your garden with vigilance, and you will be honoring the Master Gardener by maximizing the return he has planned for the seed that is being sown in you.

.