The balance of true generosity

God reassures the faithful who truly help others.

Proverbs 11:25 – “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.”

This verse highlights the biblical principle of reciprocity. To the ancient Jewish way of thinking, there is balance in the universe and God is just; therefore, righteous actions will be balanced with righteous rewards in this life. If we are compassionate and generous with others in need, we will be dealt with compassionately and with generosity in return.

Yeshua also taught this principle in several different ways and through various parables.

Matthew 13:23 – “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Matthew 19:29 – “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields because of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.”
Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

The modern danger presented by this type of teaching is at the root of the prosperity gospel, where people are encouraged to give in order to get. If you want to get rich, give generously (to that specific ministry, of course) and God will abundantly bless you. This is a primary method in how false teachers rake in millions of dollars through their “ministries.” They prey on the covetousness of human nature, and through twisting of these passages they bilk innocent people of life savings and necessary subsistence, all in the name of God.

God hasn’t set this principle in place as a way of believers getting rich, but as a way of rewarding the righteous who faithfully provide for the needs of others. Those who look at this as some sort of God-ordained get-rich-quick scheme are simply lining the pockets of these purveyors of snake-oil.

Peter spares no words in denouncing these false teachers who were present even among the early believers:

2 Peter 2:1, 14, 18-19 – “…there will be false teachers among you. They will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. … They have eyes full of adultery that never stop looking for sin. They seduce unstable people and have hearts trained in greed. Children under a curse! … For by uttering boastful, empty words, they seduce, with fleshly desires and debauchery, people who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them.”

Even though these people exist even to this day, we should not be dissuaded from following the true principle of reciprocity by faithfully helping those in need. It is not just the giving that is important, but who and what the giving is for. God wants to reassure us that when we take the time, energy, and resources to help others who are truly in need, something we are commanded to do all through his word, we will be abundantly blessed in return. This should allow us to give joyfully when we know that we are playing a vital part in helping out others who will deeply and meaningfully benefit from our generosity.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 – “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”


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 on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

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Is there a biblical curse in withholding forgiveness?

When we act disobediently, God appears to reciprocate in kind by providing negative experiences, or what can be called his curses.

Core of the Bible podcast #49 – Is there a biblical curse in withholding forgiveness?

Today we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness, and how the forgiveness we extend, or don’t extend, toward others will likely be evidenced within our own relationship with God.

John 20:23 – “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The context of this passage is the day of Yeshua’s resurrection, in the evening of that very day. The disciples were still trying to understand what had happened since their Teacher had been crucified a few days before. A strange report of Messiah’s appearance had come from Mary, and Peter and John had both been to the tomb and found it was empty.

Suddenly, Yeshua is among them all, proclaiming peace and wholeness (shalom), and providing an admonition to remain receptive to the holy Spirit of God and to exercise the privilege of forgiveness with others.

Most commentators view this as a special privilege, anointing, or commissioning of the twelve disciples (or, in this case, the ten disciples, since Thomas and Judas were not among them). However, there is no indication this admonition was just to Yeshua’s closest circle, but it was conveyed to all of those present.

How much value should we place on these words? Let’s put this in perspective. If you were to die and then to be raised back to life and to visit once again with your closest friends and confidants, what words would you say? Do you think those words would be considered important words by those who were were seeing you alive again? I believe wholeheartedly, yes, they would be extremely important words!

And this is why I believe the significance of what Yeshua is teaching here cannot be minimized: the first collective teaching Yeshua provides his followers after being resurrected is to remain receptive to God’s Spirit and to be mindful of how they exercise forgiveness, because to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then the state of unforgiveness remains.

In reality, this should not be surprising to us, since Messiah consistently taught of the importance of forgiving others, and how the believer’s use of forgiveness with others will be an indicator of God’s forgiveness with them.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. “But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.”

Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.”

Luke 17:4 – “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Therefore if we withhold forgiveness from someone, for whatever reason we may have, we may in a very real sense be creating a situation where God withholds his forgiveness from us. It is not that our actions can restrict the workings of the all-powerful God, but only that he has chosen to align himself with the human ideals as a means of communicating his love and mercy to us.

Charles Ellicott has the following to say in regards to this idea of forgiveness and unforgiveness:

“In the very act of prayer we are taught to remind ourselves of the conditions of forgiveness. Even here, in the region of the free grace of God, there is a law of retribution. The temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven, because it is ipso facto a proof that we do not realise the amount of the debt we owe. We forget the ten thousand talents as we exact the hundred pence, and in the act of exacting we bring back that burden of the greater debt upon ourselves.”

I believe this is a critical, yet often-overlooked aspect to the forgiveness of God. In all things God desires us to be true and honest, and he abhors dishonesty and hypocrisy. If we are withholding forgiveness from someone for some offense they have committed against us, what should be God’s logical reason for continuing to provide us forgiveness that comes from him?

This seems to create a bit of a paradox for us. Yeshua appears to be teaching us that we hold within our grasp the key of forgiveness or the lock of unforgiveness toward others, and our experience with God will mirror how we apply this privilege.

God, it seems, desires that we model ourselves after his characteristics, such as holiness, mercy or compassion, and forgiveness.

Leviticus 19:2 – “Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy.

Psalm 145:8-9 – Yahweh is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love. Yahweh is good to everyone; his compassion rests on all he has made.

Colossians 4:6 – Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

1 Peter 3:8-9 – Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.

He has made us in his image, and yet when that image becomes marred through our own selfish ambition and disobedience God appears to reciprocate in kind by providing negative experiences, or what can be called his curses.

Here’s an example of how this principle is exhibited with personified Wisdom in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 1:22, 25-26 – “How long, inexperienced ones, will you love ignorance? How long will you mockers enjoy mocking and you fools hate knowledge? … “since you neglected all my counsel and did not accept my correction, “I, in turn, will laugh at your calamity. I will mock when terror strikes you…”

Notice, the mockers who rejected the knowledge of God would be mocked by personified Wisdom as their own calamity would befall them due to their rejection of God’s instruction.

In the apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Solomon, there is a passage which identifies this type of thinking of the Hebrew culture in the time of 2nd temple Judaism. Speaking in the narrative about the Israelites wandering in the desert, it says:

Wisdom 11:15-16 – “In return for their foolish and wicked thoughts, which led them astray to worship irrational serpents and worthless animals, you sent upon them a multitude of irrational creatures to punish them, so that they might learn that one is punished by the very things by which one sins.”

This is the state of those who live in rebellion against God. It becomes a natural course of events due to their unwillingness to abide by God’s righteous ways, and the things through which they sin against God become the very things that plague them later on.

This idea of retributive justice is all through the Bible. The apostle Paul also presents a view of the fleshly life vs. the spiritual life as he encourages the Galatian believers to be sure they are sowing seed in the appropriate place:

Galatians 6:7-8 – Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

I tend to believe this retributive justice of God is this ancient biblical principle from which the Eastern concept of karma has been derived. That’s certainly my opinion and one that would require a whole other group of research to fully substantiate, but I believe the biblical principles were at one point understood by all mankind and other religions have since become corruptions of these truths over the millennia.

Let’s take a closer look at this idea of the retributive justice of God in some of the final words of Moses to the Israelites.


One of the most glaring passages to illustrate this concept of retributive justice is in Deuteronomy chapter 28. Moses is reminding the people of all that God has done for them from Egypt up until the eve of their entering into the promised land. In this chapter he lays out blessings that would be evident for their obedience, and also curses for their disobedience. When viewed together, we can see that the curses are essentially the opposite of the blessings.

28:3 – “You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.”

28:16 – “You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.”

28:4 – “Your offspring will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks.”

28:18 – “Your offspring will be cursed, and your land’s produce, the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks.”

28:5 – “Your basket and kneading bowl will be blessed.”

28:17 – “Your basket and kneading bowl will be cursed.”

28:6 – “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”

28:19 – “You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.”

28:7 – “Yahweh will cause the enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you. They will march out against you from one direction but flee from you in seven directions.”

28:20 – “Yahweh will send against you curses, confusion, and rebuke in everything you do until you are destroyed and quickly perish, because of the wickedness of your actions in abandoning me.”

On and on it goes through the whole chapter. It would appear that curses for disobedience are essentially corrupted and inverted blessings for obedience. This implies that God desires our obedience in righteous actions. When we do so, he demonstrates we are acting in accord with his purposes by providing certain blessings towards us. However, when we choose not to do so, then he matches his actions towards us by our actions towards him. And those actions meant to be blessings then become inverted and appear to us as curses.

Here’s another example from the book of Daniel. Daniel appears to be well aware of how they were living out the very warnings and curses that Moses had provided 700 years earlier:

Daniel 9:11 – All Israel has broken your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. The promised curse written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, has been poured out on us because we have sinned against him.

Yes, Daniel is lamenting the curse that Moses warned them about had come to pass! Specifically, here again from Deuteronomy 28.

Deuteronomy 28:36-37, 49-52 – “Yahweh will bring you and your king that you have appointed to a nation neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you will worship other gods, of wood and stone. “You will become an object of horror, scorn, and ridicule among all the peoples where Yahweh will drive you. … “Yahweh will bring a nation from far away, from the ends of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you won’t understand, “a ruthless nation, showing no respect for the old and not sparing the young. “They will eat the offspring of your livestock and your land’s produce until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, fresh oil, young of your herds, or newborn of your flocks until they cause you to perish. “They will besiege you within all your city gates until your high and fortified walls, that you trust in, come down throughout your land. They will besiege you within all your city gates throughout the land Yahweh your God has given you.”

Daniel has these warnings in mind as he continues his admonition to the people of God in captivity.

Daniel 9:12-14 – He has carried out his words that he spoke against us and against our rulers by bringing on us a disaster that is so great that nothing like what has been done to Jerusalem has ever been done under all of heaven. Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of Yahweh our God by turning from our iniquities and paying attention to your truth. So Yahweh kept the disaster in mind and brought it on us, for Yahweh our God is righteous in all he has done. But we have not obeyed him.”

Daniel recognized that the Israelites were experiencing the fruit of that which they had sown. They rebelled against God and he responded in the way that he told them he would. This resulted in a horrific overthrow of the city of Jerusalem, and the final remaining Israelites to be carried off to Babylon. Daniel connects the two concepts in no uncertain terms, and this is a clear demonstration of how God’s curse, the opposite of the blessing in the land, came to pass.

It seems to me that people today enjoy talking about blessings and how much God has blessed them, but curses are viewed as medieval superstitions. While there is in truth a measure of superstition to the idea of people placing curses on other people, if we understand that biblical curses are essentially blessings of God that have been inverted due to disobedience, it helps to make sense of some of the struggles non-believers face as they live lives in rebellion against God.

If, for example, we choose to live lives of treachery and deceit for our own pride and selfish gain, there is a good likelihood that our lives will be filled with not knowing who to trust, and being fearful of being taken advantage of at every turn. This is the natural result or consequences of those decisions. Yet if we choose to live humbly with integrity and honesty, it is more likely people will interact with us in similar ways, and we will have friends we can trust and experience less stress overall.

Proverbs 3:33-34 – Yahweh’s curse is on the household of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous; He mocks those who mock, but gives grace to the humble.

Now I’ve kind of gone off into the weeds in regards to retributive justice of God, but if you’ll remember, it was not without reason in light of Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. “But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.

If we truly believed this was the case, then we would never remain unforgiving toward anyone. If we desired God to be forgiving toward us, we would do everything we could to ensure there was no form of outstanding unforgiveness among any of our relationships.

We saw that when Yeshua returned from death, he exhorted his disciples to receive the holy Spirit, and to extend forgiveness to others, otherwise, unforgiveness would remain. If we can cautiously peel back the prejudice of our religious orthodoxy regarding the historical commentary of John 20 and simply consider the Messiah’s words for what they say, the importance of forgiveness in the teaching of Yeshua cannot be understated.

So, is there a biblical curse in withholding forgiveness? I think a case can be made to demonstrate that God actively resists those who resist his will, and I’ve included a few examples here to illustrate this idea. If we are allowing the Spirit of God to guide our lives, then we need to always be mindful of how important the role of forgiveness plays in our interactions with others. For to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then a state of unforgiveness remains. And if we are to maintain a consistent view within the larger context of Yeshua’s teaching during his life and ministry, that state of unforgiveness can be measured against our own standing with God.

The fact that the operation of the Spirit and forgiveness are knit together so closely should cause us to evaluate how recep

Today we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness, and how the forgiveness we extend, or don’t extend, toward others will likely be evidenced within our own relationship with God.

John 20:23 – “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The context of this passage is the day of Yeshua’s resurrection, in the evening of that very day. The disciples were still trying to understand what had happened since their Teacher had been crucified a few days before. A strange report of Messiah’s appearance had come from Mary, and Peter and John had both been to the tomb and found it was empty.

Suddenly, Yeshua is among them all, proclaiming peace and wholeness (shalom), and providing an admonition to remain receptive to the holy Spirit of God and to exercise the privilege of forgiveness with others.

Most commentators view this as a special privilege, anointing, or commissioning of the twelve disciples (or, in this case, the ten disciples, since Thomas and Judas were not among them). However, there is no indication this admonition was just to Yeshua’s closest circle, but it was conveyed to all of those present.

How much value should we place on these words? Let’s put this in perspective. If you were to die and then to be raised back to life and to visit once again with your closest friends and confidants, what words would you say? Do you think those words would be considered important words by those who were were seeing you alive again? I believe wholeheartedly, yes, they would be extremely important words!

And this is why I believe the significance of what Yeshua is teaching here cannot be minimized: the first collective teaching Yeshua provides his followers after being resurrected is to remain receptive to God’s Spirit and to be mindful of how they exercise forgiveness, because to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then the state of unforgiveness remains.

In reality, this should not be surprising to us, since Messiah consistently taught of the importance of forgiving others, and how the believer’s use of forgiveness with others will be an indicator of God’s forgiveness with them.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. “But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.”

Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.”

Luke 17:4 – “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Therefore if we withhold forgiveness from someone, for whatever reason we may have, we may in a very real sense be creating a situation where God withholds his forgiveness from us. It is not that our actions can restrict the workings of the all-powerful God, but only that he has chosen to align himself with the human ideals as a means of communicating his love and mercy to us.

Charles Ellicott has the following to say in regards to this idea of forgiveness and unforgiveness:

“In the very act of prayer we are taught to remind ourselves of the conditions of forgiveness. Even here, in the region of the free grace of God, there is a law of retribution. The temper that does not forgive cannot be forgiven, because it is ipso facto a proof that we do not realise the amount of the debt we owe. We forget the ten thousand talents as we exact the hundred pence, and in the act of exacting we bring back that burden of the greater debt upon ourselves.”

I believe this is a critical, yet often-overlooked aspect to the forgiveness of God. In all things God desires us to be true and honest, and he abhors dishonesty and hypocrisy. If we are withholding forgiveness from someone for some offense they have committed against us, what should be God’s logical reason for continuing to provide us forgiveness that comes from him?

This seems to create a bit of a paradox for us. Yeshua appears to be teaching us that we hold within our grasp the key of forgiveness or the lock of unforgiveness toward others, and our experience with God will mirror how we apply this privilege.

God, it seems, desires that we model ourselves after his characteristics, such as holiness, mercy or compassion, and forgiveness.

Leviticus 19:2 – “Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy.

Psalm 145:8-9 – Yahweh is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love. Yahweh is good to everyone; his compassion rests on all he has made.

Colossians 4:6 – Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

1 Peter 3:8-9 – Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.

He has made us in his image, and yet when that image becomes marred through our own selfish ambition and disobedience God appears to reciprocate in kind by providing negative experiences, or what can be called his curses.

Here’s an example of how this principle is exhibited with personified Wisdom in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 1:22, 25-26 – “How long, inexperienced ones, will you love ignorance? How long will you mockers enjoy mocking and you fools hate knowledge? … “since you neglected all my counsel and did not accept my correction, “I, in turn, will laugh at your calamity. I will mock when terror strikes you…”

Notice, the mockers who rejected the knowledge of God would be mocked by personified Wisdom as their own calamity would befall them due to their rejection of God’s instruction.

In the apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Solomon, there is a passage which identifies this type of thinking of the Hebrew culture in the time of 2nd temple Judaism. Speaking in the narrative about the Israelites wandering in the desert, it says:

Wisdom 11:15-16 – “In return for their foolish and wicked thoughts, which led them astray to worship irrational serpents and worthless animals, you sent upon them a multitude of irrational creatures to punish them, so that they might learn that one is punished by the very things by which one sins.”

This is the state of those who live in rebellion against God. It becomes a natural course of events due to their unwillingness to abide by God’s righteous ways, and the things through which they sin against God become the very things that plague them later on.

This idea of retributive justice is all through the Bible. The apostle Paul also presents a view of the fleshly life vs. the spiritual life as he encourages the Galatian believers to be sure they are sowing seed in the appropriate place:

Galatians 6:7-8 – Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

I tend to believe this retributive justice of God is this ancient biblical principle from which the Eastern concept of karma has been derived. That’s certainly my opinion and one that would require a whole other group of research to fully substantiate, but I believe the biblical principles were at one point understood by all mankind and other religions have since become corruptions of these truths over the millennia.

Let’s take a closer look at this idea of the retributive justice of God in some of the final words of Moses to the Israelites.

One of the most glaring passages to illustrate this concept of retributive justice is in Deuteronomy chapter 28. Moses is reminding the people of all that God has done for them from Egypt up until the eve of their entering into the promised land. In this chapter he lays out blessings that would be evident for their obedience, and also curses for their disobedience. When viewed together, we can see that the curses are essentially the opposite of the blessings.

28:3 – “You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.”

28:16 – “You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.”

28:4 – “Your offspring will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks.”

28:18 – “Your offspring will be cursed, and your land’s produce, the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks.”

28:5 – “Your basket and kneading bowl will be blessed.”

28:17 – “Your basket and kneading bowl will be cursed.”

28:6 – “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”

28:19 – “You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.”

28:7 – “Yahweh will cause the enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you. They will march out against you from one direction but flee from you in seven directions.”

28:20 – “Yahweh will send against you curses, confusion, and rebuke in everything you do until you are destroyed and quickly perish, because of the wickedness of your actions in abandoning me.”

On and on it goes through the whole chapter. It would appear that curses for disobedience are essentially corrupted and inverted blessings for obedience. This implies that God desires our obedience in righteous actions. When we do so, he demonstrates we are acting in accord with his purposes by providing certain blessings towards us. However, when we choose not to do so, then he matches his actions towards us by our actions towards him. And those actions meant to be blessings then become inverted and appear to us as curses.

Here’s another example from the book of Daniel. Daniel appears to be well aware of how they were living out the very warnings and curses that Moses had provided 700 years earlier:

Daniel 9:11 – All Israel has broken your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. The promised curse written in the law of Moses, the servant of God, has been poured out on us because we have sinned against him.

Yes, Daniel is lamenting the curse that Moses warned them about had come to pass! Specifically, here again from Deuteronomy 28.

Deuteronomy 28:36-37, 49-52 – “Yahweh will bring you and your king that you have appointed to a nation neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you will worship other gods, of wood and stone. “You will become an object of horror, scorn, and ridicule among all the peoples where Yahweh will drive you. … “Yahweh will bring a nation from far away, from the ends of the earth, to swoop down on you like an eagle, a nation whose language you won’t understand, “a ruthless nation, showing no respect for the old and not sparing the young. “They will eat the offspring of your livestock and your land’s produce until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, fresh oil, young of your herds, or newborn of your flocks until they cause you to perish. “They will besiege you within all your city gates until your high and fortified walls, that you trust in, come down throughout your land. They will besiege you within all your city gates throughout the land Yahweh your God has given you.”

Daniel has these warnings in mind as he continues his admonition to the people of God in captivity.

Daniel 9:12-14 – He has carried out his words that he spoke against us and against our rulers by bringing on us a disaster that is so great that nothing like what has been done to Jerusalem has ever been done under all of heaven. Just as it is written in the law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of Yahweh our God by turning from our iniquities and paying attention to your truth. So Yahweh kept the disaster in mind and brought it on us, for Yahweh our God is righteous in all he has done. But we have not obeyed him.”

Daniel recognized that the Israelites were experiencing the fruit of that which they had sown. They rebelled against God and he responded in the way that he told them he would. This resulted in a horrific overthrow of the city of Jerusalem, and the final remaining Israelites to be carried off to Babylon. Daniel connects the two concepts in no uncertain terms, and this is a clear demonstration of how God’s curse, the opposite of the blessing in the land, came to pass.

It seems to me that people today enjoy talking about blessings and how much God has blessed them, but curses are viewed as medieval superstitions. While there is in truth a measure of superstition to the idea of people placing curses on other people, if we understand that biblical curses are essentially blessings of God that have been inverted due to disobedience, it helps to make sense of some of the struggles non-believers face as they live lives in rebellion against God.

If, for example, we choose to live lives of treachery and deceit for our own pride and selfish gain, there is a good likelihood that our lives will be filled with not knowing who to trust, and being fearful of being taken advantage of at every turn. This is the natural result or consequences of those decisions. Yet if we choose to live humbly with integrity and honesty, it is more likely people will interact with us in similar ways, and we will have friends we can trust and experience less stress overall.

Proverbs 3:33-34 – “Yahweh’s curse is on the household of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous; He mocks those who mock, but gives grace to the humble.”

Now, let me be quick to add that Yeshua provides additional perspective on what a blessing from God may look like. Based on what we have seen so far, blessings are good things and curses would be bad things. However, Yeshua also mentions how some things that can look bad can actually be blessings when based on the truth of God and viewed from his perspective:

Matthew 5:3-4 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Being poor in spirit doesn’t appear to be a blessing, yet Yeshua says it is. Mourning in and of itself does not appear to provide a blessing, yet Yeshua says there is a certain type of mourning that does. For those who are of humble heart and circumstance (poor in spirit) and who mourn for righteousness to be expressed will have those yearnings fulfilled.

Matthew 5:10-12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Certainly, being insulted and persecuted and having false and evil things said against you cannot possibly be considered a blessing, could it? Yeshua confirms that they are, but ONLY IF those things are being conducted against you specifically because of your expressed faith in Messiah, who is the truth of God revealed.

Psalm 5:11-12 – “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May you shelter them, and may those who love your name boast about you. For you, Yahweh, bless the righteous one; you surround him with favor like a shield.”

Consistent with all blessing is that those who exhibit righteousness are blessed by God. To have faith in Yeshua was to have many negative consequences for the believers, and may still to this day; however, those negative consequences could be considered as blessings because they were and are based on the truth of God.

So returning in summary to our topic of forgiveness, you may have noticed I have kind of gone off into the weeds in regards to retributive justice of God. But if you’ll remember, it was not without reason in light of Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.”

If we truly believed this was the case, then we would never remain unforgiving toward anyone. If we desired God to be forgiving toward us, we would do everything we could to ensure there was no form of outstanding unforgiveness among any of our relationships.

We saw that when Yeshua returned from death, he exhorted his disciples to receive the holy Spirit, and to extend forgiveness to others, otherwise, unforgiveness would remain. If we can cautiously peel back the prejudice of our religious orthodoxy regarding the historical commentary of John 20 and simply consider the Messiah’s words for what they say, the importance of forgiveness in the teaching of Yeshua cannot be understated.

So, is there a biblical curse in withholding forgiveness? I think a case can be made in the affirmative to at least demonstrate that God actively resists those who resist his will, and I’ve included a few examples here to illustrate this idea. If we are allowing the Spirit of God to guide our lives, then we need to always be mindful of how important the role of forgiveness plays in our interactions with others. For to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then a state of unforgiveness remains. And if we are to maintain a consistent view within the larger context of Yeshua’s teaching during his life and ministry, that state of unforgiveness can be measured against our own standing with God.

The fact that the operation of the Spirit and forgiveness are knit together so closely should cause us to evaluate how receptive we are to the influence of the God’s Spirit in our lives. In my estimation, a life guided by the Spirit is, by default, a life of forgiveness. And forgiveness always brings a blessing.

tive we are to the influence of the God’s Spirit in our lives. In my estimation, a life guided by the Spirit is, by default, a life of forgiveness. And forgiveness always brings a blessing.


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 on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

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

God’s people are identifiable through this one practice

God simply desires his people to be a compassionate people.

Luke 6:31 – Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.

In one timeless and profound sentence, Yeshua encapsulates everything that God had been repeating to his people time and again through his prophets.

Ezekiel 18:5, 7-9 – “Suppose a man is righteous and does what is just and right: … “He doesn’t oppress anyone but returns his collateral to the debtor. He does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing. “He doesn’t lend at interest or for profit but keeps his hand from injustice and carries out true justice between men. “He follows my statutes and keeps my ordinances, acting faithfully. Such a person is righteous; he will certainly live.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.

Zechariah 7:8-10 – The word of the LORD came to Zechariah: “The LORD of Armies says this: ‘Make fair decisions. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the resident alien or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another.’
Zechariah 8:16-17 – “These are the things you must do: Speak truth to one another; make true and sound decisions within your city gates. “Do not plot evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and do not love perjury, for I hate all this” ​– ​this is the LORD’s declaration.

This is the great social justice that the Law was designed to create among the nation of Israel: people taking care of one another’s needs, demonstrating love to one another in practical ways.

Romans 13:8-10 – Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.

Love is the fulfillment of the Law; love toward God first and foremost, and love for others. This is the summary of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

In our current day, it appears we, as a society, have strayed from both of these aspects. Love for the God of the Bible may be present in our private beliefs, but is not as evident in our outward actions toward others. If we love God, then we should demonstrate compassion and love to those around us who need it most.

James 2:15-18 – If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works.

1 John 2:9-10 – The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
1 John 3:10 – This is how God’s children and the devil’s children become obvious. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother or sister.
1 John 4:8-11, 21 – The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. … And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.

Yeshua said he didn’t come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. If Yeshua fulfilled the Law through love, then we should, also. This is why John states that if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

With this much prophetic pronouncement and apostolic emphasis on this topic, there is no doubt that this practice of outward compassion should be the primary characteristic of God’s people.

Micah 6:8 – Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is Yahweh requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.

God simply desires his people to be a compassionate people. He has made it abundantly clear that our lives should be examples of love, mercy and compassion. And in the actual doing of this, people will see God.


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 at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvR_aNEyA7WEZJtF4B8fZ6g

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

Living righteously removes fear

Doing what’s right instills confidence in those who practice it.

Psalm 112:1 – Praise Yahweh! Happy is the person who fears Yahweh, taking great delight in his commands.

The idea contained within the completeness of this psalm is that the righteous individual, one who fears God and abides by his word, is blessed by God.

  • v. 2 Their descendants will be powerful and blessed
  • v. 3 They will have wealth and riches

They are:

  • v. 4 industrious, gracious, merciful
  • v. 5 just in all dealings
  • v. 9 generous
  • v. 9 they receive honor

This is the picture of a righteous person who lives with integrity. This is also the idea that the disciples of Yeshua had of someone who is considered righteous by God. If someone was rich and powerful, they thought, it was clear they were blessed by God.

However, Yeshua provided further insight regarding wealth and power.

Matthew 19:23-26 – Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved? ” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Yeshua took the disciples perspective that all wealthy people must be blessed by God and turned it on its head, a concept which astonished the disciples. True wealth, he says, is maintained by those who are rich toward God and toward his righteous standards.

Matthew 6:19-21 – “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In fact, that was the very discussion he had just had with the rich young ruler, and which caused the disciples to be considering this question of God’s blessing on the wealthy in the first place.

Matthew 19:21-22 – “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard that, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Our perspective must always be based on the overall message of God’s word, not just certain aspects of it, or verses taken out of context here and there. When God says the righteous will be blessed, he means it; but being blessed by God should not be the reason and motivation for living righteously.

Living according to God’s standards provides for needs and also allows one to be generous with others as God provides above and beyond. Yet, being wealthy, something many people seek to attain, should not be an end in itself. When it is, then the attainment of riches becomes the standard, and any means will be used to reach that goal.

Instead, Yeshua encourages believers to focus on doing what’s right, and God will bless as he sees fit and in his own timing. When this understanding is the focus of the individual, the confidence of the believer is that, though they may not have attained their own personal financial desires, doing what God requires according to his wisdom is more valuable than any riches in the world.

A sampling from the Proverbs can easily demonstrate this:

Proverbs 3:13-14 – Happy is a man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding, for she is more profitable than silver, and her revenue is better than gold.
8:11, 19 – “For wisdom is better than jewels, and nothing desirable can equal it. … “My fruit is better than solid gold, and my harvest than pure silver.
16:8, 16, 19 – Better a little with righteousness than great income with injustice. … Get wisdom — how much better it is than gold! And get understanding — it is preferable to silver. … Better to be lowly of spirit with the humble than to divide plunder with the proud.

True wealth is not measured in dollars and cents, but in the abundant measure of doing what’s right. When this is the true stance of the believer, there is no fear of losing that abundance, because it is not something that can be taken away.

Psalm 112: 7-8 – He will not fear bad news; his heart is confident, trusting in Yahweh. His heart is assured; he will not fear.

This should be the central core of the believer’s perspective. Doing right according to God’s standards, living with integrity, allows one the privilege of confidence and dominion over fear; fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. When one is operating from this confident place of a settled mind, they can be more assured in their just dealings, and this can naturally lead to increased abundance. However, abundance in and of itself is not the measure to attain. It may be the by-product of faithful work and just dealings, but it should not be the end-goal of all industry.

While God can provide bountifully for his own, the larger perspective is that everything we have belongs to him and can be given up in a moment. When this is the heart perspective of the believer, then all confidence is in God, not in the abundance of things. There is no bad news that this type of assurance cannot overcome.


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 at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvR_aNEyA7WEZJtF4B8fZ6g

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

Growing in the maturity of forgiveness

We need to learn to let God be God and to focus instead on doing good through forgiveness.

Core of the Bible podcast #35 – Growing in the maturity of forgiveness

Today we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness, and how forgiveness is a quality that comes from a mature heart, a heart that knows and understands how powerful forgiveness is.

Yeshua stated it this way:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:36-37

This teaching of Yeshua instructs us to not criticize others. It also highlights several different aspects of judgment and forgiveness, so let’s take a look at some of these ideas.

UNIVERSAL BALANCE AND EQUITY

Firstly, it implies that there is a balance, or a universal equity that God maintains. This is brought out in similar passages speaking of this aspect of God’s nature. There are national examples of this as well as personal examples. Let’s look at a couple of national examples to start.

National justice – Israel

Ezekiel 7:8-9 – I will pour out my wrath on you very soon; I will exhaust my anger against you and judge you according to your ways. I will punish you for all your detestable practices.  I will not look on you with pity or spare you. I will punish you for your ways and for your detestable practices within you. Then you will know that it is I, the LORD, who strikes.

National justice – Babylon

Jeremiah 25:14 – “For many nations and great kings will enslave them [Babylonians], and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.’ “

Personal justice as consequence of actions

Job 4:8 – In my experience, those who plow injustice and those who sow trouble reap the same.

Galatians 6:7-9 – Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.

2 Peter 2:1 – There were indeed false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.

In this same way, Yeshua teaches that if an individual is overly critical of others, the same level of critical judgment will be applied to them.

Matthew 7:2 – “For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use.

Therefore, if we desire to be forgiven by God and others, we should be forgiving and God will then use the same measure of forgiveness with us.

FORGIVENESS: THE OTHER SIDE OF JUDGMENT

While condemnation and judgment are the focus of Yeshua’s teaching, forgiveness is introduced as a quality that sits outside of judgment, as a counter-balance to judgment on the scale of overall mercy.

When judgment is the primary objective, the focus of forgiveness becomes diminished, and mercy wanes. However, when forgiveness is the primary objective, judgment and condemnation are diminished, and mercy increases. Like two sides of the same coin, both judgment and forgiveness have a role in the merciful life of a believer. Both are necessary, but both serve different purposes.

Judgment provides a needed distinction between right and wrong. We rely on our judgment to ensure that fairness is being practiced or demonstrated. This is not a complex function.

For example, when two young children are playing together, they can become possessive of their belongings. Even toddlers can recognize when playmates are being fair or unfair when it comes to sharing toys.

Forgiveness is a more complex quality that requires an increased level of maturity. To express forgiveness, there  not only has to be a recognition of a wrong that has been committed (that is, a judgment), but another “something” beyond that judgment that goes beyond and reaches out to the other individual to maintain a positive relationship.

Forgiveness is the counter-intuitive solution for bringing closure to unresolved conflict or to reducing an escalation of aggression. This takes maturity of wisdom, as the natural base response is almost always to respond to injustice in kind. It also takes maturity through humility, as it is more godly to simply accept being personally wronged for the sake of forgiveness in a relationship than trying to continually force your rights upon others.

1 Corinthians 6:5-7 – I say this to your shame! Can it be that there is not one wise person among you who is able to arbitrate between fellow believers? Instead, brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers! As it is, to have legal disputes against one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

1 Peter 2:21-23 – For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth; when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.

Our perspective should always be to entrust ourselves to God; this is where the capacity and the ability to forgive others can come from. When we do so, we are fulfilling our objective of acting and reacting in the same way as our Father.

We see all through God’s word that he is forgiving and slow to anger. This is why God’s judgment may not at times be recognized by others because the timing of this judgment by God does not always immediately follow an infraction.

Nahum 1:3 – The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will never leave the guilty unpunished…

Psalm 86:15 – But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth.

Psalm 103:8 – The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.

FORGIVENESS AND BALANCE EXEMPLIFIED

This theme of God being slow to anger is related over and over again throughout the Bible. However, there is a passage in Nehemiah that highlights and contrasts his long-suffering compassion with the universal balance of justice we have been talking about.

Nehemiah 9:16-25 – But our ancestors acted arrogantly; they became stiff-necked and did not listen to your commands. They refused to listen and did not remember your wonders you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love, and you did not abandon them. Even after they had cast an image of a calf for themselves and said, “This is your god who brought you out of Egypt,” and they had committed terrible blasphemies, you did not abandon them in the wilderness because of your great compassion. During the day the pillar of cloud never turned away from them, guiding them on their journey. And during the night the pillar of fire illuminated the way they should go. You sent your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. You provided for them in the wilderness forty years, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell. You gave them kingdoms and peoples and established boundaries for them. They took possession of the land of King Sihon of Heshbon and of the land of King Og of Bashan. You multiplied their descendants like the stars of the sky and brought them to the land you told their ancestors to go in and possess. So their descendants went in and possessed the land: You subdued the Canaanites who inhabited the land before them and handed their kings and the surrounding peoples over to them, to do as they pleased with them. They captured fortified cities and fertile land and took possession of well-supplied houses, cisterns cut out of rock, vineyards, olive groves, and fruit trees in abundance. They ate, were filled, became prosperous, and delighted in your great goodness.

Even though the people had not listened to God’s commands, he did not immediately crush them and deliver them over to others. His long compassion and slowness to anger allowed them to accomplish many great things for his power and purpose to be known.

However, as amazing and enabling as God’s compassion and forgiveness can be, the Bible is also clear that justice will be realized in the balance of God’s Creation, in his time. Even if it is not something that occurs right away, it still comes to pass.

Nehemiah 9:26-30 – But they were disobedient and rebelled against you. They flung your law behind their backs and killed your prophets who warned them in order to turn them back to you. They committed terrible blasphemies. So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. In their time of distress, they cried out to you, and you heard from heaven. In your abundant compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the power of their enemies. But as soon as they had relief, they again did what was evil in your sight. So you abandoned them to the power of their enemies, who dominated them. When they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven and rescued them many times in your compassion. You warned them to turn back to your law, but they acted arrogantly and would not obey your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, which a person will live by if he does them. They stubbornly resisted, stiffened their necks, and would not obey. You were patient with them for many years, and your Spirit warned them through your prophets, but they would not listen. Therefore, you handed them over to the surrounding peoples.

So through all of this we can see the contrast of judgment and forgiveness, back and forth, over and over again. God is patient and compassionate, but if rebellion continues there comes a point where justice is needed to restore the universal balance. And all of this occurs in God’s timing, not our own. When this lack of immediate justice happens, we may feel as the prophet Habakkuk did:

Habakkuk 1:13 – Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do you tolerate those who are treacherous? Why are you silent while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself?

This is why God may appear to us to be hidden or not taking action when we think he should. It may just be that the cycle of his long-suffering compassion is in play before the universal balance of justice needs to be restored.

This is also why we are commanded to refrain from our own vengeance.

Romans 12:17-21 – Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Our role as God’s people is to not focus on the natural response toward judgment and retribution, but instead to let God be God and to focus instead on doing good through forgiveness.

Through recognition of the reality of this universal balance that God maintains, on even the most basic of levels we should be challenged to grow in maturity in our relationships and our dealings with others. As we encourage the seeds of this nascent maturity of forgiveness to thrive, they are enabled to grow into acts of mercy, and ultimately to blossom into genuine love.


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 at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Fasting and prayer: devotion in the service of others

Fasting is a practice of holiness, or setting apart, which can create an intimate time of seeking to commune with God. But as we will see, it is also a strong metaphor for the concept of whole-hearted devotion to serving others.

Core of the Bible podcast #19 – Fasting and prayer: devotion in the service of others

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Holiness, and the role of fasting and prayer. This is a practice of holiness, or setting apart, which can create an intimate time of seeking to commune with God. But as we will see, it is also a strong metaphor for the concept of whole-hearted devotion to serving others.

Yeshua stated it this way:

Moreover when you fast, do not be as the hypocrites, of a sad appearance; for they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face, that you do not appear unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret: and your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly. Matthew 6:16-18

Now the primary purpose of this teaching by Yeshua was to address the issue of public pride that the Jewish leaders would practice to make a show of their obedience openly. He instead focuses on the private and sincere relationship that believers should have with God. Yeshua does not dissuade the practice of fasting, just the manner in which the Jews were using it to make themselves look better in the eyes of others.

Fasting is a practice of believers mentioned throughout the Bible, typically coupled with intense, focused prayer.

Daniel 9:3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes…

Mark 9:29  And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, except by prayer and fasting.

Acts 14:23  And when they had ordained themselves elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

1 Corinthians 7:5  Do not deprive one another, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan not tempt you for your lack of self control.

Of course the admonition of Yeshua is that fasting and prayer should not in any way become a source of pride and vanity, as if you are doing something special that God should suddenly sit up and take notice of. He encourages fasting in the context of the daily routine, without any indication to others that you might be separating yourself apart. This “secret” aspect of fasting and prayer indicates the personal nature of this type of communion with God.

By reviewing how fasting and prayer have been used in the Bible, we can come to a better practical understanding of how God intends us to use this practice in ways that honor him. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but highlights some insights into this misunderstood practice.

Fasting and prayer as an act of repentance

Fasting is related to a humbling of oneself before God. In many English versions, this is typically translated as affliction or humbling; to “afflict one’s soul” was an act of humility before Yahweh. This was specifically listed as a commanded practice on the Day of Atonement each year, a day of seeking God and petitioning him for forgiveness.

And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger who sojourns among you: … It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and you shall afflict your souls by a statute forever. Leviticus 16:29, 31

This corporate fasting was to be for a national representative humbling before God, that the community would always remain obedient to God’s ways and that his acceptance would be evident throughout their land for the coming year. Fasting, therefore, is a manner of self-denial in the service of a larger objective.  

Fasting and prayer was for seeking God’s involvement and favor

These are some additional examples of corporate fasting and prayer that was used to seek God’s will and a hopeful outcome of events.

Ezra 8:21, 23 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Aha’va, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him an upright way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. … So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Esther 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

It is interesting to note that these examples of corporate fasting were for the benefit of others, or for better understanding God’s purpose and will for their lives.

Fasting and prayer for the sake of enemies

We typically see fasting and prayer as a way of declaring our sincerity before God for our personal requests, yet the Psalmist carries a clear directive of how he was moved to fast and pray for even his enemies.

Psalm 35:11-14 False witnesses stepped forward and questioned me concerning things about which I knew nothing. They paid me back evil for good; my soul mourns. But when they were sick, I wore sackcloth, humbled myself with fasting, and prayed from my heart repeatedly. I paced about as for my friend or my brother, and fell down mourning as one weeps for one’s mother.

This, of course, echoes the later teaching of Yeshua.

Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Fasting accompanied great times of testing, but also of revelation.

We see that  Yeshua fasted during this pivotal time of testing at the outset of his public ministry. 

Luke 4:1-2 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Likewise, Moses had fasted on Sinai during his time of communion with Yahweh which resulted in the provision of the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 34:28  And he [Moses] was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Both of these men had fasted in the service of others which resulted in bold empowerment in their public ministries.

Fasting and prayer with the wrong attitude

Isaiah is very bold in denouncing the corrupt religiosity of his day when he confronts Israel with a hypothetical conversation between the Israelites and God.

Isaiah 58:3-5  ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD?

Fasting is not a cure-all for the deficiencies of the heart; if our heart is not right, we will not be praying right, fasting or not.  

Through all of these passages, we are learning that fasting is significant, but only if it is done with a right and sincere attitude, and primarily in the service of others, not for our own selfish ambitions.

In teaching of the fulfillment of this kingdom, Yeshua continues this idea of being set apart through fasting. He encourages this practice among believers but cautions them not to make a show of it with others, otherwise their “humbling” would itself become a form of hypocrisy. Fasting and prayer was not to be something for personal benefit or gain, but for the service of others. Yeshua specifies that true fasting and prayer is “unto your Father,” as a means of private intimacy in communication with him.  

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites [do,] for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

When we fast, we should take measures to be certain it is not obvious to others. Our private works of humility and worship in the service of, and communion with, the one true God should remain private. If we are sincere in preparing our hearts and bodies to be receptive to the leading of God, we must maintain that intimacy.

When our inner convictions become just an outward show, we have denied ourselves and create a mockery of God. Self-adulation and false humility demonstrate a shallow understanding of our spiritual condition for the simple purpose of bettering ourselves in the eyes of others.

Ultimately, fasting reminds us who our Provider is, both physically and spiritually

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 And you shall remember all the ways which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you did not know, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.

In the wilderness, the Israelites were forced to fast as a way of recognizing their dependence on God. Their lack of food provided the example that God would also supply their needs through the manna. They were set apart in the wilderness, a people called to a unique way of life that was to exemplify the kingdom of God on the earth. In this wilderness experience, they were to be humbled, proven. God wanted to find out what was in their hearts. He taught them dependence on him for their physical and spiritual needs.

This whole narrative is an appropriate allegory for us today, as this world system we live in can appear to be a vast wilderness devoid of any life-giving support. God uses this world system to humble and prove us, searching for what is in our hearts. He wants us to recognize him and depend on him for our spiritual and physical needs. This way, the kingdom community can grow and thrive.

The right kind of fasting

Going back to Isaiah, he provides us the clearest insight into God’s view of fasting and prayer:

Isaiah 58:6-11 – “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.

I have always loved this passage in Isaiah because it highlights the fallacy of fasting as a sort of magic charm that can be used to get God’s attention for personal desires. Instead, Isaiah says what really gets God’s attention is denying ourselves (i.e., fasting) through the service of others. The provision of justice and mercy is what true fasting is all about. What makes us holy or set apart from others should be our sincere and tireless efforts in outreach to those in need. Most people in the world are existing for their own wants and desires; God’s people should demonstrate a different mindset, one that seeks to focus on others, even to the point of denying oneself so that others can be benefited.

The apostle Paul writes:

Philippians 2:3-4 – Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In summary of all I’ve discussed here today, denying body and soul is a personal discipline that is meant to take our eyes off of ourselves and our own needs. Making a display of it contradicts everything it is intended to accomplish.

However, maintaining a vital and dynamic intimacy with God through our heart understanding working in concert with our actions towards others provides great personal reward. Fasting with prayer is a spiritual practice that, done for the right reasons and in the correct, sincere manner, will provide a deep level of personal connection with God in the service of others. This practice provides us an opportunity to continually set ourselves apart in seeking God’s purpose within his kingdom. This is an unseen way in which we are strengthened to visibly serve others effectively in his name.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that fasting and prayer is not a personal discipline for our own selfish desires, but a means of humbling ourselves before God in the service of the needs of others.

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.