Isaiah’s outline of the steps to forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeshua taught this as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Becoming set apart in private fellowship with God

Personal holiness is a discipline that can provide deeper insights into the wisdom of God.

Personal holiness is a discipline that can provide deeper insights into the wisdom of God.

For many different reasons, believers in Messiah have a unique calling among religious traditions of the world. However, one of the most interesting facets of a life of faith and becoming set apart for God’s use is how many aspects are practiced privately, out of the glare of daily interactions.

For example, Yeshua taught the disciples to pray to God in private.

Matthew 6:6 – “But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

If they had a disagreement with a friend or relation, they were not to publicly call them out as a first reaction, but to meet with them privately to see if a solution could be reached.

Matthew 18:15 – “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

Most significantly, Yeshua produced disciples who were set apart by revealing deep truths and teaching them privately.

  • Mark 4:34 – He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, he explained everything to his own disciples.
  • Mark 13:3-4 – While he was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished? “

The process of becoming holy is one of being set apart as distinct for God’s use and for his glory. Perhaps one of the reasons this process is not as well-known is for the very reason that it typically occurs in private, out of the glare of public scrutiny, in quiet sessions of meditation or only between individuals who are submitting to God’s instruction.

In our American culture, it is not uncommon to see big, brash displays in congregations hoping to draw more people to God. However, the discipline of personal holiness that God desires typically comes to light only in the most intimate of settings. It is forged in the deepest recesses of personal reflection and private actions that spring from close communion with our Maker. The revelation that is sought in the public assembly is in actuality born and bred most regularly within the quiet corners of personal repentance and accountability.

But, as is the nature with all things of great value, the benefits that are received far outweigh any personal sacrifice that must be endured to achieve them.

Luke 10:23-24 – Then turning to his disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see the things you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see the things you see but didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear but didn’t hear them.”


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

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

You become like what you worship

This principle applies to people of all nations.

Within the revelation provided to the apostle John, we get a glimpse of a scene in heaven with the saints extolling the majesty and holiness of the one true God.

Revelation 15:2-4 – And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.”

In this scene, those who had been brought through the trials of the tribulation predicted by Messiah now stand before the throne of God, worshiping him. They describe him as the one who alone is holy because of his “amazing deeds” and “judgments” which had been revealed.

The outworking of these judgments within the Revelation are a demonstration of God’s holiness, his set-apartness from all other gods. He alone could rightfully carry out the actions that are represented there because it had all come to pass due to the failure of his people to honor him.

There is a principle revealed throughout the Bible that ties the holiness of believers to their worship of the one true God. Just like the saying that relates “you are what you eat,” the biblical principle is “you become like the one you worship.”

1 Kings 11:2 – “Of the nations concerning which the Lord said unto the children of Israel, You shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods…”

The apostle John admonishes his audience to reject the false gods of this world.

1 John 2:16 – For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

If we worship the false gods of this world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, we will become consumed with them in our daily lives. This is why the Bible in so many different ways condemns these things, from the Ten Commandments through the Sermon on the Mount. This is why this song in Revelation can be titled “the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.”

However, if we worship the one true God, since he is holy and set apart, we become holy and set apart. This is not only the result of our worship, but is a commandment which becomes a statement of fact of the reality of our lives:

Leviticus 20:26 – And you shall be holy unto me: for I, Yahweh, am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.

Romans 11:16 – For if the first-fruit is holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Our holiness is a derived holiness from God, it is not something we manufacture or invent within ourselves as if it were some sort of way that we could make up to try to please him. Our holiness becomes evident only when we produce fruit in keeping with his commandments because we are single-mindedly focused on pleasing him. Our devotion to him drives the holiness in our lives.

And the holiness in our lives drives the nations to worship him, also. As they see the separateness of our lives that are devoted to him, they learn of his deeds that he has performed on behalf of his people. We can then say with the saints in heaven, “Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name?”

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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, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.
Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Contemplating the majesty of God sets believers apart

Be holy, because he is holy.

Core of the Bible podcast #61 – Contemplating the majesty of God sets believers apart

Today we will be looking at the topic of holiness, and how our holiness or being set apart is derived from our contemplation of the One who is uniquely holy and set apart.

In Psalm 29, David provides a poetic allegory of a thunderstorm in order to consider the holiness and majesty of God.

Psalm 29:2 – “Give to Yahweh the glory his name deserves. Worship Yahweh in his holy splendor.”

Within this psalm is a description of God’s awe-inspiring power displayed in the majestic outworking of a tempest. He is extolled in the demonstration of the power of a mighty storm. In this psalm, David uses a repeated phrase which is typically translated as “the voice of Yahweh.”

Psalm 29:4  – “the voice of Yahweh in power, the voice of Yahweh in splendor.”

However, the word that is brought out in English as voice (the Hebrew word qol) can mean sound or noise, as well. Here’s an example from Exodus:

Exodus 19:16 – On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder [qol] and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound [qol], so that all the people in the camp shuddered.

Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible relates the following regarding the voice of Yahweh as used in this psalm:

“The voice of the Lord – The voice of Yahweh. There can be no doubt that the expression here, which is seven times repeated in the psalm, “the voice of Jehovah,” refers to thunder; and no one can fail to see the appropriateness of the expression. In heavy thunder it seems as if God spake. It comes from above. It fills us with awe. We know, indeed, that thunder as well as the other phenomena in the world, is produced by what are called “natural causes;” that there is no miracle in thunder; and that really God does not “speak” anymore in the thunder than he does in the sighing of the breeze or in the gurgling of the rivulet; but:

(a) He seems more impressively to speak to people in the thunder; and

(b) He may not improperly be regarded as speaking alike in the thunder, in the sighing of the breeze, and in the gurgling stream.

In each and all of these ways God is addressing men; in each and all there are lessons of great value conveyed, as if by His own voice, respecting His own existence and character.”

The idea that the voice of Yahweh described in this psalm is a thunderous sound has to do with its depiction throughout each of the various verses:

The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars; Yahweh shatters the cedars of Lebanon.

The voice of Yahweh flashes flames of fire.

The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness; Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of Yahweh makes the deer give birth and strips the woodlands bare.

All of these things can be said to be the result of a powerful thunder and lightning storm: shattering of trees; flashing light and fire; shaking of the wilderness; stripping the woodlands bare. Making the deer give birth can imply that the frightened deer goes into labor, but it also implies that the thunderous voice of God rumbles through the deserted wilderness places where deer prefer to separate themselves when giving birth.

If you’ve ever been through a close violent thunderstorm, I’m sure you can recall how terrifyingly loud and unnerving the noise and commotion of the wind and rain can be. If you were in an open and unprotected area when experiencing a large storm, I’m certain you can recall how vulnerable and frail you may have felt. The Psalmist here is using this type of imagery as a way of illustrating the power and majesty of God, and how incredibly small and unshielded we are from the elements of this world; how much more does that apply to us spiritually.

Barnes concludes:

“In each and all of these ways God is addressing men; in each and all there are lessons of great value conveyed, as if by His own voice, respecting His own existence and character. Those which are addressed to us particularly in thunder, pertain to His power, His majesty, His greatness; to our own weakness, feebleness, dependence; to the ease with which He could take us away, and to the importance of being prepared to stand before such a God.”

To wander into the realm of God is to be vulnerable and exposed to the power and majesty of the One who is beyond all comprehension. If the power of a single storm on earth can instill fear into the stoutest of hearts, how much more the all-powerful presence of the Almighty God?


These things are not necessarily meant to say that God is purposefully causing these individual occurrences to happen; he certainly could if he chose to. But the emphasis in this psalm is that those wonders and powers of nature demonstrate how all-powerful God really is simply because he created them in the first place. Because of this, it is easy for people to get God mixed up with his Creation.

For example, pantheism says that God is in everything, and therefore everything is God. Wikipedia has a reasonable working definition of pantheism that states:

“Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent God. All forms of reality may then be considered either modes of that Being, or identical with it. Some hold that pantheism is a non-religious philosophical position. To them, pantheism is the view that the Universe (in the sense of the totality of all existence) and God are identical.”

A common popular trope today is to assign “the universe” as an all-present, all-knowing force that influences the lives of people. This is typically used in kind of an ironic rather than serious fashion. However, there are some who believe that speaking something into the universe will bring an echo of meaning or direction back into their lives. Others believe when some notable event occurs, that the universe has pointed them in a direction or made a choice for them. Most people today engage with this type of thinking not realizing that this is really a form of pantheism.

By contrast, in Hebrew thought, God is not equated with the Creation, but is evidenced in and through his Creation. He can do with it as he wills, using it to accomplish his purposes as he sees fit. For example, he can cause a flood or he can create a drought; he can make a storm appear out of nowhere or he can calm the storm.

But beyond just manipulating the natural order, the God of the Bible is not limited by his Creation; he can cause non-linear things (according to the parameters of our understanding of physics) to occur. He can cause the sun and moon to stand still for a whole day (Joshua 10), or the sun to appear to go backwards (2 Kings 20). He can create a dry path through the depths of a sea in one night (Exodus 14), or cause someone who has died to live again (1 Kings 17, Luke 7, John 11). These are things that go against the natural order of things, and therefore demonstrate that God’s nature is transcendent to this Creation; he is greater than just the sum totality of all of its parts.  Therefore the God of the Bible is greater and more powerful than whatever god is assigned to the pantheistic philosophy of the created universe.

To consider the vastness of God’s power and ability, one needs only to look beyond the created order of even this world. In some psalms attributed to David, he meditates on the expanse of the heavens and the heavenly bodies that are evident there. He explains how this universality of God’s handiwork is evident in all nations under the heavens.

Psalm 19:1-4 – “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge.  There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard.  Their message has gone out to the whole earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

Because this aspect of God’s nature is evident everywhere, David ponders man’s role in light of his transcendent nature.

Psalm 8:3-4 – “When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you set in place,  what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?”

David’s conclusion is that viewing the vastness of God’s creation should cause us to be humbled in view of our limited existence and scope of influence.

Our modern astronomical telescopes have transformed how we look at the universe outside of the environs of the earth. We now have space telescopes that can image the farthest reaches of the visible universe. I am fascinated with these types of pictures, and I even have a computer wallpaper that is an image of a spiral galaxy. When I look at such an image depicting a self-contained galaxy with its millions of stars and planets, and knowing that the earth is only one tiny speck in our own galaxy, my mind is immediately humbled to whatever my personal circumstances might be, as this perspective reminds me of how small and finite my view of reality typically is.

In a similar way, when I come to the Bible and explore its depths, I am likewise placed in a position of humility when I consider the magnitude of spiritual revelation that God has provided us in his Word. That God has revealed himself as a being greater than the universe itself is boggling to the mind, and yet necessary for him to demonstrate who he is. His being is so high above all that exists, he is set apart from his Creation; yet he has chosen to maintain a dynamic and ongoing relationship with those whom he has created within that order of Creation that we call the universe.

Our own holiness, or separation from the world, is derived from our perspective and meditation of God as the Creator of all. In our current generation, amidst a people who have no recognition of any god, or who are self-absorbed in the creations of their own making, believers stand apart in our honoring of the one true God of the universe. In so doing, we ourselves become set apart.

1 Peter 1:15-16 – But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

We must recognize that our holiness is derived from his holiness and majesty. If we lose sight of who he is, we become less set apart. Conversely, as we honor him and ascribe to him the glory that his name deserves, then we are elevated into a position of strength and purpose that rises far above our mundane existence.


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

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

Zion, the eternal monument

The transformation of an earthly icon into a spiritual witness for all eternity.

When we encounter the name Zion in the Bible, we are immediately drawn to the city of David, Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 5:7 – “Yet David did capture the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.”

Throughout the historical pages of Scripture, Zion is equated with the city of Jerusalem, and the sacred place where God dwells within his temple. The name itself appears to be derived from a form of a Hebrew word meaning a conspicuous sign, or a monument like a pillar or signpost. Certainly, Jerusalem has been that throughout the pages of history.

However, as we move into the writings of the prophets, the picture of Zion becomes a bit more ethereal, more hazy in time and space, and becomes transformed into an ideal. Zion becomes equated with concepts like Eden and eternity; it comes to represent the source of God’s presence on the earth throughout time.

Isaiah 51:3, 11 – “For Yahweh will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of Yahweh. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and melodious song. … And the redeemed of Yahweh will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.”
Micah 4:5-7 – “Though all the peoples each walk in the name of their gods, we will walk in the name of Yahweh our God forever and ever. On that day — this is Yahweh’s declaration — I will assemble the lame and gather the scattered, those I have injured. I will make the lame into a remnant, those far removed into a strong nation. Then Yahweh will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time on and forever.”

We find that this prophetic Zion becomes defined more clearly as we move to the culmination of God’s revelation in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews pulls the prophetic Zion imagery into the present reality of the work that God was doing among his people at that time.

Hebrews 12:22-23 – “Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels, a festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to a Judge, who is God of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect…”

This imagery of the heavenly Jerusalem, a spiritual Mount Zion, is further expressed in the closing pages of the book of Revelation.

Revelation 21:2, 10 – “I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. … He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…”

Here, the New Jerusalem is identified with a high mountain like Zion, and is named Jerusalem like Zion. However, it is NEW, it is no longer the earthly mountain or city; it is something different, something that had become an eternal, iconic representation of God and his people.

It is possible that Yeshua was even referencing this imagery when he defined the “city on a hill” that could not be hidden, whose light would be visible everywhere by its conspicuousness.

Matthew 5:14 – “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.”

In the fullness of the revelation of God’s word, we find Zion, the monument and signpost city, represents the presence of the heavenly kingdom, the Kingdom of God on this earth, now and for eternity. It is the “kingdom which cannot be shaken,” (Hebrews 12:28), and it will never fade nor diminish in its power or influence (i.e., its light), but only continue to grow until it covers the earth.

Revelation 21:23-26 – The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never close by day because it will never be night there. They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.


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

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

The holiness of marriage

Why the representation of intimacy between a man and a woman is regarded so highly by God.

Matthew 5:32 – “But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

According to Yeshua, the holiness of the marriage union is essential. In fact, it is so critical, that he provides heart-insight on the command against adultery by saying:

Matthew 5:28 – “But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The sanctity of marriage is fueled and kept in check by the man and the woman continually setting apart their spouse from all others, so much so that to even lust after anyone else can be considered an emotional violation of the marriage vow.

The reason this is so is because the marriage union of a man and a women is symbolic of our faithful relationship to God. Anything else outside the singular and faithful union of a man and a woman is considered a form of idolatry to God. This is illustrated by the fact that, throughout the Bible, whenever Israel began to go after other gods, they were accused of spiritual adultery.

In the book of Judges, when Israel was newly settling in the land of Canaan, they demonstrated their unfaithfulness by almost immediately “prostituting themselves” by following other gods.

Judges 2:11-12, 16-17 – “The Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight. They worshiped the Baals and abandoned Yahweh, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They angered Yahweh, … Yahweh raised up judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders, but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to Yahweh’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did.”

Hundreds of years later, after the reigns of David and Solomon and many other kings who continued to rebel against God, he raised up firebrand prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel to declare their judgment for their unfaithfulness. In a scathing commentary by the prophet Ezekiel throughout the entire chapter of Ezekiel 16, he confronts the religious elite of Jerusalem with the following accusation:

Ezekiel 16:2-3, 32-33 – “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices. “You are to say, ‘This is what Yahweh GOD says to Jerusalem: … “You adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! “Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave gifts to all your lovers. You bribed them to come to you from all around for your sexual favors.”

In like fashion, Jeremiah recounts the list of Israel’s rebellious and wayward prophets, likening them to acts of adultery.

Jeremiah 23:14 – “Among the prophets of Jerusalem also I saw a horrible thing: They commit adultery and walk in lies. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, and none turns his back on evil. They are all like Sodom to me; Jerusalem’s residents are like Gomorrah.”

The sanctity of the nation that God had set apart from all others was gone. They had compromised their unique marriage relationship with the one true God by succumbing to the allure of the gods of the competing cultures.

Even after their captivity and up until the time of Yeshua, they never regained their relationship with God. This is blatantly recognized within the imagery of the Revelation, as religious Israel of the first century is represented as the whore, the adulteress, who rides the political beast of Rome.

Revelation 17:3-4 – Then he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, jewels, and pearls. She had a golden cup in her hand filled with everything detestable and with the impurities of her prostitution.

Because of her continual and unrelenting rebellion against God’s marriage union with Israel as his own bride, Jerusalem was destroyed and her temple worship, the unique system of worship that set her apart from all other nations, was abolished.

However, there was a faithful remnant who had come out of the nation: those who believed in the Messiah God had sent to rescue them. The true marriage and spiritual worship was established with the faithful remnant, with the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, becoming the new and eternally faithful bride.

Revelation 21:2, 9-10 – I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. … Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,

This should be a clear message about how seriously God views the marriage bond between a man and a woman. From God’s perspective, true intimacy, whether between a man and a woman or the representative spiritual union between a person and himself, is valued so highly that it is represented as a sparkling kingdom utopia of his blessing and mercy. This is where God dwells with his faithful and set apart people, and where we dwell with him. This is the holiest of all marriage relationships.

Revelation 21:3 – Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their 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 on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

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

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

Hope that comes from faith in God

His commands are sure and faithful, leading to his kingdom.

Proverbs 23:17-18 – Let not your heart envy sinners: but be in the fear of Yahweh all the day. For if you should keep these things, you shall have a future; and your hope shall not be removed.

In this passage of Proverbs, Solomon conveys that when it comes to trusting in Yahweh, there is a promise of continuance, a future where posterity thrives and hope lives.

by contrast, the wicked will not maintain hope in any recognizable future.

Proverbs 24: 19-20 Rejoice not in evil-doers, neither be envious of sinners. For the evil man shall have no future: and the light of the wicked shall be put out.

Hope is a rare and precious commodity, especially in our current day. People are longing for any thread of optimism to cling to. Many are convinced that things are only getting worse and that society as a whole is headed toward some sort of climactic shift or end where a renewal will take place. For the secular among us, crises of all proportions loom on the horizon, from global warming to over-population to mutual nuclear destruction. From the religious camps are touted apocalyptic endings within this generation, with the destruction of the wicked and the establishment of a reign of subsequent peace.

Yet God’s Word remains steadfast in its declaration of faithful continuance. The kingdom of God that was established with the coming of the Messiah two millennia ago will continue to increase, ebbing and expanding in synchronous harmony with the faithfulness of each generation until it fills the earth. There will be good times, and there will be bad times, but all times are moving steadily toward its fulfillment in reality.

As individuals, when we faithfully trust God and enact his principles in our lives, we shine a light within our circles of influence. As these lights grow and move, they can overlap and spread, increasing with luminosity as hope and truth spread.

In the proverb above, the simple admonition of Solomon captures the essence of all of the ten commandments by stating its first command and its last: “Let not your heart envy sinners: but be in the fear of Yahweh all the day.” The tenth commandment is not to covet or “envy sinners”; the first is to not have any other gods but Yahweh, to “be in fear of Yahweh all the day.”

By following these commands personally, we can have a future and a hope. This hope and future can be communicated to those around us, thereby carrying the light of truth a little further out into our world. When other hearts become committed to Yahweh and his principles contained within his commandments, the kingdom grows, and we grow steadfastly toward the ultimate reality of his kingdom together. When we share faith and trust in Yahweh, we share hope.


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.

Having a true heart to enter into God’s presence

This is the way believers can now approach God and experience his presence in their lives.

In the epistle to the Hebrews, the writer builds upon the imagery that all Hebraic worshipers of God would be familiar with: the high priesthood and the sanctuary. Throughout the epistle, there are references to Yeshua as being like a high priest who is serving in a heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly tabernacle and temple were only copies.

Within the tabernacle was the most holy place, the Holy of Holies, a compartmented area in which was stored the ark of the covenant, containing the ten commandments, the rod of Aaron that had budded, and a jar of manna. Next to the ark would also have been a copy of the complete covenantal agreement from Horeb. Most importantly, within this sacred area was the presence of God himself.

All of these representative descriptions carry great weight within the depths of the symbolism and practice of the Hebraic worship of Yahweh. The biblical instruction, though, was that the high priest could only enter that area once a year to offer the blood of the atoning sacrifice over the ark on the Day of Atonement.

At this crowning point of his epistle, the writer brings the reader to the culmination of his arguments in the preceding nine chapters: the believer in Messiah now has access to the sanctuary of God.

Hebrews 10:19-20 – Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Yeshua ​– ​ he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh) ​– ​

This is likely an allusion to the event that occurred at the crucifixion of Yeshua, when the curtain in the temple was torn in two, revealing the way into the Holy of Holies within the temple.

Mark 15:37-38 – Yeshua let out a loud cry and breathed his last. Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

This all points to the meaning that the way to God was now opened for all, not just for the high priest once a year, but for everyone; that is, everyone who believes in Messiah.

Hebrews 10:21-23 – and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.

All that is required to be in God’s presence now is for the believer to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. Having hearts sprinkled clean is a reference to the practice of cleansing through the sprinkling of blood of the sacrifice, sanctifying the articles of the tabernacle and those who have been defiled through uncleanness.

Hebrews 9:13-14 – For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?

As the priest was to wash in clear, pure water, we, too, should be washed clean through the purifying word of God.

Ephesians 5:25-26 – Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah loved the congregation and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word.

With a true heart, a heart of integrity, we can have a clear conscience before God, being set apart through his living and eternal word. A heart that is true is a real, genuine heart before God, one that has no hidden agenda or ulterior motive. This is the way believers can now approach God and experience his presence in their lives. After all, this has always been God’s intent for his people.

Jeremiah 24:7 – “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Yahweh. They will be my people, and I will be their God because they will return to me with all their heart.
Ezekiel 11:19-20 – “I will give them integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh, “so that they will follow my statutes, keep my ordinances, and practice them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
Revelation 21:3 – Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their 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.

The Kingdom of God is near

Did John mean the kingdom was already present, or soon to come?

“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News.”

Mark 1:15

The words of John the baptizer rang in the ears of the first century Jews with a sense of impending urgency. The time was fulfilled; the kingdom of God was at hand! This reality was the motivation of John’s cry for repentance. If people were not serious about their torah obedience, they were to be left among those who would experience the coming judgment of God on the land.

This message of the nearness of the kingdom can be easy to misunderstand. Did John mean it was already present, or soon to come? The short answer is that both meanings are true; the kingdom was already unfolding and yet was going to be coming to pass as the judgment that would fall on them.

We can see this is the case as Yeshua continues this message in his ministry:

“Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ “But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off [in protest] against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city.

Luke 10:8-12

He instructs the disciples to explain the nearness of the kingdom; to those who would receive their message, it was a message of comfort. However to those who were judged unworthy, it was a message of condemnation. It’s the same message: “the kingdom is near,” just with two completely different applications depending on how the message was to be received.

The message of the kingdom is a separator of individuals. To those who receive God’s kingship authority and turn away from disobedience to his Word, the message of the kingdom is a comfort and a blessing. But to those who reject the kingship of God and are unwilling to turn away from disobedience to his Word, the message of the kingdom is an annoyance and a burden; their judgment has come upon their own heads.

And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been accomplished in God.”

John 3:19-21

While this message still rings true for every generation, it was especially true for that first-century generation. Those who were to “come to the light,” as John mentions, demonstrated the grace and mercy of God among the remnant of his people. Yeshua says of these: “Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment. Indeed, he has crossed over from death to life,” (John 5:24). The crossing over had already happened; these individuals were not to come under the pending judgment of God’s people. However, upon those who were not willing to come into the light, it was as if the judgment had already come: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life,” (1 John 5:12).

The New Jerusalem of Revelation is symbolic of the Kingdom of God. Its purpose and glory is described there as being the home of the righteous, those who have received the message of the Kingdom of God.

But I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its lamp. By its light the nations will walk, and into it the kings of the earth will bring their glory. Its gates will never be shut at the end of the day, because there will be no night there. And into the city will be brought the glory and honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who practices an abomination or a lie, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Revelation 21:22-27

In like fashion to that exemplified group of Yeshua’s original audience, to each generation since that time the message of the kingdom is the same: “the light of the Kingdom of God is near.” Will we accept the kingship of Yahweh or not? Will we be obedient or not? Will we choose to enter its gates or not?

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.

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.