Following the path, the Way of Life

The “pleasant paths” that Yahweh leads us on are considered the Way of God, the message of the kingdom, and the hope of rest.

Core of the Bible podcast #41 – Following the path, the Way of Life

Today we will be exploring the topic of trust using one of the most widely familiar passages of the Bible.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in Yahweh with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct you on pleasant paths.

The word for trust in this famous passage has shades of meaning which include confidence and boldness, running to a secure place for refuge, being free of care or worry, having a steadfast hope. All of these are different ways of representing the believer’s inner reliance on Yahweh.

It’s important to recognize that this is not an admonishment that we are to abandon all reason and understanding. We are simply not to have our own wisdom as the primary source of our planning and our actions. We must leave room for direction from God, maintaining a view to his kingdom and purpose in this life.

Pulpit commentary

“[The Hebrew word] signifies “to lean upon, rest upon,” just as man rests upon a spear for support. Its metaphorical use, to repose confidence in, is derived from the practice of kings who were accustomed to appear in public leaning on their friends and ministers…”

For example, Naaman, a foreign commander, after being healed of leprosy, requested forgiveness of Elisha the prophet.

2 Kings 5:18  – “However, in a particular matter may Yahweh pardon your servant: When my master, the king of Aram, goes into the temple of Rimmon to bow in worship while he is leaning on my arm, and I have to bow in the temple of Rimmon ​– ​when I bow in the temple of Rimmon, may Yahweh pardon your servant in this matter.”

Again, when Elisha pronounced a prophecy regarding the release of a siege famine from Samaria, the king’s aid was in disbelief.

2 Kings 7:1-2 CSB – Elisha replied, “Hear the word of Yahweh! This is what Yahweh says: ‘About this time tomorrow at Samaria’s gate, six quarts of fine flour will sell for a half ounce of silver and twelve quarts of barley will sell for a half ounce of silver.’ ”  Then the captain, the king’s right-hand man (upon whose hand the king leaned), responded to the man of God, “Look, even if Yahweh were to make windows in heaven, could this really happen? ” Elisha announced, “You will in fact see it with your own eyes, but you won’t eat any of it.”

So we see the practice since ancient times was to have the king supported by a close aid, one who provided physical, moral and tactical support and advice. While trusted counsel is not a bad thing, it is this type of worldly wisdom that is contrasted with trusting in, that is leaning on, Yahweh.

Pulpit commentary

“The admonition does not mean that we are not to use our own understanding, i.e. form plans with discretion, and employ legitimate means in the pursuit of our ends; but that, when we use it, we are to depend upon God and his directing and overruling providence.”

Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthian congregation, writes;

1 Corinthians 2:12, 14 – Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. … But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.

There is a worldly type of wisdom that is helpful in worldly things, but if that is true then there is also a spiritual type of wisdom that is helpful (in fact, necessary) in judging spiritual things.

In Proverbs 3:5-6, the language used here of trusting in God that he will “direct you on pleasant paths” can be likened to a traveler who is trekking through a wilderness in fog. He uses his natural wisdom and understanding to find the path that will take him where he needs to go. However, once he is on the path, he places his confidence in the path that it will carry him to his destination, even though because of the fog he cannot see the full length of where the path is heading. When he is following the path, he is carefree from having to choose his own potentially hazardous way through the wilderness.

Our wisdom instructs us to find the path; the path is that in which we place our trust, since it has been provided by God. We have confidence the path that God provided will lead us to the destination God has in store for us. God promises the path will be smooth and pleasant compared to the directionless wilderness ways of our own choosing.

Job 12:13, 23-25 – Wisdom and strength belong to God; counsel and understanding are his.  … He makes nations great, then destroys them; he enlarges nations, then leads them away.  He deprives the world’s leaders of reason, and makes them wander in a trackless wasteland.  They grope around in darkness without light; he makes them stagger like a drunkard.

The trackless wasteland is a place where no one wants to be. There is no direction, no indication of the right way, just sameness and harsh wilderness in each direction.

In a description of the Biblical wilderness over at www.environmentandsociety.org/, they describe it in these terms:

“The wilderness is a locale for intense experiences—of stark need for food and water (manna and quails), of isolation (Elijah and the still small voice), of danger and divine deliverance (Hagar and Ishmael), of renewal, of encounters with God (Moses, the burning bush, the revelation of the divine name, Mount Sinai). There is a psychology as well as a geography of wilderness, a theology gained in the wilderness.

“Linguists will make the point that the Hebrews did not have an exact equivalent of the contemporary English word ‘wilderness.’ Nevertheless, the Hebrews evidently knew the experience of confronting the wild.”

The Bible is filled with imagery and examples of those who have wandered away from God; they have gone off the path he has provided. Being off the path is straying from God, and is an indication of not trusting in him with your whole heart. Here are some examples:

Psalm 119:176 – I wander like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commands.

Proverbs 10:17 – The one who follows instruction is on the path to life, but the one who rejects correction goes astray.

Proverbs 12:26 – A righteous person is careful in dealing with his neighbor, but the ways of the wicked lead them astray.

Proverbs 14:22 – Don’t those who plan evil go astray? But those who plan good find loyalty and faithfulness.

Proverbs 21:16 – The person who strays from the way of prudence will come to rest in the assembly of the departed spirits.

Isaiah 53:6 – We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way…

Jeremiah 50:6 – My people were lost sheep; their shepherds led them astray, guiding them the wrong way in the mountains. They wandered from mountain to hill; they forgot their resting place.

When one has gone astray, they have left “the path to life,” (Prov 10:17), or “the way of prudence,” (Prov 21:16). Jeremiah says those who wander have forgotten “their resting place,” (Jer 50:6).

As believers, unfortunately it’s not uncommon for us to go astray, to forget who we are, where we are going, or where to find true rest within the will of God. We get caught up in our circumstances and distracted from our purpose. For non-believers, the picture is an even wider perspective where God is a distant or non-existent resource for guidance through life. All of us need to know and understand God’s ability to guide us where he would like us to go which can only happen when we keep our eyes on him and trust his direction with all of our heart.

—–

That this trust in God directs people in the way of life is a theme all through the Bible. This has been recognized by Jews throughout the centuries and is expressed in many different ways.

One of the most popular examples of this is brought forward from the mid-1700’s in Jewish literature. At that time, a respected rabbi by the name of Moshe Chaim Luzatto wrote a book entitled the Derech Hashem; the Way of God. In it, he details a spiritual perspective of life, God, and human responsibility from a deeply Jewish, mystical perspective. This book has become a Jewish classic, much like Pilgrim’s Progress might be to the Christian faith.

However, he was not the first to coin the term, the Way of God, or the Way as being the path of life. We can go to the teachings of Yeshua and find this same type of “path of life” imagery present.

Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

We have reviewed these verses in detail in a previous episode, but in summary Yeshua is conveying that this narrow way to life is a cramped and difficult passageway, surrounded by obstacles; it takes determination, effort, and persistence to find one’s way through.

Ellicott in his commentary writes:

“The meaning of the parable here lies on the surface. The way and the gate are alike the way of obedience and holiness, and the gate is to be reached not without pain and effort; but only through it can we enter into the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. A deeper significance is, however, suggested even by our Lord’s own teaching. He Himself is the “way” (John 14:6), or with a slight variation of the imagery, He is the “door,” or gate, by which His sheep enter into the fold (John 10:7). Only we must remember that His being thus the “way” and the “gate” does not mean that we can find, in union with Him, a substitute for holiness, but indicates simply how we are to attain to it.”

To break this down a little further, let’s look more closely at these other references that Yeshua makes to the Way.

John 14:4-6 – “You know the way to where I am going.”  “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way? ”  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Interestingly, Yeshua didn’t point Thomas and the disciples to an expected place like the Temple or Jerusalem as a further place of learning, but claimed that he himself is the Way. He specifically said that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” This would be a hugely conceited statement were it not true. The exclusiveness of Yeshua’s teaching is here revealed with no apology from the Master himself. Whatever this Way is, it is represented solely by his life, his practice, and his teaching, all of which make up who he is. This is why Yeshua is so central to Christian thought and practice, because he has placed himself there on purpose. The life of Messiah is one that is to be followed and imitated; this is how one stays in the Way of God.

In Yeshua’s other reference to exclusiveness, he relates that he is the gate or the door to the sheep pen.

John 10:6-9 – Jesus gave them this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.  Jesus said again, “Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

In rapid-fire succession, the context of this passage reveals that Yeshua was likening his life and ministry to practices surrounding the tending and herding sheep. On the one hand, he relates that he is the gate, or the single entry point into the sheep pen, but on the other hand that he is also the good shepherd, the one who cares so deeply for his sheep that he is willing to lay his life down for them to protect them, if necessary. Through these examples, Yeshua is conveying the supremacy of his own teaching over the “thieves and robbers,” (i.e., false teachers) who had come before him, as well as his unique position as being the only one qualified to effectively protect the sheep with his own life.

That Yeshua is conveying the true Way of God was a concept that was picked up by his disciples and considered a summary of distinguishing their belief in Messiah from the broader context of popular first-century Judaism. The Way or the Way of God was an ancient title for the true spiritual understanding of the kingdom, mentioned several times in the book of Acts.

Acts 18:24-26 – Now a Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was competent in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus, although he knew only John’s baptism. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately.

Acts 19:8-10, 22-23 – … But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he [Paul] withdrew from them, taking the disciples, and conducted discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord. … After sending to Macedonia two of those who assisted him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself [Paul] stayed in Asia for a while.  About that time there was a major disturbance about the Way.

We find that this term, the Way of God, or the Way, was simply becoming shorthand for the teaching about Messiah and the kingdom of God. Paul even uses this terminology in his defense before Felix when he was accused of the Jewish leaders of leading a rebellion.

Acts 24:14, 22 – But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets… Since Felix was well informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.”

The Way was considered a sect within Judaism at that time, the way of worshiping the God of the Bible in truth according to all of Torah. Paul saw no conflict in this understanding, and struggled to convey this over-arching unity of purpose to his fellow countrymen, along with his detractors.

Acts 24:24-25 – Several days later, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Messiah Yeshua. Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I have an opportunity I’ll call for you.”

So we can see from this brief review that the Way of God consisted of faith in Messiah Yeshua, the law and the prophets, righteousness and self-control as disciplines, and the warning of impending judgment on those who would not believe.  These are all aspects of the Yeshua’s life and teaching; hence he is the Way.

Coming full circle to our verse in Proverbs 3:5-6 today, we can see that leaning solely on our own understanding can lead us astray. When we place our trust in Yahweh, we are thereby placing our faith in the law and the prophets, the practices of righteousness and self control, and the teachings of Yeshua as his Messiah. The “pleasant paths” that Yahweh leads us on are considered the Way of God, the message of the kingdom, and the hope of rest. Though the narrow way may be restricted and difficult, in the end it is considered a pleasant path to the alternative of striving through the “trackless waste” of the wilderness without God. However, when we choose to acknowledge him “in all our ways,” we demonstrate we are trusting in him with all of our heart, and he will lead us instead in that pleasant Way, the Way of the Messiah, the Way of 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.

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The momentum of integrity can keep one on the right path

The momentum of actions, good or bad, create a path of life that can define us.

Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, But wickedness overthrows the sinner.

Proverbs 13:6

There are a lot of rich words in this short proverb that convey a wealth of helpful information for those who are seeking the motivation and wisdom to live with integrity.

Righteousness is a word conveying right actions, or just decisions that a ruler might make. This word is used of those who follow and pursue the torah or instruction of God. This proverb begins by telling us that righteousness guards or preserves from danger, watches over and keeps close the one pursuing it. As a watchman on the wall of a city is always looking out for possible intruders, this guarding takes place because of the righteous actions.

The way of a person is their path or their habits, manner of life, course of their character. If that way of life is blameless or full of innocence and simplicity, complete in integrity, then their right decisions protect their way from the danger of straying from the truth.

However, the caution of this proverb is that wickedness, a moral, ethical, or religious straying from the right path can distort, twist, turn upside down the one who sins, that is, who is an offense to God.

What is interesting is that the emphasis in this proverb is on the actions of the individuals, and how their habitual actions keep them on one path or the other. We typically are inclined to think that good or bad people do good or bad things. This proverb, though, is implying that the actions of the individuals actually define who they are and keep them doing so.

The wicked person’s actions work in a way to prevent them from doing right. By contrast, the righteous actions of the person of integrity act as guardrails to keep them on right path. From this we can learn that the momentum of actions, good or bad, create a path of life that can define us.

My hope for all those seeking God is that they would remain motivated to continue to live in the ways of righteousness; following righteousness and integrity is a powerful protector for those who are continually seeking him.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week I 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.

Vigilance on the Narrow Path to Life

The narrow path of Yeshua is less like a wilderness hike and more of a challenging slot canyon adventure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Expositor’s Greek Testament states it this way:

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

Pulpit Commentary

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

Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

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

We will explore John 17 further in a little bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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True holiness stems from the presence of God, his words, living within our hearts

Those who live and abide by God’s precepts are doing so because it makes up the very essence of who they are.

Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, for I am with you,” says the LORD.

Jeremiah 46:28

The one thing that set ancient Israel apart from their neighboring tribes and countries was that their God was present. While other kingdoms and countries had their gods, their idols, and their temples, Israel actually had the God of the universe with them.

God allowed himself to be present within their Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that traveled with them. His presence resided in the Most Holy Place, by all accounts hovering above and within the ark of the covenant, which contained the tablets of the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments.

This covenant, these Ten Words, are what separated Israel from their neighbors. This is what made them holy; they were to abide by the actual commands of God, written with his own finger, etched eternally into stone.

There was no fanciful prophetic vision or private revelation; these words had been conveyed to the entire assembly of Israel at once as he himself spoke these words from Sinai. Everyone heard his voice, everyone felt the weight of his presence and struggled with the fear, real fear, at hearing the resounding and penetrating voice of God.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.

Exodus 19:16

For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”

Hebrews 12:19-21

Israel was born of revelation, a revelation to an entire people at once. This is what set them apart, and this was the heart of their most sacred place and artifacts that they carried with them throughout their wilderness journeys and into the land promised to them.

To this day, what sets God’s people apart is this covenant, the Ten Words. There is no equal among the religious communities of the world,

The illustration for us through what is pictured in the wilderness journeys of Israel is that just as God resided within that Most Holy Place above the ark of the covenant, God’s very presence resides within these Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. As we seek to fulfill these commands, then we are truly following in the footsteps of our Lord, the Messiah Yeshua.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19

This is the everlasting covenant that remains forever. The “new” covenant ushered in through Yeshua is a martyr’s covenant of dying to self so that the words of the everlasting covenant can be lived through us. It places this covenant in the hearts of those who would receive them, those who are called by his Name and who live and abide by its precepts because it makes up the very essence of who they are.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33

This is holiness, being set apart for the purposes of God. He is present within the words of his covenant, and as the covenanted words are in our heart, he is present within us.

God is present. This sets us apart. This makes us whole. This is the essence of his kingdom on the earth.

Making the right choices every day helps keep us on the right path

Integrity or wickedness can each pull us into established patterns, for better or worse.

Righteousness keeps him who is upright in the way, and wickedness overthrows a sin offering.

Proverbs 13:6

Those who have integrity are often described with similar terms such as “upright” or “perfect.” This idea of perfection, though, is not as though one is completely without fault; it is more a concept of completeness, or wholeness.

Yeshua uses the phrase in a similar way when he encourages believers to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt. 5:48). This is a Hebraic way of expressing that believers should be totally consistent in their lifestyle: their beliefs and what they say should match 100% with what their actions convey. This is wholeness, perfection, integrity.

In the proverb above, walking in righteousness is said to guard or “keep” one in the way of God. The more our lives demonstrate consistency, the simpler it is to stay on the correct path.

By contrast, when our lives are in disarray and when our actions are inconsistent, we struggle more to keep our focus where it needs to be. The wickedness of those who do not walk with integrity is said to “overthrow their sin offering.” This is a demonstration of how even the best of intentions can be counteracted by a pattern of inconsistent behavior.

Living a life of integrity or wickedness is a life of momentum. The weight of our everyday thoughts and actions drive a flywheel of consequence that can keep us headed in positive or negative directions based on patterns we are establishing in every decision.

When we are consistent in our actions and our speech, we establish patterns of righteousness that tend to keep us walking in the right way. Sin is less of a temptation and a distraction because we have established views and behaviors that we begin to thrive in. This encourages further righteous actions and as a result, we begin to exhibit larger measures of integrity in our interactions with others.

My eyes are on the faithful of the land, to dwell with me, Whoever is walking in a perfect way, he serves me.

Psalm 101:6

How to remain firmly established in the ways of God

Possessing, and practicing, the wisdom of God keeps one on the right path.

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

Psalm 119:133

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

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

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

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

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

How to change the world, or at least your corner of it

Integrity has the ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal commitments that will not be shaken under any circumstance.

During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. … Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. … The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. … But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.

Daniel 1:1, 3, 5, 8

One of our admonitions from Yeshua is to demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands (Matt. 5:20). Sometimes these external commands take the form of direct instruction, and sometimes these “commands” come in the form of allowances or tolerations of our culture that would violate the purity of our relationship with God. We must resist both forms of this type of cultural influence.

In the case of Daniel and his friends, they were removed from their home and brought to a completely different culture under a new political regime. Even though they were favored within this new dynamic, Daniel and his friends, in their integrity, resolved not to be negatively influenced by this turn of events, and to remain loyal to God.

The Hebrew culture that Daniel had been raised in had very specific dietary requirements in order to maintain faithfulness to the Torah, or instruction, of God for his people. Given the “freedom” to eat all types of foods and meats in his new environment, Daniel was committed to remain faithful to those requirements at any cost.

Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff … “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. … At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king.

Daniel 1:9-12, 15

Daniel and his friends were able to demonstrate to this chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s staff that God was able to meet their needs, even if it meant going against the cultural “mandate” of royal rations.

Integrity has this ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal commitments that will not be shaken under any circumstance. This is a highly valued commodity among all people because it is rarely seen in common practice.

It is our obligation as believers to be so thoroughly committed to our faith that through our integrity we become the influencers of those around us, rather than allowing them to influence us.

What is your motivation for seeking first the kingdom?

Sometimes we become so enamored with trying to understand the kingdom that we lose sight of the King.

I am the God who redeemed you out of slavery, therefore you shall have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:2

There is only one God, Yahweh, eternally existent, who liberates from worldliness, and separates a people for himself. No one and nothing else must rival or supersede God’s importance in life.

Israel was admonished to always remember why God was worthy of their allegiance: he had redeemed them out of their bondage in Egypt. This is so central to the entire Bible narrative that it cannot be overstated. It is of such primary importance that it is memorialized for all time as the first of the Ten Commandments.

The Hebraic and Christian traditions differ on whether this is the first commandment, or if this statement is just an introduction, and the first commandment is the verse that follows: “You shall have no gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3).

Part of this misunderstanding arises from our use of the word “commandment” in this passage. In reality, the Hebrew text speaks of the Ten “Words” of God, not necessarily commandments. There are other Hebrew designations that designate specific aspects of commandments, statutes, and requirements. But here, what we call the commandments should really be considered the Ten Words, sayings, or statements of God.

Because verses 3 and 4 of Exodus 20 are linked together with speaking of other gods and their representations (idols), the Hebraic understanding of isolating the “introduction” in verse 2 as the first of these Words makes sense. This is consistent with the overarching view that there has been revealed to them only one God who deserves complete allegiance.

Love Yahweh your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind.

Deuteronomy 6:5

Because they viewed God’s revelation of himself in this manner provided a solid basis for every commandment that follows. The motivation for abiding by any or all of the commandments rested in the realization of why there was any reason to listen to God at all: because he had recently redeemed them from slavery. This was a miraculous and undeniable testimony as to why he was worthy of their worship over any of the gods that existed in the “superpower” nation of Egypt, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Why should anyone follow a king who has not liberated them? Or why should anyone obey a king’s commandment if they do not believe he is all-powerful?

The King of the kingdom that was being formed in that desert wilderness of Sinai deserved to be king because he had demonstrated himself faithful to the promises that had been made to the forefathers. He had exhibited real, demonstrable power in breaking them free from their yoke of slavery that had overcome them. There was no greater exhibition of power than that which had not only removed them from their oppressors, but destroyed those former masters completely so they could now worship and obey Yahweh in that freedom which he had obtained for them,

A true king establishes and maintains the freedom of his people, and is therefore worthy of all allegiance. Sometimes, in our day, we become so enamored with trying to understand the kingdom that we lose sight of the King. If the primary motivation for all we do does not stem from a recognition of the power and authority of the King, then we need to reevaluate our participation in his kingdom.

However, if we take to heart the example of how God has revealed himself as the God who redeems out of slavery and worldliness, we can be reminded of why we have been drawn to follow him in the first place.

The God of the universe has provided us a way out of our blind and unthinking bondage to worldliness. In this new freedom, we have been liberated to worship him in spirit and truth which then enables and motivates us to abide by his instruction.

This is all the motivation we should need to make him central to all of our thoughts and actions each day. In so doing, we demonstrate we are his people, and that we are seeking his kingdom first by honoring him as he truly deserves to be, as our King.

Trusting God by listening and taking action

God wishes to have an active relationship with us based on trust.

The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many troops for me to hand the Midianites over to them, or else Israel might elevate themselves over me and say, ‘My own strength saved me.’ … The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the three hundred men who lapped and hand the Midianites over to you. But everyone else is to go home.” … When Gideon’s men blew their three hundred trumpets, the LORD caused the men in the whole army to turn on each other with their swords. They fled to Acacia House in the direction of Zererah as far as the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath.

Judges 7:2, 7, 22

Gideon’s trust that God would do what he said was based on reassurances that God had provided him. This was evident all along in his journey to becoming a savior of Israel from the oppression of the Midianites.

When Gideon was first called by God through an angel, Gideon asked for a sign to confirm this was truly God’s plan. This was demonstrated by a dramatic acceptance of his sacrificial offering. Immediately after this, God instructed him to tear down his father’s idolatrous altar.

When he was preparing to attack the Midianite armies, Gideon asked God for a sign by placing a fleece of wool on the ground overnight. If the fleece demonstrated wetness or dryness opposite to the normal dew patterns, he would know that it was really God who was asking this of him. Once this was confirmed, Gideon rallied his troops for battle.

As a final act of trust, God asked him to reduce his forces to just 300 men. When he did so, God still provided him reassurance as he and his servant spied on the enemy camp and overheard their fear based on a dream that Gideon was going to overtake their army.

All of these examples in the life of Gideon point to an interesting facet of trusting God: God will provide reassurances when he asks for our trustful actions. In these examples, these were not outward signs to all of Israel, but were private and personal reassurances that provided Gideon the confirmation that God was communicating with him, and that he would come through for Gideon if Gideon would act in faith by trusting in what he asked of him.

It starts with us hearing something from God. We have his word to inspire and encourage us to obedient actions. Perhaps it is an admonition from a sermon or bible study, or more typically, a spark of inspiration from personal meditation in God’s word. Then, we respond by reaching out to him to make sure we understand clearly what we think we heard. If we are sincere and attentive, we will find God responding to us in a way that only we can know, a way that has his “fingerprints” all over it.

In our lives today, we may not have visions of angels or miraculous fleeces to provide us confirmation of God’s direction. However, if we are attentive, we receive confirmations that are private and personal to us. Perhaps there is a saying on a billboard which you pass on the freeway that resonates in answer to prayer, or a song that comes up in your playlist with encouraging lyrics that match what you asked of God.

This is the relationship God wishes to have with us: an active relationship based on trust. And for trust to take place, there has to be back and forth communication to establish that trust on which our actions are based.

The Bible knows nothing of a blind faith, only a trust in what may be unseen to others but known to be real to us. And acting on that unseen trust is how we demonstrate our faith in God and fulfill his purposes in this world.

The constant work of weeding

A fruitful harvest is the result of vigilance.

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

Mark 4:18-19, Amplified Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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