Revelation 1:5, “To Him Who Loved Us…”

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

For the most part, the Revelation is a book about judgment, of the outpouring of God’s wrath on this sinful and rebellious world.  This world scoffs at the idea of God’s justice and wrath.  There is coming a time, however, when even it will be forced to admit that it exists.  There is coming a time when men will cry out to the mountains to fall on them and hide them “from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of His wrath has come and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:16, 17.

“The wrath of the Lamb”!

Who ever heard of a lamb being wrathful?  That most inoffensive and defenseless of creatures!  Rising up in anger!

John describes something unheard of, something unexpected.  This most certainly is true in our time.  We have a “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and truly, as He walked the dusty roads of Israel, our Lord was gentle.  Hebrews 7:26 describes Him as “harmless”.  In much of our teaching and preaching, we have Him standing on the sidelines of His own creation, anxious to bless us, but He can’t do anything unless and until we let Him.  We have reduced Him to little more than a supplicant at the throne of the human will.  He has little relevance to our culture.  Even many of our churches seem concerned only with programs and personalities.  And, by and large, we seem to be getting away with it – if you don’t count the mess our world and society is in.  Yet even in our Lord’s life, to those who rejected His teaching and authority, there were flashes of anger, cf. Matthew 23.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2, behold, now is the day of salvation.  We live in a time of salvation, not of wrath and judgment, certainly not as Revelation describes it.  This is one reason why, from chapter 4 onward, I don’t believe it describes things that have already happened or are happening now.

Granted, even during that time there will be salvation, Revelation 7:9-17, just as there is some judgment in our day as God lets us reap what we’ve sown, individually and as a culture.

Verse 5 shows us how salvation is even possible.  It’s not because of something we’ve done or figured out.  It’s not because of our religion or good works, but because of the grace and mercy of that One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

(There is so much I’d like to say about this, but limited space makes it impractical.  I have done a whole series of posts under the title, “The Kindness of God.”  If you do look it up, the last post will be listed first.  At least, that’s how it comes up for me.  Just scroll down to the first post.  They build on each other, from first to last.)

washed us  from our sins in His own blood.

I talked to a lady who didn’t like all the references to “blood” in the Old Testament.  And, indeed, our faith is sometimes describes as “a bloody religion.”  Folks just don’t understand what it’s all about.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission, no forgiveness, Hebrews 9:22.  It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul, Leviticus 17:11.

God didn’t ask for animal sacrifices just for the sake of bloodshed.  He was teaching Israel something, using the sacrifices as an object lesson.  He was teaching Israel the truth of something about sin, that those who committed sin were subject to death.  If it’s said that the animal wasn’t guilty, there’s a second lesson: substitution.  The animal was a “substitute” for the guilty Israelite.  It died.  He didn’t.

When the Israelite brought a sacrifice, he was required to put his hand on the head of the animal, cf. Leviticus 1:4.  In this way he identified with the animal.  It was a confession that he, the Israelite, deserved to die, but the animal was taking his place.

All these countless sacrifices pointed to the ultimate sacrifice: the death of the Lord Jesus.  He committed no sin.  He did not deserve to die.   We commit nothing but sin, even in the providing of daily necessities, cf. Proverbs 21:4.  We do deserve to die, Romans 6:23.

The OT animal had no say, no choice, in the matter.  The Lord Jesus had every say, every choice, in the matter.  When it had become obvious, even to the slow-witted disciples, that the Lord Jesus was about to be arrested, He told them that He could ask the Father for more than twelve legions of angels to come and protect Him, Matthew 26:53.  Considering what just one angel could do, 2 Kings 19:35….

Our Lord was no helpless, unwilling victim.  He could easily have escaped, as He had done at other times, Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59; 10:39.  Though He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, Isaiah 53:7, no power on earth could have put Him on that cross if He had not been willing to go, cf. John 19:10, 11.  No power on earth could have kept Him away from it, either.

This doesn’t mean that He enjoyed it or looked forward to it.  It is not without reason that Scripture says that He endured the Cross, Hebrews 12:2, emphasis added.

He was willing to go through all because He loved us, and because there was no other way for us to be saved.

But salvation is more than just an escape from hell.  It’s more than just the fulfillment of earthly desires for health and wealth and all the things the prosperity false prophets talk about.  Indeed, salvation may lead to our losing those things, Matthew 16:24; Philippians 3:7, 8; Hebrews 10:34.  Even in this country, we’re beginning to see that, with all the furor over gender and marriage issues.

No, no.  Salvation isn’t about deliverance from hell;  It’s about deliverance from that which would send us there:  our sins.

When the angel came to Joseph to explain to him what was going on with his fiancee, he said that the Son she would bear would “save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.

That is the issue.

Sin.

Sin is not defined by current social trends, but by the Word of God.  Current social trends emphasize and legalize sin.  It’s a sad commentary that so many religious organizations go right along with these things.  We expect this from the world.  Those who profess to be God’s people should know better.  It’s a shame – and a sin – that we allow the world to define the narrative, and not the Word.

To be saved from sin doesn’t simply mean to be forgiven for them.  The angel said that the coming Savior would save His people from their sins, not in them.

To be saved from sin means to turn from it, to reject it.  This is called repentance, which is the other side of the coin of salvation.  But this isn’t simply asceticism.  It’s not enough that we “don’t drink or chew or have friends who do.”

There are those who teach that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine.”  At the risk of being misunderstood myself, these folks misunderstand the Bible’s teaching on salvation by grace through faith.

What does the Scripture say?

When the Gospel first went to Gentiles and they were saved, this led to a confrontation with those who believed that the Gospel was only for Jewish folks, Acts 10.  In Acts 11, these folks finally realized and admitted that “God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life,” v. 18, emphasis added.

As Paul’s recorded ministry was beginning to wind down, he called for one last meeting with the leaders of the church at Ephesus, Acts 20:17-38.  He was about 30 miles away, at Miletus.  We could make this trip in a half-hour or less.  It probably took them a couple of days.  And it probably took a couple of days for Paul’s message to get to them.  We tend to forget that folks in this time traveled on foot or animals.  They didn’t have fast cars and freeways – or phones.

When the elders finally got to Paul, he reminded them of his own ministry among them.  For three years, he had been among them, and “did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears,” Acts 20:31.  He said that his method and message was that he “taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” vs. 20, 21.

This last verse gives gives us the two sides of that coin of salvation I mentioned earlier:

repentance toward God….  

It’s His Law, His Word, we’ve ignored or rebelled against.  We can’t keep doing that and be saved.  That is not legalism.  We’re not saved by keeping His Word, but we can’t be saved if we continue to disobey it.

faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

It isn’t our obedience that saves us; it’s the obedience of the Lord Jesus.  He is the only one Who could ever truthfully say that He pleased the Father in everything, John 8:29.  If He had fallen short in even one tiny little thing, He couldn’t be the Savior.  And we couldn’t be saved.

But it isn’t only His life that saves us.  His life provided the righteousness we need if we’re ever to stand before God uncondemned.  We have sinned; we have fallen short.  We stand under the judgment of God:  “the soul who sins shall die,” Ezekiel 18:4.  So, not only did He live in our place; He died in our place, as well.

That great debt we owe to God’s justice – that debt we could never even begin to pay?

He paid every last penny.

There is no debt left.

Does this mean that we can live as we please – without regard to God’s word?

Not at all.

The Mosaic Law was entirely external, with no provision to help the Israelite obey it.  Cf. Deuteronomy 29:4.  But believers don’t fall under the Old Testament Law.  We’re saved under the terms of the New Covenant.  True, it’s revealed in the Old Testament, but it goes far beyond the Old Testament Law.  The New Covenant provides help for the believer.  It’s an internal covenant, with the Word of God being put into our minds and hearts, and the Holy Spirit given to us to enable us to live by that word.

It’s not without reason that the Psalmist wrote, He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, Psalm 23:3.

Advertisements

“The Avenger of Blood”

In our first post, we mentioned that there were things in the Mosaic Law which seems strange to modern minds.  Though there are several such things, the subject for this post is probably right near the top of the list.

What, or who, was the “avenger of blood”?

The Hebrew phrase is “go’el haddam,” literally, “redeemer of blood”.  The word actually has two meanings. There is the one set forth in our text, that is, that a near relative was to “avenge” the violent death of a family member.  The other one, perhaps more familiar, is that a near relative could “redeem” or pay back the debts of a family member.  We’ll look at this idea in our next post.

The idea of avenging murder or the death of a family member was set forth long before the time of Moses in Genesis 9:5, 6, where God told Noah, “Surely for your life blood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.  From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

“From the hand of every man’s brother….”

This idea was expanded and explained in the Mosaic Law.

There was no separation of the criminal from the victim’s family, as there is today.  Our whole justice system, under the guise of “fairness” and “impartiality,” has erected a number of barriers between the perpetrator and his victims.  Indeed, the [alleged] criminal is viewed as having acted against “the people,” not the victim.  A trial is couched in the terms of “the State vs.” whomever.  (It’s interesting, at least to me, that while I was working on this post, I was called to serve on a jury in an attempted murder case.  I couldn’t help thinking of this post and the others in the series as I was listening to the proceedings.)  If the victim does try to take things into his own hands, then he is in trouble with the law for wanting “revenge,” not justice – as the law sees it.

While I am NOT advocating a return to the Mosaic system, I do think our system leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to what we call “closure” for the victim and/or his or her family, and when it comes to addressing the damage and harm done to them, to say nothing of providing “justice” for a crime.

Although there are instructions scattered throughout the Mosaic writings, Deuteronomy 17:2-13 gives us something of an idea of what happened.  Though it starts of with those guilty of idolatry, vs. 2, 3, I think it includes any who were guilty of capital crimes, that is, crimes deserving death, v. 6.  There were several elements involved:

  1. “Diligent inquiry” was to make certain the charges were true.  They had to be true and certain, v. 4.
  2. A matter involving a death penalty, and there are more than forty such “matters” in the Law, required two or three witnesses, v. 6.  One witness was never enough.
  3. If a crime, or, sin, as Scripture views it, was verified, the perpetrator was taken to the city gate, v. 5.  This seems to have been immediately, with no time elapsed.  There were no “appeals,” no dragging out the case for years in various courts.
    In the case where I was a juror, the crime was committed August 31-September 1 of last year.  The defendant was arrested a little later – in September or October.  The trial was June 13-16, this year.  So, months passed.  And though he has been convicted, his sentencing is still 3 or so weeks in the future, subject to the convenience of the lawyers involved, after which he likely will spend time in prison.
    This wouldn’t have happened under the Mosaic Law.
  4. At the city gate, the witnesses were to be the first to stone the condemned person.  No doubt, this gave pause to witnesses to be absolutely certain of what they were saying.  It was a solemn thing.
  5. After step 4, the hands of all the people were to inflict the penalty on the perpetrator.  It wasn’t hidden away; it was public, and “society” was involved in carrying out the sentence.
    To some, especially to those who oppose the death penalty, all this may seem somewhat barbaric.  However, it lent a certain solemn reality to what was going on.  In the trial I mentioned above, among the exhibits the prosecution showed us were some forensic pictures of a man killed during the crime, not by the defendant in our trial, but by another man who was involved.  He had already been tried and sentenced.  One of the other jurors was very upset by the pictures.  I made the comment that it’s a little different when you see the real thing, as opposed to what we see in TV detective shows.
    We know TV pictures aren’t real.  Actors will get up and maybe will have to do the scene several times. The pictures in the trial were real.  The man slumped between two seats in an SUV was not going to get up after the pictures were taken and walk away.
    So it was in OT times.  To the spectators and participants, it was real.  It wasn’t just some segment on the 6 o’clock news.
    I think we’ve lost some, if not all, of this reality.  We’ve become so desensitized by video games and TV shows that we half-way expect crime victims to “get up and walk away.”  (If you’ve been the victim of a serious crime, I’m sorry; I don’ t mean to add to your burden.  You realize better than most that those who haven’t endured such things can’t really understand what you’re going through.)  And the perpetrators of such crimes have “rights” which cannot be violated, regardless of how they may have violated the rights of their victims.
    I did gain some appreciation for this during the trial.  Several times, the judge stressed that the defendant was considered innocent, even though charged with several crimes, until such time as he was actually convicted by a jury – us.  His being charged with a crime was not to be taken as guilt for those crimes.
    It was this way in the OT.  The person was only punished for a crime after he had been found guilty by the testimony of several witnesses, and I expect there was other “evidence,” as well.  But the punishment happened right away; it didn’t take years.
  6. One of the arguments for the death penalty is that it deters crime.  Opponents deny this, citing the horrendous numbers of murders that happen in this country every year.  They cry that we shouldn’t “add to the body count,” as I saw one such protester’s sign say.
    Perhaps one reason it doesn’t “deter” is the number of years it takes for the sentence actually to be carried out.  And it’s carried out privately, with only a very few people who actually view it.  There’s no sense of “this is what happens if you murder some one.”
    We’ve already seen what happens in other crimes – how the “perp” was responsible to his victim.  The OT Law was designed to show that there were serious consequences to breaking it.
    What does God have to say about the deterring effect of capital punishment?
  7. Actually, He says two things.  (1).  “All the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously,” v. 13.  When there are actual, swift, public, consequences for a criminal, people understand that.  But when there are years and years of postponements, with appeal after appeal, a sense of urgency is lost about a crime that happened years before.  And there was a second thing, something we never think about:  (2) “So you shall put away the evil from Israel,” v.7, 12.  How many times have we heard on the news of a person caught for a crime, who “has a rap sheet as long as your arm”?  In the Mosaic economy, that wouldn’t happen.  One reason for the death penalty was to “put away” for good those who murdered or were guilty of other serious offenses.  There was none of this serving a few years in prison and then being set free perhaps to do the same thing over again, and over again, and over again.  How many innocent victims have there been from such repeat offenders?  Remember the offender in an earlier post who was guilty of twelve sexual offenses.  That is not “putting away evil.”
    If anything, our modern system of “justice” enables it.

“no ransom”

In these last few posts, we’ve been looking at some of the provisions of the Mosaic Law, provisions which aren’t as familiar as the Ten Commandments.  Some of these things seem strange or harsh to our modern way of thinking.  The society of that time and nation was largely agricultural and rural, without any of what we consider “conveniences”.  It was what we might call a “basic” society:  people growing up, gettting married, having and raising kids, and taking care of their basic needs – without all the stuff we have to have today.

It gives us a much different view of “justice” than we’re accustomed to.

In our previous post, we looked at a little of what the Old Testament says about what was to happen to those who accidentally, without premeditation or animosity, killed someone.  Though there were still serious consequences to such an act, care was taken to protect such persons from those who would seek revenge.

This brings up the question, “What about those who killed with premeditation and/or animosity”?  The Scripture is clear.  Exodus 21:14 says, “If a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, then you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.”

(“from My altar….”  Though we have no Scripture telling  us it was to be used like this, apparently the bronze altar at the entrance to the Tabernacle was also a place of safety, though within prescribed limits.  We have an example, centuries later, of one who tried to use it illegally, 1 Kings 2:28-34.  Notice there the reference to “innocent blood,” v. 31.)

Numbers 35:9-34 gives a detailed explanation of things to be considered in deciding “guilt” or “innocence,” and who could or could not claim protection in a city of refuge.  Nor was there any way that a person who could live in a city of refuge would be allowed to leave before the death of the high priest, v. 32.  We’ve seen what could happen if they tried.

And there was no way a person found guilty of premeditated murder could escape the penalty: you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death, v. 31.

Our culture has gone a long way from such thoughts.  People who give little thought to the plight of victims will get very upset at the idea that the one who hurt them should actually pay for what he did.  A few years in jail, maybe, or even a “life sentence,” but no death penalty.  Of course, it’s important that the criminal show “remorse.”   So the victim and their family have the privilege of paying taxes to support a bloated, over-grown penal system in which the “constitutional rights” of murderers, rapists, and other felons are of paramount importance, while they themselves suffer the results of those crimes, endure the costs of their own recovery and healing, or while they have to live with the absence or suffering of a son or daughter, mother or father, wife or husband, brother or sister, or other family member.

Prison is no picnic, but then neither is being a victim of someone who in a system of true justice would not live to go there.

There were no prisons in the Mosaic Law.

We’ll have some more to say about this in the next post.

“Bloodguilt”

Here is a word that I don’t suppose is heard very often in legal circles:  “bloodguilt.”  It or the concept it describes is found more than 20 times in the Old Testament.

What does it mean?

It refers to the killing of an innocent person.  The shedding of “innocent blood.”

It’s one of the reasons ultimately given for the captivity and destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar.  In describing things leading up to that event, and even though he was dead and had been succeeded by Jehoiakim, 2 Kings 24:3, 4 says, Surely at the commandment of the LORD this came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the LORD would not pardon (emphasis added).  It’s thought that he had killed Isaiah the prophet, among others, though that isn’t known for sure.  Whoever his victims were, he was guilty in the eyes of the Lord and couldn’t be pardoned for his sin.

What does the Bible say about this sin that we don’t even think about today?  Or does it really matter?

1. It was forbidden.  In Exodus 23:7, God said to Israel, “do not kill the innocent and righteous,  For I will not justify the wicked.”

2. What about cases of accidental killing?  God provided for that, as well.  Deuteronomy 19:1-13 is the first of several instructions about this.  Originally, three cities were to be set aside, and later, three more, when the Lord had expanded the land.  These cities were called cities of refuge where someone who killed accidentally could be protected from those who would take vengeance on him.  We’ll talk about this part of it in a later post.  Roads were to be provided to each of these cities and, though it isn’t specifically mentioned, each of the cities was on a hill, to be easily seen.

An example is given of those who could flee to one of these cities:  if men were cutting down trees and an ax head slipped off a handle and struck and killed one of the other men.  The man whose ax it was could flee to one of these cities and be safe.  One proviso was the the man had not “hated” the other man “in time past.”  It could not be premeditated in any way, but had to be completely accidental.  Numbers 35:22, 23 gives a couple of other examples.

It’s true that the man, or, I suppose, woman, who fled to one of these cities had to stay there until the death of the high priest, Numbers 35:25.  Without getting into the complexities of the sacrificial system in Israel, the high priest was at times considered to bear the iniquities of the people himself.  His death was credited to those in the cities of refuge as theirs, and they could then return to their own homes and families, Numbers 35:28.  If they were then killed, their’s was considered “innocent blood,” Deuteronomy 19:10.  However, if the person ventured outside the city before the death of the High Priest, then he was fair game, as it were, Numbers 35:26, 27, because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest.

This may seem harsh to our modern sensibilities, but it goes to show the value that the OT placed on life, that even accidentally taking it had serious consequences.  At the same time, the cities of refuge were a protection to those who had taken it accidentally.

This didn’t just happen haphazardly.  There was to be an investigation, Numbers 35:24, the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments, that is, the conditions laid down in the Mosaic Law. By “congregation,” I take it to mean, this investigation wasn’t just left up to some “prosecutor’s office,” but the community, at least to a point, had some involvement.  Especially in small towns, and most of the towns in Israel were small, the people would know the victim and his killer and whether or not there was enmity between them.

Alright, then, what about unsolved murders?  Even though it might not be known who the killer was, Deuteronomy 21:1-9 tells us that there were still things to be done when a body was found out in a field.  The elders of the town nearest where the body was found were required to offer a specific sacrifice and disavow any knowledge of the matter.  Doing this would put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD, v. 9.  I suppose much the same thing might have been done in the case of an unsolved murder in town.

This matter of bloodguilt was a serious thing in Israel.  David prayed to be delivered from it.  In Psalm 51:14, he implored God, ‘deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God.  Since Psalm 51 is believed to have been written as a result of his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, he was praying for that for which there was no sacrifice and no forgiveness.  He didn’t die, but the child conceived in that sin did die, and David’s family was never the same afterward.

As we’ve already noted, the shedding of innocent blood was much of what brought about the captivity and destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar.  Even pagans recognized the seriousness of the charge of bloodguilt, Jonah 1:14: Matthew 27:24.

Perhaps, also, it sheds some light on Judas’ confession in Matthew 27:4, when he threw down the 30 pieces of silver he had received to deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies:

“I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

Who Says?

As I read through the Old Testament, especially the early books, in which God calls out and forms the nation of Israel, I’m impressed by the number of times that the Lord said to Israel, “I am the LORD.”  He might say that just by itself, or He might add something:  “I am the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.”

It’s true that the Lord said that obeying Him would bring blessing and that disobeying Him would bring judgment, and that, in freeing them from Egyptian slavery He had already blessed them, yet it seems to me that the Lord is also saying that the main reason to pay attention to what He commands is that He commands it.  He didn’t ask for their agreement or their opinion or their thoughts on the subject.  He just said, “Here is what I want you to do.  I am the LORD.”

There is a message for us in this.  We increasingly live in a time when there are no objective standards.  It’s all about consensus, or who can make the loudest noise or cause the most destruction.  It’s all about “self-identity,” regardless of any objective reality.  We’ve become like the society described in the last verse of Judges:  In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did that which was right in his own eyes, Judges 21:25.  It’s true that we’ve never had a king here in this country, but that doesn’t mean the verse isn’t relevant.  A king was THE authority in the land, the source of law and order, however those might have been defined.  Not every king was a good king.  Judges describes a situation in which there was no king, no established, recognized code of conduct.  It was up to each individual how he wanted to live.

Because it is increasingly true in our nation that everyone does what he thinks is right.  we also see immorality and wickedness in our world similar to that described in the last chapters of Judges.  Granted, it isn’t an exact correspondence, so far as I know no one has recently hacked his concubine into pieces, although, now that I think about it, there are unspeakable atrocities against women approved by some cultures, but even without that, there are things which were unthinkable not all that many years ago that are now front page news and people demanding freedom to do them, to say nothing of the crime and violence that has mushroomed over the last few years.  There is no fear of God before their eyes, Romans 3:18.

There was a time when the Ten Commandments formed much of the basis of our legal system.  This fact is denied or ignored by those who demand the removal of every trace of them from our public lands and buildings:  no plaques listing them, no memorials of them in public, no reference to them by lawmakers or officials.  The “anti-establishment” clause in the Constitution has been reinvented to mean no religion in government at all, not the denial of civil power to the church.  Many of the Founding Fathers had suffered    because the church had had such power, and had misused it, as in England and Germany, and even in the very early days of the country, and they wanted no part of that in this new country, no part of an “official” church.  At the same time, contrary to some today, they were NOT establishing atheism as the official stance of the government.  There is abundant evidence of the influence of Christianity in the formation and early days of America.  There were other things, true, like Plato’s Republic, but the Bible was certainly there, and respected.

In the next few posts, Lord willing, I want to look at the Old Testament law and see what there is that might instruct us.  By “the Old Testament law,” I don’t mean the Ten Commandments.  Psalm 119:96 says that the commandment is exceedingly broad, and there might be some surprising things in it.

We must remember that “the Law,” as seen in the Mosaic documents, was given only to the nation of Israel, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Psalm 147:19, 20.  It was never given to Gentiles or to “the church”.  At the same time, there is something called, “the Moral Law.”  Paul refers to this in Romans 2:14, 15.  When he says that the Gentiles are a law unto themselves, he doesn’t mean that they can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, though they, and we, do do that.  He’s saying that they recognize that there is “right” and “wrong,” though they might differ on what each of those is.  The Moral Law is simply the reflection of the righteousness God requires of His creation.  The Mosaic Covenant was the application of that Law to a specific historic and geographical place and people.  Even though Gentiles are not under the Mosaic Covenant, and never have been, it’s still wrong, for example, to murder or steal, not because of the Ten Commandments themselves, but because the righteousness of God forbids it.

We just want to look at the Mosaic Law to see what God thinks about some things we don’t usually associate with Him, to see if there’s not something we can learn from them.

Hebrews 11:30, 31, Faith and the Walls of Jericho

]30]By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.  [31]By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she received the spies with peace.

In these verses, the writer looks at Israel’s entrance into the land with two vivid and very different examples of faith.

1. Jericho.

Jericho has been the subject of much speculation and doubt down through the years.  Skeptics have said that the story in Joshua was just a folk tale designed to explain the ruins at Jericho.  Others have scoffed that Israel could not have defeated a well-fortified and supplied city like Jericho.

Others have dated the evidence in those ruins and claimed that the destruction was by Egypt and not by Israel, at a time much earlier than the Bible says.  They have been shown to be wrong, though.  The evidence of the ruins shows that Jericho was destroyed at the time the Bible says that it was, by whom it was, and not earlier.

I remember seeing pictures of this event, with Israel marching around a level city with one wall.  Archaeology tells us it wasn’t like that at all.

Jericho was well-fortified, make no doubt about it.  The area of the city wasn’t “flat” but surrounded by and built on an earthen mound or embankment almost 50 feet high, with a stone retaining wall at its base.  Aerial photos of this mound are impressive, to say the least. This retaining wall, which followed the slope of the mound, was 12-15′ high.  On top of this was a mudbrick wall 6′ thick and 20-26′ high.  At the crest of the embankment was a similar wall, whose base was about 46′ above the ground where the Israelites marched.  The top of this second wall would have been 60-70 feet above that ground, or about the height of a 7-story building.  In Deuteronomy 9:1, Moses told the people that they would encounter cities great and fortified up to heaven.  We’re used to skyscrapers hundreds of feet high, but to the Israelites, Jericho must truly have seemed to reach “up to heaven.”

Furthermore, there was an abundant spring, which still exists, so the people would have had plenty of water to drink.  And, it was harvest time, Joshua 3:15.  Archaeologists found many storage jars full of grain, so the people would have had plenty to eat, as well.  Grain was a treasure, so the fact that there was so much left shows both the swiftness of the destruction and the fact that, except in one instance, Israel obeyed the injunction that the plunder of the city belonged to the Lord and they weren’t to take it for themselves.

The city could have survived for years.

Yet, Joshua 6:24 says that Israel burned the city and all that was in it with fire in seven days.   Archaeologists found layers of burned ash and debris about 3′ thick.

What happened?

God intervened.

In the words of the old song, “The walls came a-tumbling down.”

What about those walls?

Joshua 6:20 tells us that the wall fell down flat.  A more accurate reading would be, “the wall fell beneath itself.”  What happened?  Some believe that the tramping of the Israelites around the city for seven days and the blowing of the trumpets on the seventh day loosened things so that the walls collapsed.  Maybe.  Others believe that God sent an earthquake to destroy the walls.  There is some evidence in the ruins to support that view.  Some have objected that there are no fissures, but there aren’t always fissures when the ground rumbles.   The idea of an earthquake doesn’t automatically rule out the idea that God was behind it all – that it wasn’t a “miracle,” after all.  It just means that God used what we might call a “usual” occurrence in an unusual way. And at exactly the right moment.

Besides, God simply tells us that the walls collapsed without giving us any details about how.

There are a couple of other things here, as well.

Remember that there was a 12-15′ high retaining wall around the embankment.  There are remains which indicate that the lower wall collapsed over this retaining wall, forming a sort of ramp over which the Israelites could scramble.  And Joshua 6:20 says that the people went up into the city – up over the retaining wall and the ruins of the lower wall, up the slope of the embankment, and up over the ruins of the upper wall and into the city.

One final thing about this event.  Archaeology has confirmed that there is one area of the lower wall which didn’t collapse.  And there are houses built with this wall as part of their structure.  This brings us to the second example of faith.

2. Rahab, 11:31.

In one of these houses lived a woman, described as a harlot.  Joshua 2 records her story.   Apparently, she had neither husband or children, because they’re never mentioned, either here or in 6:23.    We’re really told very little in this story, only that she was willing to protect these foreign interlopers.  In Joshua 2:8-11, she tells us why.  As she was hiding the men from the soldiers who were looking for them (vs. 2-7,) she told them, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He  is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.”

Rahab provides an interesting contrast to the Israelites themselves.  While it’s true that this generation of Israelites was being obedient to God, much of Israel’s history proves that this is an exception to a generally dismal picture of their relationship with God.  Indeed, they hadn’t been in the land very long when they began to revert to their old ways and brought the same judgments on themselves that they had given out to the Canaanites.

The illustrations Rahab gives of God’s power are at either end of Israel’s wilderness experience, but the Israelites seem not to have profited very much from their experiences.  Cf. Hebrews 4:2.  Exodus and Numbers, the two books which deal with Israel’s travels more than the other writings of Moses, show repeated rebellion and failure on Israel’s part.  Because of this failure, it had taken Israel 38 years to complete what ordinarily was an 11-day journey, Deuteronomy 1:2.

On the other hand, here was a woman who, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  She was a member of a race condemned to destruction because of their sin.  Yet she and her family were spared.  Not only that, she became an ancestor to Israel’s Messiah, that One who would ultimately deliver all His people from their sin, Matthew 1:21.

You see, she had been willing to take a chance.  Perhaps, if she helped and protected God’s people, she – and her family – could escape judgment.  True, we’re not told her reasoning on this, just what she did.

Perhaps we could learn from her.

John 3:18 says, He who believes in [the Lord Jesus] is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

We live in an age where this verse is not believed.   We’re taught that everyone is a child of God, that we’re all headed to “a better place.”

That’s not what the Scripture teaches.  It teaches that, because of our sin, we’re under a much greater judgment than what the Canaanites were under.  It teaches us that we, too, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, have no hope and [are] without God in the world.

In ten days, as I write this, it will be Easter.  Here, too, the world has substituted its own meaning into the day, a meaning that has nothing to do with redemption or salvation.  As far as the world is concerned, it’s all about eggs or clothes.  It’s about the arrival of Spring.  Only a few people seem to understand that it’s about an empty Cross and an empty tomb.

In Rahab’s time, the Cross was still a distant promise.  We’ve seen that promise fulfilled.  We’ve seen that there was One who came to take the place of sinners, to take their place of condemnation and to suffer what they should suffer.  To die on a Cross.  And those who believe in Him are no longer condemned, but have everlasting life.

It’s not just about “religion.”  There was plenty of “religion” in Canaan.  There had been plenty of “religion” in Egypt.  And there’s plenty of “religions” in our own day and time.  Only one has an empty Cross and an empty tomb.

Only one has a Savior.

Hebrews 11:13-16, Dying in Faith

[13]These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  [14]For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  [15]And if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  [16]But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  (NKJV)

“These all died in faith.”

It’s one thing to live by faith, but when life comes to an end, with the things that sometimes attend that end, “faith” may waver a little.  One thing that bolsters faith is the firm and settled conviction that this life isn’t all there is; there is something better just beyond that exit called “death.”  And this conviction doesn’t depend on “out-of-the-body” experiences, or books written by those who say they’ve been to heaven, and it’s “real.”  Perhaps they have been there.  And certainly, heaven is real.  So is hell.  Even so, though, the Apostle Paul said that he had been caught up to the third heaven, but he didn’t have the words to describe what he experienced, 2 Corinthians 12:1-5.  Regardless, the true believer’s hope for the future isn’t found in “experience,” but in God’s promise, cf. Jeremiah 29:11; Revelation 21:1-4, the city which has “foundations,” v. 14.

not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.

Even though Isaac himself was evidence of the power and faithfulness of God, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises about their inheritance of the land. (Now I believe that Israel [and they] will possess that land; the OT is filled with promises about that.  That, however, is a post for another time.) Nevertheless, they

were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

The attitude of faith isn’t one of expectation of great things in this life.  They may come.  They may not.  We mentioned in an earlier post that faith gives us a different perspective about this world, about fundamental differences between God’s children and the world’s children.  One of them is found in Psalm 17:14, where the Psalmist refers to men of the world who have their portion in this life.  Another verse is Luke 16:25, which records something our Lord said of two men and their experiences in the after-life.  One was a child of God and the other one wasn’t.  Some are troubled by the things mentioned in verses 19-31 and try to lighten what they say.  Whether these verses are just a parable or an expression of something real is beyond the scope of this post.  But even parables address things which are real.  There is something our Lord said, however, which, even if it is just a parable, is vitally important.  In v. 25, it is said to the one who was lost, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”

To put it another way, this world is as close to heaven as some people will ever get, and for other people, this world is as close to hell as they will get.   To a world that believes that everyone goes to “a better place” at death this idea is troubling.  And there’s no way of knowing simply by the circumstances of their lives whether any particular person is saved or not.  A mansion may house a vile wretch and a cardboard box may shelter a godly person.  In that regard, prosperity or poverty don’t matter.

The point is, lest I wander too far in this direction, that the true Christian, the true believer, understands that this world isn’t all this is to his or her existence and that God’s promises don’t always come true in this life.  They didn’t for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They also understand that these promises will come true eventually.  We’ll see a little more of this as we go through Hebrews 11.

Our problem too often is that we try to measure God’s providence by our own tape measure.  We try to fit Him into the little box of our own understanding.  That’s like trying to teach an ant how to drive.  And the difference between us and that ant is insignificant compared to the distance between us and God.  And just so you don’t misread it, we are the ant.  Sorrowfully, way too many people would put God in that position.

Too often, we define “blessing” as things which we think are “good:” health, prosperity, good “relationships”.  He’ll heal our sicknesses and fix the broken things.  Now, I believe in healing.  My own mother experienced it.  She nearly died after having me and the doctors said that she’d never walk again.  Well, they were wrong.  And I’ve known others who were healed of serious illnesses.  On the other hand, I know a dear sister in the Lord who suffered from Lupus her whole life and was diagnosed with ALS shortly before she died.  It got to the point where she couldn’t talk, but even then, she showed more joy in the Lord than most of us who are a lot healthier than she was.

And sometimes, God is pleased just to use the broken things.  I think of Joni Eareckson Tada.  The tools in His workshop aren’t all new and shiny.  After all, which of us, in one way or another, isn’t “broken”?

The people of whom Hebrews speaks in vs. 13-16 understood a little of the temporary and sometimes difficult nature of this world and life.  (See also vs. 35-38.)  That’s why we read of them that they –

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

If they had simply been concerned about this world,

they would have had opportunity to return.

After all, the promised land was right in the middle to the trade route between north and south.  There were probably caravans often traveling through it.  They could have left at any time.

But they had a different perspective:  they were looking for –

a homeland.  …They desired a better, that is, a heavenly country.

Of Abraham himself, v. 10 says that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  I’ve read somewhere that Ur was built in a marsh and really didn’t have a firm footing, or foundation.  So Abraham was looking for something “solid,” as we might put it.

We really have a very sparse account of what happened between God and men in those early years.  In fact, it’s believed by many that from the Fall of Adam and Eve until the giving of the Law through Moses that there wasn’t any revelation from God.  Men were simply guided by their own “conscience.”  I think that’s an inadequate view.  There are incidental references which tell us of an abundant revelation.  For example, in Genesis 26:5, God appeared to Isaac and testified of his father that “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My law.”  This tells us that there were “commandments” and “law” long before Moses.  We just have no, or very little, record of them.

Another example is Job, who certainly lived before the events at Sinai, and a long way from Israel.  There’s no mention of the priesthood or the Tabernacle, but the book is filled with references to sin, righteousness and judgment.  Indeed, the book opens with Job offering burnt sacrifices just on the possibility that his sons had sinned and cursed God in their hearts, Job 1:5.  And he did this regularly.  He’s described as one who was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil, v. 1.  How could this be, if there was nothing to tell him about God and what He required?  Or that defined “evil”?

Beyond that, some of the greatest “confessions of faith” come from him.  Job 13:15,  “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”  I’m afraid today that we say, “If He heals me, I will trust Him.”  He had insight into the resurrection, “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:26, 27 (emphasis added).  He had alluded to this earlier when he referred to his “change,” 14:14.

Granted, he said some things that he shouldn’t have, but God defended him against his three “friends” (and against those who would scold him today):  the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.  Now, therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you.  For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has,” 42:7, 8, emphasis added.

Job, too, “died in faith.”

And, unless the Lord comes back first,

It will be said of all God’s people:

These all died in faith.