Matthew 5 Pt. 4: Giving and Forgiving

Tonight we finish Matthew chapter 5 with verses 38-48. These verses impart to us simple lessons that are easy to comprehend but can be difficult to practice. In these sayings, Jesus is telling us to put others first. It is simple. He gives us examples of how to do this in verses 38-42. If someone antagonizes us, we should not fight back, but remain meek. Christ is telling us to not be offenders, to not be affected by the antagonizers of this world, but to return evil with good. In this instance we can offer or bodies as peace offerings in a figurative or literal sense, should it come to that.

The second example encourages us to be free with our material possessions. If someone asks for a jacket in the cold, we should freely give it and more. If we see that our help is not enough, Jesus encourages us to give beyond what was asked until the need is fully met. This is a sacrifice of our material things.

The third example Jesus provides is that if someone asks us to go with them one mile, we should go with them two miles. It is a show of solidarity with someone who had asked a favor that might otherwise be alone. This is a sacrifice of our time. 

All three of these examples require us to give of ourselves. Being honest, it can be painful to turn the other cheek, give away a trusted possession or sacrifice our time. This is especially true if we have other plans or find ourselves giving something away that we love and saved for but we know we might not ever see again. But consider the end result of these sacrifices: they each make a lasting impression on the receiver of them. People generally expect one to fight back. Some folks may be wary of lending their things but few will voluntarily lend more than asked. And giving your time? Rarely is it that we find those that will go above and beyond to help someone other than family or close friends. But Jesus’s words here are not limited to any one faction of our life. These sacrifices are encouraged for anyone to give to anyone else. This includes the panhandler on the of off ramp that looks like they could get a job if they really wanted to. Jesus doesn’t ask us to judge; Jesus asks us to give.

Verses 43-48 say a very similar thing but this time it is focused on enemies. We all have enemies and some we deal with more civilly than others. This passage mentions those that treat us unfairly, poorly, or that persecute and use us. Jesus tells us not to take vengeance, not to attack, but to pray for them and to do good things for them. Because God is good to us, the righteous, but is He not also good to the unrighteous of the world? Yes. He loves us all. 

We find that when we actually do this, it feels different, but it also feels right. It feels good. Acting contrary to our baser nature helps us realize that when we trust in the Lord’s Word, even though it initially feels wrong, in the end it was so obviously the right thing to do. Why spend our lives in conflict when we can be peacemakers and peacekeepers? Why pursue our own agendas when we can serve others and find that peace inside ourselves that can only be had when we follow Him?

Matthew 5 Pt. 3: Cursing and Swearing

Tonight we continue our reading of Matthew 5 with verses 33-37. These verses have to do with swearing. Firstly, we need to establish that the term “swearing” has two meanings:

1. Taking an oath

2. Cursing

It is my belief that Jesus’s words in these verses apply to both instances. The theme of these verses is that it is forbidden to swear by something (heaven, earth, Jerusalem, yourself) because either these things are holy or you have no control over them. For example, if I were to say “I swear on my mother’s grave” or “I swear on the lives of my children,” the implication is that if I somehow do not make good on my oath, then something bad might happen to my mother or my children. Therefore the understanding is that I would make sure to keep my oath to prevent anything from happening to them. 

But Jesus is speaking against beliefs and superstitions like this one because we really do not have power over the ultimate well-being of the lives of others, even our loved ones. To suppose that the actions regarding an oath made could come to bear on children in a way that is unconnected to the way we normally interact with them would be to assume that we have some godly powers. It is foolish to think that we are convincing ourselves or others of the depth of our conviction regarding a promise when we swear by it. Jesus gives us the answer that we are to simply let our “yes” and “no” stand for themselves. 

If we “swear to God,” we are making light of His power and His name. This is different than taking God’s name in vain because we think we are promising something to God, making our oath more meaningful because we are making it to God or including God. But what we are really doing is revealing a duplicity within ourselves. Why should my word be any different if I make it to my friend or to God? If I make the same oath to my friend but I don’t swear it to God, does that make it less likely that I will keep my oath? No. Jesus is saying that your word is your word. What we say, what we agree to and what we commit to are very important because they determine our integrity and they sum up the degree of our trustworthiness.

Regarding cursing, let’s look and see how Jesus’s teachings in these verses apply. Jesus says that whatever is beyond our “yes” and “no” is from the devil. This means that we are to speak purposefully and clearly, realizing that our word is our bond and that we will be accountable for all of our words one day. But what is it that makes us curse? And what makes cursing sinful? Why is it an attractive temptation? 

We curse because we are disappointed in outcomes. We find a dent in our car. We rip our pants. We smack our head against the cupboard accidentally. These curses come about due to our anger at unexpected negativity or pain. In hindsight, they can be humorous. But at the time, we are angry. So we curse. It feels good as well, like we are taking back some power, voicing our resistance to what just happened.

But what does this cursing really amount to? When you boil it down, it is a protest of reality. If I mutter a word because my team lost or I spilled something, I am expressing frustration at the reality of my life. When I have subjected my life to the Lord, I am more willing to accept the ups and downs of life as part of His plan. Whether God’s plan for my life includes the deaths of loved ones or if I just smash my finger with a hammer, it does not grant me license to utter perverse things by way of relieving the pressure. Rather, I should just accept His will and take the hammer blow for what it is: a sign that I am not paying enough attention to what I am doing!

Also, cursing is sinful due to the meanings of the words used. Whether it is meant to be funny or to express displeasure or happiness, cursing in everyday speech is sinful. Even if it seems harmless, consider that the meanings of these words are perverted, obscene, and irreverent. The things they refer to are unholy and better left unsaid in common everyday speech. 

Tonight I encourage you to keep your speech clean, the speech that comes out of your mouth as well as the neverending dialog you have with yourself in your head. Swearing and cursing are dirty sinful habits, difficult to break, but once broken, a clean and pure state of mind remains, a mind that is better arranged to serve God.

Colossians 4:6:

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

James‬ ‭3:8-12:

‭‭“But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”

Matthew 5 Pt. 2: Purity of Heart

Tonight we continue our study in Matthew 5, picking up in verse 17 and continuing to verse 32. In verses 17 through 20, Jesus is addressing a topic that had most likely come up through His teachings. This has to do with how Jesus’s teachings related to the old Mosaic law. He said that He has come to fulfill prophecies, to fulfill the Law, indeed to be a progression of God’s official relationship to mankind. He underlines the importance of adhering to the commandments and of teaching them. Jesus concludes this section by making a judgment on the scribes and Pharisees, who made it a point of following the law to the letter, but for all their effort in keeping the law, their righteousness lacked. The scribes and Pharisees concentrated on outwardly keeping the law, but their hearts were not in it. If we focus on perfecting our righteousness as compared to the efforts of the scribes and Pharisees, we may enter the kingdom of heaven. Empty actions not supported by selfish intentions are worthless.

In verses 20 through 26 Jesus makes progress on clarifying the state of mind that God may have intended for man to have when the Ten Commandments were first handed down. It is not enough for us to not murder, slander or wish ill. Rather, within our hearts there should abide a sense of love, compassion and good honest intentions for all fellow men. In this passage, Jesus tells us that it is sin to be angry with a brother for no reason, and worse sin to speak evil to him. Jesus is telling us that our hearts should be pure and honest, not self-seeking or judgmental when it comes to relationships.

Also in 20 through 26, Jesus instructs that if we come before God and have evil in our heart to our fellow brother, it is wrong. The worship and honor that God desires from us should be clean, untainted by grudges or anger. It prompts is to look inside ourselves and ask: Who do I hold in disdain? Who do I actively dislike? What is keeping me from loving my brother or sister? Sometimes we have to do some work on ourselves before we are ready to meet God. And God can help us with this. It is usually a “me” problem because we cannot control others, but we can control our reaction to what irks us about them. Staying upbeat and always assuming positive intent can help tremendously with troublesome relationships. The penalty for not keeping your side of the street clean will be high.

Moving on to verses 27 through 32, Jesus addresses marriage and adultery. And in this section Jesus continues on with the theme seen earlier around wishing ill of someone/murdering them. Earlier, Jesus acknowledged that murder was a sin, but He also said that thinking ill of a brother without cause was a sin too. In this case, Jesus acknowledges adultery as a sin but also says that the things that lead to adultery are sins too. 

Moreover, if something valuable to us cannot be kept valuable because there is too much temptation involved, better for us to drop the whole business altogether. Plucking out one’s eyes is gruesome indeed, but Jesus makes this point to say that heaven is so great, it is worth any price at all.

The two verses on marriage that conclude tonight’s study are clear and plain. It was once permissible under the law of Moses to divorce without pretext, but now it is only allowable under God if sexual immorality has occurred. This means one spouse engaging in extramarital infidelity. The accordant logic is at work here as well in the latter part of verse 32. There is a chain of logic at work here employed by Jesus which stresses the holy institution of marriage. Marriage is to be taken seriously and soberly. 

Tonight’s lesson centers on intent. If I really intend to get to heaven, how am I treating my brothers, sisters and fellow man? Is my intent with my friends, neighbors and relatives honest and good? Do I want the best for them and help them when I am able? My intentions should be to have a positive impact, whether big or small. And in matters of the heart, regarding the true intentions of my heart concerning my marriage also, am I pure? 

Matthew 5 Pt.1: The Beatitudes

Tonight we begin a three-part study of Matthew 5 and will be studying verses 1-16 which contain the Beatitudes and an explanation about believers. This chapter contains too much material to cover in just one study and we will give it the proper attention it deserves by spreading it out over three weeks.

Starting in verses 1-2, Jesus finds himself surrounded by people and prepares to teach them. His popularity has increased since word of his miracles spread and He needs to go to a high place in order to properly reach the people. He goes up on a mountain and sits and waits until his followers are assembled around Him. Then Jesus gives us the Beatitudes. 

If one was going to draw a similarity of the old and new covenants here, one might be tempted to call the Beatitudes the New Testament’s version of the Ten Commandments. Think of the old law and the Ten Commandments: the old law was restrictive, and the Ten Commandments were mostly prohibitive. On the other hand, God’s new covenant through Christ grants us freedom through servitude, baptism and forgiveness of sins. Also, depending on how you number the statements in the Beatitudes, you might be able to number them at ten. Give it a try. 

While it is interesting to think of the Beatitudes as a new and improved version of the Ten Commandments, they are really so much more than that. The Beatitudes are a philosophy on godly living. They show us ultimately that we have spiritual gain and spiritual success when we rely on God rather than ourselves. 

The satisfaction that we get from a relationship with God does not come from our own ability to pray, worship or study; we get spiritual fulfillment and are most pleasing to God when we realize and act in a way reflective of how small we truly are: It is not I that is great; it is God that is great. I did not create the positive circumstances of my life; God did. My own skills, powers and abilities are mine because God allows it. The moment I revel in my own accomplishments or when I trust in myself or an institution of man to solve my problems, I am going the wrong way. Have you ever wondered why Alcoholics Anonymous is so quietly successful? It all centers around a belief that God can remove the desire to drink; the alcoholic cannot do it themselves. 

So when it comes to how we think of ourselves, the secret Jesus is letting us in on is to think small. I’m not important, I’m not a special snowflake, I am just a sinner. A sinner blessed and graced with God’s consideration. When I suffer, I am blessed because it brings me closer to God. When I stop thinking of how I might compare to other people or that I might be a little better than other people, I will receive mercy. If I seek peace rather than create conflict because I think I am a victim of something, I will be called a son of God. The Beatitudes teach us to take the high road. If we seek righteousness, we will obtain righteousness. If we do good and are persecuted or shamed, it only makes our reward in heaven greater.

The message sent in the Beatitudes reveals a theme of irony in the New Testament: When I am small, I am actually big. When I am weak, I am actually strong. Relying on my own strength will not get me half as far as relying on God’s strength.

What does it look like to rely on the strength of God? It means praying regularly and asking Him to help guide your life. It means asking God to help you make tough decisions and to help you act in the right way in difficult situations and relationships. It means to stop excessive and debilitating worrying that never helps anyway. 

When we live in this manner, we transform into the type of believer described in verses 13-16 of chapter 5. If we live lives that are truly dependent on God, it will show and others will notice. It is easy to be ashamed of living this way in the world because the world does not know God, the world thinks that God is foolishness. However, God’s blessings on a life are visible. And the peace that comes from leaning on Him for strength can be seen by anyone that is looking.

It’s a win-win.

Matthew 4: Know Who You Are

Satan temps Jesus three times in verses 1-11. Before we get into the details of these temptations, notice that verse 1 says that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. These temptations of Christ were something that God desired and were required to strengthen the resolve of Jesus to do His Father’s will and also perhaps to acquaint Jesus with the ways of Satan His adversary.

Temptation 1: Satan tempts Jesus by hunger. Jesus had not eaten in the desert for forty days. Satan invites Him to turn stones into bread to dispel the hunger. Jesus knows this is an appeal to His fleshly appetites and refutes Satan. The statement He makes, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” is from Deuteronomy 8:3 and it means that Jesus trusted that God would take care of Him despite His hunger and that He would not let the hunger lead to accepting an invitation from the devil.

Temptation 2: Satan tempts Jesus by His deity. Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple and invites Him to jump to the ground, citing Psalm 91:11-12. These two verses imply that God would not allow Him to be hurt from this fall from the temple, but that angels would care for Jesus and catch Him, not even allowing a foot injury. Satan is tempting Jesus to test God and verify that God would not allow Jesus to be injured. Jesus sees through it and ably resists. He knows that such a test is unnecessary and futile in God’s grand plan.

Temptation 3: Satan tempts Jesus by power. Satan takes Jesus to a very high mountain where Jesus can see all the world’s kingdoms. If Jesus will bow down to Satan, Jesus could be the ruler of all of the kingdoms. This temptation is very interesting because it demonstrates the idea that Satan has power, influence and dominion in the world. God created the world, but He allows Satan certain liberties on Earth. But one wonders…could Satan have granted this power to Jesus if Jesus had worshipped Satan? In John 8:44 Jesus says that Satan is the father of lies, so Satan could have been lying. On the other hand God permitted Satan to lay waste to Job’s life in Job 1:12. Whether Satan could fulfill the promise of power or not does not matter because Jesus isn’t falling for it. He knows that His place is not to be an earthly king. Satan departs after Jesus’s third rebuttal.

The rest of the chapter introduces us to Jesus’s ministry. He departs to Galilee once He knows that John the Baptist has been imprisoned. Jesus begins to preach repentance in this region, fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah.

Then He recruits four disciples: Peter, Andrew, James and John, saying that instead of fishers of fish, they will be fishers of men. How awesome would it have been to witness this, or any other of the momentous scenes to come? They left all to follow Him.

Lastly, this chapter gives us the description of Jesus teaching, preaching and healing in the synagogues and in Galilee. His fame spread far throughout the region quickly as more and more people were brought to Him so that He could heal them.

The feeling in this chapter of a great beginning is hard to miss. It is easy to get excited imagining Jesus ramping up his ministry in Galilee and performing miracles. But I think the biggest lesson from Matthew 4 is Jesus’s strength in the face of Satan. Jesus still was only just baptized, not yet started teaching, and had no notoriety or fame when He was in the desert with Satan. He had His faith and His confidence that God would care for Him. He is strong and He never doubts. He also relies on the Word of God to be His muscle, His reason and His replies. Jesus was stalwart and strong, offering us a perfect example of strength under pressure.

May we carry this spirit of surety with us when we experienced our own temptations!

Matthew 3: The Word Arrives

Tonight we will follow Matthew’s gospel and fast forward about three decades in Jesus’s life. We left Jesus as a child in danger and in this chapter we see Him as a man. But before we get to Jesus we are introduced to John the Baptist, Jesus’s precursor. In Isaiah 40:3, there is s prophecy concerning him: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.”

John’s arrival on the scene heralds Jesus’s arrival. He came to prepare the people for the new law that was to come. This new law to be established by Jesus would be very different from the Old Testament laws of detailed regulation and animal sacrifice. God’s gospel to come is one of peace and repentance, where the message of the Spirit of God is not written on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh (II Corinthians 3:3). This means that God’s Word, which once lived on stone tablets (aka the Ten Commandments), now lives in our hearts, guiding our inner thoughts and decisions.

Some of us might know that John the Baptist was eating locusts and honey in the wilderness of Judea, clothed in camel’s hair and preaching repentance. What some might not know is how parts of John’s message were virtually identical to what Jesus would teach.

For instance, in the seventh verse of this chapter, John calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers,” because he knew that they needed to repent instead of resting in the fact that they were of Abraham’s lineage. These Pharisees did not have hearts that desired to be approved of God; rather they felt superior to mankind by virtue of the fact that they were Jews. They thought that because they were Jews, they were automatically approved of by God, and also maybe just a little bit better than everyone else. John calling them a “brood of vipers” shows the distinction from the old law to the new: repentance and purity of heart take the place of genealogies and tradition. John could detect that the Pharisees would struggle with making this transition and Jesus saw it too. In Matthew 12, Jesus calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” when they accuse Him of using the power of the devil to cast out demons. The meaning behind these accusations to the Pharisees is that the new gospel is coming, and it reveals the hearts of those that hear it. It does the same today.

John the Baptist also refers to trees and the fruit they bear as a metaphor for what comes out of our lives based on what is in our hearts. This is an idea throughout the New Testament: good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad. If we repent of our sins, we are righteous, but if we resist and become defensive or rebellious, our nature is contrary to God and our lives will bring forth undesirables things. Likewise, Jesus made this same correlation in Matthew 12: ““Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.”

John goes on in Matthew 3 to baptize people with water for repentance, an act necessary for salvation that is borne out in the New Testament (Mark 16:16, John 3:5). John makes it clear that he does not consider himself worthy of Jesus, not even to carry His sandals. John’s comments in verses 11-12 again make reference to Jesus’s impending arrival but this time specifically mention that Jesus’s baptism would be divisive: not all would heed His Word, some would obey while others would not.

Jesus at last arrives at the Jordan from Galilee (where we last saw Him at the end of Matthew 2) to be baptized by John. John is astonished because he thinks that Jesus should be baptizing him, but Jesus says, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” 

Baptism is an act that removes all sin, leaving sinners pure in the sight of God, so why did Jesus, who had no sin, need to be baptized? He says it was to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’s act of baptism shows the people (and us!) the importance of following the pattern of obedience. Jesus completes this act of righteousness in front of men that men are required to perform to be saved. It is a show of solidarity and also an endorsement of God’s plan of salvation for mankind.

Even though Jesus had no sins to wash away, His baptism was necessary in that it points all mankind to God’s desire for us: that we repent and turn to God as the Master of our lives.

Matthew 2: Safe Harbors

Wise men from the East come to Jerusalem seeking the newly born King of the Jews. King Herod, despite his old age, is troubled at the threat of a new leader arising, especially one that wise men traveled far to worship. He gathers together chief priests and scribes in an effort to find this Child. They tell him that the Child was to be born in Bethlehem in accordance with a prophecy from Micah 5:2.

Under a pretense that he wants to worship the Child, Herod sends the wise men to find the Child and bring it back to him. They see the star again and follow it to Bethlehem. But when the wise men see the Christ as a babe with his mother, they fall down, worship Him and gave Him gold, frankincense and myrrh. The wise men are also warned by the heavens in a dream that they should not return to Herod, so they returned home in a different way. This is the first time in this chapter that God preserves the life of the Messiah, for their original orders were to bring the Child back with them.

After the wise men departed Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take the Child and his mother to Egypt because Herod would seek to kill the Child. Joseph, revealing the depth of his faith once again, takes his young family to Egypt and they remain there until the death of Herod. It is ironic that God led Joseph to Egypt for Christ’s protection because Egypt was known for being unkind to Jewish children. In this case, it proves to be the safest place for Him in light of King Herod’s danger. This is the second time in this chapter that God preserves the life of the Messiah.

During this time, Herod becomes angry at being unable to find and vanquish the child and orders that all male children, aged two and under that were in Bethlehem and all its districts were to be put to death. These senseless murders fulfilled a project set forth in Jeremiah 31:15. 

When old King Herod finally dies, Joseph brings his family back from Egypt, fulfilling a prophecy from Hosea 11:1. Joseph heads to Israel, but he is afraid to go due to the one that is ruling over Judea. At that time God warns him in a dream and Joseph veers into Galilee and settles in a town called Nazareth. This is the third time in this chapter that God preserves the life of the Messiah.

When we think about how the early events of Jesus’s life were so wonderfully and perfectly orchestrated by Almighty God, it is astounding. These events were planned a very long time before they occurred and the outcome was known and created by God all along. 

Thinking about a divine power that has absolute knowledge and control over events should put fear into our hearts. We are never really alone. Continuously our thoughts, behaviors and intentions are known by Almighty God: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” ‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:13‬

But we need to take heart in His saving power, the blood of Jesus Christ that redeems us from our sins. In the midst of a troubled world, alluring temptations, and promises of things better than what we have now, the Word of God gives us the strength we need to continue to live for Him: 

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”‭‭ Romans‬ ‭8:31-35‬

None of these things listed in Romans 8 can separate us from the love of Christ. It is all around us. Even now.

Matthew 1: The Birth of Jesus

Verses 1-17: The genealogy of Jesus Christ is given first and fulfills both the Abrahamic and the Davidic covenants. This means that God had promised both Abraham and David that the savior of the world would come through their family lines (Genesis 12:3, II Samuel 7:12) and the long list of “begots” here proves it. It is the story of the family tree of Jesus.

There are other genealogies in the Old Testament, many longer than this one. But this one has two characteristics that distinguish it greatly from other genealogies, Biblical or not:

 – The genealogy of Jesus fulfills prophecy

 – The genealogy of Jesus ends with a woman (Mary)

Why is it significant that this genealogy ends with a woman? Usually genealogies deal with and end at men; men as fathers are traditionally thought of as the authors of progeny. But this time is different. This line mentions Joshua, Jesus’s “father,” but then merely refers to Joshua as “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.” The genealogy stops with Jesus after Mary because Joshua was not Jesus’ father; God was.

Verses 18-25: The virgin birth is the first evidence we have of Christ’s divinity. Mary is pregnant with Jesus before she consummated her marriage with Joseph. Verse 18 says “she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” When Joseph finds out she is pregnant, he proves his quality by not making a public show of a divorce (which he could have done had she been unfaithful to him), but instead he opts to end the marriage in private, which would have preserved a degree of Mary’s honor.

But Joseph does not get the opportunity to do either of these things. An angel from God comes to Joseph in a dream and compels him to keep Mary as his wife because the child was conceived of the Holy Spirit. The angel tells Joshua that he “shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 

This was done to fulfill another prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, which says that the virgin will bring forth a son and he shall be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Joseph, to the credit of his faith, takes Mary as his wife and names the child Jesus. 

The birth of our savior Jesus Christ is notable enough in its’ fulfillment of prophecies. Also consider that it is Jesus’ sacrifice and blood coupled with God’s mercy and our obedience that saves us. His is certainly the most important birth in the history of the world.

However, before we conclude, consider Joseph and Mary. Elsewhere in the gospels we know that Mary also knew of her firstborn son’s identity through an angel of God. So we have a newlywed couple, poor and alone in an out-of-the-way part of the country with an unexplained pregnancy and visited by angels. The outcome of a peaceful and holy birth, without God’s providence, could have ended instead with a nasty public divorce, shaming, false accusations, abandonment and misery.

Instead, because of the faith of a poor young couple, we have an occasion of the highest importance: the birth of the savior of the world. My savior and yours, Jesus Christ.

It helps to remember the faith of Joseph and Mary when we find ourselves lacking in faith. Having faith can make a big difference in my life and in the lives of others, and it is all too easy to underestimate the effect of faith.

Judges 21: God Living in Me

The final chapter of the book of Judges does not redeem Israel. Instead of a happy ending we are witness to Israel going their own way once more. But tonight’s study does not dwell on negativity. In fact there are some very inspirational lessons to be learned from the poor example exhibited by Israel.

The disgraced tribe of Benjamin has been shunned by the rest of Israel. After their participation in the actions of the previous chapters, the other tribes have refused to allow any of their daughters to marry into the tribe of Benjamin. This leaves Benjamin at a great disadvantage for they need to be able to have children so that the tribe can continue.

To help Benjamin, the other tribes of Israel make plans to provide wives for the Benjamites. They accomplish this by killing the inhabitants of Jabeth Gilead except for the virgin girls, which they give to Benjamin. These virgins were chosen because people from Jabeth Gilead did not attend an assembly planned by the other tribes. 

But the wives provided from Jabeth Gilead are not enough for the tribe and Israel makes arrangements for Benjamin to steal women from Shiloh. With these, the Benjamites have enough wives. 

Israel’s methods of providing wives to Benjamin are arbitrary and foolhardy. First, they denied wives from among their own people. This forced them to find wives elsewhere for the tribe. The conflicted nature of Israel is apparent when we realize that Israel is judgmental of Benjamin enough to withhold intermarrying, yet still feels responsible enough for a fellow tribe to make sure they have wives. Israel should have repented of their sins, made sacrifices in accordance with the law, and prayed to God to help them deal with the Benjamites. Instead they make a bad situation worse with more killing (Jabeth Gilead) and employing strange logic to provide wives. Surely this is not how God would have directed the outcome?

An honest appraisal of this chapter can begin with its’ending; verse 25 says: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The children of Israel are trying to do what is right in this chapter, yet they are doing so without keeping God at the center of their plans. 

It reminds us of ourselves, when we drift away from Him: I can convince myself that I don’t need God for every situation in my life. I can certainly handle a few things on my own. After all, I have been a Christian for a number of years now, so if I forget to pray today, I will still be able to make wise choices. Right? Ultimately I will end up doing what I think is the right thing and saying what I think is the right thing if I think like this.

This independence of thought is a temptation of sorts, is it not? It is an allure of independence that tells me that I do not need God in every case. And temptation is a lie that takes effort to refute. In fact I do need Him to help me. Every day I need to operate with the assumption that I do not always know what is best for myself. As Paul wrote in Romans 7:16: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”

So does this mean that I am paralyzed from action? Should I be afraid to make decisions or take actions? As Paul would say, “Certainly not!” Rather, a meditative and prayerful knowledge of God’s will and His presence ought to always be in the back of my mind. If my conscience is a building, God is the architect. When I weigh the pros and cons of a tough decision, God holds the scales. If He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, how could I not consult Him? ‭Revelation‬ ‭22:12-13‬: ““And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”” God knows all!

‭I retain confidence in my ability to live life as life comes, but I do so relying on the strength and wisdom provided by almighty God. 

In closing of tonight’s study and this wonderful book of Judges, we will look at three short verses that will serve as an explanation on how to live with God directing your steps. First consider ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭10:23: “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”

We know that we need help from God in living our life. Left up to me, selfishness, petty actions, jealousies, gossip and ill will abound soon enough. So then, I need to invite God to help me live and rely on His strength to stay away from sin: “Direct my steps by Your word, And let no iniquity have dominion over me.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭119:13

When I make a conscious effort to have God play that role in my life, He will guide me to all the success I could ever want: “A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”‭‭ Proverbs‬ ‭16:9‬

Judges 20: Battling Tribes

After the children of Israel saw the results of the sin that took place in Gibeah, they assembled armies and prepared for retribution. The man whose concubine died tells them the story of what happened and the armies commit to taking vengeance on Gibeah, where the concubine was victimized by the evil men.

The tribe of Benjamin resides in or near Gibeah. The other tribes together inquire of them about the wicked deed. They also ask the tribe of Benjamin to hand over the evil men. But instead Benjamin took up arms against the other children of Israel. 

Judah is decreed to go first into battle. The children of Israel are defeated twice by the forces of Benjamin, each time asking God whether they should continue fighting. God says yes each time. The third time they ask, God says yes once more and also says that He will deliver Benjamin into their hands. 

Using a new battle strategy was the providential tool needed to defeat Benjamin on this third day. The children of Israel took the city of Gibeah and set the whole city up in smoke. They chased the Benjamites, killing and pursuing them into the wilderness. Only 600 Benjamites escaped to the rock of Rimmon for about four months. The Israelites continued hunting down and killing Benjamites among the cities, burning every city they came to.

This violence served to repay the evil that took place in Gibeah under Benjamin. In light of so much carnage, what is the spiritual application for this chapter? Well, there is a sequence that we can follow, revealing learning opportunities from these events:

– Had the Israelites driven out all of the inhabitants of the land as instructed by God, this evil influence would not have manifested

– Had the Benjamites been true to God, they would not have endorsed and protected the sinful activity taking place in Gibeah

– The punishment of the city of Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin, however horrible and severe, cannot compare with eternal punishment, where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47-48)

These last chapters of the book of Judges are sobering, but let that not take away from their importance: to ignore God is not only folly, to ignore God is death. 

Take comfort, rest and instruction then from the Lord. In Him are all the answers, protection and love that a soul could ever need. God is great and merciful and His grace reaches every one of us that seek it. 

Tonight let us conclude this study of Judges 20 with an uplifting meditation on God’s salvation of His people, for those that follow, have faith and obey. As we read this chapter, compare the discussion of the righteous and the wicked with the children of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin and Gibeah the wicked city. Also consider the battle that rages daily in the human heart, the struggle to do what is right amidst a sea of temptations. Commit to righteousness!

Psalm 17

“Hear a just cause, O LORD, Attend to my cry; 

Give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips. 

Let my vindication come from Your presence; Let Your eyes look on the things that are upright. 

You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. 

Concerning the works of men, By the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer. 

Uphold my steps in Your paths, That my footsteps may not slip. 

I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech. 

Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them. 

Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings, From the wicked who oppress me, From my deadly enemies who surround me. 

They have closed up their fat hearts; With their mouths they speak proudly. They have now surrounded us in our steps; They have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth, As a lion is eager to tear his prey, And like a young lion lurking in secret places. 

Arise, O LORD, Confront him, cast him down; Deliver my life from the wicked with Your sword, With Your hand from men, O LORD, From men of the world who have their portion in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure. 

They are satisfied with children, And leave the rest of their possession for their babes. 

As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.”