Protection: Psalm 91 and the Armor of God

For tonight’s study, let us contrast two different ideas from the Old and New Testaments.

As we will see, both of the readings are on the topic of protection. But the manner of protection and what we would be protected from are slightly different. In fact, there are some lessons to be learned as well from the overall application of the Old and New Testaments in these two small passages.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 91 first. Overall, these sixteen verses are a long if/then statement. If you “make the Lord your dwelling place,” He will protect you from danger, physical calamity, and evil. What does it mean to “make the Lord your dwelling place?” There are answers to this question throughout Psalm 91. From verse two, we know that it requires that we trust God. And from verse fifteen, we should call on Him in prayer. These two ideas mean that we understand and believe without doubt that God not only has the power to protect us, but that He will protect us when we seek Him in prayer.

From what does God protect us? The “snare of the fowler,” “perilous pestilence,” and “terror” are some of the examples given. The existence of these threats suggests an ongoing war for our loyalty. There are forces that are aiming to bring us down, to discourage us and make us weaker. Agents of the devil that seek to disrupt through chaos, dishonest gain, and destruction surely will cause us fear, but when we trust in God and go to Him for help in prayer, “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.” An important component of God’s protection in particular is truth. While other forces of power stand on dubious foundations, God has the market cornered on truth, inspiring confidence and stability in all that He touches and influences. Truth will protect us. As long as we accept God and have confidence that truth originates from Him, we are protected by Him and our confidence in God is complete. The satisfaction and calm that comes from knowing that we trust in and worship the one true God is deeply gratifying and allays all manner of personal worry and trepidation.

Psalm 91 ends with verses 14-16, which make a narrative change to the voice of the chapter. Until verse 14, the Psalmist (likely David), was speaking to the reader the encouraging words of seeking God for protection. But in the last three verses, the voice of God takes over and we experience the words coming directly from God: “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation.”

The lessons of Psalm 91 are valuable, if not somewhat general. The action items for us are to trust that God can and will protect us, and to call on Him in prayer to do so. If we do, then we will prevail while many others all around us fall prey to the wiles of the devil and his machinations. In turn, God protects us with His angels and providence.

The New Testament reading for our study is from Ephesians 6:10-18 and concerns the armor of God. This passage goes deeper than Psalm 91. As the various pieces of the armor of God are listed and explained, the Word of God asks us to understand all of the advantages that faith in God provides. The pieces of armor and what they symbolize guard against wickedness and temptation.

One standout difference between Psalm 91 and the armor of God in the New Testament is the dangers that they protect from. In Psalm 91, the dangers come from outside ourselves in the form of external threats like the fowler, pestilence, and terror. While the dangers repelled by the armor of God have physical threats also, more often mentioned are the spiritual ones such as rulers of darkness, spiritual hosts of wickedness, and the fiery darts of the wicked one. The battle to be fought in the present time is one that is internal, warring against powers of evil that seek to corrupt us and tear us away from God. Be it slowly or dramatically, the powers of evil want to separate us from God’s protection. And the perfect list of tools in God’s armor show us how to use God’s spiritual blessings to win the daily battles that seek to bring us down.

  • Belt of truth
    • A belt holds our clothes together. It tightens and strengthens, holding close what is important for protection. If we are wayward in our convictions or assumptions, our protection will falter. The surety of truth in God brings a confidence that increases our safety and protection against evil forces.
  • Breastplate of righteousness
    • Righteousness is that virtuous quality that revels in doing and being good, as defined by God. Right ways of thinking, right ways of judging, right ways of acting: all of these things are determined by how righteous we are. We obtain righteousness by listening to God, keeping His statutes, and seeking to do the right thing in every case. If we are righteous, our heart is protected against the efforts of the devil.
  • Shoes of the Gospel of Peace
    • The Good News of Jesus Christ is the information that has the power to save mankind. If we use the knowledge of Christ as a purpose to travel and protect our way, God will make a peaceful path for us. This means keeping the knowledge of Christ at the forefront and seeking to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18).
  • Shield of Faith
    • Our faith is a belief that sustains us as we move forward along the difficult path of life. Faith in God will make mountains seem like anthills and will easily repel the foolish efforts of the devil to tempt us away from the care of Almighty God. We must believe that God can save us, and He will.
  • Helmet of Salvation
    • This is the sure and secure knowledge that God has saved us through Jesus Christ. The trust in our relationship with God though Jesus (the state of our salvation) brings a confidence that can come from nowhere else. To have our head protected by the knowledge of salvation is to rejoice in the invaluable grace of God that saves us and compels our lifelong obedience.
  • Sword of the Spirit
    • This may be our most valuable piece of armor. The Sword of the Spirit can be understood as the Word of God, our Holy Bible. There is no other book like it on earth, and we get from it all we need to live a faith-based life in service to God. It can be used as a weapon or as a defense. It can cut our attacker as well as ourselves. The book of God is the vital communication from our Creator that sustains, protects, and propels us to righteousness.

These armor pieces, when properly assembled by us in our faithful pursuit of God, will create righteous people whose lives compose a beautiful song for God. 100% protection from every threat and danger of life (physical and spiritual) is not assured, as trials increase our faith and are often part of God’s plan for our spiritual journey. But protection from easily escapable and highly dangerous afflictions is promised if we don the whole armor of God.

Lastly mentioned (although debatable whether truly in the list or not) is prayer. Prayer and truth are those common threads running between Psalm 91 and the armor of God. Prayer and trusting the Bible comprise our daily path to Him that shores up our protection.

Taken together, Psalm 91 and Ephesians 6:10-18 promise us protection from God if and when we seek Him. One is more general and physical, while the next is more specific and detailed. Both of these rich passages have a lot of encouragement and comfort to offer. Truly, we are missing out on the most valuable protection available if we do not take advantage of these rich blessings offered to us by God.

Romans 6: You Will Serve Something

This chapter is so very thick with meaning. It has applications to our daily lives and it is simply astounding that it is still relevant after having been written so long ago. Its relevance is a testament to its divine authorship. Who else but God could have handed to His creation something so deep and powerfully meaningful? This chapter pulls us out of our physical state and speaks to us on spiritual terms, waking us up to the spirit inside of us and how to direct it to God.

The previous chapter ended with the exposition that the law was put in place to reveal man’s sin. The law, being inadequate to remove our sins, was replaced by the law of grace under God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is the context for the beginning question of this chapter: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul answers his own question with an emphatic “Certainly not!” The passion here comes from the onus that is put on us to appreciate the free gift of salvation from God through Jesus and not to deny the effort and impact of the event by continuing in our sin. How could we, with clear consciences, continue in sin knowing of the perfect and sinless sacrifice that was offered on our behalf?

In verses 1-14, the instruction consists of the following primary ideas:

  • The importance and meaning of baptism

Through baptism we receive the blessings of Jesus Christ: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” These verses make it plain: how are we to come in contact with salvation through Jesus if not through baptism? There is also an idea here about how we are changed through salvation, with Jesus as our model. Note the comparison of Christ’s death and raising to our own spiritual death in the waters of baptism, only to raise up with new life.

  • The importance of leaving sin behind

Once we have our new life in Christ, sin has no part in it. A theme is begun here on slavery to sin, which is a component of the bigger idea that we are meant for service. One way or another, you will serve a master and this essence boiled down is the idea that we will serve either God or Satan, either righteousness or sin. These two macro ideas of course have many subtexts and serving Satan can look a lot like NOT serving Satan due to the trickery of temptation and the infinite guises of righteousness that sin can take. Serving righteousness is often simpler but also more difficult. Our encouragement here is to point our hearts, minds, spirits, actions, purpose, and energies toward God and away from self, from fruitless distractions, and from influences without a godly component. A good rule of thumb here to get us started can be taken from Phillippians 4:8-9: “…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

  • Use your abilities in the service of God

The language in verse 13 is fresh and compelling: “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The vague meaning of “instruments” is intentionally wide-reaching. The ideas are building on Christ’s raising from the dead. Now that we have been baptized into Jesus Christ’s death, we are encouraged to use all of our faculties for good. This includes our mental skills, our physical energies, our limbs, our speech, our feet, our words, our kindness. Free will means freedom of thought, movement, and action. God has bestowed us with this blessing that feels all too common to us. The “radical” idea here is to use our freedom to honor our Creator. We are meant to ask ourselves: What rules my body? Is it my desire to follow God or do I give my physical desires free reign to rule my body? What rules my thoughts? What do I care about? What concerns me? All of these questions, answered honestly, will give us an indication of where we are spiritually with our God. Am I near to Him or am I drifting away?

Verses 15-23 play a devil’s advocate of sorts. Since we have God’s grace that forgives sin through our relationship with Jesus, this means that all of our sins, past and future, are bound to be forgiven! Right!? Wrong. Paul explains to the Romans here (and not so gently) that since they are now in the relationship with Jesus, they have now become slaves of righteousness, having been set free from sin. Returning to willful sin dissolves the relationship of grace from God through Jesus Christ, for as we know from Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”

Here again is the responsibility we have to use our faculties in service to God, and not to simply bask in His grace, hoping for forgiveness: “For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” The message is clear: after we believe and commit ourselves to God through Jesus, we are to serve God with the physical, mental and spiritual gifts with which He has blessed us.

As the chapter concludes, Paul follows the logical result of the paths of sin and righteousness. The fruits and wages of sin are death, pure and simple. But when we pursue righteousness and virtue, we receive holiness and everlasting life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Put in these terms, the right choice to pursue righteousness and turn away from sin is obvious. It is easy to see, but difficult to practice. I pray for our success as slaves of righteousness.

Romans 5: Ramifications of Justification through Faith

Romans 4, having convinced us of the importance of faith, gives way to Romans 5, where some of the most valuable benefits of faith are explained. Once we believe and obey God through Jesus, we can expect justification. The first 5 verses of this chapter establish a beautiful framework of peace, grace, and hope:

  • Peace with God
    • Made possible by Jesus Christ
  • God’s grace imparted to us
    • Made possible through Christ by faith
  • We stand in God’s grace and rejoice in the hope of His glory
  • We value the challenges that come as the result of living with faith because:
    • Tribulation produces perseverance
    • Perseverance produces character
    • Character produces hope
    • Hope sustains us because it comes from the love of God through the Holy Spirit

Verses 6-11 reveal in detail the role that Christ’s death has in our justification. Because of the sacrifice of His death, we have justification of our sins. Even though we were still in the depths of our sin, God still loved us enough to send Christ to die for us. This reconciliation for us back to God ought to produce profound gratitude.

Adam’s role in our spiritual journey is detailed in the next verses as follows: through him sin entered the world and all mankind experience the consequences of being born to work and die under the sun. From Adam to Moses death had free reign as there was no law to bring sin to light. But after the law was established, sin was made apparent and man’s spiritual dilemma was obvious. There are two equations in verse 16, which can be expressed as follows:

  1. One offense (Adam’s sin) + God’s judgment = condemnation
  2. Many offenses (mankind’s sin in total) + Christ’s sacrifice = justification

Verse 16 explains the condition of sin and forgiveness in this way to illuminate how lopsided our relationship is with God in terms of effort. Where a single sin is enough to condemn one man and create consequences for all mankind, the single sacrifice of God’s Son alleviates all sins in a single act, resulting in our justification. Other than instilling within each of us a deep well of gratitude, the presentation of these facts will also lead us to admiration and a desire to model our lives on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Verses 17-19 build on these ideas, concluding with the unmistakable reference to Christ: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” The first “one man” is of course Adam, and the second “one Man” is of course Jesus.

The final two verses of this chapter tell us yet more about the role of the old law. While it is expected that some of us have the idea that the animal sacrifices given for sins under the old law were meant to “make up” or atone for sin, Paul reveals that the role of the law was actually quite different. For as it says in Hebrews 10:4 that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, we ask ourselves, then why did God have His people in the Old Testament sacrifice bulls and goats for their sins? The answer given here is that the law was meant to expose sin, to bring more attention to the frequency that mankind disobeyed God. Where sin exists, so does death, but under the gospel of Jesus Christ, sin ushers in grace, which easily justifies the sin of all mankind who believe in God. A statement from the commentary of Matthew Henry sums up the final verses of Romans 5 very well: “…the terrors of the law make gospel comforts the more sweet.”

Romans 5 climaxes nicely with this revelation of the role of the old law while also giving us some wonderful insights into how faith can make us stronger children of God. What else can we do with these explanations but try and increase our faith in God? How deep does my faith go? Does it truly permeate every aspect of my life, or do I stop it in some spots (particularly where it would cause me to make changes I do not want to make)? The faith spoken of by Paul in this chapter is a faith that is absolute and total. If I believe in God as He would have me to, I will put the totality of my life in His hands, leaving little or (preferably) nothing for myself. It is within Him that we can find our true identity, and not some identity that we fancy to fashion for ourselves which will be ultimately inferior and lacking in meaning. Give Him your all, for He gave His Son for you!

Romans 4: Faith Begets Righteousness

After having dispelled the constraints of the old law to a degree in the previous chapter, Paul now moves to explaining some of the context and consequences of the evolution of God’s plan for men in the form of some great patriarchs from the past: Abraham and David.

Righteousness does not come from the works of the law, it comes from having faith. Paul is saying this as a way to both encourage new Gentile believers and to decrease judgment from their Jewish counterparts. If the Gentiles feel, or are made to feel that they are inadequate because of their past as non-Jews, they need not worry or feel this way. Paul explains that righteousness comes from their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. To support this point, Paul quotes from the book of Genesis: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” For us today, the meaning is the same. Under the new law and the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not our good deeds that save us. Rather, it is our faith in Him that saves us, as His sacrifice alone is what can atone for our sins in the sight of God’s wrath at our selfish choices. Our good deeds, our kind works, our efforts at doing god can neither produce righteousness nor can they save our eternal souls. It is our belief and confidence in Jesus Christ that saves us, a relationship that is established in the watery grave of baptism. We do not produce our own righteousness in this sense; rather, we take part in the righteousness of Jesus.

Perhaps to the surprise of these New Testament Christians, there is precedent in the Word of God for men to be justified by their faith apart from works. To amplify this concept, Paul again quotes from the Old Testament, this time quoting the much-revered King David from Psalm 32:1-2: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Paul’s mastery of language, relationships, and intellect is apparent as he calls on two “witnesses,” Abraham and David, to testify that justification is accomplished through faith. Many of the Jews in Rome would perhaps have been looking askance at the Gentiles, whom they could have perceived as “johnny-come-latelys” to the throne of God without having put in the work required by Old Testament law. Paul is working hard to explain to the Jews how all are justified under faith, using language and constructs that would have been familiar and convincing to them. As an aside, Paul’s clever use of Jewish law and customs to explain faith’s role in man’s relationship to God should not represent a direct credit to Paul, but rather a direct credit to God, who (as He often does) selected the best tool in the toolbox to accomplish His will on the earth.

Paul goes further to explain faith’s role in verses 9-12 with the relationship it has to circumcision. For many years, circumcision was the physical sign of a man of God. And while the Jewish people took this commandment of God very seriously (to their credit, for their staunch obedience to God is admirable), Paul explains that it is not the act of circumcision nor is it the state of being circumcised that increased their righteousness. Rather, it was their faith that brought righteousness. Abraham then, is not only the father of all of the Jewish people that were circumcised to obey God’s command, but he is also the father of all of those who are faithful but not uncircumcised. Faith is the most important part of the equation. Circumcision seems to have been a test of that faith, to prove to God that their faith was worthy His blessings. But under the new law of grace, righteousness is awarded through faith.

The final section of chapter 4 in verses 13-25 examines the superiority of faith over works, couched in the idea that all men have access to God. If not heirs of Abraham through works, then we are heirs of his through faith. And Abraham’s examples of faithfulness are many, Paul exemplifying the instance when Abraham believed that he and Sara could become parents at such advanced ages when they beget Isaac. Paul then neatly ties a bow on this discussion by bringing the focus back to the present: “Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”

For us, this discussion means gratitude to God for Jesus, a confident understanding of faith’s place in our religion, and the knowledge that every man and woman is welcome to come to God. We are not the authors of our salvation, nor do we accomplish our salvation. Instead, we humbly submit and believe in Him. Through the actions of Jesus Christ, God greatly simplified the entire process for us, and that feat deserves no end to our gratitude and thanksgiving.

Romans 3: All Have Sinned

The discussion from the end of chapter 2 on circumcision continues as Paul elaborates on how to think about it under the new law. Where, under the old law, circumcision was a physical indicator of loyalty to God, now under the new law circumcision gives way to faith. The question is no longer “are you circumcised?”, but is rather, “Do you believe?” Faith, having rightly replaced circumcision in the new law, it is the path to God. For God alone is righteous in that He knows not sin.

In verses 1-20, Paul is contending with a frame of mind that would seem to think that man in some cases is justified to sin. Rather than being justified in sin, however, our sin in fact “demonstrates the righteousness of God” in that God punishes for sin. We do not have a “right” to sin. In fact, our rights as the created start and end in the arena of properly recognizing our God, heeding His statutes and commandments, and living for Him with grateful hearts. This theme establishes two incontrovertible facts about our Creator:

  • Based on His identity and nature, God is justified to judge and punish
  • Unbelief in God does not nullify His faithfulness to His people to both reward righteousness and punish sin

The passages that Paul quotes in verses 10-18 are taken from the books of Psalms and Ecclesiastes and are meant to underscore man’s tendency to sin and ignore the teachings of God. Under the law, man was forever corrupt and justification for sin was impossible.

But in verse 21, Paul turns a corner in addressing how the righteousness of God is made apparent apart from the law, namely through Jesus. Where there was no justification for sin in the old law, we have the forgiveness of our sins under the new. In fact, the passage elucidates how the sins under the old law were “passed over” so that the forgiveness in grace through Jesus Christ could be demonstrated with the new law. We are justified in our sins, those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ. This does not allow for the continuation of willing sin, but justifies us in our past sins, and the onus is on each of us to repent and live for righteousness’ sake in the eyes of our benevolent God.

It all boils down to the idea that “man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” This means that all of the works required by the old law (sacrifices and the like) did nothing to cleanse souls from the corruption of sin. Instead, it is the faith in God through Jesus Christ that absolves sin. And this is true for all men. In closing this chapter, Paul makes the point that the law is not forgotten or forsaken by virtue of the new law of faith in Jesus Christ; rather the law is established and made perfect under the new law.

Romans 2: What is Righteous Judgment?

As Paul continues his letter to the Christians in Rome, he delves into the themes of judgment, hypocrisy and circumcision. Since God’s wrath is turned on unrighteousness, His judgment is predicated on the presence of righteousness. Make no mistake, it is God’s responsibility and solely His responsibility to judge. We are without excuse if we choose to judge our fellow man. The reason is because we ourselves are guilty of the same sins, whether it is apparent to us, and whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not.

God is better suited to judge because He judges according to truth. Our judgment can be very often tainted by self-seeking motives and an inadequate understanding of truth (only seeing things one way rather than in totality).

If we relent from judging others and instead meditate on how the grace of God can cover their sins, we are left with a healthier spiritual state than if we were to remain in judgment. Thinking on how “the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering” will help those whom we judge as well as ourselves leaves us thinking about God’s grace and leads us to humility. Compare that with the self-serving feeling of superiority we receive when standing in judgment of others. Which is better for your soul?

Much better not to dwell in judgment of others and instead to patiently do good and by so doing seek glory, honor and immortality. The text is unkind to selfish people that do not obey the truth: “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil.”

It follows logic and more importantly is aligned with God’s guidance to decide to restrain from judging others because God, who is truth and has full knowledge of truth, is best equipped to administer judgment. In fact, we do our souls and our eternal future a disservice when we judge others: “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?” For more enlightening discourse on this type of judgment, see the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Paul goes on to describe how the law of God is written in the heart of man. Within verses 12-16 is a tangle of mystery addressing the conscience of man, the knowledge man has of the law of God without having read it, and how “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (“my gospel” meaning the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul was preaching)

We conclude this first section of chapter two by recognizing that judgment ought to be solely the domain of God. We are not properly suited for truly righteous judgment. Our perspective and ability to judge are corrupted by micro and macro prejudices, which opens us up to further judgment ourselves in the face of God’s commandment to not only love our neighbors but also our enemies. While we may not fully understand how God’s judgment is applied to those that have not heard or read His law, we believe Him when He says it is written in their hearts and we also trust in God, that He will exact righteous judgment upon each and every man and woman.

For the Jews in Rome, Paul has a special message in verses 17-24. In the context of judgment from the previous verses, Paul warns against hypocrisy. The Jews had the reputation of not practicing what they preached. Paul is exhorting them to be worthy of the knowledge of God that they had, because “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” This is a theme that Paul could expound readily, having been a high caste Jew himself, formerly persecuting and killing Christians. The warning is one that should not be lost on us today, for it is so terribly easy to judge and equally as easy to look the other way when we practice that which we judge.

The final section of this chapter discusses circumcision. The practice of circumcision was meant to identify God’s people as part of the old law, but Paul argues now that circumcision is useless if it is done in physical practice only. Under the new law and the gospel of Jesus Christ, the true test is what is in our heart. The outward sign has lost its meaning in the new law under Jesus Christ.

Romans 1: A Sermon in a Greeting

Introduction to Romans

Romans is a very important epistle in the New Testament. The word “epistle” means letter, and the apostle Paul’s letter to the group of Christians meeting in Rome contains many, many principles of the Christian faith that have persuaded men and women to become children of God since it was written.

At the time of Paul writing this letter, he had not yet been to Rome. It is estimated that the book was written in the autumn of 57 A.D. The guidance and theological content of the letter suggests that Roman Christians would benefit from both the general and the specific tenets of Christianity that Paul elaborates on in this letter. Chapters 14 and 15 suggest that the Romans also would benefit from lessons in living harmoniously with one another. As is the case today, the gospel of Jesus Christ brought many people of differing backgrounds and faiths together. The subjugation to one another in love that Paul compels will have helped these early Christians living in the huge city of Rome.

However great the impact was on the Christians in Rome that received this letter, the impact of the letter on the whole of the world since is much greater.

. . .

In a feat common for Paul that we will revisit as this book wears on, he compacts information into statements that would take some other men volumes to organize. In the first six verses, Paul orders a sequence that calls attention to his own apostleship, specifies the divinity of Jesus Christ, and explains in short order how God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus created an environment that provides grace for all of sinful man.

The saints in Rome most likely had returned there after the events of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Their faith was widely known throughout the world. Verses 8-15 show us how deeply Paul cares for the Christians in Rome. Although he has not yet visited them there, he intends to so that he can shore up their faith with preaching and instruction. Paul’s prayer for the Romans is that he can come to them, as he considers it his responsibility to educate them on the gospel of Jesus Christ. His commitment to the truth, and to having faithful believers properly understand the nature of God and Jesus Christ is apparent in his messaging throughout.

In fact, as much as Paul stands on and believes in the gospel, he confirms to them that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This statement suggests that some had reason to be ashamed of the gospel. Likely this was due to the political and cultural events surrounding the death of Jesus. Many Romans would have thought it too fantastical or ridiculous, many Jews thought it sacrilegious, and other pagan worshippers might have thought the “new” Christian ideology foolish. Despite this environment, Paul sets a stellar example for the Romans by speaking out strongly: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” The quote, “The just shall live by faith” is from Habakkuk 2:4, where it says in kind: “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” The contrast of pride and living by faith is an interesting choice for Paul to give to the Romans. The new Christians, with the very fresh knowledge of Jesus, needed guidance on how to think about and model their new faith. They were surely zealous and inspired by the knowledge of Jesus, but outside cultural pressure and judgment can bring a heavy load. Paul, by modeling a life lived by faith, instills confidence in their perspective on Christ while also bringing to light that the gospel is free for all people, Jew and Greek alike.

Although we are just getting started in Romans, verses 18-32 present a powerhouse of clarity on the gospel and how to live as a believer. He begins by dispelling the notion that knowledge of God’s presence and power are unknown to His creation. From verse 18-23, Paul explains how God’s existence is plain in His creation, “even His eternal power and Godhead.” He is explaining to the Roman Christians that even people that have not heard from others about God still have knowledge of God. The reason that people do not submit to God is due to their own foolish notions. They exchange obedience and their obligation to glorify God for their own faulty wisdom and for a belief in the corruptible creation of God. Paul’s primary point here is that it is obvious to discern that this world was created by an all-powerful creator, but people selfishly pursue their own desires instead of properly glorifying God. Also, in lieu of glorifying God, people glorify His fallible, temporary, and corruptible creation.

Because people have substituted God’s creation for God, God leaves the people to dwell in their sin, and in fact allows that sin to spiral into yet more deplorable conditions. The sin of homosexuality is called out in particular here. Make no mistake, this is not Paul’s opinion, nor is it presented as a viable alternative lifestyle. Homosexuality among men and women is not only a sin, but serves as a punishment for those that have dwelled long without honoring their Creator.

Barring this deplorable condition, Paul explains how God allows people to experience yet more depths of alienation. As long as people do not keep God in mind and at least honor Him properly, He will give them up to additional punishments, filling them with:

  • Unrighteousness
  • Sexual immorality
  • Wickedness
  • Covetousness
  • Maliciousness
  • Envy
  • Murder
  • Strife
  • Deceit
  • Evil-mindedness

None of these characteristics serve to fill the mind, heart, and soul with joy and happiness. God’s creation, which is meant to glorify Him in righteousness, instead is transformed through their arrogance and negligence into “whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful…”

The irony for man is that by leaving God and seeking himself, man thinks that He has obtained freedom, but in fact He has only created his own shackles. The newly Christian Romans, living in a debased and corrupt society, would have benefitted from these frank descriptions of how God punishes those that choose to ignore Him.

Sadly, these concepts are all too apparent in the society we live in today. Homosexuality, which was once publicly abhorrent is now spread far and wide as a virtuous right. The values of humility and honoring parents are difficult to find and people that invent evil things are treasured and lifted up.

The good news is that as Christians, these current cultural mores are neither our spiritual reality nor our spiritual legacy. We stand firm in the knowledge of Holy and Almighty God and we hold righteousness as our value, pursuing holy and pure minds and hearts as we do our best to live for eternity.  

Exodus 40: The Tabernacle Complete

Finally, at long last, the Tabernacle is fully complete and the people can assemble its various parts and pieces in working order. God speaks to Moses and commands that all of the pieces of the tabernacle be put together. Here are the steps that are taken to finally establish the tabernacle:

  • Put up the tent walls
  • Put in the ark of the covenant and partition it with the veil
  • Bring in and set up the table
  • Bring in the lamp and light it
  • Set up the altar for incense
  • Set up the altar for burnt offerings
  • Set up the laver and fill it with water
  • Set up the court and the court gate
  • Anoint the tabernacle and its utensils
  • Consecrate the altar and the laver
  • Anoint Aaron and his sons, as high priest and priests

Moses competed all of these activities and once He did, God made good on His promise to continue to guide the people and also showed His approval of the tabernacle as it says in verse 34: “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

The cloud of the Lord covered the tabernacle by day and the fire of the Lord was over it by night. This was God’s message and assurance to the people that He would ever be with them. His protection was not just theoretical; it was real, practiced, and visible. While the cloud was over top of the tabernacle, Moses could not enter and the people would not travel. Such was the guidance from God.

In this closing chapter of Exodus, we have not an ending but a beginning. It is the beginning of God’s people’s journey to the promised land. They have failed Him already and their lack of faith will cause them to fail God many times over as they travel. But let this be a humble reminder to each of us. If we feel the desire to criticize them for their weaknesses and proclivity towards fickle faith, may we all be reminded of the times we turned our back on the Lord in favor for the hollow and worthless things of this world.

Exodus 39: Priestly Garments and Tabernacle Assembly

Here at the penultimate chapter of Exodus we have what is basically the completion of the construction of the tabernacle and its primary components, especially the priestly garments. Exodus 40 finishes up some details, but with this chapter, all of the heavy lifting is completed.

Themes that we can learn from this chapter do not differ greatly from themes of the previous chapters:

  • The dedication of God’s people to exactly follow His instructions
  • The temple represents God’s presence among the people in the Old Testament
  • Christ represents God’s presence among the people in the New Testament

The importance of the priestly garments is obvious in this chapter. The first thirty-one verses detail out the making of the ephod, the breastplate, and the other garments with all of their detail of colored threads, stones, and chains. There was so much woven work for Aaron and his sons, and the importance of the details of incorporating the tribes, sanctification, and representation each play their part to assemble the clothes of this high holy priest.

Putting together the tabernacle and assembling all of its various parts, each with their own element of meaning, must have been very rewarding for everyone involved. In previous chapters, we have discussed how the tabernacle can be interpreted for today in New Testament times to signify the modern church or Christ. In this chapter, though, as we witness the tabernacle being assembled with all its different parts and pieces, each playing a different role, it is hard not to be reminded of the modern church. The modern kingdom of God, the final dispensation here on earth is His church, the bride of Christ. As we endeavor to serve and worship God following New Testament examples and commandments, our assemblage is not unlike that of the temple. Indeed, God did purpose each one of us to have a job in the kingdom:

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:12-16

For Moses and the people, this was all about pleasing the Almighty God. God, who saved them from slavery and guided them to safety. God, who killed or blessed in the blink of an eye and did so with finality. The people of Israel still have a very long way to go towards knowing their God. They will cling to and deny Him over and over again as the years come.

But we are blessed in the full knowledge of God. We have the revelation of Jesus Christ and the blessing of the knowledge of salvation through Him. The children of Israel worshipped God, who seemed out of reach yet there were signs of Him all around. For us, we miss the visible signs of God, but we live blessed with the full knowledge of the plan of our God to save us.

Exodus 38: Tabernacle Almost Complete

The dedication of both the people and the artisans is expressed in this chapter as we read of the construction of the altar, the laver, and the court. Most impressive in this chapter is the description of the amounts of bronze and silver. The people had indeed given much; so much that their wealth was translated into the obedience as the tabernacle and its artifacts were constructed of large volumes of precious materials.

Bezalel and Aholiab continue to fashion the tabernacle and its materials exactly according to the specifications of God’s instruction.

The descriptions of the volume of silver and brass denote both the immense value of the tabernacle and the seriousness with which it was to be regarded. In concept, it is not unlike descriptions heaven from the book of Revelation where there are streets paved with gold and the foundations are adorned with precious jewels.

We will get further into Revelation 21 as a companion study to Exodus 39, but for now let us take a look at verses 3-8 of that chapter. In this passage, we have a simple and clear description of how there will no longer be the need for a tabernacle because God Himself will be among the people in the form of His Son Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, the adornment, beauty and majesty of the tabernacle described in Exodus are great, and the fact that God made arrangements to be in the presence of the people through the tabernacle is also wonderful, but this earthly construction does not compare with the saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ, the final revelation of God’s plan to redeem the righteous:

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.””

It would have been wonderful to be one of the Israelites, witnessing Moses come down from the mountain, the peoples’ repentance, and the construction of the tabernacle. But we have the greater blessing today as recipients of the full knowledge of God’s perfect plan to save us through the sacrifice of His Son. The sober warning of Hell compels us to act hastily in obedience to God, to pursue righteousness and purity of heart and thought, for we do not know what the future holds!