Welcome to Looking Up

The name of this blog is taken from Luke 21:28 where Jesus says: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Exodus 13:9 – A Sign on Hand & Forehead

As Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, God communicated several key points He wanted them to recognize.  They were to remember this day through the eating of unleavened bread and the consecration of their firstborn.  God wanted them to know that He was bringing them into a land of His choosing through this Exodus, and during the journey they would face various foes.  The promise, however, was their destination as a land of milk and honey, and of freedom.  It would be good, but it would also be necessary in the future to tell their children so that they understood their heritage and destiny.

For their remembrance, God indicated that the Hebrews should do something as a physical sign.  He told them in Exodus 13:9:

“And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt.”

He repeated that admonition in Exodus 13:16:

“It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”

What was the point?

We see His purpose in the second half of each verse.  The Israelites were to know that Yahweh delivered them.  It was by His hand that they gained their freedom.  None of the gods they had known in Egypt did this; the people hadn’t done it under their own power.  God wanted them to realize they were His, and His alone.  Yahweh was the author of their freedom.  Through this physical remembrance, they were to get their hearts right now and into the future, and in so doing, they were to worship and glorify the Lord of their salvation.

In the time of Jesus we see this practice having evolved into a religious, legal obligation among the observant Jews.  In their times of prayer, they strapped phylacteries onto their foreheads and arms with portions of the Torah inside these little boxes as a reminder to keep the Law.  Religious Jews have continued this custom to this day.

This sign on a Jew’s hand or forehead tells him that he belongs to Yahweh.  It reminds him of his redemption and who is his God.

In the Tribulation, Satan will use a similar device.  The devil isn’t particularly innovative.  He likes to copy what God has previously done and twist its purposes.  At the midpoint of the Tribulation, the false prophet will introduce the Mark of the Beast as a means to control the populace by causing people to worship the Antichrist.  The Mark will be something that goes on the back of the hand or on the forehead.  By taking the Mark, Antichrist will accomplish two objectives:

  1. It will be a test of loyalty.  Anyone who takes the Mark chooses Antichrist over Jesus Christ.  Anyone who rejects Jesus and takes the Mark has declared that he follows Satan and worships only him.
  2. By taking the Mark, the recipient gains access to the commercial system of buying and selling.  Without the Mark, he is prevented from engaging in commerce of any sort.  For anyone who has not determined to follow only Jesus, the temptation to take the Mark will be immense.  Only by this sign will he be able to work, to feed his family, or to do anything in the society and culture of that day.

During this final period of human history, all mankind will have the opportunity to make a final, irrevocable choice.  Will a person choose the temporary benefit by taking the Mark, thus enslaving himself to Satan then and forever?  Or will he count the extreme cost of discipleship by refusing the Mark, and in so doing, rely only upon God and His mercy?  More than that, a person doing this will be singled out, persecuted, and likely die.

God in His mercy will deliver all current true believers from this coming wrath through the Rapture of the church.  Those who become followers of Christ during the Tribulation will find God’s mercy and deliverance by demonstrating their believing loyalty to Him in saying no to Satan’s enticing offer of the temporary pleasures of this world.  By standing for God, these new believers will find eternal life.

How much easier we have it today!  We must not let the cares of this world weigh us down.  One of the joys we have is how easy it is for us to follow the Lord.  In tomorrow’s world of the 7-year Tribulation, it will be much more difficult.

We should tell everyone we meet how good God is.  By their choosing  His love and mercy today, He will keep them (and us!) from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole earth.

Exodus 12:12 – Judgments Upon the gods

In delivering His children from the fiery furnace of slavery in Egypt, God had very specific objectives to accomplish through the Exodus.  The Egyptians served other gods.  They did not know or worship Yahweh.  The Hebrew people had lived in that environment for 430 years.  In their verbal history, they knew of Yahweh, but had no personal revelation of Him.  There are varying ideas as to how the 430 years is calculated and how many generations were involved in this timeframe, but the point is that God – the Great I AM – was likely not uppermost in their thoughts.

(Note: If you wish to investigate an interesting rabbit trail, the timeframe of the Exile and the number of generations is explored in these two links from Answers in Genesis and may surprise you – it certainly surprised me:

https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/the-amram-question/

https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/how-long-were-the-israelites-in-egypt/)

As a result of how the gods of Egypt were perceived by both the Egyptians and the Hebrew people, Yahweh needed to take drastic action to get their attention.  The Egyptians placed their faith and trust in their many gods and had no idea there was One greater.  The Hebrews probably didn’t care much because of the burdens of slavery, having likely lost all hope in their heritage.

When Moses showed up proclaiming that Yahweh was greater and demonstrating that fact, God indeed made these two groups realize that the Egyptian gods were worthless and without power or authority.  Exodus 11:3 tells us:

“Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.”

Of course, Moses’ greatness was because of the God he represented.

But, God had another purpose in mind in bringing the plagues and freeing His people.  In the course of the Passover narrative, the Lord declares in Exodus 12:12:

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.”

God’s intent was to execute judgments on all the gods of Egypt, showing definitively that He was Lord over them all.  That had become very clear with every plague He sent that literally belittled the Egyptian gods.  They could do nothing against the Lord, their creator.  God glorified His Name.  The pagan people of Egypt saw that as did the children of Israel.

Despite this, Pharaoh retained a hard and unrepentant heart.  Because he wouldn’t give glory to God, he and his nation suffered the consequences.

In this context, let’s briefly explore Revelation 9:20, which occurs in the midst of the second set of God’s plagues on earth during the Tribulation – the devastating Trumpet Judgments

“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk…”

Notice the similarity with the outcome of the plagues in Egypt.  God does everything He can to awaken mankind to the error of following other gods that have been spawned from the demonic realm.  We know that during the Tribulation, many who did not believe in Jesus prior to its advent, and thus missed the Rapture, come to faith in Him during these awful seven years.  But the cost is high.  The vast majority of these newly minted Christians will lose their lives for their faith.

Because of their hard hearts and the cost of discipleship, most inhabitants of the earth will refuse God’s merciful offer of eternal life with Him in favor of a brief reprieve from despair or death that the world seems to offer.  People will continue following the gods of their imaginations, if not the gods that manifest during this time.  Yet, none of these gods can save.  Regardless, no one will repent.  Their pagan ways will seem the more attractive choice.  But, it will be to their eternal regret.

God makes a way for all people to know and follow Him.  He does it through different means depending on our personal circumstances.  If it was up to Him, He would not allow a single lost sheep to die in the wilderness.  The sad truth is that it’s up to each of us, and many people choose to reject God’s merciful offer of redemption.  For that choice, there are consequences.

As people of God, we know that because of the narrow gate, very few will enter into God’s Kingdom.  Yet, we are to do our part by telling others the Good News.  Let us make sure we obey Jesus by following His command in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

When we do this, we can be assured that God will bless us just as the master did with his faithful servant in Matthew 25:23:

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”

Matthew 18:11 – Missing Verses

Depending on your Bible translation, you may have noticed that periodically throughout the New Testament there are seemingly missing verses.  If you look more closely, you’ll typically see that a footnote on the page says something like “some manuscripts add verse”  so and so, and the verse is shown.  This has caused a number of people through the years to view this situation with suspicion, even going so far as to accuse that these Bible translations without the verses as part of the main text are corrupted.

Is that the case?  Is any translation that doesn’t contain every verse that others have somehow tainted by a grand plot to deceive?  The Gospel of Matthew has three such incidences of missing verses.  Wikipedia lists sixteen such missing verses altogether in the New Testament plus a number of other partial subtractions.

The absent Matthew verses are:

Matthew 17:21

Matthew 18:11

Matthew 23:14

For today, let’s just briefly discuss Matthew 18:11.  Without that verse, the text in context of the ESV translation in Matthew 10-12 reads:

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”

Conversely, the KJV shows:

10 “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

11 “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

12 “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?”

The most infamous of the missing verses occurs in John 7:53-8:11.  The note in many Bible says “The earliest manuscripts do not include” these verses.  What were some translation teams trying to hide?

Well…nothing.

The Bible is the most well documented of any ancient writing.  There are thousands and thousands of complete or partial Scriptural manuscripts.  In the early days, since the printing press wasn’t invented until 1436,  the Word of God spread by the laborious effort of scribes hand copying each and every word of all the books of the Bible.  The New Testament gospels and epistles began in or were sent to one church where they were copied and sent on to another.  The astounding fact of the matter is their consistency, which gives us the assurance that God’s Word is true.  There are minor copy errors, but nothing doctrinal that gives us pause.  However, some of the scribes in the process viewed some passages and believed further explanation was necessary.

In the course of their copying effort, if a scribe wanted to add a little context to a passage, he would often add a margin note.  Thus, for example in Matthew 18, because the scribe was apparently unsatisfied with how the text read, he would have written in the margin the additional words: For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”

Imagine how the copying process occurred.  Let’s say five scribes in different cities each received the same gospel.  Their job was to copy it one or more times to send it on to the next city and perhaps another set of scribes.  If one of the scribes looked at what became Matthew 18 and wanted further explanation in that one little section to pass on, he would have added off to the side in the margin those extra words that made him feel better.

The next or the next scribe down the line would have seen those words.  At some point, one of the scribes would have decided to add them as an integral part of the text.  From that addition, in this instance, verse 11 became the authorized and subsequent manuscript version in this particular copying stream.  That’s likely how the King James ended up with this verse, whereas other manuscripts didn’t.

It can be useful to read different Bible translations.  Some make certain passages easier to understand or, as we’ve been discussing, may add minor context.  There’s nothing sinister about this.  For my part, I take the perspective that God allowed these differences to perpetuate.  As long as a particular Bible translation isn’t knowingly corrupted as some cults have done with their versions, I have no problem with or without the additions.

The important thing is that we actually read our Bible.  God gave us His Word for a purpose, and that wasn’t to sit on a shelf gathering dust.  The Word of God – all of it, Old and New Testaments – gives us everything we need to live for and to serve the One who loves us beyond all measure and has given Himself for our redemption.  Let us honor God by reading and studying His Word.

Exodus 7:5,16 – The God of the Hebrews

The peoples of the earth served gods that were not the Lord God, Yahweh, the great I AM.  Rather, their allegiance was to the sons of God (bene Elohim) who were over the nations.  Following the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11, in which man was disobedient to God and did go out into the world to be fruitful and multiply as He had instructed Noah and his descendants (Genesis 9:1,7), Yahweh came down in displeasure to scatter mankind throughout the earth and confuse his language.  From this event God had finally tired of making himself known to all peoples and determined to raise up a single nation to be His own.  To accomplish this, He did two things which are captured in Deuteronomy 32:8-9.

Note: to understand the Biblical narrative correctly, it’s vital to read these verses in a translation that is true to the original text.  Only the English Standard Version – ESV – uses the Dead Sea Scrolls for this passage – the gold standard for translation – and gives us the true meaning.

“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,

    when he divided mankind,

he fixed the borders of the peoples

    according to the number of the sons of God.

But the Lord’s portion is his people,

    Jacob his allotted heritage.”

In any other Bible except the ESV, the translators make “sons of God” into “sons of Israel” – NIV – or “children of Israel” – KJV.  Reading these verses in this way causes the entire meaning to be lost and brings an incorrect understanding to the overall Biblical narrative.

What are these verses saying?  When God scattered mankind, He placed people into various nations.  At that time, He appointed His divine sons – the sons of God – bene Elohim – to superintend these nations for the purpose of their pointing the hearts of men toward Himself.  Following this, He raised up Israel to be His people, i.e. His allotted heritage.  (This occurs immediately after Babel in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram out of Ur.)

Why is a translation that says the sons or children of Israel were placed over the nations incorrect?  Because God never placed Israel in that position to rule over nations!  They had enough trouble ruling themselves according to God’s commands, let alone direct the course of other countries.  God raised up Israel to be a blessing to nations, not to rule over them (Genesis 12:3; 28:14).

This rebellion among men brought another rebellion among God’s heavenly host.  Psalm 82 shows us God in His Divine Council – among the sons of God – angrily denouncing them for their disobedience.  The sons He had placed over the nations had fallen and rebelled like their divine brothers had earlier in Genesis 6.  In their disobedience, they set themselves up as gods in place of Yahweh.  They received the worship of the nations when they should have deflected it toward God Most High.  (For confirmation of this understanding, we have only to reflect on Daniel 10:13,20 in which the Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece contend with the angel Gabriel as he tries to come to Daniel, but is delayed 21 days because of these evil spiritual rulers.)

All this is background for Moses’ encounter with Pharaoh in Egypt.  The primary wicked spiritual prince over a nation appoints a hierarchy in the divine realm to rule under him (think Ephesians 6:12).  These demonic entities appear as many different gods.  In Egypt there was the river god (of the Nile), a frog god, and a god of every other creature one can imagine.  It was in this environment that the children of Israel had been steeped for 400 years.  Pharaoh was the representative of the gods on earth in Egyptian thinking.  It was against this understanding that Moses was contending.  He had to convince Pharaoh that there was a God above all their other gods, the great I AM who was more powerful than any of the Egyptian deities.

Thus, we see in Exodus 7:5,16 the following:

“The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

“And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed.”

When God turned the Nile River into blood, caused the plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, etc., this action was a polemic, i.e. a hostile attack, on these false, pagan gods.  Yahweh showed Himself as superior to them and He wanted both the Egyptians and the children of Israel to know that there was no other God like Him.

Pharaoh and Egypt end up learning this the hard way.  God’s chosen people have struggled with this concept for all of their existence.  Today most people in the world choose any god but Jesus Christ.  This choice has consequences.  For Pharaoh, it meant his destruction.  For Israel, it has meant millennia of alternating blessings and curses.  For people today it means the difference between heaven and hell.

When we believe God’s Word and trust in Jesus, our eternity is secure.  Let us not follow any other god.  Let us give our hearts to the Lord, the One true God!

Matthew 16:18 – The Gates of Hell

One of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible is Matthew 16:18 where Jesus, speaking to Peter and His disciples, says:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Most of us are aware that the Catholic church has appropriated Jesus’ Words to Peter.  They have misinterpreted them and determined that the rock is Peter himself.  In this delusion, they say that the church was built on and around him as the first pope and Christ’s legitimate representative of God on earth.  Catholicism has built a line of succession on this falsehood in which each new pope is the vicar of Christ, i.e. the earthly representation of Christ on earth.  Thus, the Vatican argues that only the Catholic church is the one true church.  All other churches are corrupted.  Catholic encyclicals, i.e. doctrinal decrees, even curse those (as “anathema”) who do not hold to the teachings of the Vatican.  Thus, the Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther is considered in Catholicism as an aberration.  Those who adhere to any Protestant denomination are wayward, and they must be brought back into the fold by renouncing the “lies” they’ve believed.  This is the basis for the ecumenical movement that has been gathering momentum ever since the 1960s with the First and Second Vatican Councils.

What does this verse really mean?

The area of Caesarea Philippi is in the northeast part of Israel.  The most prominent landmark of the region is Mount Hermon, which towers above everything else with its majestic snow capped peaks.

This is where correctly interpreting Scripture becomes very important.  Mount Hermon is where it is believed that the rebellious sons of God (bene Elohim) descended from heaven to earth to procreate with human women as recounted in Genesis 6:1-4.  Without that proper background, our understanding of Jesus’s statement to Peter becomes flawed.

The foothills of Mount Hermon, in what was previously known as Bashan, were honored by the ancients because of the presence of the gods, i.e. God’s sons who chose to disobey Him and decided to set themselves up as gods in His place.  This was the original sin of Satan.  It was subsequently repeated by other disobedient bene Elohim over the years.

The ruins of a temple to one of these gods is in this place.  It is the temple of Banias, who we know better from Greek mythology as Pan.  This was literally the entrance to the underworld; Hades in the New Testament, Sheol in the Old Testament – hell as we know it.  Jesus stood at this place – on the rocks that comprise this temple.  This was ground zero – the entrance to the demonic headquarters – the gates of hell.

In standing at this very place and making this declaration, Jesus was putting Satan and the entire demonic realm on notice.  God was here on earth.  He intended to take the fight against all evil and destroy it.  The church as the aggressor would be God’s instrument to wage war.  Hell would not prevail.  Through this proclamation, Jesus was telling all the forces of wickedness that their time was short.

One of the reasons Jesus came was to reclaim the nations.  This was the beginning.  The final battle – which won’t actually be a battle at all – will be at the end of the 7-year Tribulation when Jesus returns in glory.  At that time, He will subdue the nations and all demonic entities.  He will destroy all unbelieving mankind with the sharp sword that comes from His mouth – the Word of God – and rule over the nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15).

All may seem to be lost as we observe the world around us today.  Do not fear.  God is sovereign.  He has everything under control.  Jesus will return at just the right time.  Our job – as the church – is to occupy until He comes.  Let us strengthen our faith with the Word of God so that we can be salt and light to this lost and dying world.

Exodus 2:3,10 – What Moses Represents

Certain incidents in the Bible often foreshadow other events yet to come.  This idea comprises the concept of typology.  Typology is a symbolic representation, usually showing something in the Old Testament in one manner to portray what will happen in the New Testament.

An familiar example of typology may be the Exodus of the Hebrew people from the fiery furnace of slavery in Egypt.  That foreshadows how Christians believers will be delivered from the fires of hell through salvation in Jesus Christ.

In the account of Moses, typology comes into play as a foreshadowing of the pre-Tribulation Rapture.  Throughout Scripture, there is abundant evidence of this eschatological (i.e. having to do with end-times) position, which is the Blessed Hope of the church (Titus 2:3).

The Hebrews multiplied greatly under the slavery they were forced into in Egypt following the death of Joseph when another Pharaoh came into power who saw them only as a threat.  The description of this phenomenon is captured in Exodus 1:12:

“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.”

This verse itself contains a typological foreshadowing of the future church.  Under oppression and persecution, the church, usually in an underground capacity, typically thrives and grows immensely.  We have only to understand what has happened in China for the last half century under Communist persecution to see this.  There are believed to be more than 100 million believers in China because of the crackdown on Christianity by the atheist state.  The truth about this is attributed to Turtullian in the saying: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Pharaoh decreed that all male Hebrew children should die.  The midwives, fearing Yahweh more than man, lied (with God’s approval!), and the babies lived.  The next decree instructed that all male children should be drowned in the Nile.  Opposing Pharaoh’s will, one Israelite woman saved her child.  Exodus 2:3 says:

“When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank.”

That child was Moses, and the salvation given to him is similar to that of Noah’s.  Noah built an ark that he covered “inside and out with pitch” (Genesis 6:14).  When God sent the flood to destroy mankind for the wickedness that had come upon the entire earth, the ark became the means of Noah’s deliverance.  He was kept safe from the wrath of God.  In the same manner, Moses in his little ark basket was delivered safely from the hand of Pharaoh.

Moses was named for this incident,as Exodus 2:10 tells us:

“When the child grew older, she [the child’s mother] brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.””

His name sounds like the Hebrew word for “draw out.”  In being drawn out of the waters to safety, Moses was spared from death, just as Noah was.  In fact, water in the Bible is typically symbolic of chaos and death.

How does this foreshadow the pre-Tribulation Rapture?  The Bible clearly shows that in the latter days lawlessness, deception, and darkness will overtake the earth.  It will essentially become an anti-God wilderness; wilderness itself representing a chaotic place lacking God and haunted by demons.  (Think Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by Satan in Matthew 4.)

Prior to the 7-year Tribulation, in which God pours out His wrath upon this unbelieving world, He will save His children.  Great chaos is coming with death and destruction.  God’s purpose in the Tribulation is to punish all who have chosen to reject Him, while also making a way for the final salvation of men whose hearts can still be turned toward Him.

There is no place in this horrific event for believers who previously chose to give their allegiance to Jesus Christ.  We are the Bride of Christ.  Would a loving Bridegroom allow His Bride to experience God’s wrath?  Of course not!.  In fact, as Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:

“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

The key to our deliverance from this wrath is that we have repented from worshiping pagan gods and their idols.  Our believing loyalty has turned to God alone.  For that reason He mercifully grants us safety when Jesus comes in the clouds for us.  He is the ark that keeps us from the waters of the deep and from the anarchy of the wilderness that will consume the world.

The Old Testament has much to teach us.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  He shows us what has been and what is to come.  His Word informs us and brings us comfort.  He pours out His mercy toward those who honor and revere Him.

What a loving and mighty God He is!  Thank you, Lord, for this great salvation.

Matthew 15:8-9 – Wayward Hearts

The milquetoast Jesus, i.e. the timid and feeble Jesus in the minds of many in the church today, is a figment of their imagination.  He is a Jesus they have conjured up out of the depths of their sin because they don’t want to hear or know the hard teachings He brought.  Better in their estimation is to have a loving, kind, and gentle Jesus, because that person makes them feel better.  The problem is that this Jesus they’ve created to console themselves and purportedly worship is not the Son of God, and certainly not God Himself.

This is not a new phenomenon.  The Hebrew people long had problems relating to Yahweh in the way they needed to in order to honor Him for who He was.  The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were simply an extension of those who made God in their image, and thus got the relationship completely wrong.

Jesus constantly clashed with the Pharisees because of this.  In the Old Testament we read how God’s people constantly disobeyed Him and His laws.  Over the 400 years of God’s silence from Malachi to Jesus, during what we call the Intertestamental, or 2nd Temple, Period, the Jews determined to correct that situation.  The Pharisees arose as a sect that made the Law of Moses preeminent.  The Law became everything to them.  All their actions revolved around the 613 Mosaic laws articulated in Leviticus plus the Ten Commandments.  Their hearts may have been in the right place when the Pharisees first came on the scene, but they didn’t stay that way.  It was for this reason that Jesus dealt harshly with them.

The Pharisees observed Jesus and had huge issues with Him.  He didn’t wash His hands according to tradition.  The Sabbath to Him was seemingly not a day of rest in observance of the day in the way they defined; rather it was a day that God brought many of His blessings onto people with whom Jesus interacted.  Regardless, according to the Pharisees, this simply wasn’t right.  These and other “transgressions” in the eyes of the Pharisees made them question who Jesus really was and why He thought He could teach the ways of Yahweh.  Didn’t He know that by breaking the many laws He did that He was in league with the devil?

After one such interchange, Jesus spoke the words of Isaiah to them in Matthew 15:8-9:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,

    but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

In the context of the passage in Isaiah 29, Yahweh had spoken to the priests and prophets.  He said that they were asleep to the things of the Lord (Isaiah 29:10), and that any wisdom or discernment they had would perish (Isaiah 29:15).  The Lord criticized His people because they turned everything upside down by trying to appropriate the position of God – their Maker – when they should have been listening to Him and been obedient to His commands.

Jesus spoke this truth to the Pharisees.  Their legalism had consumed them, causing their entire theology to be flipped around.  For them it was what they said and did in observance to the Law that made them holy.  But Jesus said those things defiled them (Matthew 15:11).

How dare Jesus say that!  Such words offended them!

Then, Jesus laid it down as to what the Pharisees really were.  They were blind guides who led their followers into a deep pit (Matthew 15:14)!  In other words, the Pharisees were headed straight to hell, and all those who listened to and followed them were destined to join them there.

The point Jesus made was that it’s from the heart of man where truth faith arises.  People can follow laws and traditions, they can speak pretty words, but unless their hearts have been broken for God, and they’ve laid down the dos and don’ts of their religious ideals, they will never draw near to  Him.  The words such people speak ultimately betray them.  What they say eventually reveals the true nature of who they are deep inside.  Their lips speak of the sinful nature inherent within them.

And there is only one way out of this pit – only one way to escape the fires of hell.  That is through a heartfelt love for the Lord, where we lay down our agendas, i.e. the ways of man, for the things of God.  Jesus is that way.  The Pharisees didn’t get it.  Neither do many in today’s church.

Where is your heart?  Are you holding onto this world and all its enticements?  Or, have you given up your hold on this life by surrendering all of yourself to Jesus?  The hard truth of truly being His is that, just like Paul said in Philippians 1:21:,

“To live is Christ; to die is gain.”

Genesis 47:20-21 – Serfdom

Lord Acton in the 1800s famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  This has always been true since man first sinned, and always will be true until the Lord eradicates sin upon the earth.

In the passage in Genesis 47:13-26 that describes Joseph’s work on behalf of Pharaoh in the midst of the 7-year famine we see this principle at work.  After the seven years of plenty that God decreed, Egypt and the entire known world in the Middle East experienced severe famine.  Because of God’s favor upon Joseph, he earned Pharaoh’s trust, and the most powerful man on the earth made Joseph his second in command with power over all people.  Joseph’s authority was only less than that of Pharaoh  himself.

In the course of the famine, acting as Pharaoh’s representative and proxy, Joseph distributed the vast food stores that had been accumulated through the years of plenty to those in need.  At first the people came to Joseph and bought food with the money they had.  But their money ran out.

The people had livestock of many kinds, such as sheep and cattle.  When their money was gone, they exchanged these assets for food.  The famine continued, and the people were desperate.

They came again to Joseph.  Those who were landowners willingly gave that up their land in order to live.  Before long they were hungry once more as the famine lingered.  They surrendered the very last thing of value they had: their bodies – their very lives.  So as to eat, they sold themselves to Pharaoh.  From then on, he owned the people.  The only ones Joseph did not buy for Pharaoh was the priests – the elite representatives for their pagan gods (which, by the way, seem to have failed the Egyptians).  It was only by this very last and hopeless measure that the people found a way to survive.  Genesis 47:20-21 tells us:

“So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other.”

Subsequently, all crops the people grew belonged to Pharaoh, and he required all his subjects to give him 20% of what they grew.  To keep them alive in their indentured servitude, he allowed them to retain the other 80% on which to live.  The priests weren’t subject to this dictate.

All who lived in Egypt had no choice but to live under Pharaoh’s dictates in this way.  The power he wielded was absolute, even to the possessing of the very lives of those who lived in the land.

What happened in Egypt and to the children of Israel was at the hand of God.  He used the absolute and corrupted power of Pharaoh for His own purposes, namely to bring the Hebrew people to a point where they would cry out to Him and He would deliver them.  That which was meant for evil, God brought about for good.

Many strongmen over the years have used this template.  We’ve primarily seen it in practice through communist dictatorships.  Through a series of maneuvers, the people become serfs, wholly owned and under the control of the dictator in power.

In America, adherents to communism have been working for over 90 years to bring this country under the thumb of this ideology.  By infiltrating every area of our society, from schools to seminaries, from media to government, from technology to entertainment, communist ideology has corrupted the minds of all who have been indoctrinated by it.

The Roman Empire died from within through the corruption of its leaders which filtered down to its people.  America is on this same course.

Our country was founded as one nation under God, but we have banished God in all strata of our society and culture.  A nation that honors and worships God earns His favor and blessings.  A nation that turns its back on God earns His wrath and His curses.

The template we see in Genesis with Pharaoh’s absolute power – the power of the State – is playing out here in America.  The corrupting power of those in charge, using the ideology of communism as their god, is leading America to the place of serfdom.  People are being conditioned to rely on the government and what it tells them.  In order to stay alive, they will obey unquestioningly.

There is purpose in this in God’s greater plans.  He is allowing America to come under this servitude in order to fulfill His prophetic Word.  The Bible tells us that in the latter days – the end times – lawlessness and deception will rise to levels beyond our imagination.  This must happen before our very eyes because a progression of events is working.  The stage must be set for the 7-year Tribulation and the strongman of that period: the Antichrist.  The world must be ready for him to appear on the scene, essentially snap his fingers, and for the unbelievers remaining on the earth after the Rapture of the true church to do exactly what he commands.  The technology and all necessary systems for his rule must be in place at that time.

We shouldn’t be surprised that America is going down.  This nation doesn’t appear in Bible prophecy, other than as a possible side note or two.  We cannot be a world power, but simply one of many nations in the global economy as the One World Government takes shape for Antichrist to rule.

The glorious, wondrous Good News is that God has promised His church that we will not experience the worst of this.  Revelation 3:10 assures us:

“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”

What is this hour of trial?  The 7-year Tribulation.  God spoke these comforting Words to the church of Philadelphia, the one, true and faithful church.  Those of us who are true and faithful to God through Jesus Christ comprise this church today.

This is why we can rejoice, even in the midst of the gathering darkness.  As Titus 2:13 says, and which we embrace, we are…

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,”

Genesis 44:5 – Divination

God has made it abundantly clear in His revelation that the practice of divination is forbidden, yet in Genesis 44:5 the text tells us this about Joseph:

“Is it not from this that my lord [Joseph] drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”

A few verses later in Genesis 44:15 we learn directly from Joseph:

Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?”

It is in Leviticus 19:26,31 where God commands His people:

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.”

“Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”

So, how and why is that Joseph does divination?  It’s obvious that Yahweh forbids it.

First, why does God prohibit this practice?

In the ancient cultures surrounding Israel the people worshiped other gods.  Because these spiritual beings were not the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Yahweh who was loving, kind, and merciful, who brought rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), they wouldn’t simply pour out blessings on those they ruled.  They had to be appeased.  Their wisdom had to be sought in certain ways that were not the ways of Yahweh.  In the course of that search, these gods had to teach the nations under their rule that the path to them and to enlightenment they brought was different from the means to attain the favor of God Most High.  These gods hated Yahweh, their creator, just as He was the creator of mankind.  As such, the people under their rule had to be taught anything but that which would please Yahweh.

Joseph’s use of divination was a normal practice in Egypt and elsewhere in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  On the surface, in using the cup in question, Joseph was adhering to the ways of the wise men of that land.  In addition, the specific revelation from God shown above in Leviticus had not yet come to the Hebrews.  That only occurred 400 years later when Moses delivered God’s people from the fiery furnace of Egyptian slavery during the Exodus.

Despite this, I contend that Joseph didn’t practice divination as the Egyptians did.  Their magicians and sorcerers sought a word from the pagan gods they worshiped.  They were far from Yahweh and knowing Him.

Joseph, on the other hand, knew God and worshiped Him alone.  In seeking divine guidance, he came before Yahweh and no other god.  In fact, later in Scripture we see through the priestly breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim, that God’s people actually practiced divination through His approved means to determine His counsel.

Understanding the Biblical text at a deeper level helps us gain insight into seemingly puzzling contradictions of this nature.  The more we read God’s Word, and through that attain an appreciation for what God desires of us, we can begin to see how some of these situations we read about aren’t opposed to Him and what He expects of us after all.

God wants us to know Him more deeply, but that knowing only comes with effort on our part.  But, isn’t it worth it to seek out the deeper mysteries of God?

Matthew 13:42-43- Harvest Time

God will prevail upon this earth.  Sometimes it’s difficult to remember this.  We see wickedness all around us, and as times grow dark, we may experience it personally.  All too often Christians in America think we’ll be shielded from what those in other countries face.  But why should we?  Are we not all brothers and sisters in Christ?  Do we have a birthright that places us above those who suffer for Christ because of where they live?  Didn’t Jesus say that we will have sorrows in this world (John 16:33)?  Was He speaking only to His disciples from His day or only to those in the 10/40 Window?  Of course not.

When Jesus began speaking in parables so that only His disciples would understand, and those who didn’t know Him wouldn’t comprehend, He told the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Weeds) (also the Parable of the Net – or Dragnet which is a parallel parable).  Why would He speak in parables?  There is no universal salvation.  Jesus made clear that there is a day of judgment.  Those who hate God – those who are children of Satan (Matthew 13:38) – are destined to hell because of the choice they’ve made to reject the One and Only Son of God.  Those who choose a path supposedly to heaven other than Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) are not worthy of God’s ultimate mercy.  He warned them.  They had plenty of notice.  But, our choices have consequences.

Who are these people?  We see various passages throughout Scripture that define them.  Here in Matthew 13:42, they are seen as ones who engage in sin and are law-breakers.  Revelation 21:8 defines them more specifically:

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

If you examine the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), you’ll see that these sins correlate with at least five of the commandments.  Following the Law doesn’t save us, only God’s grace and mercy through the shed blood of Christ does.  But, once we’re born-again, neither can we deliberately commit these offenses against God and expect eternal life.  Doing so would mean that we’ve chosen not to obey God.  To this end,1 John 3:8 says:

“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

Is someone truly saved if they make a practice of sinning?  No, he is of his father, the devil.

How will this parable play out at the end of the age?  What will it look like?  Jesus tells us that the angels will reap, gather the weeds, and burn them with fire (Matthew 13:39-40).  This will occur at the end of the 7-year Tribulation.  The account is expanded upon in Revelation 14:14-20:

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

“Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.”

This is a description of the slaughter of all the armies of the earth that have gathered on the plains of Armageddon to come against the holy city of Jerusalem; it includes those throughout the earth who have rejected Christ, yet aren’t present in Israel.  This is the point that Jesus returns in His Second Coming with the armies of heaven, i.e. the glorified believers in the true church – the Bride of Christ.  This is expanded on further in Revelation 19:11-21.  It’s a horrible, bloody scene, yet it’s the righteous end of all unbelievers at this coming time in world history.

There’s one other point to be made.  It comes from our highlighted verse today.  Matthew 13:42-43 describes what happens with the tares and the wheat.  All the sinners and law-breakers whom the angels have gathered will be thrown…

“…into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

At the White Throne Judgment depicted in Revelation 20:11-15 the final end of the unbelieving masses will happen.  Their names will be shown not to be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and they will be cast into the Lake of Fire – the fiery furnace.  This is a place of eternal torment; truly where they will live forever in a constant state of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

God is love.  He is gracious and merciful.  He wants none to perish, but all to come to saving faith through His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ.  All have that opportunity.  Everyone has this choice.  Many decide to go their own way.

For those of us who have believing loyalty in Jesus Christ and revere Him as Lord and Savior, our righteousness will indeed shine like the sun.  Why would anyone choose anything else?