[a] “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land,and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.
“What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily.For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.[b]You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border.Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head.I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.”
Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war;[c] stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”
Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord. Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.
Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.
The Glorious Future of Judah
“So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.
“And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim.
“Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged,[d] for the Lord dwells in Zion.”
Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.
Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle.
Before them peoples are in anguish; all faces grow pale. Like warriors they charge; like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way; they do not swerve from their paths. They do not jostle one another; each marches in his path; they burst through the weapons and are not halted. They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls, they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.
The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?
Return to the Lord
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.[a] Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
The Lord Had Pity
Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.
“I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard[b] into the eastern sea, and his rear guard[c] into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things.
“Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
“Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.
“The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore[d] to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.
“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
The Lord Will Pour Out His Spirit
[e] “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
Joel 2:17Or reproach, that the nations should rule over them
In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lordcame by the hand of Haggai the prophet,“Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say,‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts,according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.For thus says theLord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts.The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’”
Blessings for a Defiled People
On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law:‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.”Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.”Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean.Now then, consider from this day onward.[a] Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord,how did you fare? When[b] one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty.I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord.Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider:Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”
Zerubbabel Chosen as a Signet
The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month,“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth,and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother.On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a[c] signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.”
The builders finished laying the foundation of the Temple of the Lord. Then the priests, dressed in their robes, stood with their trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, stood with their cymbals. They all took their places and praised the Lord just as David king of Israel had said to do. With praise and thanksgiving, they sang to the Lord:
“He is good; his love for Israel continues forever.”
And then all the people shouted loudly, “Praise the Lord! The foundation of his Temple has been laid.”
When the enemies of the people of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned captives were building a Temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the leaders of the families. The enemies said, “Let us help you build, because we are like you and want to worship your God. We have been offering sacrifices to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the leaders of Israel answered, “You will not help us build a Temple to our God. We will build it ourselves for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us to do.”
Then the people around them tried to discourage the people of Judah by making them afraid to build. Their enemies hired others to delay the building plans during the time Cyrus was king of Persia. And it continued to the time Darius was king of Persia.
When Xerxes first became king, those enemies wrote a letter against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
When Artaxerxes became king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and those with them wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. It was written in the Aramaic language and translated.
I was put to death on the cross with Christ, and I do not live anymore—it is Christ who lives in me. I still live in my body, but I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself to save me. By saying these things I am not going against God’s grace. Just the opposite, if the law could make us right with God, then Christ’s death would be useless.
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. ~ 1 John 4:19-20, NLT
My heart is just so full right now. Amazingly, achingly, burstingly full. When this condition first came upon me, all I could think was, “I Love the Lord!” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Now, I don’t just thank God when the blessings are obvious, I’ve learned to thank Him even in the deep darkness of my affliction, pain and despair. However, when the blessings do rain down, I am not neglectful or stingy with my thanksgiving!
I wish for the whole world to know how great, magnificent, wonderful, merciful, caring, nurturing and amazing my God is! I wish for everyone to experience His provision, wisdom and grace. I have determined to continually be the one who returns to give thanks for what my Lord has done for me before heading out into the world to share my testimony of His overwhelming generosity and healing grace.
As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, He reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As He entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance,crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting,“Praise God!”He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for what He had done. This man was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine?Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” ~ Luke 17:11-19, NLT
Amen! Glory to God for a healing, restorative faith!
I LOVE THE LORD
performed by Whitney Houston, from The Preacher’s Wife Soundtrack
I love the Lord, He heard my cry
And pitied every groan, long as I, I live
And troubles rise, I hasten to His throne
Oh, I love the Lord
I sure do, surely do love the Lord
He heard, He heard my cry
And pitied every groan, yes, He did
Long as I live, long as I, I live
And troubles rise, troubles rise
I hasten to to to to to
I’ll hasten, I’ll hasten to His throne
I’ll hasten to His throne hold on hold on
Tears are streaming down my eyes
I’ll hasten, I’ll hasten to His throne
Yes I will, I’ll run
I know I can go to His throne
I know I can go, I know I can go
I’ll hasten, I’m gonna run
I know I can go, I know I can go
I’ll hasten, I’ll hasten to His throne
See I can run, Lord you know I will
When there is nowhere to go I know I can go to You
I know I can run to You oh
I’ll hasten, I’ll hasten to His, His throne
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
I’ll hasten, hasten to his throne
Surely gonna be here
While out shopping over the holidays, I ran into someone from a former congregation of mine. She spoke about the turmoil gripping her congregation at that time because of a tainted leader. My heart grew heavy with sorrow from hearing the story she told. Essentially, the turmoil was caused because a leader egregiously offended a member of the congregation and then went on a smear campaign against that person to certain groups within the congregation. When the leaders’ actions against this person became known to the whole congregation, many others became offended by the leader’s behavior and treatment of this person. The leader was then called upon to give an account of his behavior, to apologize for his treatment of the wronged member and to ask for forgiveness from the whole congregation.
The sister who told me this tale was of the opinion that the leader was not repentant because he did not ask for forgiveness. He expected to be forgiven because of who he was and because he was addressing Christians.
I am aware that there are believers who think the “Christian” thing to do is forgive even when they aren’t asked by the offender to forgive them. But really, think about it, where does the relationship go from there? Yes, we can forgive an unrepentant person, but how does that improve their spiritual walk? In my experience, it doesn’t. What we can do with the unrepentant and all others is hand them and the burden, offenses included, received from the relationship with them over to Jesus. That is what we are instructed to do. Doing so, in the minimum, improves the spiritual walk of the offended party because we learn through these difficulties to depend more and more on Jesus.
In the same way, when I cause an offense, I seek guidance from my Lord on how to mend the breach. How do I rectify this situation? I lay my burden of guilt down at Jesus’s feet and ask His guidance on the action(s) I need to take to make my relationship right. With this process, I have learned to acknowledge offenses I have caused in my relationships; apologize for them and ask how I can make amends.
Here, I must admit, I am very quick to apologize for almost anything, but it is very rare that I ask if I am forgiven.
Forgiveness is not just a word; it is a function of astounding grace. It is not something that we can offer or receive lightly. We really can’t give grace at all. We receive grace from God. We receive our ability to forgive from God. And all that we receive is channeled through us.
A short while ago, I posted a piece titled Expect. Expectancy. Expectation. on my get up & walk, ride or fly blog. In this post, I wrote about how I have come full circle in regards to expectations – of myself and for others. At the beginning of my spiritual journey, I desperately wanted to shed myself of other people’s expectations of me. A couple of years later, I also realized I had to shed myself of my expectations of other people. Now I’m at a point where I am able to appreciate and accept responsibility for some of the expectations people have of me based on the natural progression of our relationship. And I am okay embracing the expectations of me that are formed in the space of a relationship with the person I’m interacting with.
However, throughout my brief study of expectations, I’ve noticed that what makes them so difficult to deal with is the innate arrogance associated with them. When we “expect” something of someone, we are basically assuming their actions, behavior, interactions and reactions will line up with our personal worldview.
When our own view of the world is accommodated to the exclusion of other people’s’ views, it sort of naturally follows that the needs of others in our lives will be neglected. One need in particular is the need to know that when an offense has been caused that both the offended party and the offender desire a reconciliation on some level. That is where the offender’s acknowledgement and repentance of the offense comes in. These are two crucial steps the offender needs to take in order to resolve (reconcile) the breach in the relationship.
Over the holidays, I had a conversation with an uncle who violently abused me in my childhood. This was my second conversation with him in twenty-four years. The last time I saw him was twelve Christmases ago, at which time I asked him why he had done what he did to me. His response: I thought I would get away with it. I didn’t think you would say anything.
I had initiated that conversation as the offended (shattered) party. I wanted an explanation. I wanted his sorrow. I wanted him to be REPENTANT. I wanted him to assure me that he had changed. Deep down, I wanted my uncle back (I’ve never admitted that before). Instead, I walked away from that conversation feeling even more offended and with more anger than before we had spoken.
A few weeks ago, as we gathered for my grandmother’s final days in this world, he followed me into a family sitting room at the hospital and he initiated a conversation. He literally started off by acknowledging the horrible violence he inflicted upon me and the impact it has had on the whole family. He apologized for his actions and assured me that not one day has gone by that he hasn’t been reminded of his despicable acts. He looked at me and said, “I hope that one day, you will find it in your heart to forgive me.”
I looked at him and smiled a very slight smile and said, “You were forgiven years ago. Perhaps I should have made an effort to let you know. I hold no grudge against you, nor do I have any animosity for you. I hope one day you’re able to forgive yourself.”
I walked away from this second conversation feeling as if God had blessed me beyond my ability to understand. The difference between the two conversations was when my uncle took responsibility for his actions, he was able to RECEIVE the forgiveness that was there for him all along. We were both blessed in that exchange.
We can only forgive because God first forgave us. It is His grace we are operating in. yet it is still a process. A process of healing. A process of renewing trust. A process of mending fractures. A process of rebuilding the relationship.
We are responsible for being willing vessels of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. When our hearts are open to Him, His Spirit can operate through us in breathtaking ways. We exhibit our willingness to yield to God by offering Him our hurts, pains, confusion, disillusionment and disappointments. We give Jesus our offenses. We give Jesus our guilt. We ask God to operate in our relationships. We allow His Holy Spirit to have His way by correcting us, healing us, guiding us and helping us to reconcile and restore our relationships.
I just want to say to you today: Check yourself. Check your relationships. Check your desire to reconcile, restore, and to rebuild. After your self-evaluation, ask yourself if you are truly asking to be forgiven for any offense you may have caused or are you simply sitting back and expecting forgiveness to roll over you? And keep in mind, if you’re sitting back expecting forgiveness to look a certain way, to feel a certain way or to sound a certain way, then you’re stuck in your own worldview and you’re probably missing out on receiving something that could bless you beyond your imagination. Don’t miss out on true fruit from your relationships: enlightenment and growth through the unending cycle of love and forgiveness. Be blessed and go out and be a blessing. God has asked it of you and He is expecting you to comply.
“God is not ashamed to be called their God.” This profound statement is found in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter of the Bible. Can you imagine your name being listed along with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Moses in God’s list of the faithful?
But, wait, before we go any further, let’s look at that list a little more closely. Faith is not only a masculine virtue, we see. Sarah and Rahab and the women who received their dead raised to life again are also listed. And those courageous nameless people who “were tortured, not accepting deliverance.”
Let us take a new look at faith—from the point of view of women. Let us see how women of the Bible also used faith in their walk with God.
Deborah, the only recorded female judge of ancient Israel, is described in Judges 4 and 5 as the deliverer of Israel for 40 years from Canaanite oppression. Before we analyze how this extraordinary woman did this, think about what it might take for a female to become the spiritual, judicial and military leader of Israel. It was a time of anarchy. The Hebrew tribes had settled among the Canaanites and began to worship their gods. Israel failed to stand apart from its pagan neighbors, as God commanded them. Instead of being righteous examples to the surrounding cultures, they took part in customs loathsome to their God.
Though God made it plain that both mothers and fathers—women and men—are to be treated with equal respect (Exodus 20:12), in this degenerate disunited society, the rights of women were often overlooked. Women today complain about rights, but what do you think it took for a woman of that age to achieve what Deborah did? It took one major ingredient—a strong belief and faith in God.
God chose a faithful woman as Israel’s judge and prophetess. It was a woman who encouraged Barak, the son of Abinoam, to heed God’s call to duty and lead Israel’s army against Sisera’s 900 iron chariots. It was a woman who accompanied the troops to the battleground at Mount Tabor to fortify Barak’s wavering courage (Judges 4:8-9).
To be fair to Barak, when he looked at the odds against him, he clearly saw that unless God was on Israel’s side, he and his troops would be massacred. Being a practical man, he made sure God’s prophetess would be at the battle scene to provide divine insight. Barak is also on God’s list of the faithful (Hebrews 11:32).
Deborah knew, in spite of the circumstances of her time and culture, that in God’s sight, women were not second-class citizens, that God was not a respecter of persons. Her strong abiding faith gave this woman the conviction and courage to allow God to use her in a most unusual way.
How satisfying it must have been for Deborah to look down on the Plain of Megiddo, 20 miles of battleground, and see God miraculously deliver Israel’s army. “So let all your enemies perish, O Lord,” was Deborah’s battle cry. You can read in Judges 5 a stirring description of ancient Israel’s deliverance from Sisera’s oppression.
May You Be Like Ruth…
An Old Testament book with her name tells the remarkable story of Ruth, a woman of Moab. After the death of the husbands of both Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah, their mother-in-law, Naomi, entreated them to go back to their families in Moab. Orpah tearfully did, but Ruth’s deep love for Naomi is reflected in her often-quoted words: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16, New King James). It was a statement of loyalty and faith. In the years of living with her husband and being near her mother-in-law, Ruth grew in understanding of God’s way of life. She forsook her former Moabite rituals as she saw the benefits of worshiping the true God. Ruth’s relocation from Moab to Bethlehem took great faith. It shows us that sometimes we must also leave old ways behind to follow God. It did not take long for Boaz, a well-to-do landowner and kinsman, to become aware of Ruth’s sterling characteristics. Her faithfulness to God caused her to benefit from an ancient custom—one that was to shape her future. In Israel, when a man died childless, his brother or nearest kinsman was expected to marry the widow. Their firstborn child was considered to be of the dead husband and inherited his property. Boaz, being a just man, considered it an honor to fulfill his responsibilities. And, he was also greatly blessed by this union. Ruth brought much additional praise to him and his family, for all time to come. It wasn’t long before Naomi was also given new life and security in her latter years, as her daughter-in-law presented her with a grandson they named Obed. Obed became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David—Israel’s greatest king. Ruth, a woman of faithful dedication to God, to her mother-in-law, Naomi, to her husband and to a long family line, is worthy of praise. May we, as we follow God’s ways in our lives, also be.
Joan C. Bogdanchik
Hannah, the God-fearing mother of Samuel the prophet, displayed an extraordinary faith and courage during a time of spiritual laxity in Israel. Hannah, one of two wives of Elkanah, was unable to have children. Barrenness in a Hebrew woman disgraced both her family and nation. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, had several children, and often scornfully reminded Hannah of her failure to fulfill her duty as a wife and an Israelite. As the years passed, Hannah’s apparently hopeless situation and Peninnah’s constant taunting caused Hannah increasing unhappiness and distress. During one of the family’s yearly visits to Shiloh (as was the custom), Hannah went to the temple and begged God to give her a child. In humble, fervent prayer, she faithfully pledged her child to God in lifelong service. Nine months later, Samuel was born. Despite having waited so long for this child, Hannah willingly gave her son, when he was three years old, to the service of God at the tabernacle. She provided him with clothing and visited him throughout his childhood. So what importance does the story of Hannah have for us today? We often find it difficult to see beyond our particular problems. Our difficulties can seem insurmountable, and our situation grossly unfair. Doesn’t that describe Hannah’s situation? Yet Hannah did not give up hope. In faith, she depended on God to change her circumstances. In faith, according to her word, she gave up her only child to him, and God rewarded her with five more children. Because of Hannah’s trust in and commitment to God, she was given a son, who eventually became the last and perhaps the greatest of the judges. When times are difficult and remaining faithful seems too hard, take a moment to think of the story of Hannah, a woman of great faith.
A Queen Risks Her Life
God’s unseen hand guides, directs and preserves his people by working out circumstances, often in the most unexpected ways. God gave Esther, a beautiful Jewish girl, special favor in the eyes of Ahasuerus, king of Persia, and the king chose Esther to become his queen in place of his previous wife, Vashti. You can read the story in the Bible in the book of Esther. Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, had a powerful enemy in the court—King Ahasuerus’ favorite prince, Haman. Mordecai wouldn’t bow to Haman each day at the city gate, and it made the prince furious. When Haman discovered that Mordecai was Jewish, he determined not only to destroy Mordecai but also his entire race along with him. As soon as Mordecai heard about Haman’s plans, he told Esther it was time to plead for the life of her people. She had not yet revealed to the king that she was Jewish. Esther said to her uncle, “Don’t you know that I’ve not been to the king for 30 days and those who approach the king without being called are executed unless he extends the golden scepter to them?” (See Esther 4:11.) Esther had reason to fear. The king was far from a model of virtue. Herodotus, a fifth-century B.C. Greek historian, says Ahasuerus was vain and sensual. Mordecai said to Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews…. Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (verses 13-14). Mordecai was beginning to realize that God had been working this out all along. Esther made a quick and brave decision: “Tell the people to fast three days and three nights and I shall go in to the king. If I live, I live and if I perish, I perish.” (See verse 16.) Then Esther put on her royal apparel and bravely went to the king’s throne room. As she entered the room, a hush fell over the royal court. They knew the king favored this woman above all others, but they also knew the king had not called for her. What mood would the king be in? As Esther began slowly to walk toward him, the king stretched out his scepter. It was a signal that her life was granted her. At that moment Esther doubtlessly said a silent thank-you prayer to God. To summarize the rest of the story, the king commanded that Haman be hanged for his presumptuousness. King Ahasuerus promoted Mordecai, and the Jews (including Queen Esther) were spared. God is always working behind the scenes. There are times when most of us have questioned events in our lives and wondered where God was. The story of Esther tells us he’s here for us. God’s hand is not only guiding his church, but also working out circumstances in our individual lives. So, when you get a little discouraged or you can’t understand why certain things happen to you, remember Esther.
Rahab saves her family
Back even before the time of Deborah and Barak, let’s look at another remarkable Old Testament example of feminine faith— that of the innkeeper Rabab. Some scholars believe she (like most female innkeepers) was a harlot, others deny the possibility. But one thing we do know: she is the only woman other than Sarah who is listed by name in God’s account of his faithful in Hebrews.
Rahab lived in the age-old city of Jericho during the time that Joshua was leading the Israelites out of the desert into the promised land. According to archaeologists, a double wall of brick protected the city. Rahab’s house was probably built over the 12-to-15-foot space that separated Jericho’s 12-foot-thick inner wall from its 6-foot-thick outer wall.
The city of Jericho was the most important city in the Jordan Valley. The Canaanites of Rahab’s time excelled in the arts and sciences. Morally, however, they were perverse. Their pagan religions were lewd and base, their civilization was decadent. Even though Jericho was heavily fortified, the Canaanite inhabitants of Jericho were understandably nervous about the Israelite hordes camped close by on the plains of Moab.
As they walked toward Jericho, two Hebrew spies sent by Joshua, Israel’s military leader, may have noticed Rahab’s house, with its window on the side of the massive outer wall of the city. When they entered the city, they were no doubt pleased to learn that this particular house on the wall was a place where two strangers would be accepted.
Rahab had heard about the miracles God had performed to rescue Israel from the Egyptians. She knew that the Amorites across the Jordan had been conquered. When the Israelite spies came to her house, she seized on the chance to save her family from what she saw as certain destruction.
Her neighbors had heard the stories, too. But, unlike her, they trusted in the thick walls of Jericho. Somehow, out of all these people, Rahab could see beyond the brick and stone of her familiar world and trust in the Hebrews’ God. It must have been difficult to decide to forsake all that she knew and was comfortable with.
Following the spies’ instruction, she acted on her faith and marked her home with a sign—a red rope. God respected her trust in him, and she and her family were spared when Jericho’s walls fell. One woman of faith out of a whole city. You can read the account of Rahab’s deliverance in Joshua 2-6.
Jesus and women
Jesus Christ constantly surprised his followers by the way he treated women. Women were real people to Jesus. Ignoring local custom, Jesus expected women as well as men to listen to and follow his teachings. Remember the account of Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha for criticizing her sister Mary because she chose to listen to Jesus rather than help serve the male guests?
“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Jesus revealed the marvelous truth of his messiahship to, of all people, a Samaritan woman (John 4:21-26). The Jews despised the Samaritans and their religion. For a Jewish man to speak to a woman in public, especially a Samaritan woman, was unheard of at the time. Jesus’ disciples were astonished when they saw him so at ease with women, talking to them, teaching them and admonishing them, as he did men. Women were amazed as well—and appreciated his concern for them, expressed so openly.
The multiple hundreds of thousands of women of faith over the centuries go unrecorded for the most part. Whatever our backgrounds, wherever we live, we all, no doubt, have our personal Joan of Arcs to add to the list.
About 100 years ago, women weren’t satisfied with the world they saw around them and began to complain. Women campaigned against war, alcoholism, long work hours, low wages, child labor, high infant death rate, and filthy living conditions.
In the United States in 1909, Nannie Helen Burroughs gave her National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., the motto: “We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible.” The National Training School, a model for many others, “offered young African American women a liberal-arts education and more….
“Mary Breckenridge of the Frontier Nursing Service sent nurse midwives riding on horseback through the woods of Kentucky in the 1920s. Jane Addams founded Chicago’s Hull House, one of the first and most important of the establishments of the settlement house movement, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931” (“Smithsonian News Service,” Mary Combs).
Edie Mayo, curator in the Division of Political History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington,D.C., adds, “What is truly astonishing is the fact that they accomplished most of it without the power to vote.”
These few and far between examples from the past are fine, you may think, but what about now? Can today’s women expect God to answer their prayers? Can they have faith? Does God discriminate against women today?
God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). He expects women, as well as men, to faithfully believe in him. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, New King James). God expects both men and women to actively express that faith by following him.
Why is active faith in God so important? To answer that question, we must first understand what faith is— and what it isn’t.
Here’s one definition of faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is absolute confidence in God’s will, God’s purpose, and absolute belief that God through his Son Jesus Christ will answer your prayers –all this before you see any physical proof.
Deborah knew before she called for Barak that God would grant Israel the victory. But how? Everything she could see and hear seemed to point toward Israel’s defeat. Sisera had 900 chariots; he had thousands of well-trained and well-armed troops. Barak had neither. From what could be physically detected, it was not logical (in human terms) for Deborah to expect to win. But Deborah had faith in God, and knew that he would help Israel overpower the mighty Canaanites.
Deborah’s faith was not an emotion. It wasn’t some kind of feeling she had worked up over several hours or days. Her faith was not just hope, either. Wishful thinking does not win battles against iron-tipped chariots and battle-hardened troops.
Deborah’s faith was the unwavering belief in the face of overwhelming odds that God exists and that he will do what he promises he will. This faith is based on experience of what God has done, knowing he will not change his great purpose for humans. It is the kind of faith that wins wars and, in Rahab’s case, saves lives.
The kind of faith that leads us to believe in and obey God is the only kind that pleases him. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, New King James).
Those who believe don’t let circumstances cause them to doubt God. And God answers their prayers. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (James 1:6-7).
Is faith out-of-date?
How strong is your faith? Can God look down at you as one he could add to his list of faithful servants? Or does faith seem to be an old-fashioned virtue, not as necessary in our modem technological world? Jesus wondered whether in the latter days of our civilization faith would be a scarce commodity. “Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Does having faith still matter? Yes, it certainly does. The gift of faith—true godly faith—is needed for our salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, New King James). To learn more about this kind of faith, click here.
God does not discriminate. Whether Abraham or Sarah, Barak or Deborah, Hebrews says that the world was not worthy of those faithful people. Male or female, let’s be sure we have the faith to make his list as well.
Faith, Hope and BBQ Sauce
In 1991, if you took Route 98 west through Columbus, Mississippi, crossed the Pearl River, continued to the second bridge over the railroad tracks, drove up the dirt road until you passed the Highway Department’s garage, and asked someone where Leatha’s is, then you could have found one of the best restaurants in the United States. There were no signs; it was nothing fancy. A ramshackle house, rickety tables and chairs, and an assortment of old plates, cups and flatware. But the steaks were thick, the chicken tender and cooked just right. And the barbecue sauce was prepared from a formula that only Leatha knew. You’d never forget it, nor Leatha herself. (The restaurant has moved to Hattiesburg, and as of 2003, 80-year-old Leatha still works there). Leatha Jackson is a grandmother with a simple formula for success—her secret recipe for BBQ sauce and an ironclad faith that God helps those who help themselves. She was raised in poverty. From age 5 to 25 she picked cotton. But her dream was to own and operate a restaurant. “In those days, a poor black girl in rural Mississippi with a third-grade education didn’t have too much chance,” she said. “But my father taught me to trust in God. When I got my first job in a restaurant, I didn’t even know how to split a hot dog bun and put a wienie on it,” she remembered. She learned cooking and food management by watching others. Then she took the plunge and opened a small restaurant in her home far off the beaten track. There was no money for advertising. “We couldn’t even afford a sign,” she said. “So I asked God for customers, and they began coming.” When her husband became ill, Leatha, who had always refused welfare and never owed anything, was forced to mortgage the property to meet the unexpected medical expenses. “We were $100,000 in debt. But I knew God would not put on us more than we could bear.” And she paid the debt off. Leatha has personal interest in each of her customers. In fact, she provided a service that few other restaurants could match. “When I have done all I can to serve them, I sometimes go to my room and pray for them. I thank God for each one. I ask him to help me give them good food, and to treat them right. Then I pray for their spiritual and financial welfare. I want them to be happy.” Leatha’s is a family business. There are jobs for her children and their families—”if they are willing to work,” she adds. She sees the business as a way to keep the family together. “It’s like a bundle of sticks,” she explains. “Separate us and we are easily broken. Together, we’re strong.” In a world of ruthless greed and cutthroat competition, Leatha’s decent, hard-working little enterprise is a reminder that “old-fashioned” values still work. Be fair, treat people right, give good value for a fair price, work hard, share with others and don’t be greedy. And above all, trust God to look after you.
You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. ~2 Corinthians 7:11
Repent is a word not often spoken in contemporary culture. We as individuals are told to be ourselves, do what we want, live as we please and enjoy life. But, invariably, following one or all of these cultural myths will lead to someone in our life getting hurt by something we say or do. As a result, our relationships suffer. Though suffering is a part of life and we grow most through our struggles, the unfortunate truth is that most people try to avoid suffering and speed through their struggles – getting as little as possible from the experiences.
The self-centered person will not take the time to focus on the individual they hurt. And the hurt individual will, sometimes, try to hide their pain, or simply “get over it” on their own. Neither of these approaches improves nor strengthens the relationship.
In our contemporary language we “apologize” or say we’re “sorry” for causing offense. However, neither being sorry (feeling regret, sorrow, grief or sadness) or offering an apology (expressing regret, remorse or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another) is the same as repenting (to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better).
I had a male acquaintance who used to apologize for not following through on his word. Every time he disappointed me, he admitted his failure. After so many apologies, I asked him why he bothered to say anything at all if he continued to behave the same manner. His response: he continued his hurtful behavior but omitted his apologies.
He completely missed the point. And I blamed myself for not expressing my frustration in a clearer manner. In addition to that, my desire to be a loving Christian led me to repeatedly pardon his dismissive behavior. In effect, I enabled him to continue treating me in a way that hurt and belittled me. It was obvious I valued the relationship and equally obvious how little value he placed on it and me.
He did not change his behavior, therefore he did not repent. Eventually, I reached a point where I could no longer ignore my pain and I sought to disassociate myself from him completely.
As our relationship with God exhibits, all relationships are salvageable. There simply has to be a desire within both parties to do what is necessary to restore the relationship. In the case of my former acquaintance, he would have to give me what I desire – true repentance.
Now I am glad I sent it [letter], not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants His people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. ~ 2 Corinthians 7:9-12
Restoration of our relationship would have to involve the process outlined above. I would have to know that the pain of our broken relationship caused him to change his behavior towards me (v. 9). I would need to see that his desire to reconcile moved him to take action to save the relationship. I would need to know that he does not want our relationship to be one of the dead things in his life (v.10). I would need to experience his earnestness and his true concern for me. I would need to see that there is some alarm at the prospect of our bond being dissolved. He would need to show me that he is doing everything in his power to make amends and that he is indeed loyal to me (v. 11,12).
A flippant “sorry” or “oh, well, I’ll do better next time” doesn’t even begin to cover all that. When you hold people accountable for their actions against you, you assist them in becoming better citizens of Heaven. You improve their walk as well as your own. In doing so, you both become better representatives of Christ and the God who sent Him.
In each of our human relationships, we are equal parts teacher, student and negotiator. We continuously teach the other person about who we are – our likes, dislikes, boundaries, and goals – while learning the same about them. When disagreements occur, if there’s a desire to maintain the relationship, both parties will negotiate for an equally satisfying solution.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that His word has no place in our hearts. ~ 1 John 1:8-10
According to the Bible, repentance is the ultimate communication leading to forgiveness and resulting in a restored relationship. Repentance consists of:
acknowledging your sin (wrongdoing, transgression, offense)
accepting responsibility without defending or excusing yourself or your actions
understanding the severity and repercussions for what you have done and how it affects your relationship
humbling yourself and requesting forgiveness from the one you harmed
knowing that mercy and grace are not deserved
expressing a sincere desire and intention to change your ways
doing what you need to do (i.e. what’s requested by or negotiated with the offended person) to restore the relationship.
Psalm 51is an excellent example of David’s true repentance for a very specific sin against God. It’s an amazing declaration of his love and devotion to God, as well as an expression of his desire to be cleansed and live as a righteous man. It’s an example of how we should seek to heal and restore our relationship with God first, then others.
Repentance is so much more than an apology. It’s completely turning away from the course you are on and committing yourself to God’s ways. In human relational language: repenting is committing yourself fully to the relationship you are seeking to restore, while staying in alignment with God’s laws. Repentance is not something that works by picking and choosing elements that suit you. It’s other-person centered. It’s an expression of love and appreciation for the other person in the relationship. It’s a humbling of yourself for the benefit of your relationship.
If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them. ~ 1 John 3:14-15
When you don’t repent, you’re sowing (planting, giving) hatred and death to the person you wronged. Not only are you killing the relationship, you are killing a part of them. Visualize it this way: whatever part of you overlaps with the person you wronged is now dead in both of you. The only way to bring that part of you both back to life is to repent. The above passage from 1 John 3 states so simply and eloquently, if you love someone, you have passed from death to life, however if you have no love to give, you are still dead. The dead cannot give life; death only reaps more death.
Fortunately for us all, God made a way for us to choose life every day, in every situation, in all of our relationships. We can choose to love and receive love. We can choose to repent and accept repentant acts. We can choose to forgive and accept forgiveness. Those are choices for life. When we choose not to love, repent or forgive, we are willfully choosing death.
David understood this and appealed to God’s love for him when he repented. He sought to restore life to himself through love.
Have mercy on me, O God, because of Your unfailing love. Because of Your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. ~ Psalm 51:1
Those who love have a desire to relieve the suffering of their loved ones. Their compassion gives them an awareness of the distress their loved one is feeling. Through love, they are able to see the repentant heart reaching out to them, and they are able to reach back to alleviate it. The Word tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:7 that love never fails.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Right there you have it! Love will survive anything and everything. We have to allow it to work when we are given the opportunity to do so. In other words, love is never going to be the issue; how we process it and apply it will determine rather we succeed or fail in our relationships.
Further in his appeal to love in Psalm 51:9, David says,
Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.
He is asking for absolution. It’s direct and clear. Again, 1 Corinthians 13:5 supports his request,
Love keeps no record of being wronged.
When you allow love to work in your relationships, it is only a matter of time before complete healing manifests. Healing is initiated when the party responsible for causing offense repents for the wrongs they committed in the relationship.
David wasn’t done. He continued in Psalm 51:12-13,
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and make me willing to obey You. Then I will teach Your ways to rebels, and they will return to You.
He brings to God’s remembrance their former relationship. He had been happy! He had joyfully basked in the salvation of his Lord. He wanted that back. Give it back to me, please, he’s asking. And he doesn’t stop there. He asks for assistance in keeping on track. He is aware of his imperfections. He’s not trying to act as if he will never be tempted again. He’s asking to be held accountable in a loving manner. Make me willing to obey you. Think about that….
Has anyone ever forgiven you, and then ignored you? Or forgiven you and then treated you harshly? While at the same time expecting you to keep the promises you made to them when you repented? How difficult was it to keep your promise?
Now think of a time when someone has forgiven you and never mentioned your transgression again. The love flowed freely between the two of you. How easy was it to keep the promises you made when you repented?
These are rather simplistic examples, but you should get the idea. Nothing in a relationship is about just one person – though many people go through great effort to make it seem so. Every interaction in a relationship has a double-sided effect. How we respond is equally as important as what was initiated and how it was initiated. In other words, you may not be the cause of a difficult situation, but how you respond will have as much impact on how your relationship survives that difficulty as the person who caused the offense.
David wraps up his prayer of repentance, his direct appeal to God, with:
The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. ~Psalm 51:17
Again, what we learn explicitly about love in 1 Corinthians 13:6 is,
Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Why is honesty in relationships so difficult? I don’t know if there’s any one answer, but since Adam and Eve fell from grace in the Garden, people have been hiding their true selves as much as possible, whenever possible. It’s only when we come clean, bare all, open up and be true to ourselves and to others that we experience the true joy of love rejoicing for us. Love is never going to be happy in the midst of wrong. But love will always rejoice when the wrong is made right. David was so secure in God’s love for him that he appealed to that love knowing God would not reject him when he humbled himself completely and addressed all his wrongdoing.
Did you know David was completely forgiven? Not only was he forgiven, but God held him up as an example of what He was looking for in mankind. How is that so? David’s story is full of war and sex and an arrogance that comes from repeated triumphs due to God’s favor. His sin against God was adultery. God had blessed David’s life so much that David got to a point of thinking that God’s laws no longer applied to him. He saw a woman he wanted, took her and had her husband killed. These are the sins David is repenting for in Psalm 51.
David is on God’s list of favorites because he loved his Lord and praised Him, he loved God’s laws, he studied the word, he prayed, he sang, he worshipped. The cherry on top – David repented when he became aware of his sin! Every time. Deeply and whole-heartedly. His intention was to remain in right standing with God all his life. When he failed, he acknowledged his failure and pleaded for forgiveness. We all fall short, it’s in our DNA. The truest proof of our character is how we correct our mistakes.
The prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins against God with a very eloquent parable. David was convicted with awareness of his grievous wrongs and immediately acknowledged his actions as sins against God. Just as quickly, God forgave him. The conversation is in 2 Samuel 12:1-14.
So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: “There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.”
David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own.
“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.”
Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the Lord by doing this, your child will die.”
Do you see how God followed His own process? Nathan the prophet was His mouthpiece. Nathan was sent directly to David to confront him with his sin. Isn’t it interesting how David saw the sin immediately when he thought Nathan was talking about someone else? We’re still like that, aren’t we? We can identify everyone else’s faults long before we see our own. But Nathan was emphatic: “You are the man I’m talking about!” Then Nathan proceeded to pronounce God’s judgment on David right there. David immediately acknowledged and confessed his sin against God. Nathan then replied, “Ok, God forgives you and you may live. However, you will reap the consequences of your actions.”
Just because you repent and are forgiven does not mean that there are no consequences. You will still have to face the consequences of your actions. Remember that.
Had David’s punishment been up to him, he would have died on the spot. A sinner’s judgment can be harsh! Thank God for His loving compassion!
The first thing David uttered after hearing Nathan’s story was that such a man deserved to die. Spiritually, he had died because God was not with him in His sin. This is such a glaring example of what happens to interpersonal relationships when there’s a huge offense separating the two parties. Each party is able to see the other person’s transgression so clearly and barely have awareness of their own. Until the person who caused offense steps up to say, “I am the one at fault, what can I do to make amends” the relationship will remain fractured and the parties will remain separated. Repentance leads to life – when you repent in your interpersonal relationships you breathe life into them.