Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rewards and Punishments (Leviticus 26)

The following quote is taken from

"God Will Kill the Children of Sinners - "If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted."  (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)

These verses are part of a longer passage concerning God's covenant with the nation of Israel.  You can read the entire chapter here:

            Leviticus is a book of laws set down for the Israelites to follow, made after the covenant established between God and the Israelites after he had set them free from slavery in Egypt.  To understand what's going on in this passage, it would help to explain what a covenant is, and what it entails.
   defines "covenant" as "an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified" [1].  In the case of the covenant between God and the Israelites, he freed them from slavery and promised them rewards, protection, and a land of their own, in exchange for their faithfulness to him and their obedience to his commands.  In light of the Israelites' former life in Egypt, where they were oppressed with hard labor (Exodus 1:11-14), and where the Pharaoh ordered their infant sons to be killed (Exodus 1:22), an agreement with God in exchange for freedom was an infinitely better arrangement.
            In the beginning of Leviticus 26, God detailed the rewards that he would give the Israelites for obedience: rain, plentiful crops, peace, protection, fertility and his presence among them (Leviticus 26:3-13).  If they did not keep their end of the bargain, he would not grant them the rewards; indeed, they would be punished for breaking the covenant that enabled them to live a life of freedom from oppression.
            Unfortunately, this meant that hostility towards God and disobedience to his commandments would result in his removal of protection; they would be overtaken by other nations, and wild animals.  One question often raised is this: if each person is punished for their own sins, and children are not punished for their parents' sins (Ezekiel 18:20), then why would their children be killed by wild animals?  What we need to consider here is that if a family or nation practiced sins such as idolatry that were forbidden by the covenant and taught their children to do the same, their children would most likely follow the practices of their parents and be ensnared by the same sin, generation after generation. 
            Conditions would not stay this way, however, if the people repented and turned back to God.  When people turn away from their sins and turn to God, he responds graciously to them.  “'But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham...I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them.  I am the LORD their God" (Leviticus 26:40-42, 44, NIV).
            Today, we have a new covenant, one that God promised not only for Israel and Judah, but for people of all nations (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  This is the new covenant of faith in Jesus Christ for the atonement of sins, making us right with God.  "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'" (Luke 22:19-20, NIV; see also Hebrews chapter 8).

[1] "Covenant",

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Prophecy Against Babylon, Part 2 (Jeremiah 50-51)

The following quotes are taken from

 "Kill All Of Babylon - "Go up, my warriors, against the land of Merathaim and against the people of Pekod. Yes, march against Babylon, the land of rebels, a land that I will judge!  Pursue, kill, and completely destroy them, as I have commanded you," says the LORD.  "Let the battle cry be heard in the land, a shout of great destruction".   (Jeremiah 50:21-22 NLT)

"Kill Old Men and Young Women - "You are my battle-ax and sword," says the LORD.  "With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms.  With you I will shatter armies, destroying the horse and rider, the chariot and charioteer.  With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens.  With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers.  "As you watch, I will repay Babylon and the people of Babylonia for all the wrong they have done to my people in Jerusalem," says the LORD.  "Look, O mighty mountain, destroyer of the earth!  I am your enemy," says the LORD.  "I will raise my fist against you, to roll you down from the heights.  When I am finished, you will be nothing but a heap of rubble.  You will be desolate forever.  Even your stones will never again be used for building.  You will be completely wiped out," says the LORD."  (Jeremiah 51:20-26, NLT)

(Note that after God promises the Israelites a victory against Babylon, the Israelites actually get their butts kicked by them in the next chapter.  So much for an all-knowing and all-powerful God.)"

This passage is part of a larger prophecy against Babylon at the end of the book of Jeremiah.  You can read the full passage here:

            As in Isaiah chapters 13-14, this passage was written about an event that would occur in the future.  In Jeremiah chapter 52, the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and exiled the people living there to Babylon.  However, the events described in chapters 50-51 were not a prophecy of what would happen immediately - the prophecy was fulfilled about 50 years later (circa 539 BCE), when Babylon was conquered by Persia under Cyrus the Great.
           Why did God allow Babylon to be conquered?  The Babylonian Empire angered God because of their arrogance, wickedness and pride (Isaiah 13:11, 14:13-15).  "Since this is the vengeance of the Lord, take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done to others...Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon" (Jeremiah 50:15, 51:49, NIV).  God allowed Babylon to conquer Judah because of their rebellion, sin and idolatry, but Babylon was so cruel in their oppression of Judah and other nations that God determined to punish them.  In essence, Babylon was conquered in the same way that they had conquered other nations.
            As in previous passages concerning war, it must be noted that God does not desire that these things should happen.  He always gave the nations he was about to destroy ample warning and an opportunity to repent (Jeremiah 18:7-8, NIV; see also Jonah chapter 3).  Babylon defied God and did not pay attention to the warnings, and so they were overthrown (Jeremiah 50:11-13, 24).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Plague on the Firstborn (Exodus 11-12)

The following quote is taken from

"God Kills all the First Born of Egypt - "And at midnight the LORD killed all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn son of the captive in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed.  Pharaoh and his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died."  (Exodus 12:29-30 NLT)

This passage is part of the much larger story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt.  You can read the full story here:

            There are a few things that we need to consider when reading this passage.  First, Pharaoh had been given multiple warnings by God through Moses, commanding him to let the Israelites go free, but Pharaoh would not listen or obey, even after nine plagues had afflicted Egypt (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7).  Egypt had held the Israelites in slavery for 400 years (Genesis 15:13), and these plagues were a judgment on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their cruelty and oppression of the Israelites (Exodus 1:8-14, 5:1-21).
            Also, a generation earlier, Pharaoh had commanded the murder of thousands of Israelite baby boys (Exodus 1:15-22).  One of the purposes of the plague on the firstborn Egyptian males was as punishment for the murder of the Israelite baby boys.  A common question in response is: Why did the first born males of Egypt have to die when it was Pharaoh who gave the earlier command to kill the Israelite males?  The answer is that the Egyptian people participated in the murder of the Israelite babies (Exodus 1:22).  They did not object to the command or disobey it, as the Israelite midwives had done earlier when they had been given the same command (Exodus 1:15-21).  Because they did this, they would in turn know the pain of the death of their sons.
            It should be noted that God's judgment on Egypt could have been much worse.  As punishment for their sins, he could have wiped out the entire nation with a single plague, but he chose not to do so (Exodus 9:15-16).  God is willing to show mercy to anyone who is willing to repent and have faith in him.  After the ten plagues on Egypt, when the Israelites fled into the desert to worship God, some Egyptians left their life in Egypt and went with them (Exodus 12:38).
            Something else significant here is that the plague of the death of the firstborn would finally, definitively show Egypt who the one true God is.  The death of Pharaoh's firstborn son in God's final plague on Egypt would have flown in the face of the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was a god [1].  It conclusively demonstrated that the idols that Egypt worshipped had no power against the only true, living God.  "This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth" (Exodus 9:14, NIV; see also Exodus 12:12).
            Finally, the Passover foreshadowed a future event - the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross as atonement for the sins of the world (John 1:29).  When the Israelites slaughtered a lamb and placed it's blood on their doorframes to avert the angel of death from killing the firstborn males within, God was illustrating what he was going to do much later - send his Son into the world, who was without sin, to bleed and die for all those who would place their faith in him.  Faith in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross saves us from God's wrath (1 Corinthians 5:7).

[1] Footnote on, for Exodus 11:5.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Judgment on the Idolaters (Ezekiel 9)

The following quote is taken from
"Kill Men, Women, and Children - "Then I heard the LORD say to the other men, "Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked.  Show no mercy; have no pity!  Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.  But do not touch anyone with the mark.  Begin your task right here at the Temple."  So they began by killing the seventy leaders.  "Defile the Temple!" the LORD commanded.  "Fill its courtyards with the bodies of those you kill!  Go!"  So they went throughout the city and did as they were told."  (Ezekiel 9:5-7 NLT)

These verses are part of a larger vision that the prophet Ezekiel had.  You can read the entire chapter here:

            In Ezekiel chapters 1-24, God sent his message of doom against the nation of Judah; those who were not killed during the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians were going to be taken into captivity, and Jerusalem (including the First Temple, the one built by King Solomon) would be destroyed.  Ezekiel received these messages only about 7 years before the Babylonian captivity (which occurred circa 586 BCE).  In Ezekiel chapter 9, Ezekiel was given a vision of the destruction that would occur when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem.
            The reason for the Babylonian captivity is because the people of Judah had completely turned away from God, choosing to worship idols instead, and had even defiled God's Temple by placing idols inside of it and worshipping them there (Ezekiel 5-8).  On top of that, the people were constantly committing murder, foolishly thinking that God did not see or care what they did (Ezekiel 5:5-7, 7:23, 8:17-18, 9:9-10).  "Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations.  Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again" (Ezekiel 5:8-9, NIV).
            The charge of idolatry is a very grievous sin, which God does not take lightly (see Exodus 20:3-6, 23; 23:13, 23-24; 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; Deuteronomy 4:15-28; 5:7; 6:14-15; 8:19; 12:31; 17:2-7; 27:15; 29:17-18).  God warned the Israelites on several occasions that if they committed idolatry, it was a crime that warranted the death penalty.  The Israelites' covenant with God demanded that they worship and serve him only.  They were not supposed to worship other gods or fashion idols for themselves.  God had warned them that if they did these things, it would lead to their destruction: "If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed" (Deuteronomy 8:19, NIV).  
            Why is idolatry considered such a serious crime?  The severity of the judgment, capital punishment, is due to the severity of the sin.  God is the only God, the Lord and creator of all the universe.  When anyone bows down and worships or pays tribute to a false god or idol, they are taking credit away from God and giving it to something undeserving of that credit.  "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8, NIV).  The crime of idolatry was so serious that it was often referred to as adultery against God (Ezekiel 6:9).
            With all of this in mind, the many verses in Ezekiel that describe the death of the people, including women and children, are shocking and cause for grief.  The people of Israel and Judah had been given multiple warnings by God through many prophets over the course of nearly 300 years, and they still did not repent and turn to God for forgiveness.  If they had, they would have been spared, and all of the death and destruction could have been avoided.  "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned" (Jeremiah 18:7-8, NIV; see also Jonah chapter 3).
            As in previous passages, it should be noted that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32).  However, there comes a time when his patience runs out and he abandons those who have rejected him to their fate.  The conquest of Judah by Babylon was such a time.