A Shelter for God’s Afflicted People (Part One)

Isaiah 14:32

What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation? “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge” (NIV).

The last three months have been unsettling, to say the least that could be said. We live in desperate times, and not only because of Covid-19 and the many lives that have been lost to it. Most people are rightly cautious about getting too close physically to others that they do not know, or even those they do know. The economy is shaking, and now our nation is correctly reeling over the protests against oppression that has been too long ignored. Who knows where this will end? I make no pretensions to being a prophet and I shrink from making predictions.

This could unsettle us, if we should fail to think and to act Biblically. However, the Christian knows that mankind has been part of a war between God and the forces of evil since the day when Adam rebelled against the Lord God. Since that time malevolent beings (Satan and the other evil spirits, and people who gladly walk in their ways) have been seeking human destruction. In the immediate context of our text, we can see two peoples that actively sought the destruction of God’s people in Old Testament times: Assyria and the Philistines. Yet God brought both down, as he will bring down all the enemies of his people whom he loves.

The living God wants us to know is that he has established a place of shelter for his afflicted people. There is a safe haven, a place of refuge, and all those who are in saving union with the risen Christ are part of that shelter. Let us think about this together.

In our text, Zion is called the place where God’s people will find refuge. What is Zion? At the time this text was written, the days of the old covenant shadows, it was the earthly Jerusalem.

  • In one sense, Jerusalem was the joy of the whole earth. It was the place where God revealed his glory, met with his people, and protected them (Psalms 48:1-14; 87:1-3).
  • In another sense, it was a place of bondage, since Jerusalem was under the law covenant (Galatians 4:24-25). Now the law was holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12). But since the law and its sacrifices could never cleanse the conscience (Hebrews 9:9-10), the people could not freely approach God. The laws with its rules and rituals allowed them to have come in their midst, but the people could not come near. The law demanded holiness, separateness. Exodus 19 provides good teaching on this point.

In the days of the new covenant reality, the time in which we live, Zion is the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:18-24).

In the fullest sense, we still look for this city (Revelation 21:1-22:6). We are “scattered exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) on a journey through this world to the heavenly city. Here we have no city with foundations (Hebrews 11:10). We wish that there were such a city now! But that city is impossible in a world of frustration and bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-21). Hopefully, now that we live in desperate times, we will realize that our hope is not in this world.

Yet in another sense, we are part of this city that is from above, and we are starting to enjoy its benefits now (Ephesians 2:19-22; Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:4-10). And so we are caught in this tension between the “now” and the “not yet”.

Christians tend to polarize in regard to this tension. Some want to act as if the “not yet” had already occurred. The Corinthians were an example of this (1 Corinthians 4:8). Others act as if nearly all of the blessings of the new covenant are “not yet”, and so fail to experience joy and peace in believing.

Every follower of Jesus Christ and every local church should strive to reflect as much of God’s glory in the blessings that we now can experience and of the hope that is set before us. People should be able to say, “These Christians know what true joy is. They are filled with joy!” And people should also say, “And what a confident expectation flows out of these Christians. They are people who clearly have a living hope (1 Peter 1:3-9)!”

Grace and peace,

Ahab: A Man of Wickedness (Part Two)

1 Kings 16:29-34

And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him (16:31-33 ESV)

As leader of God’s people, Ahab, king of Israel, was in a position to lead the people away from God. The Holy Spirit in this section explains the evil spiritual situation that Israel fell deeper into. Previously, we observed that Ahab, surpassed all his predecessors in wickedness, and he broke through barriers in his pursuit of sin. What else did Ahab do to wreak spiritual havoc in God’s nation?

Ahab married an evil woman (16:31). We must recall the Lord’s concern for Israel’s purity in the marriage covenant. During the time of the law covenant, God had forbidden intermarriage with any of the Canaanite people (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). He had good reasons for this prohibition. He wanted his people to be separate from the nations, and avoiding close relationships, like marriage, would promote their devotion to the Lord. This same principle is true for the new covenant believer, though the intermarriage forbidden is different under the new covenant (1 Cor 7:39; 9:5; 2 Cor 6:14-16). People in God’s new holy nation are only to marry people who are also part of that group, meaning followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first question to ask before beginning any romantic involvement is this: “Is this person I am interested in a true follower of Jesus Christ?” If not, avoid romantic entanglements.

Jezebel was from Sidon, a Canaanite city (Judges 1:30-32). Therefore, Ahab had no right to marry her. Did Ahab care what God’s said in the Torah? Not at all! He had contempt for God, but his refusal to obey God did not grant him immunity from judgment.

This woman, Jezebel, became notorious for her wickedness. She became so infamous, that her name became a prophetic symbol for wickedness (Revelation 2:20-22). Notice her way of life:

  • Her cruelty. 18:4. We have enough sorrow from the murders committed by those involved in drugs and gangs. How much worse when the government persecutes the righteous?
  • Her idolatry. 18:19; 2 Kings 9:22.
  • Her involvement with witchcraft. 2 Kings 9:22.

With a queen like this at wicked Ahab’s side, Israel was in for trouble.

To make matters much worse, Ahab established the worship of Baal in Israel (16:31b-33). What is meant by Baal? The word itself means “lord” or “master” or “husband”. It was used to refer to a number of false gods in ancient times, for example, Numbers 25:3; Joshua 2:11-13. Here it refers to the Baal of Tyre, Melkarth [Melqart], who “was the kind of god that required the burning of innocent children as oblations upon his altar” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary). He was considered to be sort of the “weather or fertility god” of the land. His worshipers would engage in various debauched practices to induce him to send good weather.

Ahab was devoted to his new god. He began to worship and serve Baal, and soon he was promoting his new faith. To do this he built a temple and an altar for Baal, and made an Asherah pole. Asherah, “the Lady who treads on the sea” was believed to be the mother of Baal and wife of El, the chief of the gods, and the goddess of the sea. In this way he again transgressed the instruction of the law covenant (Deuteronomy 7:5). Here is a recurring theme in pagan thought: the worship of a god and his mother. Does this sound familiar?

Ahab provoked the true and  living God to anger. Even though others before him, like Jeroboam, had sinned grievously, Ahab gave himself over to evil to a greater extent than anyone before him had. Listen to what the Spirit says. Still, there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the Lord’s sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him (1 Kings 21:25 CSB). What happens next demonstrates that God was not indifferent to Ahab’s sin. He was provoked to anger by it. Consider Romans 1:18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (NASB). But how did God act? The stage is set for the appearance of Elijah. But we close with a couple lessons.

  • When people depart from the worship of the true God, they often get involved in the worship of what has been created (Romans 1:21-23). Humans have sought to fill the vacuum in our souls by polytheism, evolutionism or pantheism. It is amazing to see how modern, technologically advanced humanity has descended to worship the “forces” in nature.
  • God’s wrath is against all those who get involved in such pagan practices. The church must take its stand against the adoption of such things though they are called by different names.
  • The only way to approach the true and living God is through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).

Grace and peace, David

When God Seems Distant in a Broken World (Part Two)

img_3720Psalm 10:1-11

King David trusted God, through the complexities of life. He knew that the Lord reigns forever (9:7). Yet he acknowledged the prosperity of wicked, prideful people. Life throws such complications at us, and we need a mature faith to work through the anguish we can feel. David does that in this psalm. We resume the previous article as he sings the unhappy song of the characteristics of wicked people.

  • They are self-confident with no fear of coming adversity (10:5-6). Given the known weaknesses of old age and the certainty of death, it is surprising that they can have such overweening pride. The wicked are like the sports teams that have skilled offences, but forget that they need a defense capable of stopping their opponents. Since they have excluded God from their thoughts, they assume that justice can never touch them. In the name of living for all the gusto they can grab now, they ignore much of life in a broken world. They don’t want to think about it.
  • They are filled with corrupt communication (10:7). Jesus unveiled the source of evil speech. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Matthew 12:34 NIV). People can speak in malicious and spiteful ways. Their aim is to hurt by their words. Read this sad catalogue and know what you can expect to receive in a broken world. His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity (ESV).
  • They set ambushes to murder and oppress the helpless (10:8-10). We all can see and read about this evil every day. God desires people everywhere to care for their neighbors, and he grants people skill and strength to do so. The wicked do not love their neighbors as God commands; they abuse and kill them. Here we can clearly see the hideous nature of sin. We cannot see into the spiritual realm and see the nature of mankind’s rebellion against the living God, but we can see the havoc and ruin it causes in the human condition. Violence is a growing problem among our people. Racial and ethnic tensions continue to rise toward a boiling point. The brokenness of humanity is about to break us all, unless God sends a new great awakening.
  • They suppress the truth of God and his justice (10:11). If they think of the God they have no room for in their thoughts, it is only to mock him. Listen to their ridicule: He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (ESV). They portray God to themselves as oblivious, indifferent, and incapable.

So then, what should we learn as we live in this broken world?

  • We should avoid falling into the trap that supposes that God is far away and unconcerned. God is near us (Acts 17:27-28). We may not be able to discern God’s activity, but let us not think that he doesn’t care about us or suffering people. God will act in justice at his appointed day. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).
  • We should know that God understands our situation in this broken world. He realizes the opposition that the poor, the helpless, and his people face. Remember, this is a song that we need to sing in worship. It might be a very melancholy song, but it has a beneficial purpose. We do not want the Lord to stand far away from people in trouble. Neither should we. God works through people who live in this broken world to reach out to the helpless and the oppressed. We all ought to involve ourselves in his mission.

Certainly, it requires much more than our small efforts, and David will write more in this song about the need for God to act. For now, do not complain about life’s troubles. Use them as opportunities to love God and people.

Grace and peace, David

The Nature of Spiritual Warfare (Part One)


Ephesians 6:11-12

To be a Christian is to be part of a new humanity or nation or society that God is making. This is exciting. God by his grace has called us to be a new people, joined to him and each other. Since this basic union in Christ exists, we have a true unity amid our obvious diversity. God has called us out from the old humanity, which is ruined by sin, and made us alive with Christ to be holy and blameless in his sight. This is a joyous calling for this life, and a certain prospect of eternal glory.

Yes, all this is very true, and we ought always to praise the Lord for his goodness to us. But we also have enemies, powerful ones, who totally hate God and us and who seek our ruin. “Is God’s plan to create a new society? Then they will do their utmost to destroy it. Has God through Jesus Christ broken down the walls dividing human beings of different races and cultures from each other? Then the devil through his emissaries will strive to rebuild them. Does God intend his reconciled and redeemed people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of hell will scatter among them the seeds of discord and sin” (Stott). In short, we are in a war. We have seen already from this text that we are spiritually outfitted for battle and have the incalculable asset of the Lord’s mighty power. Now we want to understand more about the nature of this war we find ourselves in.

In spiritual warfare the Christian is in conflict with powerful, spiritual enemies. In any kind of war, we must know the identity of the enemy. The battle is not against “flesh and blood”; that is, this battle is not against other humans. The point is not to exclude other people as agents of evil, but to direct us to think of another enemy. Evil people are captives who follow Satan’s commands. They need to be set free by God’s grace, before they enter into eternal destruction.

Diseases like cancer and the flu, famine, and the desolations of war mar much of present life, but they are nothing compared to eternal wrath. However, we need to realize that behind evil people are implacable, malicious spiritual enemies who lust for our ruin. We are confronting enemies that are able to operate in the spiritual realm. Humans can strike at us with physical objects and terrible words, but this spiritual enemy can strike where people are not able.

In this war, we must realize the power that our enemies possess. The apostle uses a number of terms to impress on our minds the fact that they are powerful: rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces of evil. The idea is not to learn some kind of hierarchy of demons, but to understand that they have ability to strike spiritually against the saints. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan graphically presents Christian in combat with powers far greater in power. After joining the church (the Palace Beautiful) and learning much, Christian continues on his pilgrimage and goes into the Valley of Humiliation. There he meets Apollyon, and becomes involved in a deadly fight with this prince of darkness. Only God’s armor protects Christian from his opponent’s fierce blows. When the contest is done, Bunyan writes a short poem about the contest.

“A more unequal match can hardly be—Christian must fight an angel; but you see, The valiant man by handling sword and shield, Doth make him, though a dragon, quit the field.”

We must also be convinced of the total evil of these enemies. They approve of whatever God forbids; whatever God says is good and right, they utterly hate. “If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honor, no higher feelings. They recognize no Geneva Convention to restrict or partially civilize the weapons of their warfare. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs” (Stott). Know your enemies and their heinous character.

Grace and peace, David