The Angel of the LORD and Moses (Exodus 3)

This article is another of our studies on the mysterious character of the angel of the LORD. As we go through the appearances of this person in the Old Testament, it will quickly become obvious that this is no ordinary angel. In fact, my conviction is that this is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity before His appearance in Bethlehem. My goal in these posts is to demonstrate how the Scriptures present the angel of the LORD as divine and thus to show that He prefigures Jesus Christ. I also want to discover what characteristics the angel of the LORD displays which will later be manifested by Jesus in His earthly ministry. Finally, an objective in all my posts is to show the beauty and the power of the Scriptures, and to make plain that the Scriptures are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).


The basic story of Moses and the burning bush is very well known. Many people in our culture even today can tell you that Moses was in the desert and God spoke to him out of a bush that was burning but was not being burned up. It is as we dig deeper down into the details of Exodus 3, however, that we begin to see the complexity and the mystery of what, on the surface, appears to be a simple story. Our focus here will be on the angel of the LORD and trying to determine his identity. As the story opens, Moses has been a shepherd in Midian for forty years. One day, he wanders over into the west side of the wilderness and comes near Mount Horeb.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of the bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not being consumed.

COMMENTS: Observe that the Scripture explicitly says that the angel of the LORD (AOTL) appeared to Moses. The AOTL was visible to Moses, as if the AOTL allows God to be seen.

Also, “the AOTL appeared to him in a blazing (flaming) fire from the midst of the bush.” We will see later in Exodus 3:4a that “God called to him (Moses) from the midst of the bush.” The repetition of the exact phrase is the literary means of intentionally connecting God with the AOTL.  

The final comment from this verse is the author’s choice of the Hebrew word for “blazing,” elsewhere translated as “flaming.” This same Hebrew word appears in two other passages involving the AOTL, in Judges 13:20 when the AOTL announces the conception of Samson and in Isaiah 10:17, an allusion to the destruction of the Assyrian army by the AOTL.

The point of these comments is that they begin planting seeds in our thinking that this AOTL is not just an ordinary angel but may be much more.

When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

COMMENTS: In commenting on Exodus 3:2, we had observed that the AOTL appeared, and that God called to him from the midst of the bush. The message being communicated by this repetition of phrase is that persons who do the same things are very closely related to each other.

There is further mystery here, as “the LORD saw that he (Moses) turned aside,” but then God is the one who called to Moses from the midst of the bush. For those keeping track, we now have the AOTL, the LORD, and God all in the midst of the bush.

One of the characteristics of this appearance of the AOTL, and of appearances of the AOTL in general, is that there is intentional ambiguity about identity. When the AOTL and God and the LORD appear in the same scene, it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. This is done intentionally in the text to convey the idea that there is a lot of overlap in these characters. So, right now it seems that the AOTL is closely related to God.

Since God is now calling to Moses from the midst of the bush, we need to ask the question, “What happened to the AOTL?” The AOTL does not appear again in the chapter. Where did He go? Did He just disappear? Also, when did God enter the scene? The solution could be that the AOTL is the visible manifestation of God. It could be that the AOTL is “the image of the invisible God” (spoken of Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:15).  

Another interesting observation is seeing how God calls Moses. “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” In an earlier encounter with the AOTL in Genesis 22, we saw that the AOTL called Abraham by saying, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:11) Again, it is significant when the Scripture presents this sort of repetition: A double calling of the name with a response of, “Here I am.” This serves to create further ambiguity between God and the AOTL. “If they speak the same way, maybe they are the same person.”

Up to this point, then, both the AOTL and God act from the midst of the bush, but also both God and the AOTL call people in the same way. Hmmm. They certainly have a lot of similarities.

16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”’

COMMENTS: We are skipping down to this verse (3:16) to see what God instructs Moses to tell the people of Israel: the LORD, the God of Abraham has appeared to him. What is interesting is that, in this chapter, only the AOTL is recorded as having appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:2). What do we conclude from this? The conclusion seems to be that when the AOTL appears, it is as if the LORD Himself has appeared. An appearance of the AOTL is an appearance of the LORD.

GENERAL COMMENTS: It is difficult to tell how many people are in this scene. We see the AOTL, the LORD and God all mentioned in this chapter, but the Person talking with Moses is only one person. In other words, the name changes between the AOTL and the LORD and God, but it is obviously the same person speaking throughout.


Even though the angel of the LORD is only mentioned once (in 3:2), it seems that throughout the chapter, the AOTL is the visible manifestation of the LORD and of God. Just as Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” so in the Old Testament the one who had seen the AOTL had seen the LORD.

SDG                 rmb                 3/18/2021

Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 3


In the two previous articles we have been attempting to answer the question, “If, for the believer, the ‘old self’ has died (Colossians 3:3) and our sin has been atoned for and forgiven because of Christ’s death on our behalf (Colossians 1:13-14), why does sin and the ‘old self’ continue to plague us?” Colossians 3:1-12 has been chosen as our study passage because here, in these verses, the apostle Paul gives doctrinal teaching and exhortations that directly address this question. On March 1, 2021, I had posted an article focused on the commands Paul issues to the believer because the believer has been raised up with Christ.

We may wonder, however, where we are supposed to find the ability to obey all these commands. Paul has given us these commands, but these are not trivial, especially if we were in the “old self” for a long time. Putting sins to death (3:5) and putting other sins aside (3:8) and stopping my habits of lying (3:9); that is a pretty tall order! How do we do this?

After he issues his commands, Paul then tells of the power supply for obedience. What Paul presents as fact is that, when you were raised up with Christ in salvation, you simultaneously laid aside the “old self” (3:9) and you put on the “new self” (3:10), and the “new self” that you put on is itself being renewed into the image of Christ (3:10; Romans 8:29). Best of all, this renewal of the “new self” is a process called sanctification that continues (Phil. 2:12-13) in every believer from the moment that you are raised up with Christ (conversion) to the day of your physical death. For those who were counting, there were four doctrinal truths given. We will unpack all four briefly.

When you first responded to the gospel by trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, part of the salvation package was that you laid aside the “old self” (3:9). This is not something that you consciously did but was rather something that was done for you because you trusted in Christ. Having laid aside the “old self” (3:9), you laid aside the old self’s love of sin. Since the old self died (3:3), the old self’s craving for the evil pleasures of sin also died. Although it may have taken some time, maybe even a long time, for you to fully experience this death, the doctrinal truth is that, at the moment of conversion, your love of sin was doomed. And this laying aside of the old self is a universal experience for all believers.

Having laid aside the “old self,” you then needed something to put on in its place. Thus, the “old self” was put off and the “new self” was put on (3:10). This “new self” or “new man” is the spiritual counterpart to the “old self” and is also part of the salvation package. As the “old self” loved sin, so the “new self” loves holiness and righteousness. As the “old self” spoke lies, so the “new self” speaks truth. As the “old self” loved self, so the “new self” seeks to love others. All believers have put on the new self.

Having put on the new self (3:10), the believer is ready to begin growing in practical holiness, a process that is called sanctification. When you first trust Christ and when you have just been raised up with Christ, the new self is like a spiritual toddler. But as the believer walks with Jesus and begins to drink the spiritual milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2; Colossians 3:16) and fellowships with other believers, “the new self is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (3:10).” This means that another part of the salvation package (“being raised up with Christ”) for all believers is that we are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

But there is still more doctrinal truth here. This “renewal,” that we also know as sanctification, is a process that occurs in all believers, regardless of any social or cultural consideration. Paul lists groups of people who are as diverse as people can be (3:11) to show that anyone who has been raised up with Christ has an equal opportunity to be “renewed.” All believers without distinction should be growing in obedience and sanctification, whether their “old self” was as uncivilized as a Scythian or as self-righteous as a Pharisee. This is because their “new self” is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16), and this renewal continues in the believer until their race here on earth is finished.


Finally, Paul states the strongest doctrinal truth of the passage: “Therefore, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved (3:12), put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The doctrinal truth contained in this verse is essentially a definition of a Christian. All Christians are “chosen of God,” they are “holy,” in that they have been set apart to God, and they are “beloved” by God. Because this is true, “therefore” the Christian is duty-bound to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, etc.


What we have seen in the passage is that the doctrinal truths of salvation obligate us to holy and righteous living and compel us to reject our old life of sin. These same doctrinal truths provide the believer with the power they need to obey the demands of a sanctified life.

SDG                 rmb                  3/2/2021

End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3)

Back on January 21 I published a blog post introducing an end-times Bible study on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. The title of that post was not terribly creative: “End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2: Introduction to the study.” As I have further considered this study, I have decided to publish the long articles as “pages” on my “Roy’s Reflections” site and to announce each long article with a blog post, summarizing the longer article and also providing a link to the “page” for those who want to read more. So here is the first of my announcements. I hope you enjoy the study. rmb


The Lord has given us eschatological passages (passages about the end of the age or “last things”) in His Word to show us “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” Jesus Christ will surely return to this earth bodily in power and glory (Acts 1:11) and will draw history to a close, and there will certainly be a generation of people who will see Him coming on the clouds (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:29-31). Given the unprecedented events of recent history and the general trajectory of events into the future, I have wondered if, perhaps, we might be that generation of people. That is, does what the Bible describe as the events at the end of the age bear any resemblance to what we see swirling around in our world today? This study through 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 is an attempt to answer that question.


“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:3

In this article the subject will be “the apostasy” from 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The apostasy (“rebellion” in the ESV) is one of the “gating events” mentioned in this passage, for Paul says that “it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first.” Thus, according to Paul’s teaching, the apostasy must take place before Jesus will return. Our study of the apostasy, then, should answer two questions: 1) What exactly is “the apostasy?” and 2) Has the apostasy taken place yet? If we can answer the first question satisfactorily and then answer “yes” to the second question, we can be confident that at least this end-times event is not preventing His return.

The article then goes on to attempt to answer these two questions (above) and then to draw some conclusions.

Link to article: End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3) – Roy’s Reflections

SDG rmb 1/27/2021

The distinguishing mark of a “religion”

The distinguishing mark of every “religion” is that, if Christ had never come into the world and there was, therefore, no cross and there was no resurrection and no empty tomb and Christ was not coming again to judge the earth, the “religion” would continue to function without interruption.

            This, in fact, is basically a functional definition of any “religion”: Any system of man-made practices and rituals intended to provide a worldview that intentionally operates or can operate without any meaningful reference to Christ. The point I am trying to make is that this is not an incidental product of the religious system but is completely intentional and is the very reason that the religion was created and exists. As we consider some examples of “religions,” it will be apparent that these systems are deliberately antichrist.      


            All religions are invented and crafted by the chief antichrist himself, Satan, and are therefore designed to exclude all references to and reliance upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus, to deny His glorious resurrection, and to omit and ignore the fact that He will return one day to judge the earth. Although religions come in a wide variety of guises, their primary purpose is to prevent the religious slave from seeing their own sinfulness, and from “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).”

Satan invents religions and then passes them on to wicked men who then propagate the lies of the religion so that religious devotees will never encounter our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, they will not become aware they are sinners, and they will become ensnared in useless rituals and works and ideas which profit them nothing. Religions are Satan’s primary means for obscuring Jesus. They avoid the biblical Jesus, they distort biblical teaching, and they twist the meaning of biblical words and ideas, and they do so intentionally and actively. Again, the reason they all have common characteristics is that they are invented by the same person, Satan, and they have the same purpose.

Religions exalt the devotee by appealing to the “works” that the religious person does to merit their “salvation.” The works and the efforts involved vary from religion to religion, but all religions base the achievement of the end goal (purgatory, nirvana, paradise, oblivion, heaven, your own planet, etc.) on the meritorious efforts of the followers. If the follower works hard enough and long enough, and they are good enough, they might get in. Oddly, this results in strengthening the chains of slavery that bind them to the religion by appealing to their fleshly pride and encouraging them to rely on his own efforts to please God.


There is a marked and easily detected difference between true biblical faith and practice, and “religions.” Here is a series of questions that will help make this distinction:

  • Regarding SIN – Is sin clearly defined and presented as a major issue and as the guarantee of condemnation to an eternity in hell, or is sin undefined or vaguely defined and seldom or never addressed?
  • Regarding man – Is man portrayed as a sinner in need of rescue, or is man presented as basically good and possibly in need of a little help from above? Is man declared to be wretched and rebellious, or is he “better than most” and “doing the best that he can?”
  • Regarding the centrality of Christ – Is Christ the center of the worship and the preaching of this group and, therefore, mentioned often, or is Christ off to the side somewhere and seldom mentioned? Is Christ central or is He expendable?
  • Regarding salvation – Is man’s need for salvation made clear and then is Christ presented as the only means of that salvation, or is man’s need for salvation vague or unknown and Christ’s role in salvation likewise unclear?
  • Regarding the cross of Christ – Is the cross of Christ preached from the pulpit and exalted by all, or is the power of the cross and the purpose of the cross unknown? Does this group proclaim what Jesus accomplished on the cross or is this group ignorant of what Jesus accomplished on the cross?
  • Regarding the resurrection of Christ from the dead – Is the resurrection of Christ from the dead regularly preached from the pulpit without apology or nuance, or is the resurrection not mentioned at all or is it ignored as unimportant or explained away by natural means?
  • Regarding the return of Christ at the end of the age – Is the return of Christ something that is anticipated with excitement and that is proclaimed loudly by pastors from the pulpit, or is the return of Christ effectively unknown?


            In his short epistle, Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 22-24).” The last verse is addressed at false religions. Be wary and be warned! They are dangerous.

            There are many antichrists (false christs, false prophets, and false teachers) who have gone out into the world (1 John 2:18), and so the church is to be warned that there are deceivers and liars all over.

            What should we do in light of these things?

            Know your Bible as if your life depended on it. Be able to recognize false doctrine instantly by being intimately familiar with true doctrine.

            Find a solid fellowship in which you can trust the pastors and elders of the church to teach the word of God faithfully and truthfully. You must be able to trust that you are not the only one defending yourself from false teaching. You must know that your pastors and elders are guarding the flock from any false teaching and from false teachers. They are watching for wolves who would destroy the flock (Acts 20:24??). This trust in the pastors and elders must be implicit, and their vigilance must be intentional, not just incidental. The church must be serious about guarding itself from false teaching.

SDG                 rmb                 12/17/2020

Forgiveness of sin and consequences of sin (Psalm 130:3-4)

If You, LORD, should mark iniquity, O Lord who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with You that You may be feared. – Psalm 130:3-4

What does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? “There is forgiveness with the Lord,” but after forgiveness, what does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? Will He remove the consequences of sin from the sin that is forgiven, or does He leave the consequences, even when He forgives the sin? And what about the sins of unbelievers? Since all their sins are unforgiven, does the Lord bring on these people all the consequences of their sins? I was thinking about this recently and wanted to share some brief thoughts.


It must be said up front that God’s forgiveness of sin does not mean that God will remove the natural consequences of sin. God is never under any obligation to remove any of the consequences of any person’s sin. If the worst consequences of every sin came to pass, God would not have violated any of His justice. He would remain perfectly just. God is obligated to forgive all the sins of every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, but He is obligated to remove none of the consequences of anyone’s sins. Having stated this theological truth, we need to also state that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in lovingkindness (Psalm 145:8),” and, because of His grace and mercy, He ordinarily chooses to remove the consequences of people’s sins, of believers and unbelievers alike.


Now, we should consider these things for a moment to understand the greatness and the glory and the compassion of our God. Because God is gracious and merciful, and because He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to become flesh and to dwell among us and to die on the cross for us, and God has obligated Himself to forgive all the sins of every person who believes in Jesus. God has promised that any person who believes in Jesus is forgiven of all their sins and will never come under judgment. But while God has obligated Himself to forgive the sins of believers, He is not obligated to remove any of the consequences of those sins. But because God is, by His very nature, merciful and gracious, and because His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), then God ordinarily and usually chooses, by His perfect wisdom and for His glory, to remove the consequences of people’s sins, not only those of believers, but also those of unbelievers, even though the sins of the unbelievers are not forgiven and even though unbelievers remain under God’s wrath and judgment. Think about how foreign this is to our human experience. In this world, we expect enemies to receive no mercy, but God’s mercy manifests itself by usually (but not always) removing the worst consequences of the sins of His enemies.

In Romans 9:22, we read that “God, though willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” What this means is that God deferred His wrath and His judgment on the reprobate, even though they were destined for hell.

In Romans 3:25, Paul writes that, “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” Again, God delayed judgment because of His grace.

Paul is addressing the pagans in Lystra when he says that “In generations gone by God permitted the nations to go their own way,” while still giving them rains and good things. The point is that God’s common grace means that He defers His judgment, and He often removes the consequences of sin.

SDG                 rmb                 12/12/2020

What is the price of a treasure or a pearl? (Matthew 13:44-46)

What is so valuable that it is worth the ultimate price, the price of my life? That is the question that Jesus is going to address with these two short parables in Matthew 13:44 and then in 13:45-46. What cost are you willing to pay for that one thing you have been seeking your whole life?

In the first parable, a man finds treasure buried in a field. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44).” The second parable is about a merchant seeking pearls. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).” Although the details of the parables are different, their structure and their flow and, most importantly, their message is the same.

But before we get too far, we need to define what we mean by “the kingdom of heaven.” This phrase basically means salvation, and the peace and rest that King Jesus offers. The kingdom of heaven is that place where Jesus is King.

In both parables, the main characters are seeking something. There is something “out there” that they desire and so they seek it diligently. They were seeking something of immense value that can only be obtained at huge cost. But they know that, if they find what they are seeking, any price they pay will be justified by the value of what they obtain. So, they seek.

What are we seeking? Before we know Jesus as Lord, I believe we are seeking something “out there” that will satisfy our soul. Each of us has just one life to give away, but what is so valuable that it is worth the price of my life? Jesus asked, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?” So, we seek something that is worth our soul. In Isaiah 55, the prophet says, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near (v. 6).” In Jeremiah, the LORD says, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart (29:13).” So first, we must seek.

Again, in both parables, the man and the merchant find what they are seeking. The man finds the treasure in the field and the merchant finds the pearl of great value. They realize that this is the moment that have been waiting for. This is that once in a lifetime find, the discovery on which their life pivots. This is it! Now is the opportunity to end their seeking and make the commitment.

What is Jesus telling us? It is clear from these parables that the kingdom of heaven with Jesus as King is the treasure in the field and is the pearl of great value. Jesus is declaring to all who will listen that this is the moment you have been waiting for. The kingdom of heaven is the end of your search. Will you make the commitment?

Finally, both the man and the merchant agree to pay the outrageous price. What is the price for the find of a lifetime? They go and they sell all that they have and buy it. There is no hesitation and there is no “buyer’s remorse.” Instead, there is joy! But how can there be joy when you have spent all that you have? There is joy when the value of what you obtained is infinitely greater than the cost. For the man with the treasure, the field cost him everything he had, but he obtained lifetime satisfaction. His treasure hunt was forever over. The pearl merchant was left with nothing but the fabulous pearl, but now he could rest from his search for pearls.

What is the price I must pay for the kingdom of heaven? What will it cost me to obtain eternal satisfaction for my soul? When Jesus was talking to the rich young ruler about the cost of eternal life in Mark 10:21, He says, “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and come, follow Me,” but the man was not willing to pay the price and he suffered infinite loss. The apostle Paul lost everything to follow Christ, yet he counted all he lost “as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).” When Jesus called Peter, James, John, and Matthew (Levi), they “left everything and followed Him (Luke 5:11, 28).” It is the same for all who would follow Jesus. The price you must pay to obtain the kingdom of heaven is the price of your whole life. You must give everything you have. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).” The message of these two short parables is that Jesus is offering the infinite value of the kingdom of heaven to anyone who is willing to seek Him and find Him and give their life away in serving Him and obeying Him.

There is another reason why the kingdom of heaven is of infinite value. We have been talking about what it will cost us to obtain it, but we also need to consider how much it cost to make the kingdom of heaven available to seeking sinners. The kingdom of heaven is of infinite value because it was purchased for us at the price of the death of the Son of God. It cost the Lord Jesus the price of His life poured out on a Roman cross to buy access for sinners to the kingdom of heaven. Now the kingdom of heaven can be obtained by anyone who is willing to give their life away to Jesus. SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2020

Two biblical studies: Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and Yom Kippur in Leviticus 16

I am doing a lot of reading and studying in the end-times passages in the Scriptures, and have been digging deep into chapters 7-12 of Daniel lately. I have always enjoyed the narrative stories in Daniel 1-6 with their heroes and the amazing ways the Lord rescued and promoted His brave and faithful servants in Babylon, but I have thus far been reluctant to plunge into Daniel’s visions and prophecies in the second half of the book. But now, since I have more time available for study, I have rolled up my sleeves and drilled down. The latest fruit of that “drilling” is a thorough study of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. My study can be accessed by the link below. Please read it and let me know your thoughts. rmb 9/22/2020

Since the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, is approaching (it will be here on September 27 this year), I decided to take a long look at Leviticus 16, where the Bible records the LORD’s commands regarding this most serious of days, to discover what riches I might find there. It turns out that this passage is rich with symbolism and heavy with foreshadows. I wanted especially to help my Jewish friends answer the question, “Since this ceremony can no longer be practiced as the LORD commanded it to be done, how do we atone for our sins?” In the article that I wrote (see the link below), I describe what I believe is the answer. Check it out and see if you agree with me. SDG rmb 9/22/2020

Why are you doing that? (Romans 10:2-3)


The squirrels had been in my attic for a while now. I could hear them overhead, running the length of the attic as they played in my insulation. It was driving me crazy. I hated those squirrels. “How are they getting into my attic?” Then one day I was standing in the front yard and saw a squirrel cross the street and head directly toward my house. It climbed up the trunk of a small tree near the house, jumped onto a branch of the tree, which bent under the weight and then sprung back up, catapulting the squirrel onto the roof of my house. “Oh ho! That’s how they are getting onto my roof and into my attic!” So, the next Saturday I was out with my tree saw and started to cut down the tree that the squirrels were using as a catapult. My neighbor wandered over to me and asked,

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am cutting down this tree because I don’t want squirrels in my attic!” He shook his head and smiled and said, “Cutting down that tree won’t stop squirrels. You know, squirrels can just climb up the brick on the outside of your house and get onto your roof.”

            I began to feel just a tiny bit stupid, realizing that he might be right, but I continued cutting down the tree anyway. “There,” I said, as the small tree sunk to the ground. “That will stop them!” My victory was short-lived, however. About two hours later, I felt chagrined and outmatched as I watched that same squirrel scamper up the corner of my house, using the brick as you or I would use a sidewalk, pop over onto the roof and then disappear into my attic.

            What had just happened? Because of my ignorance of the real nature of the problem, I had employed a strategy that could never get me the results I wanted. I wanted to get rid of the squirrels in my attic, so I cut down the tree. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            Now, other than a little bit of humiliation in the eyes of my neighbor, my blunder had no real consequences. No big deal. Lost a tree and kept the squirrels. Oh, well.

SCENE 2       

For the next scene, we turn to the Bible as Paul is applying the truths of the gospel to his Jewish countrymen in Romans 10. Paul presents a troubling scenario. Paul writes, “For I testify about them (his Jewish brethren), that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge (10:2). For not knowing about God’s righteousness (that is, not knowing about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus the Messiah), and seeking to establish their own (by religious works), they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (10:3).”

            So, what I want to do is frame this scenario in terms of the incident with the squirrels in my attic, because these scenes are similar. Let’s say that an observer was talking to one of Paul’s friends, who was a Pharisee.

“I see that you are really zealous about doing religious things. You fast twice a week. You tithe from all that you get. You pray long prayers on the street corners. You always wash your hands before you eat, and you never do any work on the Sabbath. Everyone knows that you give to the poor. I’ve heard you even cast out demons and occasionally do a miracle! But . . . “

“Why are you doing that?”

            The Pharisee replied, “Because I want to be righteous, of course!” The observer sadly shook his head and said, “Doing all these religious works does not make you righteous. In fact, no amount of religious works can EVER make you righteous. Do all your works, but your sin will remain.”

            The Pharisee said, “That’s nonsense! Anyone can see that I am more righteous than you! I know that my religious works please God.”

            Once more, the other man tried to get through. “Actually, in Isaiah 64:6 the prophet says, ‘All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.’ The only way to be righteous is to believe in Jesus the Messiah.”

            For a brief moment it seemed that the Pharisee was considering what had just been said. Did Isaiah really say that thing about the filthy garment? And if he did say that what might that mean for me? Could my Rabbi be wrong? Could I be wrong? Could this guy be right? Then the mental window slammed shut. “I don’t need to be taught by you!” he said. “I will continue to work my works!”

            What had just happened? Because of the Pharisee’s ignorance of the real nature of righteousness, he was employing a strategy that could never get him the results he wanted. He wanted righteousness, but he is trying to obtain his righteousness by his own works. No good. Waste of time. Bad idea.

            But it is right at this point that things radically change. For while my blunder with the squirrels cost me a small tree and a little bit of embarrassment, the Pharisee’s error will cost him an eternity in hell. You see, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe (Romans 10:4).” The only possible way to obtain righteousness before the Holy One, the God of heaven, is to believe in Jesus the Messiah. This is not a preference issue. This is not a question of semantics. This is not an issue where you go at your way and I go at it my way and then we will probably both get there eventually. If the Pharisee does not change his mind and repent and bow the knee to Jesus the Messiah, he will never obtain any righteousness. In fact, he will miss righteousness by an eternity.


            The final scene is a lunch discussion between me and Jack. Jack is a business associate of mine. We have developed a bit of a friendship and know a little bit about each other. I know that Jack is a Catholic, and we have had a couple of discussions about each other’s religious views. On this occasion, I have steered the conversation in the religious direction again.

            “So, as a Catholic, what sorts of things do you do? In other words, what religious things do Catholics do?”

            “We have talked about this before, Roy, but anyway. We do confession and we do the Mass every Sunday with the Eucharist. We do some ‘our Fathers’ and some ‘hail Marys.’ Some people do the rosary. We pray to various saints. Like that.”

“Why are you doing that?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why am I doing that?’ I am doing these things because I don’t want to go to hell!”

At that moment, I felt like the neighbor who was telling me the truth about squirrels or like the “other guy” who was telling the Pharisee the truth about righteousness. Jack said that he wanted to avoid hell, but he was pursuing a strategy that guaranteed that he would arrive there. He had adopted the Catholic plan which promises that good Catholics will avoid God’s wrath by doing religious things. For Catholics, trying to do your best and obeying the Catholic Church will at least get you into Purgatory. These are the inventions of the Catholic Church that keep people from hearing the truth.

So, I tried to explain to Jack that this was not a preference issue. I tried to tell him that there was no such thing as Purgatory (“Jack, I think you have a hole in your parachute.”) I told him that Jesus died to atone for sin, so there is no longer an ongoing sacrifice needed through the Mass. The priest has no authority to forgive sins or to give you any sort of penance that you can do to remove your sin. But my words fell on hard ground and we basically left the restaurant a tiny bit incensed with one another and probably a little more polarized.

The lesson from this is that we must be clear about what is wisdom and what is absolute truth. With regard to salvation, we must insist that there is no room for compromise or personal preference. When the fireman crashes your door down with an axe, it is not so he can debate with you whether your house is on fire. For everyone of us, our house is on fire, and there is only one way to safety. His name is Jesus.

For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe.

Romans 10:4

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Drive out, destroy, and demolish (Number 33:52-55)

“How is it that a man or a woman who has recently come to faith in Jesus Christ is transformed from a person with filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking into a sanctified believer whom Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call a brother or a sister (Hebrews 2:11)?” For when you initially repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you were immediately “seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6),” because spiritually you were as justified as you would ever be. That is, when you “passed from death to life (John 5:24)” at the instant of your salvation, you were 100% fully saved. Through faith in Jesus, you had been declared righteous. You had been acquitted. There was, therefore, then and now, no condemnation (Romans 8:1) for you . . . ever, throughout all eternity. You were no longer under God’s wrath and never would be again. Legally and spiritually, everything had changed forever. BUT morally and in terms of practical holiness, you still had your old filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking. In terms of growing in holiness, your direction had changed 180 degrees, from running toward sin to running toward obedience to God, but your moral location was unchanged. From God’s perspective, you were a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); the old had gone, the new had come, but from everyone else’s perspective, you were the same old you. So, again I ask, how is it that a disciple of Jesus grows into a holy person who can “let their light shine before men (Matthew 5:16)?”

Now, I am not changing subjects when I turn our attention to Numbers 33: 52-55 and ask, “How can the land of Canaan, that has been polluted by pagan idolatry and pagan immorality, be made suitable for the people of the Holy One, the LORD of Israel?” In this passage, the LORD gives His people Israel direct commands for what they are to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land worthy of the LORD. We will examine these instructions carefully, because what the LORD tells Israel to do literally to “sanctify” the land of Canaan will serve as a model for what we need to do figuratively to sanctify our lives and to grow in practical holiness.

In Numbers 33:52-55, then, the LORD gives the people of Israel a series of commands and then issues a warning.

  • “You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land (52a).” The inhabitants of Canaan will be a constant source of temptation to return to idolatry and to pagan immorality. You must drive out this poison that is leaking into the land or you will fall to these temptations.
  • You shall “destroy all their figured stones (52b).” Figured stones were carvings that reminded them of their pagan gods. The pagans viewed them as cute and harmless, but the LORD viewed them as abominations. Because these figured stones reminded the Canaanites of their cherished gods, the stones must be destroyed.
  • You shall “destroy all their metal images (52c).” Metal images served the same purpose as the figured stones (above) in that these images kept the false gods in their minds and reminded them when it was time to worship. These images and stones kept the people enslaved to these idols. They must be smashed.
  • You shall “demolish all their high places (52d).” The high places were scattered all over the land to provide convenient places for pagan worship. They were like shrines or stone altars. The pagan could get in a short worship session without interrupting the flow of their day. These were to be demolished so that no one could use them again.

Notice that these first four commands called for violent, intentional action. “Forcefully, violently drive out the pagans until there are none left” was the idea. Get rid of them completely. Drive them out like a nest of vipers or like a hive of hornets. Eradicate them! Show no pity or compromise. Destroy their objects of worship and their reminders of their false gods. Smash them! Pulverize them! Leave no trace! Demolish their places of worship. Scrape them clean like you were wiping a dish. There is to be no remnant of these high places because remnants allow for revival and return. Demolish them so that they cannot be found.

  • “You shall take possession of the land (53a).” Now that the pagan residents have been driven out (52a), the void must be filled with the holy people. (Matthew 12:43-45 as a warning passage.) Now the LORD’s people are to move in and fill the land and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). They are to make this land a place where loud and public worship of the LORD fills the land from Dan to Beersheba.

Now we have seen the prescription for what the people of Israel were to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land suitable for the holy people of the LORD. The transformation required violent, intentional action that would continue until the land had been purged of its former ungodliness.

            This picture of transformation of the physical land gives us a blueprint for how we can transform our spiritual selves and grow in sanctification. First, we see that sanctification requires intentional, “violent” action.

  • The disciple of Jesus must figuratively drive out the former inhabitants of the land. The habits of the “old man” must be driven out, or they will be a constant source of temptation to drag you back into sin. Drive out the default behaviors and the cherished old sins. Drive them out of your mind and replace them with renewed, godly thoughts (Ephesians 4:23; Romans 12:2).
  • To grow in holiness and to walk worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1), the disciple of Jesus must gather and then destroy all reminders of the idols of the past. Books must be thrown out. Old sinful songs must be erased and deleted. Photographs must go and phone numbers must be deleted. Websites are disconnected. Indulgences and distractions and wastes of time and entertainments that do not edify must be destroyed. This “search and destroy” mission must be ruthless. You desire to have nothing left that will drag you backwards into old sin.
  • Your sanctification will require that you “demolish the former high places.” This means that you go no longer to the places where you formerly went to celebrate your sin. These are your old “places of worship,” either mentally in your mind or physically with your feet.
  • Finally, after you have begun to drive out the former inhabitants, and have begun to destroy the reminders of your former idols, and have started to demolish all the old “shrines” and “altars” where you used to practice your former sins, then you need to move in and “take possession of the land.” What does this look like for the disciple that wants to grow in sanctification? I think this means that you move into your faith with vigor. You embrace the means of grace. You become intimately familiar with your Bible by spending hours reading the words of the living God. You sit under godly teachers and humbly receive the word implanted (James 1:21). You move into a local church and you learn what it means to love other believers who are very different from you. You take possession of serving and of giving and of encouraging and of doing things you don’t necessarily want to do for the benefit of others because that’s a disciple of Jesus does. You take possession of your faith and seek to bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. If you are patient and persistent in these activities of driving out the old inhabitants and destroying the reminders and demolishing the memories of your former sinful ways, and if you will take possession of your faith with vigor and enthusiasm and go deep with the Lord, then you will see the fruit of a transformed life.

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Jacob was left alone (Genesis 32:24)

Jacob took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone.

The Lord of the universe dwells in unapproachable light surrounded by many angels, myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy!” (Revelation 5)!” Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), sitting on a throne of fiery flames and burning fire, a stream of fire coming out before Him (Daniel 7:9-10). His eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13) and He has a settled holy hatred of all sin. Why, then, would this thrice holy God ever have pity on us and pursue us to rescue us? And if He did, how could mere man ever bear an encounter with the living God without being consumed?

            We, the ruined ones, live among myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of other ruined sinners. Crammed into this crowded planet, we wander down the wide way leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). We grope along the wall like the blind, growling and moaning as we go (Isaiah 59:9). Foolish and disobedient to the Lord, we, as slaves of passions and pleasures, pass our days being hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3). This is the picture the Bible paints for unsaved man, the natural man. It is not a pretty picture and it is not a picture with any hope.


Yet here is one of the many mysteries of the Bible, for despite the fact that the LORD is a consuming fire and cannot be seen by mortal eyes because of His holiness, and despite the fact that all mankind has been ruined by sin and each of us is under God’s righteous wrath (Romans 1:18; John 3:17-18, 36), the Bible is full of encounters between the Lord of the universe and ordinary human beings. It seems impossible, but the Holy One, who is surrounded in heaven by myriads of angels, condescends to earth to meet with a single sinful human being, such that the human is not consumed, but is blessed and has their life changed. There is no way that mortal man can find or approach God, so God seeks out His chosen ones and brings them home (Luke 19:10). And in the Bible, these encounters are all one on one. The holy God condescends to meet with a single human being and arranges the circumstances so that the human is alone. It is just God and a single human.


In this post, I want to talk about the Lord’s encounter with Jacob in Genesis 32, because this encounter is staged to create a feeling of drama and awe and foreboding. Jacob has returned to Canaan from Paddan-Aram and is now defenseless against his brother Esau. Messengers have sent word to Jacob that the brother he tricked and enraged many years ago is now coming to meet him with four hundred men. In response, Jacob prays to the God he barely knows, asking Him to deliver him from his brother Esau, asking the LORD to protect his wives and his children. Jacob the deceiver has now become Jacob the man of prayer. Throughout his life, Jacob has tricked and cheated and deceived those around him. He tricked and cheated his brother Esau, not once but twice, stealing his birthright and then stealing his blessing. Jacob tricked and deceived Laban, stealing his flocks and running away with Laban’s daughters and grandchildren. By his conniving, Jacob has become two camps (32:10), but now it appears that Esau will have his revenge and will destroy all that Jacob holds dear. Jacob has no more tricks; he wants no more tricks. “Enough of tricks and conniving and deception! O LORD, I need You! I need Your help! You said, ‘I will surely do you good (32:12).’ I ask that You fulfill Your word.” Then Jacob sends his flocks and herds in droves as gifts to his brother Esau. “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me. Perhaps he will accept me (32:20).” So the present passed on ahead of him, and he stayed that night in the camp (21). The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok (22). He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else he had (23).

And Jacob was left alone (24a).

Alone. Jacob was left alone. Alone with his fears. Alone with his thoughts. Alone with his regrets. Alone. But he was not alone for long. “And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day (24b).” There at the ford of the Jabbok in the middle of the night, a humbled and fearful Jacob wrestles with “a man.” These two are alone in the wilderness. There is no one to witness their striving. And all night they wrestle to see who will prevail. Who is this “man” with whom Jacob wrestles? Where did he come from? How did he know that Jacob was here? What does he want from Jacob, since Jacob has already sent everything he has over the Jabbok to safety? At last “the man” tells Jacob to let him go, “but Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me (26).’” Who is this man? Then the man renames Jacob, calling him Israel, “for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed (28).” Jacob asked the man, “Please tell me your name,” but the man refuses. But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him (29). Who is this man who renames Jacob but refuses to tell his name? So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (30).”

            The LORD had arranged this wrestling match at the Jabbok. Jacob is alone and is fearful and humbled. God condescends to Jacob, not only meeting him but wrestling with him all night. Instead of consuming Jacob in His wrath and overwhelming him with His unbearable glory, God takes on the appearance of a man and wrestles with Jacob. Of course, at any instant, God could have destroyed Jacob, but that was not the goal. Jacob needed this night to wrestle with God and with his own fears. Jacob needed to strive to a place of surrender. In eternity past, God had chosen Jacob as one of His own, and now He has arranged the details of this night to claim His prize. During this night God allows Jacob to wrestle himself into surrender. Jacob prevails, yet he leaves the encounter surrendered and limping on his hip. Jacob is allowed to prevail, but God has won His man. Before this night of striving beside the Jabbok, this second-born son of Isaac carried the name “he cheats,” but now God Himself has renamed him “he strives with God.” All alone, the human has an encounter with the living God and lives, emerging from the encounter blessed and changed.

            Our God is a God who ordains the events of history, of time and space so that He can encounter His people and bring them to Himself. He arranged the events of the night by the Jabbok so that He could wrestle with Jacob and break his resistance. We see this over and over again in the Bible. Not only Jacob, but also Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, Joshua, Hagar, and Elijah all have one on one encounters with God that define their lives and change them forever. And not only in the Bible, but our God does this with us as well. Not every believer, but many believers can testify to their own “night by the Jabbok when they wrestled with a man.” We emerge from these life-changing encounters humbled and blessed and “limping on our hip.” Somehow, we have encountered God face to face and our life has been delivered.

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