God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, August 26, 2014
5 For if you truly reform your ways and the things you do, and if you truly deal out justice between a man and his neighbor, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place always, in the land I gave your ancestors long ago. 8 Yet you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
Verse 5 repeats God’s command from verse 3: “Reform your ways and the things you do.” Turn from the wicked things you have been doing and the sinful way of life that you lead, and lead a godly life. Do godly things. The Lord is looking for faith, and for an expression of that faith. What follows in verses 5-6 is not just a list of moral and ethical standards for the people to live up to. If it were, then we could expect that with a certain amount of good living we will have earned God’s approval and his blessing. We will have earned a place in heaven. But this isn’t the way it is. He wants us to show our faith by dealing justly. He wants us to pursue justice because it’s his will; not because we hope to earn something by it. He wants us to treat a foreigner well, and an orphan, and a widow, too, as if we were helping our own cousin, or nephew, or an old friend from school days.
A word we should take special note of is “always” in verse 7. This is my translation of the Hebrew idiom ad-‘olam (עַד־עוֹלָם). This is a phrase that sometimes means “forever” in the Bible, especially when used in reference to God, to the Messiah, and to the Messiah’s kingdom in particular. God’s word, for example, “is eternal” (Psalm 119:89). The kingdom of Christ will “endure forever” (Daniel 2:44) and his covenant of peace will be “everlasting” (Ezekiel 37:26). God himself is eternal (Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 33:27).
However, something that is seemingly permanent on earth is not necessarily eternal. The covenant of the rainbow God made with Noah was for “as long as the earth lasts” (not really an “everlasting” covenant as the NIV puts it, Genesis 9:16). If a servant wanted to become permanently bound to his master, he could be made a servant “for life” (ad-‘olam, Deuteronomy 15:17), but not for all eternity. Also, Samuel’s mother promised the Lord that her son would live at the tabernacle at Shiloh “always” (ad-‘olam, 1 Samuel 1:22), but when he grew up he moved to Ramah (1 Samuel 7:17). The phrase ad-‘olam really speaks about an unbounded and indefinite future time.
So when God promises to let the people live in Judah ad-‘olam “always,” it is for an indefinite amount of time. Judah will not be the location of heaven, and Judah will become a desolate wasteland if the people fail to live up to the requirements God lays out here in this passage. No one can look at a verse like this one and say, “See—God promised to give the land of Israel to the Jews forever and ever, and we must do everything we can to be sure that the Jews live there or God will strike us down.” This is missing the whole point of the verse. The Bible shows that the Jews to whom this passage was addressed rejected God and lost their land of Israel. Yet this verse contains a promise, truly a gospel promise for anyone with faith in Christ. If our government has a treaty with the present state of Israel, then it should live up to that treaty for secular reasons, but not out of fear of a passage like this one.
If we fear, love and trust in God above all things, and love and worship him alone, then we will have a place with him forever in his heaven. Our faith in God—our trust in Jesus Christ—will lead us to want to serve him with our lives. We will want to respond to Christ’s love by wanting to deal justly with people, to be welcoming, helpful and truly friendly to the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Our faith will urge us to respond in love and thanks to every part of God’s will, and to even be thankful when troubles come.
For those who reject him, his anger will truly burn forever (ad-‘olam, Jeremiah 17:4). But for all who put their faith in him, his mercy endures forever. And that means forever.
Live like you know that.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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