Christianity, religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (October 13, 2019) Blessed For Faithfulness / Active Faith 1 Kings 17:8-16

Blessed For Faithfulness / Active Faith

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  What man in his right mind, asks a woman to feed him first, before she feeds her ONLY child her last meal?  If he’s in his right mind the answer is clearly a man with a LOT of faith.  This week I show how both the prophet Elijah and the unnamed widow of Zarephath are blessed for faithfulness. They have active faith in God’s provision.  Elijah travels a great distance only to learn that the woman God commanded to feed him had just a handful of food.  I believe it took a great deal of faith for Elijah to ask this nameless widow to feed him first.  I also believe it took even more faith for the nameless widow to actually follow Elijah’s instructions.  Can you imagine your mother, or can you imagine YOU feeding someone you don’t even know the last part of your meager meal?  This is real faith.  They both had to really believe that God really would provide.  This foreign woman didn’t know Elijah and she didn’t know Elijah’s God, but somehow she knew what the true and living God required of her and she did it.  Likewise, Elijah was in the heart of Baal worship territory and he knew nothing about this woman.  But both of them were faithful to what God instructed and as a result both were saved in their time of distress.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Miracle

Faithfulness

Background 

The books of 1 and 2nd Kings, like its name suggests, features the kings of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. 1 Kings begins with King David as an old man about to leave the scene.  But before David dies, of course, there is family drama surrounding who will succeed him.  In the first chapter, after some drama, Solomon ascends to the throne.  This is before David’s United Kingdom is divided into two kingdoms.  The two books of 1 Kings and 2 kings “were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible but were divided into two scrolls when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek” (New Interpreter Study Bible).  Together they cover a period of “almost 400 years from the ascension of Solomon to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE” (NISB).  The NISB also notes that

“The writers of Kings selected, combined, and arranged the written and oral traditions of Israel and Judah to express their theological understanding of their histories.  The sources they used include The Books of the Acts of Solomon (I Kings 11:41), the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (mentioned 15 times, beginning with Rehoboam in 1 Kings 14:29) and other unnamed sources including a narrative of the last days of David and several sources providing information about the prophets Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and other prophets”.

Just as the first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Books of Law, 1 and 2 Kings are two of the twelve books known as the Books of History.  Nelson’s Bible handbook notes that

“Early tradition credited the prophet Jeremiah with the writing of these two books, but most scholars today no longer hold to the Jeremiah theory.  Evidence points to an unknown prophet who worked at the same time as Jeremiah to compile this history”.    

The seventeenth chapter of 1 Kings introduces the prophet Elijah.  Nelson’s indicates that Solomon entered the scene about 971 BC, the kingdom divided about 931 BC and Elijah and Elisha would have entered the scene about 66 years later around 865 BC.  Scholars believe Elijah’s prophetic ministry lasted from 865 to 847 BC.  It’s important to note that part of what Elijah portrays is God’s power over other false gods.  Miracles happen in 1 Kings that as the NISB says “reflect prophetic opposition to the rise of the cult of Baal and Asherah in Israel as introduced by Ahab and his wife, Jezebel”.  1 Kings 16:30 tell us that Ahab did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him.  Ahab marries Jezebel who lived among the Phoenicians.  Phoenicia was in the heart of Baal worship territory (Townsend).  In this seventeenth chapter God sends Elijah into the heart of Jezebel’s home territory.  Elijah’s mission is to demonstrate God’s power over and above the power of Baal.  Townsend Commentary notes that Baal was worshiped as a fertility god and was supposed to make it rain.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Miracle

Faithfulness

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson covered Moses’ perspective after wandering in the wilderness for forty years.   The focus last week was to understand that God expected Israel’s obedience.  At this point Moses knew that he would not enter the Promised Land.  Moses knew that there would be new leadership guiding the Israelites into the Promised Land and going forward.  So at this point Moses was driving home the importance of obeying God.  The old generation had died out.  The new generation was about to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. 

In verse one, Moses opened with an admonition to heed the statutes and ordinances that he was teaching.  He told them “so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God your ancestors, is giving you”.  Moses knew and all of Israel should have known that the old generation died in the wilderness because they were not faithful and obedient to God.  Moses reminds them “so that you may live”. 

In verse two Moses warned the Israelites not to add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it.  This same idea is echoed in Revelations 22:18-19.  The NISB notes that “the comprehensive nature of God’s law did not rule out additions to its written text.  See Deuteronomy 1:5 where Moses expounded on earlier laws.  The written law could receive clarification and revision but its fundamental truth as God’s covenant law would remain unchanged”.

In verse three Moses reminded them of what God did to those who followed the Baal of Peor.  I noted how the NISB explained that Baal is another name for a god and that the Baal of Peor mentioned here “involved sexual relations with the women of Moab (numbers 25:1-5).  This worship of Baal of Peor encouraged these sexual encounters with Moabite women at the sanctuary.  Townsend Commentary noted that 24,000 Israelites died because of unfaithfulness.

In verse four Moses made the stark contrast between faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  He told the Israelites “those of you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today.  This is a reminder that unfaithfulness leads to death.  Their parents and forbears had died because of unfaithfulness. 

In verse five Moses told the Israelites he was following instruction from God.  He was teaching them to observe statutes and ordinances that they should observe in the land.  Moses knows they will face temptation to stray away from God just as their parents and forebears did in the wilderness. 

In verse six he pressed the point to follow the statutes and ordinances diligently.  Then he added that following these statutes and ordinances diligently will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples who when they hear them will say “surely this is a great nation of wise and discerning people”.  Moses expected the neighboring nations to admire the Israelites.  However the Israelites would show soon enough that Moses’ faith in the people was misplaced. 

Verses seven and eight show how much hope and trust Moses placed in the Israelites.  Moses imagines other nations saying “what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him”?  Moses knew he wouldn’t enter the Promised Land.  He knew things would soon be out of his control.  These laws, these statutes and ordinances that God had given him were his greatest possession.  These were the statutes and ordinances that he had worked on across the years.  Theses statutes and ordinances, these laws were his most valuable possession and the very best he had to offer to a people who would soon stray from the very God who Moses had so diligently served. 

In verses twelve and thirteen Moses reminded the Israelites of the power, majesty, and grandeur of the God of their covenant.  He reminded them how God spoke to them out of the fire.  And he reminded them that it wasn’t just him coming up with these laws all on his own.  These laws came from God.  They weren’t just laws to follow but more so these laws were the covenant between them and God.  In these Ten Commandments they would understand their “duties and responsibilities toward God and their fellow human beings” (NISB).  I noted that these Ten Commandments may have been written 3,400 years ago but they are still relevant today.  In these commandments and statutes we begin to understand how to relate to God and each other. 

Last week, Moses’ response to God’s faithfulness was to encourage the Israelites to remain faithful going forward.  He knew they would face temptation to worship other gods but wanted them to remain obedient in faith.  This week we see a widow who has almost nothing left and by her own words is about to eat her last meal and die.  It is her act of faith to feed the prophet of God first that saves her and her sons life.  She is blessed for her faithfulness.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Blessed for Faithfulness,” Standard Commentary titles this lesson “Active Faith”.  The scripture text comes from 1 Kings 17:8-16. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

At first glance it would seem that this week’s lesson is focused on the faithfulness of the unnamed widow of Zarephath.  Without question, she deserves that consideration but when I look a little closer I see the faithfulness of Elijah also.  At any rate, faithfulness is the topic. 

Our lesson begins at verse eight with a phrase that is often repeated in the Old Testament.  “The word of the LORD came to me”.  This phrase indicates the reader should pay special attention.  God is about to speak.

In verse nine the LORD tells Elijah to go to Zarephath which is a city near Sidon on the Phoenician coast.  The LORD tells Elijah to live there because The LORD has commanded a widow who lives there to feed him.  The NISB explains that “God sends Elijah among the Phoenicians, which is the center of Baal worship, to demonstrate that even in the land of Baal, the LORD is sovereign.  In other words, God is sending Elijah away from the land of Israel into a foreign land.  And ultimately God will show that the one true and living God is God outside Israel also. 

It’s important to note two things here.  First, the LORD has already commanded a widow to take care of Elijah.  And secondly, this widow lived in the heart of Baal worship territory so she was likely not a worshiper of Elijah’s God.  She probably worshiped Baal.  Townsend Commentary notes that “the Old Testament portrays God as being particularly concerned for “the widow, the orphan, and the poor” – that is, the vulnerable and marginalized in society”.  In this chapter we see God using a woman who most likely doesn’t even know who the one true and living God is.  But yet, God uses this woman to show God’s sovereignty.  The point is, God can use whomever God wants to use.  God can deliver whomever God wants to deliver.  Just because they don’t do religion the way you do religion doesn’t mean God doesn’t care for them. 

In verse ten Elijah goes to Zarephath.  When he arrives the gate of the city the unnamed widow was there gathering sticks.  Elijah asks her for a drink of water.

In verse eleven as she was going to get the water Elijah asks her for a morsel of bread. 

In verse twelve the unnamed widow said “as the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug”.  Elijah has traveled all this way, only to discover that this woman God commanded to feed him has but a handful of meal.  She tells Elijah that she’s gathering a few sticks so she can go home, prepare her meal for herself and her son, and then eat it and die.  This unnamed widow is in a terrible situation.  She only has a handful of food left and She literally has no hope of living beyond her last meal.  She’s given up hope and has no one and nowhere to turn to for help.  Townsend commentary notes that “the status of widows in ancient Israelite society was precarious.  Having no inheritance rights and often in want of life’s necessities, she was exposed to harsh treatment and exploitation”. 

In verse thirteen Elijah tells her, don’t be afraid, go and do as you said, but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, then make something for yourself and your son.  It’s this verse that strikes me as a powerful way to show Elijah’s faithfulness also.  Here, Elijah had to know that God would provide.  What man in his right mind would dare ask a woman who is about to make her last meal for her only child to feed him first.  This took faith on Elijah’s part.  He had to know that God was going to take care of this woman and her son. 

In verses fourteen and fifteen Elijah tells the widow, “The LORD, the God of Israel says the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the LORD sends rain on the earth”.  The unnamed widow did as Elijah said so that Elijah and her household ate for many days.  This woman deserves every bit of credit due her for not just listening to the man of God but truly believing that God would be her provider.  Can you imagine what your mother might have said to someone who told her to feed them first, when she knew all she had was a small handful of food?  Now, my mother has a reputation for feeding people.  Maybe she’s capable of it, but I just can’t imagine her feeding someone else what she believes to be her last meal before she feeds her children.  The faith of this unnamed widow is astounding.  She really believed!  She believed the man of God and she believed that God would take care of her and her son. 

Verse sixteen closes this lesson helping us to know that God did provide.  The jar of meal was not emptied; neither did the jug of oil fail according to the word of the LORD that Elijah spoke.  The unnamed widow only had a handful of meal and a little oil.  But God made her little bit last a long time.  God multiplied her little to become much.  Beloved that’s good news for us today.  You might not have much in your own eyes, but what you do have God can use it and make it last. 

Context:

Townsend Commentary notes that “during the famine, Elijah was fed by God via unclean ravens that brought him food and later by a widow who was not part of the household of faith”.  God is creator of all of this universe.  Acts 10:15 reminds us “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  You and I are created “Imago Dei” that is – in the image of God.  Just because someone doesn’t look like you, act like you, wear their clothes like you, speak like you, have the same able-ness of you or have your religious standards doesn’t mean God doesn’t care for and love them in the same way God cares for and loves you.  The unnamed widow of Zarephath didn’t know Elijah, but God saved her and her son in the process of saving Elijah.  As long as we claim to be God’s people, we ought to treat everybody right.

Key Characters in the text:

Elijah – The first great prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Elijah is known to abruptly enter the scene to confront Ahab’s worship of Baal, the Canaanite god of storm, rain, and fertility. 

Widow of Zarephath – An unnamed widow in Zarephath of Sidon, a Phoenician city.  She is known for responded in faith to Elijah’s request to feed him first from her last meal. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Miracle – An event that is considered unusual or extraordinary in that it appears to be contrary to what is currently known of nature.  Theologically, the emphasis is on what God has revealed through this event, as in the miracles of Jesus. 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas

1.  Faithfulness for the hopeless. 

2.  Faithfulness after hopelessness (Elijah after fleeing Jezebel).       

Questions

1.  If you were the widow of Zarephath would you be able to believe God and feed Elijah first?        

2.  Elijah went to the heart of Baal worship territory.  Would you be able to do the same recognizing that your life might be in danger for speaking against Baal?   

Concluding Thought

Faithfulness can be demonstrated in a number of ways.  Those include in a sexually exclusive marriage, the loyalty of friendship, unwavering commitment to a mission, or resolute and firm trust in a person, group or cause among other ways.  Faithfulness builds relationships, secures hope, and creates trust.  Our God is the ultimate demonstration of faithfulness.  Let’s strive to follow God’s example in our families, and in our communities.    

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson

Next week’s lesson moves from the Old Testament to the New Testament book of Luke.  I discuss how a centurion’s faith can heal.  A Roman centurion’s servant is sick unto death.  But his faith so astonishes Jesus that he declares he has not seen such great faith in all of Israel.  As we continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness, I show next week the importance of faith in the life of believers.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Faith Can Heal”. 

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (October 6, 2019) Obedient Faith Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13

Obedient Faith Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  I’m not coming with you, but I’ll be with you when you get there. That’s the sentiment I believe Moses feels when he tells the Israelites he won’t make it to the Promised Land.  Obedient faith is his hope for the Israelites as he reminds them of the Ten Commandments.  He reminds them of the Decalogue and the faithfulness of God.  They have wandered in the wilderness for forty years.  The old generation has died out and the new generation is poised to invade the land of Canaan.  In this text Moses writes about the same events studied last week but from a different perspective.  This text is forty years later with the Israelites poised east of the Jordan River.  Moses knows he won’t make it into the Promised Land.  Soon Moses also would be dead.  At this point in Moses’ life he shares with the Israelites his most valuable possession – he reiterates the statutes and ordinances God had given him.  Moses gives them the culmination of his life’s work, the very best he has – the word of God.  As he looks back on his life he stresses once again how important it is for the Israelites to obey the commands of God.  He reminds them of the 24,000 Israelites who died because of unfaithfulness and they know for themselves that their parents and forbears all died in the wilderness. Moses wants them to live and occupy the land.  He knows that faithfulness and obedience is the key.  As we continue in the theme of responding to God’s faithfulness, this week I focus on faithful Moses preparing the Israelites for obedient faith.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Decalogue

Covenant

Faithfulness

Background 

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Pentateuch.  Moses is credited as its author although it’s ending chapter writes about the death of Moses.  Since Moses couldn’t have written about his own death scholars believe his lieutenant, Joshua penned the final chapter.  The Israelites have wandered in the desert for forty years and they are now awaiting the invasion of the Promised Land of Canaan.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that the name Deuteronomy is the Greek translation of the Hebrew words used in Deuteronomy 17:18 for “a second law” or a “copy of the law” given to Israel at Mount Sinai, called Mount Horeb in Deuteronomy”.  So the first law to which Deuteronomy will refer is the Ten Commandments which are also known as the Decalogue. 

Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “the New Testament quotes Deuteronomy more than eighty times.  Jesus often quoted Deuteronomy and when asked to name the most important law, Jesus responded with “you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all you soul, and with all you mind”” which comes from Deuteronomy 6:5. 

The NISB notes that “the central themes of Deuteronomy focus on the nature and unique status of Israel as a nation.  One nation, living under one law, and settled on one land are its major goals.  Undergirding the one nation, one law, and one land theme is the realization that there is “only one God who has chosen Israel to be a special people” with which God makes a covenant.

Chapters one and two tell us that forty years have passed since Moses led Israel as an enslaved group of Hebrews out of Egypt and recount the story of Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land.  They recount the penalty for Israel’s rebellion, the desert years, and Moses’ view of Canaan from Mount Pisgah after God gives Moses a blistering rebuke declaring that he would never enter the Promised Land.  

Among the events Deuteronomy records is this reiteration of the account of the Israelites just before they invade The Promised Land.  Deuteronomy retells this story from a perspective that is forty years later.  They have traveled through the wilderness all this time and in our text today Moses recounts the instructions God has given them and reminds them of the importance of keeping the commandments.  They should readily understand that importance given that all of their parents and forbears died in the desert because of unfaithfulness and disobedience.  At this point, Moses reminds them again, so that as the take the land they will not become complacent and forget where the one true God has brought them from.  Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land with them.  He also knows they will face temptation from other gods once they enter the Promised Land.  So Moses warns them not to make the mistakes of the past but to go forward and be better than they have been in the past.

Some important words to consider from this text include:

Decalogue

Covenant

Faithfulness

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week  

Last week’s lesson opened at Numbers 14:10 saying; “Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites”.  I noted how the Glory of God is defined as “the divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great”.  In other words, God is manifested at the tabernacle or the tent of meeting in a way that all the Israelites recognize as God. 

In verse eleven the LORD spoke to Moses.  The LORD questioned “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them”?  God was angry with the Israelites.  They demonstrated that they despised God and refused to believe in God despite God delivering them from the Egyptians, despite God allowing them to cross the Red Sea, despite God giving them water to drink and bread and meat to eat.  Despite all of this the Israelites were faithless and God had had enough.  

Verse twelve showed just how angry God was.  God said “I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”.  I noted that to disinherit is to completely walk away from.  It brings to mind the idea that you don’t even want to see them anymore.  God was ready to disinherit the people whom he promised Abraham would become a great nation and would number as many as the sand of the sea.   I also noted that at this point you get the idea that God wants nothing more to do with this unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God was fed up with the Israelites.  In the same way God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, now God tells Moses that God will make a great nation of him. 

In verse thirteen Moses skillfully began his advocacy for the Israelites.  Moses like a skillful lawyer defending a client pleads his case with God.  He begins by telling God the Egyptians will hear of it.  God had taken great care to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the Egyptians. 

In verse fourteen Moses continued defending the Israelites telling God the Egyptians will tell the people of Canaan that their God was in the midst of them, seen face to face by them, and was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Moses was making the point to God that God has been present in their deliverance and that if they are abandoned or destroyed now it will be seen as if God could not keep them.  The point Moses was making was that these were God’s people.  If the rest of the world sees them as defeated and wiped out it would reflect on God. 

In verses fifteen and sixteen Moses pressed his point to God.  He told God “if you kill this people all at once the nations who have heard about you will say it’s because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them”.  I noted that Moses was playing hard-ball with God.  He pulled no punches.  Moses was going to defend the Israelites with everything at his disposal.  You need to get somebody like Moses on your side.  Moses went to bat for those unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people with all of their faults and all of their failures. 

In verses seventeen and eighteen Moses went as far as to remind God of what God said to him in the past.  Moses quotes back to God what God said in Exodus 34:1-9.  Moses reminded God that God should be slow to anger and abounding in love.  He reminded God that God does not clear the guilty but visits upon them the iniquity of the parents upon the children for the third and fourth generations.

In verses nineteen and twenty Moses asked God to forgive the iniquity of the Israelites because of the greatness of God’s love.  After hearing this passionate plea from Moses God relented.  God changed God’s mind and said “I do forgive, just as you have asked”.  It was the passionate plea of Moses that changed God’s mind.  Where God was ready to completely wipe out this nation, God was now ready to forgive only because Moses pleaded on their behalf.  I noted that it would be great if we all had a Moses to plead on our behalf.  Because the good news is that we do.  Jesus is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for us even now.  Standard, Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Obedient Faith.  The scripture text comes from Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13. 

What Takes Place in This Passage

This week’s lesson covers the same events of last week but from a different perspective.  It was now forty years later.  The focus is to understand that God expected Israel’s obedience.  Moses knows that he will not enter the Promised Land.  There will be new leadership and he is now driving home the importance of obeying God.  The old generation has died out.  The new generation is about to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. 

In verse one, Moses opens with an admonition to heed the statutes and ordinances that he was teaching.  He says “so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God your ancestors, is giving you”.  Moses knows and all of Israel should know that the old generation died in the wilderness because they were not faithful and obedient to God.  Moses reminds them “so that you may live”. 

In verse two Moses warns the Israelites not to add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it.  This same idea is echoed in Revelations 22:18-19.  The NISB notes that “the comprehensive nature of God’s law did not rule out additions to its written text.  See Deuteronomy 1:5 where Moses expounds on earlier laws.  The written law could receive clarification and revision but its fundamental truth as God’s covenant law would remain unchanged”.

In verse three Moses reminds them of what God did to those who followed the Baal of Peor.  Baal is another name for a god.  The Baal of Peor mentioned here “involved sexual relations with the women of Moab (numbers 25:1-5) that were encouraged by the worship of the god Baal at the local sanctuary.  False worship led to betrayal of family ties, and the actions are seen as bringing about the evil consequences and plague that followed” (NISB).  Townsend Commentary notes that 24,000 Israelites died because of unfaithfulness.

In verse four Moses makes the stark contrast between faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  He tells them “those of you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today.  This is a reminder that unfaithfulness leads to death.  Their parents and forbears have died because of unfaithfulness. 

In verse five Moses tells the Israelites he is following instruction from God.  He is teaching them to observe statutes and ordinances to observe in the land.  Moses knows they will face temptation to stray away from God just as their parents and forebears did in the wilderness. 

In verse six he presses the point to follow them diligently.  Then he adds that following these statutes and ordinances diligently will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples who when they hear them will say “surely this is a great nation of wise and discerning people”.  Moses expects the neighboring nations to admire the Israelites.  However the Israelites will show soon enough that Moses’ faith in the people was often misplaced. 

Verses seven and eight show how much hope and trust Moses placed in the Israelites.  Moses imagines other nations saying “what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him”?  Moses knows he won’t enter the Promised Land.  He knows things will soon be out of his control.  These laws, these statutes and ordinances that God had given him are his greatest possession.  These are the statutes and ordinances that he has worked on across the years.  Theses statutes and ordinances, these laws are his most valuable possession and the very best he has to offer to a people who will soon stray from the very God who Moses has so diligently served. 

In verses twelve and thirteen Moses reminds the Israelites of the power, majesty, and grandeur of the God of their covenant.  He reminds them how God spoke to them out of the fire.  And he reminds them that it wasn’t just him coming up with these laws all on his own.  These laws came from God.  They weren’t just laws to follow but more so they were the covenant between them and God.  In these Ten Commandments they would understand their “duties and responsibilities toward God and their fellow human beings” (NISB).  These Ten Commandments may have been written 3,400 years ago but they are still relevant today.  In them we begin to understand how to relate to God and each other. 

Context

There will be consequences and repercussions.  That’s what happened to the Israelites because of their unfaithfulness and rebellion.  Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier.  In this case what occurred earlier was the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness.  The consequence was a severe penalty.  The old generation died in the wilderness and would never see the Promised Land. 

There are consequences and repercussion in our lives as well.  You reap what you sow.  If you are sowing love, grace, and righteousness you will reap the same.  Those are the consequences and repercussion I want in my life. 

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Key Words

Decalogue – The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), which express the will and law of God and deal with relations between humans and God as well as of humans with each other. 

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establish a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations. 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Faithful until the end (Moses). 

2.  I’m not coming with you, but I’ll see you when you get there.       

Questions: 

1.  The Israelites worshiped Baal of Peor and the resulting plague killed 24,000.  Why did the Israelites so easily fall into worshiping other gods?      

2.  Are there ways in which we worship other gods today? 

Concluding Thought:

Moses is approaching the end of his life.  I suppose the equivalent of his last will and testament would be the statutes and ordinances God had given him across the years.  As he prepares the Israelites for new leadership he passes on the very best he has and I believe his most valuable possession.  Some people might argue otherwise but for many our most valuable possession is a life lived well in obedience to God. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson remains in the Old Testament moving to the book of 1 Kings.  I discuss how a widow in a terrible situation is about to prepare her last meal for her and her son, and as she said, to eat it and die.  The man of God asks her to feed him first.  She follows the instructions of Elijah and God blesses her for her faithfulness.  As we continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness I show next week how God moved in miraculous ways.   Next week’s lesson is titled “Blessed for Faithfulness”.        

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 29, 2019) Faithful in Consequences /God Forgives Numbers 14:10b-20

Faithful in Consequences / God Forgives Numbers 14:10-20

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  Listen, you need to get yourself a Moses on your side.  This week’s lesson is titled “Faithful In Consequences” and “God Forgives”.  I show in this week’s lesson how Moses goes to bat for these unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God is fed up and angry.  Time after time they have refused to believe God.  Even after God has taken significant measures, created ways out of no ways, and miraculously delivered, provided for, and protected these people, they still won’t believe God.  God is angry, God is fed up. And God is ready to destroy the chosen people of Israel. 

But Moses pleads the case for the Israelites.  Like a skillful lawyer, Moses recounts for God the words God told him in Exodus and reminds God of the love, mercy and grace that God is known for.  Moses reminds God that the Egyptians will say God destroyed them because God couldn’t deliver them into the land of Canaan.  God was ready to destroy the Israelites but after Moses pleads the case God changes God’s mind.  Instead of destruction God chooses forgiveness.  You need to get a Moses on your side. 

This week’s lesson picks up exactly where last week ended.  The spies have returned from their forty day reconnaissance.  They all report that the land flows with milk and honey but only Joshua and Caleb say to invade the land immediately.  The other ten spies say that yes, the land flows with milk and honey but there are giants that live in the land.  In their bad report they say that they are mere grasshoppers in the sight of these giants.  They exaggerate saying that even the land itself swallows up its inhabitants.  They could see everything God had already done for them.  They could see how bountiful the land was.  But they could not see what God could do through them.  As we continue in the theme of responding to God’s faithfulness, this week I focus on faithful Moses advocating for an unfaithful Israel.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Advocate

Fidelity

Background: 

Numbers deals with the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years.  Moses is credited as its author.  The structure of Numbers revolves around two censuses taken to number the nation in preparation for invasion of the land of Canaan.  The first census was taken in chapter one and the second in chapter 26.  The first census numbered over 600,000 men.  This did not include women and children.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains “if this is correct the Israelite population would have been more than two million people”.  Historians note that this would have been an unusually high population for a nation state.  Nelson’s also notes “one possible explanation is that the word translated thousands in English could have meant something like units, tents, or clans in the Hebrew language.  If so, a much smaller number was in mind”.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “the English title refers to the many numbers contained in the two census lists that form the central pillars of the book’s structure in chapters 1 and 26”.  So these censuses are central to the structure of the book, but the message of Numbers is the story of the old generation out of Egypt dying off as the new generation prepares to move into the Promised Land.  The NISB also explains that “the central narrative of Numbers is the spy story of chapters 13-14.  These chapters narrate the theme of judgement and death for an old generation and birth and hope of a new generation of God’s people”.  In these two chapters we learn why the old generation lost the Promised Land and the new generation would receive it.  The old generation is beginning to show a pattern.  Time after time, the generation that came out of Egypt fails to trust God.  Because they fail to trust God, God eventually gets fed up of their rebellion and faithlessness. 

In this fourteenth chapter we see the importance of an advocate.  It was Moses who spoke on behalf of the Israelites.  God was fed up with God’s own people.  But because of the advocacy of Moses, instead of destroying these rebellious Israelites God forgives them.  This chapter opens with the congregation weeping aloud and complaining against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they cry out in despair wishing that they had died back in the land of their captivity.  These are a people who still have not learned that God is their provider, that God is their deliverer, and that God is their protector.   With their faithlessness we see in this chapter how the Israelites reject God, how God decides to destroy the Israelites, how Moses changes God’s mind and how God ultimately forgives the Israelite nation.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Advocate

Fidelity

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson opened at chapter thirteen verses one and two with the LORD speaking to Moses.  I noted that the LORD instructs Moses to send men into the land of Canaan.  This is the land that God promised Abraham.  The Promised Land and the nation of Israel were hundreds of years in the making but now the descendants of Abraham were on the verge of receiving the long awaited promise. 

The text skips to verse 17a where Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land and determine its suitability for conquest.

At verse twenty-five I noted that the spies have returned from their 40 day reconnaissance and how the number forty is used quite often in the Bible.  I also noted that we should not ascribe any more meaning to numbers than necessary.  We risk playing with occult numerology when giving more meaning to numbers than needed.  Some occult practices include numerology, astrology, witchcraft, tarot cards and others.

In verse twenty-six the spies assembled at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran to report their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly. 

In verse 27 the spies revealed that the land flowed with milk and honey.  Not only did they tell of the goodness of the land but they brought back evidence of the bountiful harvests that await the other side. 

In verse 28 despite them seeing the bountiful blessing of the land; the spies report that the people were powerful and the cities were fortified and very large.  I noted that the first census reported over 600,000 men.  Historians record that this would have been an unusually large number of people because most nation states were not this large at that time.  So it seems that these spies see the blessings possible in the Promised Land, they see the powerful people, they see the large cities, but they do not see the fulfilled promise of God nor do they see themselves as powerful in God’s might. 

The text skips to chapter fourteen verses one and two where the entire congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night.  They wept because they believed the exaggerated report of the ten spies.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary explains that there are two versions of the spy’s negative report.  “In the first version the land flows with milk and honey.  In the second version verses 32-33 declare that the land itself is so bad that it eats its inhabitants”.  Additionally, “the spies warn of giant Anakites and of a mythological and semi-divine race of giants known as the Nephilim”.  The Israelites see these giants and once again fall into fear.  Instead of believing God, instead of believing they were powerful and strong and brave, instead of believing they were enough and that they had enough.  They choose instead to believe the report of these men instead of the command of God.  They are out of Egypt.  They have been delivered from enslavement by mighty works and wonders of God.  God has provided them with mana in the morning and meat in the evening.  God has turned bitter water to drinkable water.  Even with all these miraculous works they cannot see how God will give them this Promised Land.  Once again, they complain against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they wish that they had died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness.  As they wept that night, God heard their cry.  They cry out not in faith, but in unfaithfulness.  They don’t cry out in belief, but in unbelief.  Theirs is not a cry of hope, but hopelessness.  Although the old generation has seen the mighty works of God; this conquest is just a step too far for them to take. 

In verse five Moses and Aaron fell on their face before all of the assembly.  They realized what the Israelites were doing.  They realized this entire nation is choosing to reject God even after all God has done for them.

Verses six and seven show Joshua and Caleb as the faithful few who believe God can and will do what God said God would do.  They tear their clothes in frustration and declare again that the land they went through was an exceedingly good land. 

In verse eight they explain that if the LORD is pleased with them The LORD will give them this land that flows with milk and honey. 

In verses nine and ten they warn the Israelites not to rebel against the LORD and not to fear the people of the land.  Instead of heeding the warning of Joshua and Caleb, the whole congregation threatened to stone them.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful in Consequences” and “God Forgives”.  The scripture text comes from Numbers 14:10b-20. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

This week’s lesson opens where last week’s lesson closed.  Last week the Israelites rejected God’s plan to take the land of Canaan.  They complained against Moses and Aaron and wished to have died, back in the land of captivity.  Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes and reiterated how good the land was and that God would bless them if God is please with them.  Verse 10a says “But the whole congregation threatened to stone them”. 

Our lesson picks up at verse 10b.  Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites.  The Glory of God is defined as “the divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great”.  In other words, God is manifested at the tabernacle or the tent of meeting in a way that all the Israelites recognize as God.  If all of the Israelites could see this manifestation of God, it seems to me that would be enough to repent and turn to God in faithful obedience.

In verse eleven the LORD speaks to Moses.  The LORD questions “how long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them”?  God is angry with these Israelites.  They have demonstrated that they despise God and refuse to believe in God despite God delivering them from the Egyptians, despite God allowing them to cross the Red Sea and drowning the Egyptian soldiers, despite God giving them water to drink and bread and meat to eat.  Despite all of this the Israelites are faithless and God has had enough. 

Verse twelve shows just how angry God was.  God says “I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they”.  To disinherit is to completely walk away from.  It brings to mind the idea that you don’t even want to see them anymore.  God is ready to disinherit the people whom he promised Abraham would become a great nation and would number as many as the sand of the sea.   At this point you get the idea that God wants nothing more to do with this unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people.  God is fed up with the Israelites.  In the same way God promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, now God tells Moses that God will make a great nation of him. 

In verse thirteen Moses skillfully begins his advocacy for the Israelites.  Moses like a skillful lawyer defending a client pleads his case with God.  He begins by telling God the Egyptians will hear of it.  God had taken great care to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the Egyptians.  

In verse fourteen Moses continues defending the Israelites telling God the Egyptians will tell the people of Canaan that their God was in the midst of them, seen face to face by them, and was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Moses is making the point to God that God has been present in their deliverance and that if they are abandoned or destroyed now it will be seen as if God could not keep them.  The point Moses is making is that these are God’s people.  If the rest of the world sees them as defeated and wiped out it will reflect on God. 

In verses fifteen and sixteen Moses presses his point to God.  He tells God “if you kill this people all at once the nations who have heard about you will say it’s because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them”.  Not only that but the reason God killed them was because God could not deliver them into the land.  Moses is playing hard-ball with God.  He pulls no punches.  Moses is going to defend these Israelites with everything at his disposal.  You need to get somebody like Moses on your side.  Moses goes to bat for these unfaithful, rebellious, stiff-necked people with all of their faults and all of their failures. 

In verses seventeen and eighteen Moses goes as far as to remind God of what God said to him in the past.  Moses quotes back to God what God said in Exodus 34:1-9.  Moses reminds God that God should be slow to anger and abounding in love.  He reminds God that God does not clear the guilty but visits upon them the iniquity of the parents upon the children for the third and fourth generations.

In verses nineteen and twenty Moses asks God to forgive the iniquity of the Israelites because of the greatness of God’s love.  After hearing this passionate plea from Moses God relents.  God changes God’s mind and said “I do forgive, just as you have asked”.  It was this passionate plea that changes God’s mind.  Where God was ready to completely wipe out this nation, God is now ready to forgive only because Moses pleaded on their behalf.  Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Moses to plead on our behalf?  The good news is that we do.  Jesus is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for us even now. 

Context:

Synonyms for “advocate” include terms like promoter, backer, proponent, campaigner, supporter, and defender among others.  Whatever you want to call it, we all need some of it in our lives.  We need people that see the best in us despite our current faults and failures.  We need people who will love us fiercely despite our not being very lovable at the moment.  Advocates understand that despite your current situation or circumstances there is a better way, there is a better system, there is a better you and that we are all made better when you are better.  Despite their rejection of God and despite the people complaining against Moses and Aaron, Moses chose to fight for a better Israelite nation.  We should do the same in our own families, communities, states and this nation.  Let’s be somebody’s Moses. 

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Key Words 

Advocate – one who pleads the cause of another

Fidelity – The quality or state of being faithful.  The fidelity of God is shown in God’s dependability, trustworthiness, and reliability. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  You need to get a Moses. 

2.  Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.     

Questions: 

1.  Did God really change God’s mind?  Or was God seriously going to kill the entire nation of Israel?  Discuss whether it is possible for God to change God’s mind.             

2.  Moses is a fierce advocate for the Israelites.  What people or causes should we become fierce advocates for?        

Concluding Thought:

You’ve probably heard someone say “he/she is getting on my last nerve.  That’s where the people of Israel were with God.  God had had enough of their foolishness and just wasn’t going to take it anymore.  Because Moses stepped in to remind God of God’s love and mercy God forgave the nation and relented from destroying them.  Perhaps we need to be the “Moses” in someone’s life.  Moses was a great advocate but Jesus is the ultimate advocate.      

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson remains in the Pentateuch but moves to the book of Deuteronomy.  Next week I will discuss how God provided the commandments and how God expects us to follow in obedient faith.  God expects our obedience.   We continue in the theme of responses to God’s faithfulness.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Obedient Faith”.        

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 22, 2019) Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a

Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry – Numbers 13

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is titled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness” and “God Hears our Cry”.  God is faithful despite the Israelite’s unfaithfulness yet again.  A pattern is beginning to form for this newly freed nation.  Once again they cry out in the wilderness wishing they had died in the land of their captivity.  Just as God heard their cry, God hears our cry.  Prayerfully, we don’t have a pattern of unfaithfulness.  This week I review the beginning portion of this Israelite journey toward the Promised Land.  The old generation from Egypt can’t be trusted.  Now it’s up to the new generation to inherit the promise. 

We began last week with the Israelites just beginning their journey into the wilderness.  This week’s lesson continues that journey as they should be poised for conquest but instead cower in fear, rebellion against God, and faithlessness.  They are at the border of Canaan and spies have gone into Canaan to determine if the land is suitable for their conquest.  Last week after God delivers them from the hand of Pharaoh with mighty works and wonders and after only 45 days into their journey they complain bitterly to Moses because of their hunger.  This week after God has continued to sustain them with bread and meat from heaven they are still faithless and in effect reject God by their disbelief.  Of the twelve spies, only Joshua and Caleb return with a good report.  The faithless nation believes the ten and in effect rejects God.  They could see everything God had already done for them but could not see what God could do through them.  As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on how God is faithful despite unfaithfulness in Israel.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Fidelity

Despair

Background: 

Numbers is the fourth book of the Old Testament.  Tradition has it that Moses is credited as its author.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “the English title refers to the many numbers contained in the two census lists that form the central pillars of the book’s structure in chapters 1 and 26”.  So these censuses are central to the structure of the book, but the message of Numbers is the story of the old generation out of Egypt dying off as the new generation prepares to move into the Promised Land.  The NISB also explains that “the central narrative of Numbers is the spy story of chapters 13-14.  Those are the two chapters we’ll cover today.  These chapters narrate the theme of judgement and death for an old generation and the birth and hope of a new generation of God’s people”.  They tell the story of why the old generation lost the Promised Land and the new generation would receive it.  That theme is a result of the old generation failing time after time after time to trust God.  Their faithless acts of disobedience and rebellion ultimately led to their demise in the wilderness while a new generation would be prepared to trust and follow God.  So Numbers talks to judgement and death of the old generation, placed against the birth and hope of the new generation. 

Numbers covers the story of the Israelites in the wilderness.  This is a span of about 40 years.  It opens with the generation that came out of Egypt and the first census of 603,550 males.  This census is in preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land.  The second census of the new generation occurs in chapter twenty-six. 

This thirteenth and fourteenth chapter deals specifically with the twelve spies, one from each tribe, going into Canaan to survey the land and determine if it is ready for their conquest.  The twelve spies return forty days later with a mixed report.  They all report that the land flows with milk and honey but only Joshua and Caleb report that they should move immediately to take the land.  After hearing the faithless and exaggerated report of the ten spies the Israelites again cry out in despair.  Once again, they wish to return to the land of enslavement back in Egypt.  Some important words to consider form this text include:

Fidelity

Despair

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.    

Last week’s lesson was taken from Exodus 16 and opened with the Israelites having been already delivered from enslavement in Egypt.  They are now wandering in the wilderness at a place called Sin, between Elim and Sinai.  They have been on their journey from Egypt for only about 45 days. 

In verses two and three the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron.  They protest so severely that they imagined dying back in the land of their captivity.  They complained, “if only they had died by the hand of the Lord back in Egypt”.  I noted how these are a people who have given up.  There were no Egyptians around to enslave them.  There were no slave masters around to whip them.  There were no Egyptian solders around to slay them.  Yet, they desired to go back to the land of enslavement, back to whippings and beatings, and back to soldiers who could slay them.  They had given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat.  I noted how they saw themselves in this foreign land, this wilderness, dying of hunger.  So then they blamed Moses and Aaron for their hunger.  I also quoted the “The New Interpreter’s Study Bible” explaining that “life as a slave in Egypt is better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”.  

In verse four the LORD gives Moses a plan.  The LORD tells Moses how bread will be provided and how the people are to gather the bread from heaven.  But the LORD presents this as a test for the Israelites.  God will rain bread from heaven and the Israelites are to gather only enough for their daily needs.  In this way, God will know if they will follow God’s instruction.  Just as God gave the Israelites provision day by day, it is up to us to trust God for our daily bread. 

Verse five gave them instructions on how to gather in preparation for the Sabbath.  On the sixth day they are to gather twice as much in preparation for the seventh day of rest.  

In verses six and seven Moses and Aaron explain to the Israelites the plan the LORD has set forth for their provision.  They tell the people “in the evening you will know that it was the LORD that brought you out of Egypt.  And in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD”.  Moses and Aaron want them to know that they aren’t complaining to them but to God. 

In verse eight Moses makes it plain that the people aren’t complaining against him and Aaron; they are complaining against the LORD.  This won’t be the last time the Israelites complain.  They have seen the great plagues and experienced the great deliverance of God from their Egyptian enslavers.  Yet, a mere 45 days later they are completely defeated with no enemy soldiers in sight. 

The text skips to verses thirteen through fifteen.  Here, the LORD provides quail in the evening and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  After the dew lifted there was a fine flaky substance on the ground.  They ask “what is it” and Moses explains “it is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”. 

As we continue to study God’s faithfulness and responses to God’s faithfulness, this week we see faithfulness in the minority report of Joshua and Caleb.  Joshua and Caleb are faithful.  The others are not.  Not only are they faithless but their rebellion and ultimate rejection of God is the cause of the old generation being condemned to wander 40 years in the wilderness until almost all of them die out.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness and God Hears Our Cry”.  The scripture text comes from Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at chapter thirteen verses one and two with the LORD speaking to Moses.  The LORD instructs Moses to send men into the land of Canaan.  The LORD specifies “the land which I am giving to the Israelites”.  This is the land that God promised Abraham.  The Promised Land and the nation of Israel were hundreds of years in the making but now the descendants of Abraham were on the verge of receiving the long awaited promise. 

The text skips to verse 17a where Moses sends the 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land and determine its suitability for the conquest.

At verse twenty-five the spies have returned from their 40 day reconnaissance.  The number forty is used quite often in the Bible.  We see later that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for forty years.  Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights.  It rained for forty days and forty nights in the great flood.  In Exodus 24:18 Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai and in Acts 1:3 there are forty days between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  So the number forty occurs quite often and at significant times but we should not give this number any more significance than needed.  Merriam-Webster defines numerology as “the study of the occult significance of numbers”.  While numbers often symbolize something they should not to be given divine meaning unless specifically stated to have divine meaning from God.  Occult practices include numerology, astrology, witchcraft, tarot cards and others.

In verse twenty-six the spies assemble at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran to report their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly.  The spies showed them the fruit of the land. 

In verse 27 the spies reveal that the land flows with milk and honey.  Not only do they tell of the goodness of the land but they bring back evidence of the bountiful harvests that await the other side. 

In verse 28 despite them seeing the bountiful blessing of the land; the spies report that the people are powerful and the cities are fortified and very large.  I should note that the first census reported over 600,000 men.  Historians report that this would have been an unusually large number of people because most nation states were not this large at that time.  So it seems that these spies see the blessings possible in the Promised Land, they see the powerful people, they see the large cities, but they do not see the fulfilled promise of God nor do they see themselves are powerful in God’s might. 

The text skips to chapter fourteen verses one and two where the entire congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night.  They weep because they have believed the exaggerated report of the ten spies.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary explains that there are two versions of the spy’s negative report.  “In the first version the land flows with milk and honey.  In the second version verses 32-33 declare that the land itself is so bad that it eats its inhabitants”.  Additionally, “the spies warn of giant Anakites and of a mythological and semi-divine race of giants known as the Nephilim”.  The Israelites see these giants and once again fall into fear.  Instead of believing God, instead of believing they were powerful and strong and brave, instead of believing they were enough and that they had enough.  They choose instead to believe the report of these men instead of the command of God.  They are out of Egypt.  They have been delivered from enslavement by mighty works and wonders of God.  God has provided them with mana in the morning and meat in the evening.  God has turned bitter water to drinkable water.  Even with all these miraculous works they cannot see how God will give them this Promised Land.  Once again, they complain against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they wish that they had died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness.  As they wept that night, God heard their cry.  They cry out not in faith, but in unfaithfulness.  They don’t cry out in belief, but in unbelief.  Theirs is not a cry of hope, but hopelessness.  Although the old generation has seen the mighty works of God; this conquest is just a step too far for them to take. 

In verse five Moses and Aaron fall on their face before all of the assembly.  They realize what the Israelites are doing.  They realize this entire nation is choosing to reject God even after all God has done for them.

Verses six and seven show Joshua and Caleb as the faithful few who believe God can and will do what God said God would do.  They tear their clothes in frustration and declare again that the land they went through was an exceedingly good land. 

In verse eight they explain that if the LORD is pleased with them The LORD will give them this land that flows with milk and honey. 

In verses nine and ten they warn the Israelites not to rebel against the LORD and do not fear the people of the land.  Instead of heeding the warning of Joshua and Caleb, the whole congregation threatened to stone them.

Context:

Perhaps you have heard someone say “I’ll believe it when I see it”.  Seeing and believing seem to complement each other.  Yet sometimes it can be hard to believe what you see.  These Israelites saw the mighty works of God demonstrated in miraculous ways, yet they could not believe what God told them would come next.  Not only had they seen the mighty works of God but they also saw the evidence of a land flowing with milk and honey.  Instead of believing what God would do they choose instead to believe the exaggerations and lies about mythological giants.  The people in the land were real and they were no doubt powerful.  But God is all powerful.  The question for us today is whether we believe God or whether we believe myths.

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Aaron – The brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel.  Aaron was a descendant of Levi’s and a son of Amram and Jochebed’s (Exodus 6:20).  Born eighty-three years before the Exodus, he was three years older than Moses (Exodus 7:7) but younger than their sister, Miriam (Townsend). 

Joshua – The son of Nun, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, and Moses’ lieutenant and successor.  He was originally named Hoshea. 

Caleb – The son of Jephunneh of the tribe of Judah, and one of the twelve spies whom Moses commanded to observe the land of Canaan. 

Key Words: 

Fidelity – The quality or state of being faithful.  The fidelity of God is shown in God’s dependability, trustworthiness, and reliability. 

Despair – utter loss of hope.

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  I’ll believe it when I see it.    

2.  Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.     

Questions

1.  The old generation of Israelites would not see the Promised Land.  Discuss why.             

2.  Joshua and Caleb are the minority with a good report.  Why is their report positive and the other ten spies report negative?      

Concluding Thought:

God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations.  God also promised him the land of Canaan for his descendants.  It was hundreds of years in the making but it came to pass.  God is faithful even when God’s people are not.  If God has promised you something, don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Be encouraged and keep the faith.  God is Faithful.    

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson continues in the book of Numbers.  As we continue the God is faithful theme, we see God about to meet out the harshest of punishment against the nation of Israel.  Faithful Moses steps in to plead the case for the rebellious and faithless people and God changes God’s mind.  Instead of punishment God grants forgiveness.  The lesson is entitled God Forgives.      

religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 1, 2019) Faithful During Distress / Faith And Doubt Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29

Faithful During Distress / Faith and Doubt Genesis 19

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is entitled “Faithful During Distress” and “Faith and Doubt”.  I take a look at how God is faithful during our distress and faith and doubt as it relates to God’s faithfulness.  Specifically, in this lesson, I show how God is faithful to Abraham.  Have you ever heard the saying “somebody prayed for me”?  That was Abraham on behalf of Lot.  If it were not for Abraham, Lot and his family would have perished along with everyone else in Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this lesson, God is faithful to Abraham and merciful and compassionate to Lot and his family.  In this lesson, I focus on how hospitality is an important and central theme in this text.  That’s really important because so many people focus on the homosexuality in this text.  Homosexuality isn’t the central issue.  Although Lot shows hospitality to the angels there is little else (in my view, nothing else) to give him credit for.  In fact, given Lot’s offer of his own daughters to the men of the city he was just as guilty of the same violence as the sodomites. 

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed because God heard the outcry of their collective violence and inhospitality and the violence with which they treated aliens in their midst.  Lot was saved not because of his own actions, but because Abraham intervened, interceded, and pleaded on his behalf.  I like how Townsends Commentary explains “with Lot’s rescue, the emphasis is on God’s compassion.  Lot acknowledged that he was saved because he had found favor in God’s sight.  This is also true for us.  If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side, where would we be”?  If you have or had praying parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, perhaps you too can identify with Lot.  If it had not been for God on our side, where would we be?

In this first lesson of the new school year our focus has transitioned from covenants to demonstrating how God is faithful.  The focus of this week’s lesson is faithful during distress and faith and doubt.  It is Abraham’s faith that is highlighted and we see Lot’s doubt as he hesitates to leave a city soon to be destroyed.   Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Background: 

This first lesson of the Fall Quarter and the new Sunday School year comes from the book of Genesis.  Genesis is a book of beginnings.  It speaks to the creation of the world, the fall of humanity, the great floods and establishment of Nations. It is the first book of the Bible and the first of the five books known as the Pentateuch.  Townsend Commentary notes that “Genesis was written over a long period of time.  It was probably begun in the time of Moses, but later generations added other material and edited the books together.  The book probably reached its final form around the time of Solomon (970-930 BC)”.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible also notes that Genesis contains narratives from three authors or traditions (1) The Yawist, (2) the Elohist, and (3) the Priestly writer.  These distinct traditions were woven together in the way they appear today by a later editor or by the latest author, the priestly writer.  It’s important to note these writers because it’s important to understand both “the times in which they wrote and the times about which they wrote” (NISB). 

This nineteenth chapter falls within a larger narrative focused on the life of Abraham.  It’s as if the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is parenthetically interjected into the longer story of Abraham, Sarah, and the birth of Isaac. 

Lot is Abraham’s nephew.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah begins in chapter eighteen.  As Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, he looked up and saw three men standing near him.  After Abraham and Sarah show great hospitality to the men (one of whom appears to be the Lord), one of them said “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  When these men leave Abraham and Sarah they set out toward Sodom. 

At this point “The Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”?  After the Lord decides to reveal the plan, Abraham and the Lord engage in a philosophical discussion.  Abraham questions the Lord’s plan asking “will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?  Abraham pleads his case for the righteous in Sodom.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew, Abraham is going to make the case and plead on his behalf.  This is a powerful plea to the Lord. 

When the Lord agrees that the city will not be destroyed if fifty righteous are found Abraham then asks “suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking”?  When The Lord agrees again, Abraham then asks suppose forty are found there.  When the Lord agrees, Abraham then asks suppose there are twenty.  When the Lord agrees he asks once more, suppose there are ten.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew Abraham is going to go the distance with the Lord on behalf of his extended family.  It’s important to also note that the NIBOVC explains “God is gracious and merciful, forgiving and slow to anger, but God also does not simply “clear the guilty” without some consequences for their sin (Exod. 34:6-7) or, as here in Gen. 18, without some few righteous ones who will redeem the whole.  That’s an important principle to remember; “A few righteous ones who redeem the whole”.  If there are ten righteous in the city, God will stay God’s judgement.  But of course in this story ten cannot be found.  That principle applies to us through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is our righteousness.

This is where our lesson picks up.  The men who visited Abraham and Sarah are now described as two angels (messengers).  They arrive Sodom in the evening, with Lot sitting in the gateway of the city.  Lot greets them in the same way Abraham did in chapter eighteen and he offers them exceptional hospitality. 

Our lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  It is a view into how Lot responded to God’s grace. Given the background I’ve just covered it is also a view into how God is faithful to Abraham’s plea for his nephew and family.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Review of Last Week.  

Last week’s lesson was titled Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.  The lesson came from the fifth chapter of Ephesians verses twenty-one through thirty-three.  Verse twenty-one was the key verse in the text.  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  Or be subject to one another.  The Greek word for “subject” “is a military term meaning to line up under” (NISB).  I noted how that is a good expression to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.

Verse twenty-two told us that wives ought to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord and I noted how I have personally witnessed how terribly this verse can be misused by a husband.  It’s important to know that this verse does not make a husband superior, greater, more authoritative, more respected or more valuable in any way, shape or form than his wife.  Nor does this verse put the husband above the wife in any way.  Men are not better than women, husbands are not better than wives. I also noted how much it bothers me that some women will accept being treated inferior as if that is somehow pleasing to God.  It’s not.  Women and wives ought to be full participants in the cause of Christ.   

 Marriage is teamwork.  There are areas where my wife needs to lead.  When she leads, I line up under her and follow her leadership.  That’s one way mutual love is expressed. 

I also noted how life in this first century world revolved around patriarchy.  Every area of life in this first century world centered on a male authority system that oppressed and subordinated women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.  For Paul to say that women and men should be subject to one another is a radical thought for his time.  Yet, given the oppression women faced in his time and the oppression women still face today I wish that he had gone further to tear down the ideology of patriarchy. 

Verse twenty-five reminded husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.  Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial.  There was literally nothing greater that Christ could have given other than his own life.

Verse twenty-seven goes even further helping us understand that because of this sacrificial love the church is presented in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish.  While the wife is called upon to submit to her husband, the husband is called upon to love his wife. 

Verses twenty-eight through thirty drive the point home for the husband.  In all of this teaching, “it is the husband who receives the longest instruction” in this household code (NISB).  Just as husbands love their own bodies, they should also love their wives.  Furthermore, “he who loves his wife loves himself”.  Perhaps this is a point that sometimes gets overlooked, but in verse twenty-nine Paul is saying the husband nourishes and tenderly cares for his body.  I see this as a part of our duty both to ourselves and to our wives.  And I noted how toxic masculinity kills men.  Men, it’s okay to get rest when you need it.  It’s okay to take care of yourselves.  It’s okay to take time off from work to see your doctor, your counselor, your psychiatrist, psychologist or any other medical professional.  We have to take care of ourselves or our wives may end up widows. 

Verse thirty-one reminded us of a familiar passage telling us “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  In this verse Paul reflects back to Genesis 2:24 where it says “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they two become one flesh.  So, a mutual love covenant is about teamwork, working together, supporting, and loving one another as we line up under one another as unto Jesus Christ. 

In verse thirty-two Paul admits that two becoming one flesh is a mystery.  The point for us to understand is that husbands and wives should work so closely together that they seem to be as one unit.  There should be no daylight between the husband and wife as they both seek to serve God’s purposes. 

This chapter closes with Paul reminding both the husband and the wife of their duties to one another.  The husband should love his wife and the wife should respect her husband. 

This week’s lesson deals with faith and doubt as Abraham pleads for the deliverance of his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family.  This lesson shows us how God is faithful and how Lot responded to God’s grace.  The lesson this week is entitled Faith and Doubt.  The scripture text comes from Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse one begins with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he gets up to greet them.  Our lesson text then skips to verses four and five and then fifteen.  Verses two through fourteen are not particularly focused on the topic of faith and doubt but I’ll cover them as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invites these travelers to spend the night at his house where he shows them great hospitality by providing shelter and making them a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surround Lots house and demand “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  The NISB notes that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  Additionally, the NISB also notes

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

  So this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it also notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him they strike the men outside the door with blindness.  They question Lot whether he has any sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else in the city because they are about to destroy the city.  And that brings us up to verse fifteen.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  But Lot lingered so the men took him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered.  But given his choices thus far in the story, both good and bad, any speculation would be just that; pure speculation.

Verse seventeen tells us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family.  They made sure Lot and his family got out of the city and then gave him instructions to include not looking back, in order to avoid the coming destruction. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills.  Lot had already lingered coming out of the city, now he knows he must flee and cannot look back at the destruction that would rain down on the city in which he had lived. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  Instead of destroying the city upon their arrival they lodged and ate a meal with Lot.  Then they protected Lot from the men of the city.  Then they seized Lot and brought him and his family outside the gates of the city. And now they grant him this additional favor to go to a small city nearby.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-two and twenty-three the angel tells him to hurry because the angel can do nothing until Lot arrives. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein. Additionally, the angels had warned Lot and his family not to look back.  Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. 

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

Context:

The prayers of the righteous avail much.  It is the prayers of the righteous that are powerful and effective.  If you believe that prayer really changes things you have probably been the recipient of someone else’s powerful and effective praying.  I like Dorothy Norwood’s song Somebody Prayed for Me.  It captures the feeling of knowing that you didn’t make it to where you are on your own.  Many of us have had praying mothers, fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers.  Without their prayers where would we be? 

Key Characters in the text:

Lot – isAbraham’s nephew.  He is the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother.  He migrates with Abraham and grandfather from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan (Townsend). 

Angel – A scriptural term for heavenly beings who praise and serve God.  They are variously portrayed in Scripture as announcing a child’s birth and destiny (Gen 16:11; Luke 1:11-20), interceding with God (Gen 22:11), executing judgement (2 Sam. 24:16). 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions.     

Doubt, religious – Uncertainty, as opposed to denial, or religious truths. 

Hospitality – Biblical concept often used with the terms “guest”, “stranger” and “sojourner”.  It is useful to limit the meaning of “hospitality” to benevolence done to those outside ones normal circle of friends, as is implied in the literal meaning in the Greek word “love of strangers” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2) 

2.  Somebody prayed for me. (Abraham pleading for Lot)

Questions

1.  Lot showed hospitality to the men when they arrived at the gates of Sodom.  Why is hospitality so important?       

2.  If the assault on the angels had succeeded, the result could only be described as gang rape, not a private act.  This presents the sins of Sodom more as social than individual, something that characterizes the entire city (Townsend).  Discuss the depth of Sodom’s inhospitality. 

Concluding Thought:

It was the prayers of Abraham that saved Lot and his family.  It can be argued that on his own merit, Lot was not worthy of the deliverance he received.  Having said that, it can likely be argued that I am not worthy of my deliverance either.  I am reminded of the African Bantu term Ubuntu.  It means “I am, because we are”.  In other words, I exist because we exist together.  Somebody prayed for me.  I am who I am because of the answered prayers of those who prayed for me.  In our praying, let’s remember to pray for others. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of 1 Samuel.  In this second lesson of five exploring how God is faithful, we see God granting Hanna the son she prayed for.  The lesson is entitled God Answers Prayer.    

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (June 16, 2019) The New Covenant’s Sacrifice Hebrews 9:11-22

The New Covenants Sacrifice Hebrews 9:11-22

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at the ninth chapter of Hebrews as it explains the new covenant’s sacrifice.  Of course that sacrifice is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Everything the Old Testament required for redemption and restoration is fulfilled in the New Testament with Christ.  In the Old Agreement the high priest went into the tabernacle and the Holy Place to sprinkle blood for the redemption of the people.  In the New Testament Jesus symbolically goes into the Holy of Holies with his own blood.  In the Old Testament the high priest had to continually offer sacrifices for the people.  In the New Covenant, Jesus needs only go in once and it is for all humanity and for all eternity.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Tabernacle

Covenant

Testament

New Covenant / Agreement

Redemption

Now, if you have Wi-Fi in your church Sunday School classroom or wherever you share this lesson, this channel is a good way to teach and discuss this week’s lesson.  With Wi-Fi you can start and stop the lesson when you want to discuss parts of the lesson.  What I provide is a concise overview of background, context, characters, themes and topics; that gets to the point, saves you time, and enhances your own teaching and study.  If that’s what you’re looking for you are in the right place.  This is all about helping you understand the lesson in ways that are helpful to you and your listeners.  The ONLY way I know this is helpful is if you subscribe or click the like button.  So please subscribe or like and then share this site with other Sunday School teachers, preachers, and students across your social media platforms. 

Background: 

The focus of this week is the new covenant’s sacrifice.  Of course that sacrifice is Jesus Christ.  With that in mind I’ll provide some background on the book of Hebrews, a bit of background on the chapter preceding this weeks study, and then narrow the focus to this week’s study which is the ninth chapter of Hebrews. 

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that the book of Hebrews “is not really a letter, and certainly not written by Paul.  It does not begin like a letter, and in fact, is more of a sermon/treatise”. 

Hebrews is likely written about 65 Common Era.  Scholars date its composition before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE).  “It is extremely difficult to believe the author would not mention the destruction of the Temple if it had already occurred, since that would have been the validation of his entire argument concerning the outmoded character of the Old Testament sacrificial system” (NISB).  “One of the main emphases in Hebrews is the superiority of the new covenant to the old and its regimen of animal sacrifices” (NISB). 

The eighth chapter of Hebrews deals with the true high priest (Jesus) and the two covenants (old and new).  It naturally, takes a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament book of Jerimiah 31:31-34.  This is the longest quotation from the Old Testament in the New Testament (Townsend Commentary). 

The ninth chapter deals with the sacrifices of the Old Testament in verses 1-10. This was the first covenant.  It describes some of the protocol for priests entering into the Old Covenant tabernacle to atone for the sins of the people and to offer gifts.  Verses 11-22 of our study will contrast Jesus Christ with the Old Covenant as the one and only High Priest that fulfills the new covenant.  These verses deal with the “definitive nature of Christ’s work” (NISB).

Some important words to consider from this text include:

Covenant

Testament

New Covenant / Agreement

Redemption

Review Of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week Mark 15:6 reminded us that it was customary for Pilate to release a prisoner during the Passover feast.  Barabbas was in prison with people who had committed murder during the insurrection.  So Barabbas was charged with murder whereas Jesus was charged with insurrection.  Yet the crowd cried out to release Barabbas instead of Jesus.

I also noted that “the Jewish council had the power to put offenders they condemned to death”.  If the Jewish high council wanted to put Jesus to death themselves they could have done so.  But remember that only a few days ago a great crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting Hosanna to the highest.  Perhaps the crowd was the same; perhaps it was a different crowd.  But the high priests didn’t want to order the death of Jesus so they turned Jesus over to the Roman government.    

I also noted the importance of the distinction between who was responsible for the murder of Jesus.  Ultimately, it was the Roman government that crucified Jesus not the Jewish council leaders.  That’s important because across the centuries people have used the crucifixion of Jesus to provoke anti-Jewish feelings in those who blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion.  While it’s true the Jewish council turned Jesus over to Roman authorities, it cannot be said that the Jews crucified Jesus.

I also noted in verse 25 that the third hour was nine o’clock in the morning.  It was 9AM when they crucified him.  Verse 26 was the charge against him.  He was charged with being king in Caesar’s place. 

Verses 33 through 39 spoke to the death of Jesus.  The sixth hour was 12 o’clock noon.  The ninth hour was 3PM.  It was at 3PM when Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”. 

In verse 37 Jesus breathed his last breath.  In verse 38 the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.   This tearing of the curtain was significant.  It symbolizes the new direct access to God through Jesus Christ.  Now the high priest no longer needs to enter into the holiest of holies on our behalf.  Now we have direct access through this New Covenant with Jesus Christ. 

Verse 39 closed the lesson with the centurion proclaiming “Truly this man was God’s Son”!  It was the Roman centurion that proclaimed Jesus as God’s son. 

This week’s lesson continues with the theme of a fulfilled new covenant through Jesus Christ.  We have returned to the book of Hebrews as Hebrews references the Old Testament extensively to prove the point that Jesus fulfills the new covenant.  It is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the grace of God that we now have a new covenant with God.   This would not be possible without the new covenant’s sacrifice.  That sacrifice is Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary all title this week’s lesson The New Covenant’s Sacrifice.  The scripture text comes from Hebrews 9:11-22. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse eleven describes Christ as a High Priest of the good things that have come.  These good things are the salvation, restoration, and redemption provided through Jesus Christ.  We have these good things now because of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary’s cross. 

Verse twelve describes Jesus as entering once into the Holy Place.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “this place is ideal and not an actual place, but pointing to the ultimate reality of Christ’s atoning work”.  In other words, Jesus symbolically entered into the Holy Place.  This Holy Place is what we have to look forward to.  It is what will ultimately become our reality.  Note also that Jesus did not enter with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood. 

Verses thirteen and fourteen explain that the blood of goats and calves and ashes only sanctifies the outward flesh.  It is Christ’s blood that purifies the conscience or inner person from the dead works of the Old Testament animal sacrifice system.

Verse fifteen explains that because Jesus replaces this old covenant, he is the mediator of the new covenant so that we may receive the promised eternal inheritance.  This is possible because his death redeems believers from transgressions under the old covenant. 

In verses sixteen and seventeen we see terminology dealing with the ideas of wills, testaments, and covenants.  The Greek word for covenant is interchangeable with testament.  It is the same term for which we get the phrase “last will and testament”.  The author makes a play on this term to highlight the double meaning of covenant and testament. 

In verse eighteen the author makes his point from the previous verses; “not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood”.  The author is trying to help us understand the importance of Christ’s shed blood.  A sacrifice had to be made for the new covenant to become effective.  But a sacrifice of goats and calves would never be sufficient.  It had to be the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

Verses nineteen through twenty-two deal again with how the Old Testament required blood.  In verse nineteen the author reminds us of Moses sprinkling blood on the scroll and the people saying “This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you”.  The remaining verses describe the other things Moses sprinkled blood on and closes by proclaiming “under the law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”. 

Context:

The new covenant’s sacrifice is the shed blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.  This was a gracious way for God to deal with our sin.  It was a once and for all eternity sacrifice that held the key for humanity’s salvation, restoration, and redemption back to God.  One of the central points the author of Hebrews makes is the importance of the shedding of blood.  It was required in the Old Testament.  Hebrews makes the point that Jesus fulfills that requirement with his own blood in the new covenant.  The blood of Christ is defined by Westminster’s Theological Dictionary as a theological symbol of his atoning death effecting a new covenant, reconciliation, and salvation.  It is the central point Hebrews makes in our lesson. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Tabernacle – The portable tent in which the Hebrews worshiped during the wilderness period of wandering.  The Jerusalem Temple replaced it.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, the “tabernacle” is the boxlike receptacle for the Eucharistic elements. 

Mediator – One who stands between parties in order to effect reconciliation.  The term is applies to Jesus Christ as the “one mediator between God and humankind” in I Timothy 2:5, who has effected reconciliation by overcoming sin. 

Sacrifice – Something of value offered as an act of worship or devotion to God.  Sacrifices were offered throughout the Old Testament, accompanied covenant making, and were of various types.   

Redemption – A financial metaphor that literally means “buying back”.  Used theologically to indicate atonement, reconciliation, or salvation wherein liberation from forms of bondage such as sin, death, law, or evil takes place through Christ. 

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations. 

Testament – A person’s last will to dispose of property.  Also, a covenant – as at Sinai.  Both senses are found in Gal 3:15-18.  The term is also used for the division of the Bible into Old and New Testaments (covenants). 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  The only acceptable sacrifice (Jesus Christ).

2.  The Old Covenant and the New You.

Questions

1.  We are no longer under the Old Testament system of animal sacrifices.  What sacrifice do we need for salvation today?   

2.  The Old Testament tabernacle was destroyed.  The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.  Is there a temple or tabernacle for Christians today?  (See verse 11)      

Concluding thought:

This week’s study of Hebrews compared and contrasted the Old Testament or Old Agreement with the New Testament or New Agreement.  What was needed to remit sins in the Old Testament is fulfilled once and for all in the new agreement or the new covenant with Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament required the shedding blood.  That requirement in the New Testament is fulfilled in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.      

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we move to the book of Colossians.  As we understand the fulfilled covenant in Jesus Christ we will discuss the fullness of Jesus Christ in the Godhead and how to avoid false teaching.  Colossians will show us the importance of Heart’s united in love. 

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (June 9, 2019) Jesus Seals The New Covenant Mark 15:6-15, 25-26, 33-39

Jesus Seals The New Covenant Mark 15:6-15

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at how Jesus Seals The New Covenant.  In the forty-seven verses of this 15th chapter of Mark we see Jesus before Pilate, Pilate handing Jesus over to be crucified, the soldiers mocking Jesus, The crucifixion of Jesus, The death of Jesus, and the burial of Jesus.  In this text we see a crowd ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Only a few days ago a great crowd had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting Hosanna to the highest.  Perhaps the crowd is the same; perhaps it’s a different crowd.  I think one point we can take away from this lesson is that crowds can’t be trusted.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Covenant

Son of God

Son of Man

Background: 

This week we continue to focus on how the New Covenant came to be.  With that in mind I’ll provide some background on Mark the person, a bit more on the book of Mark, and then a bit more on this week’s chapter of study. 

Who’s Who In The Bible notes that “the second century Christian writer Papias first recorded the tradition that this gospel was written by Mark”.  This Mark would have been a follower of Peter name Mark (I Peter 5:13).  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible adds that “Augustine seems not to have known this tradition, for he argued that the Gospel of Mark was merely an abbreviation of the Gospel of Matthew”.  Additionally, “Jerome, the translator of the Bible into Latin, believed that the author of Mark was John Mark of Acts 15:37-38 (NISB).  This is the same Mark who’s other name was John in Acts 12:12.  John would have been his Hebrew name and Mark would have been his Latin Name.  Having two names like this was a common practice for Hellenized Jews (WWITB).  This is the same Mark who accompanied his cousin Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey.  When Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem it displeased Paul because when Barnabas asked that Mark go with them on a second missionary journey Paul refused (WWITB).  Acts 15:39 tells us this refusal created a sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas.  The writer of this Gospel may also be associated with Peter who referred to him as “my son” in I Peter 5:13.  However, most modern scholars are hesitant to make this link (NISB).  With that in mind, “The Gospel of Mark, like the other canonical Gospels, probably originally circulated anonymously among Christian groups” (NISB).  In other words we cannot definitively know who the author is.

The book of Mark was likely written “in the decade of 65 to 75 Common Era when Nero’s persecutions of Christians in Rome was soon followed by the first Jewish-Roman war.  In this war Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans” (NISB).  Most scholars agree that Mark is the first Gospel to be written.  It is written to suit the needs of Christians under persecution.  This Gospel does not mention the name of its author and it is not written as a letter to anyone in particular.  Mark intends to portray Jesus as a Servant Redeemer.  “Mark shows his Gentile readers how the Son of God – rejected by his own people – achieved ultimate victory through apparent defeat” (Nelson’s Bible Handbook).  

The forty-seven verses of this fifteenth chapter of Mark show us

Jesus before Pilate

Pilate handing Jesus over to be crucified

The soldiers mocking Jesus

The crucifixion of Jesus

The death of Jesus

And the burial of Jesus.

Our Scripture text is interspersed through most of this chapter.  Some important words to consider from these two texts include:

Son of God

Son of Man

King of the Jews

Review Of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week our lesson came from two separate texts in the New Testament but the Hebrews text was really a long quote from the Old Testament.  We studied parts of Mark 14th chapter and Hebrews 8th chapter.  The text in Mark began with the 14th chapter 17th verse where Jesus and the twelve disciples were gathered together for the evening Passover meal.  As they ate the Passover meal Jesus told his disciples one of them would betray him.      

Distressed, upset, and sorrowful the disciples took turns asking “is it I”.  Jesus explained “it is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me”.  We mentioned how the NISB noted that “Dipping bread into the bowl emphasized the bond of hospitality and intimacy that was about to be broken by betrayal”. 

We discussed verses twenty-two through twenty-four where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper otherwise known as Holy Communion.  We also discussed verse twenty-four where “He said to them, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”.  This was where Jesus mentioned the covenant that was the basis for the new and better covenant mentioned in the text in Hebrews.  That closed the discussion of Mark and then we skipped to Hebrews 8.

Hebrews 8:6 began by explaining that Jesus was the mediator of a better covenant with better promises.  We noted that verse seven explained if the first covenant had been faultless, there would be no need to look for a second one.  No one could keep all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament.  But more importantly, this new covenant would replace the practice of animal sacrifices.  Jesus was the one sacrifice for all eternity to absolve or release humanity of the consequences of sin and separation from God.     

This week’s lesson is the second lesson of the Summer quarter and the second lesson in the Gospel According To Mark.  We will return to Hebrews in the third week of the quarter.  The focus for each lesson remains on the idea of covenant and specifically the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ.  The aim of this week is to show us how Jesus Seals the New Covenant.  As the Nation of Israel rejects Jesus he is turned over to Pontius Pilate for crucifixion.  It is the sacrificial death of Jesus that seals the covenant and establishes our relationship with God.  Standard Lesson Commentary, Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary all title this week’s lesson Jesus Seals The New Covenant.  The scripture text comes from Mark 15:6-15, 25-26, and 33-39. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

This Gospel is probably written in the decade of 65 to 75 Common Era.  The events of this chapter take place thirty-five to forty-five years earlier.  Mark 15:6 begins by reminding us that it was customary for Pilate to release a prisoner.  This was customary during the Passover feast.  It could have been any prisoner.  Barabbas was in prison with people who had committed murder during the insurrection.  So Barabbas was likely charged with murder whereas Jesus was charged with insurrection.

It should be noted that “the Jewish council had the power to put offenders they condemned to death.  So this second trial on different charges before Roman authorities seems unnecessary” (NISB).  It also seems remarkable that this crowd would ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Only a few days ago a great crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting Hosanna to the highest.  Perhaps the crowd is the same; perhaps it’s a different crowd.  I think one point for us to take away is that crowds can’t be trusted. 

It’s important to also note that ultimately it is the Roman government that crucifies Jesus not the Jewish council leaders.  That’s an important distinction.  Across the centuries people have used this event to provoke anti-Jewish feelings in those who blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion.  While it’s true the Jewish council turned Jesus over to Roman authorities, it cannot be said that the Jews crucified Jesus.

Verse 25 identifies the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The third hour was nine o’clock in the morning.  It was 9AM when they crucified him.  Verse 26 was the charge against him.  Although it read “The King of the Jews” the crime was insurrection.  He was charged with being king in Caesar’s place. 

Verses 33 through 39 speak to the death of Jesus.  The sixth hour is 12 o’clock noon.  The ninth hour is 3PM.  It was at 3PM when Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”.  In this text, these are the last words Jesus speaks before his death, burial, and resurrection.  When the some of the bystanders hear his cry they think he is calling for Elijah.  After someone filled a sponge with sour wine and gave it to him to drink they said “wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down”. 

In verse 37 Jesus breathes his last breath.  In verse 38 the text leads us to believe that the curtain of the temple was immediately torn in two from top to bottom.   This tearing of the curtain is significant.  It symbolizes the new direct access to God through Jesus Christ.  Now the high priest no longer needs to enter into the holiest of holies on our behalf.  Now we have direct access through this New Covenant with Jesus Christ. 

Verse 39 closes our lesson text with the centurion proclaiming “Truly this man was God’s Son”!  It is the Roman centurion that proclaims Jesus as God’s son.

Context:

Anti-Semitism is opposition to or hatred of Jews.  It may take the form of discrimination, arrest, or extermination.  Throughout Christian history anti-Semitism has been a real problem spread by the view that Jews crucified Jesus.  It’s important that all Christians prevent the spread of this false narrative.  Although rejected by his own people, It was the Roman government that crucified Jesus.  The good news is the crucifixion, the willing sacrifice of Jesus was part of God’s plan.  Through this sacrifice now all of humanity has direct access to God through Jesus Christ. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Barabbas – a man who had been arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion for insurrection against Rome and murder.  He was freed by Pilate, instead of Jesus, at the request of the crowd during the Passover feast.

Pilate – The Roman governor of Judea from about 26 to 37 Common Era.  Pontius Pilate presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his execution. 

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Son of God – An individual who stands in a special relationship with God is a son or child of God (Gal 4:6-7).  The concept is used in the Old Testament for Israel as a nation, David, and kings.  In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is God unique Son.

Son of Man – A Hebrew or Aramaic expression that may be a synonym for humankind or refer to an apocalyptic figure who will judge the righteous and unrighteous at the end time.  It is also used as a title for Jesus in each sense. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  What shall I do with him?  (see vs 12)

2.  The Centurion called Him Son of God.  What do you call Him?

Questions

1.  The title of our lesson is Jesus Seals The New Covenant.  What is the seal?

2.  Mark 15:10 identifies the chief priests as the ones who handed Jesus over to Pilate but it was the Romans that crucified Jesus.  Why should Christians refuse to entertain the idea that the Jews crucified Jesus?

Concluding thought:

We’ve been focused on how the New Covenant came into existence.  The short answer is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ in Calvary’s cross.  But just as important is the fact that this New Covenant brings reconciliation.  We are reconciled to God through the grace of Christ on Calvary.  If God would go this far for our reconciliation, shouldn’t we also do the work of reconciliation with our family members, friends, and acquaintances?   

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we return to the book of Hebrews.  As we focus on how the New Covenant came to be I will bring the New Covenant’s sacrifice into view.  That sacrifice is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  It’s this same sacrifice that gives us hope to look forward.  I Corinthians 15:17 reminds us “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins”.  The good news is that Christ is risen and we have salvation through his sacrifice.