Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (December 8, 2019) A Heart Filled With Gratitude / David’s Gratitude 1 Chronicles 16:8-12, 19-27

A Heart Filled With Gratitude / David’s Gratitude

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Sunday School Lesson The Chronicler writes to show us David’s gratitude and how we can have a heart filled with gratitude.  The Chronicler writes an encouragement for the children of Israel to keep hope alive.  It’s important for the Chronicler to help this nation understand that even though they have been defeated and taken captive in the past, that the future is still bright with God on their side.  The Chronicler wants the Hebrew nation to know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God of King David and King Solomon is their God and they are God’s people.  He wants them to know that even though their forbears fell into sin and were punished; God has not forsaken them.  They have been through great pain and distress and now they want to know their place in the universe.  Now that they are back in Jerusalem they want to know if the same God that brought King David to power and King Solomon to great splendor is still their God.  The Chronicler gives them a history lesson that shows the greatness of God and the great blessings of God when God’s people live in obedience.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Gratitude

Psalm

Background: 

As I noted last week most scholars agree that First and Second Chronicles were originally one book.  Last week I explained how this book was originally named “The Events of the Days” was later named “The Things Omitted” and then finally named First and Second Chronicles by the translator of the fourth century Latin Vulgate.  What I did not mention last week are the theological themes that continually reappear in this text.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes these three themes as

“The concern for continuity with the past.”

“A concern for “all Israel.””

“The chronicler retains from Samuel and Kings the concept of retributive justice.”

The concern for continuity is perhaps the most important of these three themes.  Chronicles is written after the children of Israel have been defeated, exiled, and then returned to Jerusalem.  Chronicles is written to the post-exilic community (those who remain or have come back after the exile to Babylon).  The NISB notes “following the Persian defeat of the Babylonians under Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, [the Israelites have] returned from Babylon to live under Persian rule in Jerusalem and worship in the rebuilt Temple.”  Dr. Renita J. Weems writes in The Africana Bible Reading Israel’s Scriptures From Africa and the African Diaspora “the writer [creates] a narrative that instilled a sense of mission, national pride, and divine purpose in a people that had once been displaced from their homeland and robed of their cultural memories.”  Dr. Weems continues “the Chronicler was eager to inspire the inhabitants of Judah to hope again and to throw themselves behind a national effort to rebuild and to restore order to their homeland.”  So it’s important for the Chronicler to help this nation understand that even though they have been defeated and taken captive in the past, that the future is still bright with God on their side.

  I think the one verse that captures that image more than any other in this text 2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  The Chronicler wants the Hebrew nation to know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God of King David and King Solomon is their God and they are God’s people.  The Chronicler wants them to know that even though their forbears fell into sin and were punished; God is still their God. 

The NISB explains “instead of asking “Why did this happen to us?” they want to know about their relationship with the past:  “Who are we?” “Are we still the people of God?” “What do God’s promises to David and Solomon mean for us today?””  So, these are a people who have suffered and endured great pain and distress.  They no longer rule themselves; they have been ruled by the Babylonians and now they are ruled by Persians.  They need answers about their place in the universe and the Chronicler writes to help them understand their relationship with their painful past and their present God.  This sixteenth chapter of First Chronicles deals with the Ark of the Covenant of God placed in the tent David prepared for it and David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving.  This chapter is the “conclusion to the Chronicler’s Ark narrative and it institutes public worship (NISB).”  Additionally, the NISB notes that David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving quotes portions of Psalm 105 and Psalm 106. 

Some important words to consider from this text include:

Gratitude

Psalm

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

In Last week’s Lesson King David worshiped God in Jerusalem in ways that had never been done before.  David’s worship was heartfelt and sincere.  He had built luxurious houses for himself and the city of Jerusalem.  And he wanted the Ark of God in Jerusalem also.  David wanted to honor God.  He was determined to get the ark of God in Jerusalem so all Israel could worship God with the symbolic presence of God in their midst them.  David gave the Levites specific instructions; he told them to bring singers, musicians, trumpets, harps, lyres, and cymbals.  David was going to have a grand celebration, he was going to honor God and he was going to worship God with all Israel joining him in a great and grand celebration of thanksgiving and praise. 

Last week I also quoted Townsend commentary and Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms noting that “the city of David was originally known as Zion or Jerusalem” and that Zion is “used in the Old Testament for all or part of Jerusalem. 

I noted how carrying the ark of God was the responsibility of the Levites and David had already learned from his first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem that the rules had not changed.  God had not changed God’s mind about who was to minister to God. 

Verse sixteen gave us an idea of the kinds of instruments that would be used along with singers all from the Levites.  There would be singers playing on musical instruments, there would be harps, lyres, and cymbals to raise loud sounds of joy.  This was going to be a grand celebration worthy of the occasion.  The lesson then skipped to verse twenty-five.

In verse twenty-five David and the elders of Israel, and the commanders of thousands, went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the house of Obed-Edom with rejoicing.  I noted how David included the elders of Israel.  He was king and he had absolute authority, but he did not neglect the elders nor did he neglect the leaders of his military.  This was a celebration for all of Israel.

This week’s lesson continues last week’s with the Ark of the Covenant of God now placed in the tent David had prepared.   

Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “A Heart Filled With Gratitude”.  Standard Lesson Commentary titles this week’s lesson “David’s Gratitude”.  The scripture text comes from 1 Chronicles 16:8-12, 19-27. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The Lesson opens at verse eight with David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving.  Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms define psalm as “A hymn, sacred song, or poem.  The Book of Psalms (the Psalter) is composed of 150 religious poems of prayer and praise of ancient Israel, arranged in five books.” 

Verse eight begins by exhorting these recently returned people to give thanks, to call on God’s name, and to make known God’s deeds among the peoples.  After going through what they have gone through the Chronicler reminds them of how King David gave thanks and called on God.  The point for us to know is that when God has been good to you, you ought to tell somebody.  These people had been hurt and defeated but now they are brought back to Jerusalem and somebody ought to praise God for it. 

Verse nine continues with “sing, sing psalms unto God, talk of all God’s wondrous works.  These are action words.  Praising God is active whether singing loud voice or a quite praise.  But more so when we begin to talk about the wondrous works that God has done for us, praise just happens. 

Verses ten and eleven tell us to glory in God’s name, to rejoice, and to seek the LORD.  In these first four verses I see a lot of glory, a lot or rejoicing, a lot of seeking God.  This is a clear example of a grateful heart.  David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving flows from a grateful heart. 

Verse twelve tells us to remember God’s marvelous works, God’s wonders and the judgements of God’s mouth.  It’s good to remember.  It’s good to remember what God has done for you.  It’s good to remember how God brought you through.  It’s good to remember when and where God delivered you.  Remembering the mighty and marvelous works of God in our own lives leads us to a grateful heart and a thankful praise. 

In verses nineteen, twenty and twenty-one, David’s psalm reminds the people that the children of Israel didn’t start out as a mighty and strong nation.  They came from humble beginnings.  From those humble beginnings with the help of God they grew into the mighty nation that King David once ruled.  In verse twelve the psalm told them to remember.  Now, in these verses the psalm tells them what to remember. 

Verse twenty-two just like verses nineteen through twenty-one is a word for word quote from Psalm 105: 12-15.  Twenty-one is a verse I’ve often heard quoted referring to preachers and other ministers of God.  Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm does not mean every preacher or minister is above criticism or even condemnation whey they are outside God’s will.  In other words, it’s not a get out jail free card for preachers or ministers who are in the wrong.

Verse twenty-three elevates the praise from personal to all the earth.  Psalm 24:1 reminds us “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”  It tells us to proclaim God’s salvation day after day.  In other words, never forget how God delivered you. 

Verses twenty-four and twenty-five declare that God is great and greatly to be praised.  In other words, a great God deserves a great praise.  And a great praise will tell the saints and the sinners what God has done.  Everybody ought to know that God has been good, that God has delivered and that God is great above all other gods. 

Verses twenty-six and twenty-seven close the lesson with David’s psalm reminding the people that idol gods are essentially useless.  Idol worshipers can talk, but God worshipers can point to the heavens and the earth to declare that their God is the one true God.  It is their God who has made the heavens and the earth and this God deserves all the glory and all the honor. 

Context:

Townsend commentary defines the Hebrew word for rejoice as “being glad; associated with dancing, singing, clapping, playing, and external movement consistent with festival celebrations.  In other words, rejoice is party language.”  At first glance I found the description of party language a bit amusing.  But I had to ask myself why?  Parties aren’t inherently bad and it’s great that God’s people know how to party in the Lord.  A heart filled with gratitude and should lead us to want to party for the LORD.

Key Characters in the text:

King David – The central figure as he conquers the City of Jerusalem and builds a place to keep the Ark of the Covenant (Townsend). 

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

Gratitude – The response to God and God’s blessings that is an expression of praise and devotion.  In the Christian context, believers respond in gratitude for the “indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:19) of Jesus Christ, who is the supreme expression of God’s grace. 

Psalm – A hymn, sacred song, or poem.  The book of Psalms is composed of 150 religious poems of prayer and praise of ancient Israel, arranged in five books.    

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  A great God deserves a great praise.      

Question: 

1.  Remembering what God has done for you is important.  Do you remember a time when mother or father couldn’t do it?  But God did.    

Concluding Thought:

The Chronicler writes to encourage the children of Israel to keep hope alive.  They have been through great pain and distress and now they want to know if God is still on their side.  Now that they are back in Jerusalem they want to know if the same God that brought King David to power and King Solomon to great splendor is still their God.  The Chronicler gives them a history lesson that shows the greatness of God and the great blessings of God when God’s people live in obedience.  The same God who reassured the broken and defeated people of Israel back then is here to reassure us today.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

The lesson for December 15th continues just as last week’s lesson by going to the very next chapter in Chronicles.  Next week in chapter 17 and chapter 21 I will consider the Chronicler’s description of the roles of The Prophet Nathan and King David as David desires to build a Temple for God.  Public worship has been instituted and now David believes the people need a Temple to worship God that’s worthy of God’s greatness.  The lesson is titled “Building God’s House” and “David’s House”.  The text is taken from 1 Chronicles 17:1, 3-4, 11-14; 21:18, 21-27.    

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Christianity, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Winter Quarter Overview With Mind Map December 2019, January 2020, February 2020 Honoring God in Worship

Winter Quarter Overview with Mind Map Honoring God

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this overview of the Winter Quarter I want to lift for you the major themes and movements of the next thirteen lessons.  So as we study these lessons you will have some idea of where the lesson series is taking us. 

King David made a place for the Ark of the covenant in Jerusalem.  The time came when the Tabernacle was replaced by the Temple.  Solomon the son of King David built the Temple in Jerusalem.  Moses built the tabernacle, but the time came when the tabernacle was replaced by the Temple.  Solomon built the Temple.  But the time came when that Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon in 583 B.C.  The second rebuilt Temple survived until King Herod rebuilt it.  It was that Temple that Jesus walked in.  But that temple was also destroyed.  Now let’s walk though how our Winter Quarter get us here. 

The overall focus of the Winter Quarter is honoring God in worship.  We have thirteen lessons through December, January, and February divided into three units. 

 Unit one deals with David as he honors God.  Unit two deals with dedicating the temple of God.  And unit three deals with Jesus teaching us about true worship.

For each of the three units and each of the four or five lessons in the units I’ll give you a mind map graphic that highlights the big picture.  In this overview I’ll focus on key characters, key words Key scripture texts, and since we are dealing with honoring God in worship I list the key places of worship the text shows us. 

The theme for unit one is “David Honors God”.

The theme for unit two is Dedicating the Temple of God

And unit three is Jesus Teaches about True Worship.

So let’s take a look at unit one.  There are five lessons in unit one all of which come from 1 Chronicles except our Christmas lesson which comes from the Gospel according to Luke. 

So in very broad terms we are going to look at the Ark of the Covenant of God which was housed in a tabernacle (tent).  We move from the tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem and then from the Temple in Jerusalem to the heart of every believer.

So the time came when the Tabernacle was replaced by the Temple.  Solomon the son of King David built the Temple in Jerusalem.  That Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the Israelites were taken prisoner to Babylon. About seventy years later, a remnant of those in captivity returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the first Temple.  Moses built the tabernacle, but the time came when the tabernacle was replaced by the Temple.  Solomon built the Temple.  But the time came when that Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  That rebuilt second temple survived until King Herod rebuilt it, taking forty six years to do so (John 2:20). It was this Temple which Jesus visited, but even this temple was destroyed.  It was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. And that Temple has never been rebuilt to its former glory.  And that leads us to where God dwells today.  The tabernacle no longer exists; the Temple made with human hands has been destroyed.  It is the book of Acts that reminds us that “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth. Does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). As Christians, we have been redeemed through the death of Jesus.  And as Peter reminded us last quarter “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). And because of that redemption, because of that shed blood on Calvary’s cross, God now dwells in, amongst, and with every believer.  Knowing that God is with us is good reason to honor God and celebrate God’s presence with us.  Unit one deals with how David honors God.  Unit two deals with how Solomon his son built the Temple or God and unit three brings it home with Jesus Christ teaching us about true worship.  The tabernacle is gone, the temple is destroyed, but God is with us through the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit. I hope you will join me each week this quarter as I explore David, Solomon, and Jesus in the weekly Sunday School lesson.  Thank you and may God bless you real good.

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Sunday School Lesson (November 10, 2019) Be Examples Of The Faith / Faith That Sets An Example 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10

Examples of The Faith / Faith That Sets An Example

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Sunday School Lesson the Apostle Paul shows us faith that sets an example.  The Thessalonians show us how to be examples of faith.  Paul begins this letter with thanksgiving for how these Thessalonians have kept the faith and endured despite the suffering and persecution they have experienced.  He compliments their faith, how they have turned from worshiping idols to the true and living God, how the whole region now knows of them, and how they have imitated him and ultimately Jesus Christ.  These Thessalonians are doing the work.  Paul pats them on the back for doing the work so well, and they deserve the accolades and compliments he bestows upon them.  They are imitators of Christ.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:  

Gospel

Election

Background 

This first letter to the church at Thessalonica is written by the Apostle Paul.  While 1 Thessalonians is the thirteenth book of the Protestant New Testament, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that this letter is the “oldest existing piece of Christian literature”.  Additionally, the late Dr. Cain Hope Felder explains in True To Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that

“Once readers of the New Testament realize 1 Thessalonians is its oldest document this letter takes on much greater significance for understanding the concerns and theology of the Apostle Paul.” 

So this is just a reminder that the books of the New Testament are not ordered according to the date they were written.  The NISB notes “this letter was written about 50 Common Era, some 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and twenty years before the Gospel of Mark.”  Dr. Cain Hope Felder notes that “1 Thessalonians was composed in the immediate aftermath of Paul’s first visit to Thessalonica, after he had established the Christian church on European soil at Philippi about one hundred miles away.”  He notes that Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy enter Thessalonica, after having founded the church at Philippi (under some duress (1 Thess. 2:2)).”  Additionally, I should note that the Thessalonians are mostly Gentiles (NISB) and they also face some kind of suffering or persecution from their compatriots (2:14) (Felder).  So although this letter is very positive in tone and Paul seems delighted to write to the Thessalonians all is not well in Thessalonica.  This newly formed Christian body of believers is experiencing some form of persecution or suffering and Paul is writing to reassure and encourage them.  The NISB One Volume Commentary notes

“the positive tone cannot mask an anxiety over some unspecified persecution the young converts are facing, persecution that may or may not have been also responsible for Paul’s own hasty retreat from the city almost immediately after he founded the congregation.”

This church is facing persecution and Paul seems happy to send them a letter of encouragement. 

This first chapter of Thessalonians deals specifically with thanksgiving.  The NISBOVC explains that “the thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians is unique in its unusual length.  In fact, this section is so long that it may well be considered the main body of the letter.”  So, this letter of thanksgiving is addressed to Gentile converts, whom Paul was forced to leave almost immediately after their conversion, and they are now facing persecution as a new congregation. 

In this letter to the Thessalonians Paul encourages them to be an example of faith.  What the Thessalonians show for us today is a faith that sets an example.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Gospel

Election

Review of Last Week and How it connects to this week  

Last week’s lesson opened at 2 Corinthians 13:1 with verse one with Paul noting this as the third time he is coming to the Corinthians.  Paul then quotes the law concerning witnesses, found in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.”  So perhaps Paul is telling them this is his third time and this time will be the third witness to establish guilt if necessary.  I noted how Paul had just a few verses earlier in chapter twelve mentioned that “he feared perhaps there may be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder there”.  Paul was concerned.  That was a pretty long list of things to be concerned about and it seemed that the church in Corinth had some of all of it. 

In verse two Paul got to the point.  He had previously warned those who sinned and all the others and now he was warning them again.  This wasn’t the first time Paul has warned them.  In fact, this wasn’t the second time he had warned them.  So this time he was clear – “If I come again, I will not be lenient.  I mentioned how my wife and I have five daughters.  And there have been many times we’ve said “don’t make me come in there!”  Verse two is the equivalent of Paul saying the same thing.  Paul was telling them, if he has to come again it won’t be nice. 

Paul continued in verse three seemingly in the same breath to say “since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me.  I noted how Paul’s warning here reminded me that I recently heard someone tell a young person “you don’t believe cow horns will hook”.  Paul had had about enough.  He had been disrespected, he had been criticized and he had been insulted.  And now, someone was demanding proof that Christ was speaking in him.  I noted how we need to keep in mind that it was Paul who organized the church in Corinth in the first place and now someone wanted PROOF that Christ was speaking in him.  Paul’s warning was so that “cow horns wouldn’t have to hook” when he got there.  Verse three also dealt again with Paul’s theology of weakness.  Just as Jesus Christ was crucified in weakness he was raised in power and strength.

In verse four Paul continued explaining his theology of weakness.  Just as Jesus was crucified but lived in power, so too, Paul was weak but in dealing with the Corinthians would be strong by the power of God.

In verse five Paul exhorted the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith.  In verse two, someone wanted proof from Paul that he was in the faith.  In verse five Paul turned the question back on them and told them to examine themselves!  He continued – “Do you not realize that Christ is in you unless you fail to meet the test!”  Paul wasn’t questioning their salvation.  He was pointing out the obvious – that since Christ was in them it should be obvious that Paul was speaking for Christ.  I noted also that the King James Version used the word reprobate.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines reprobate as “Those who are passed over in their sinfulness by God and do not receive salvation.  In medieval theology they are those of whom it is foreknown that they will not accept divine grace and will therefore die in a state of sin.”  Paul was telling them they need to be concerned about their own salvation rather than trying to examine his worthiness. 

In verse six Paul told the Corinthians that he hopes they would find out that we have not failed.  In Paul’s mind, if they had failed he had failed.  Paul was their Apostle and as such he was responsible for them.  Conversely, if they were found in good standing Paul would be also. 

In verse seven Paul continued with his hopes that they would not do anything wrong.  He doesn’t want them to do something wrong just so he can prove his power in God.  He wanted them to do right so he wouldn’t have to use his power in God. 

In verse eight Paul acknowledged that he (and they) couldn’t do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  Paul wanted them to know that the truth was Jesus Christ appeared to be weak but arose in strength and power.  And just as Jesus arose in power, Paul had the authority to use the power given to him by God as their Apostle.

In verse nine he declared “we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong.”  In other words, he rejoiced that he may be seen as weak as long as they were strong in the faith.  In fact, he said this is what we pray for, so that you may become perfect.  It was Paul’s hope that they would become fully restored.  Where there had been dissension, confusion, and rejection Paul prayed for a full and complete restoration to the fullness and wholeness of one another in Christ. 

In verse ten Paul reminded them that he wrote those harsh words now so that when he arrived in person he would not have to use his authority for tearing them down but to build them up. 

Verse eleven closed the lesson with Paul’s farewell.  He reminded them to put things in order, to listen to what he had told them, to agree with one another, and to live in peace.  These final verses of this chapter and letter end in a much different way than how the chapter began.  It began harsh.  But It closed in a much different tone.

Last week Paul was concerned about the church at Corinth.  He wrote a harsh and stern letter to both defend himself and to warn the Corinthians to get things in order.  This week’s lesson focuses on the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.  He writes to encourage the Thessalonians and he provides a glowing example of how their faith leads to Holy Living.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Be examples of the Faith”.  Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Faith That Sets and Example”.  The scripture text comes from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The Lesson opens at verse two with Paul noting how he, Silas, and Timothy always give thanks to God for all of the Thessalonians and how they mention them in their prayers constantly.  Paul wants them to know that he is praying for them.  If you really believe in the power of prayer, that is a comforting feeling.  Not to minimize this but even if it’s only a cordial greeting it’s still comforting to know that the person who organized this church, the one who led you to Christ, is praying for you.  

Paul continues in verse three letting them know that he remembers them.  He remembers their work of faith, their labor of love, and steadfast hope in Jesus Christ.  Listen; sometimes it takes work to have faith.  Sometimes it takes labor to have love, and sometimes it takes patience to have hope.  These are action words.  These aren’t idle, passive words.  They are active, vigorous, action words.  So Paul lets them know that he remembers what they are going through.  And he knows that they are doing the work; and not only that, but that they are doing the work before God.  It’s good, to remember good things.  These Thessalonians are doing good things and Paul wants them to know, that he knows.

In verse four Paul tells the brothers and sisters that God has chosen them.  The King James Version uses the word election instead of chosen.  Keep in mind that this is the earliest known Christian text.  At this point, Paul isn’t trying to put forth a doctrine of election.  He’s essentially telling them that God is on their side.  They have been chosen and God is on their side.  The NISBOVC explains “Paul claims his initial founding visit was the instrument by which God elected the Thessalonians, Gentiles heretofore being outside the covenant.”  So at this point, the doctrine of election is not likely what Paul is thinking of. 

Verse five continues the same thought about election or their chosen-ness.  Paul explains how the message of the gospel came to the Thessalonians.  Paul’s gospel message came in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction.  In other words, Paul’s gospel message was not weak.  Paul’s gospel message didn’t consist of mere words.  Paul’s message was made of the Holy Spirit and power and conviction.  It seems to me that if you have a real message from God then these are the ingredients that the message ought to consist of.  Paul continues, by reminded them that they know what kind of persons they proved to be when they were with them.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy evidently demonstrated this power and presence of the Holy Spirit with full conviction when they were with the Thessalonians.  

Verse six reminds the Thessalonians that they became imitators of Paul, Silas, and Timothy and of the Lord.  Listen, they imitated them and the Lord despite being in a pagan city, despite being in the midst of idol worshipers, and despite being persecuted.  Paul says they did this with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

In verse seven Paul gives the Thessalonians an enormous compliment.  He tells them that they are an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  If you are an example to all the believers in the place where you live, that’s high praise, that’s saying something, and that’s a pretty high standard. 

In verse eight Paul explains why he can give them such high praise.  Paul explains that the word of the Lord has come forth from them not only in Macedonia and Achaia but in every place their faith has become known.  The faithfulness of these Thessalonians is known far and wide.  There “fame” is spread abroad.  Listen, these Thessalonians deserve their pat on the back.  They were being persecuted!  But they didn’t give up and they didn’t give in.  They persevered and kept the faith and endured the hardship of living a faithful life in Christ.  They deserve this praise and it’s clear that Paul is proud of how they are holding up.   

In verse nine Paul reminds them of how far they have come.  Paul tells them the people of all those regions report what kind of welcome Paul, Silas, and Timothy had and how the Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the true and living God.  Keep in mind Paul had to leave Thessalonica almost immediately after establishing the church.  So their welcome was not an easy joyous one.  But these Thessalonians have thus far held up the banner, they’ve kept the faith and Paul is delighted to write to encourage them further. 

Verse ten closes this lesson with an “apocalyptic climax” (NISBOVC).  Here the Apostle Paul encourages them to wait for God’s Son from heaven who will rescue them from the wrath that is coming. 

Context:

Decades ago when I was a brand new private in the United States Army I could do a MEAN imitation of Drill Sergeant Law.  Some things you never forget.  MSG Law was a short black man and built solid as a rock.  He could do pushups for days, he could run and sing cadence and never get tired or give out of breath.  He had a distinctive voice.  He talked kinda quiet, until he didn’t.  And then everybody knew who he was and where he was.  All of the young men in my platoon did our best to imitate MSG Law. 

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  I could do a MEAN imitation of Drill Sergeant Law.  But the real question, is how my imitation of Jesus?

Key Characters in the text:

Paul – Formerly a leading persecutor of Christians from Tarsus who became the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles (Townsend). 

Key Words: 

Gospel – The central message of the Christian church to the world, centered on God’s provision of salvation for the world in Jesus Christ. 

Election – God’s choosing of a people to enjoy the benefits of salvation and to carry out God’s purposes in the world (1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10).  This doctrine has been of particular importance in Reformed theology. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  It’s been said that “you can imitate but never duplicate”.  When it comes to Jesus imitation is the key and duplication is the goal.        

Questions: 

1.  The Thessalonians turned from idols to worship and serve the true and living God.  Are their idols in our own lives that we should turn from? 

2.  The Apostle Paul profusely thanked the Thessalonians for their faithful living despite persecution.  Are there persons we can thank or at least acknowledge for holding up under pressure? 

Concluding Thought:

How should we be examples of faith? We demonstrate faith in a number ways we take for granted each day.  For example, when we sit in a chair we have faith that the chair will hold our weight.  When driving vehicles we have faith that other drivers actually know how to drive.  Saving faith is belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  If we want to be examples of faith, that’s the kind of faith that sets a good example and one that we all should follow. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson comes from 1 Peter first chapter.  In this lesson we’ll explore the Christian call to living a holy life.  Next week we explore how faith leads to holy living and show faith in action.  Next week’s lesson is titled “Live Holy Lives and “Faith That is Focused”. 

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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.