Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God

The book of Numbers in the Bible covers the time that Israel headed to the promised land to the time just before they finally got there after a 40-year detour. As Warren Wiersbe said in his introduction to Be Counted (Numbers): Living a Life That Counts for God:

The book of Numbers opens with a count of all the fighting men in the camp. They were counted, but they couldn’t be counted on, because all but two of them died during Israel’s march through the wilderness. Then the new generation was counted, and they were people whom the Lord could “count on.” They trusted His Word, entered the Promised Land, and claimed it for their inheritance (pages 13-14, Kindle).

The book begins with getting ready to march to Canaan. Soldiers are numbered, the tribes are arranged in their places around the tabernacle, duties and procedures are assigned, the tabernacle is dedicated, and Passover is kept.

But the people complain about the manna God sent them. Aaron and Miriam, Moses’s own siblings, challenge his leadership. When the people send out spies to look over the land, the spies come back telling how many and how large the enemies are. Instead of trusting that God would give them the land as He promised, the people rebelled.

They looked at the people of the land and saw giants; they looked at the Canaanite cities and saw high walls and locked gates; and they looked at themselves and saw grasshoppers. If only they had looked by faith to God, they would have seen the One who was able to conquer every enemy and who sees the nations of the world as grasshoppers (Isa. 40: 22). “We are not able” is the cry of unbelief (Num. 13: 31 NKJV), but, “Our God is able” is the affirmation of faith (Dan. 3: 17; see Phil. 4: 13) (p. 74).

God pronounced that all those who refused to enter the land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Their children would inherit the land in their place along with Joshua and Caleb, the only two spies who urged to people to go forth and trust God.

And then: more rebellion, this time from Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership, and God dealt with the rebels severely.

Then as the people complain once again about the need for water, Moses responds angrily. He calls them rebels. Instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed, Moses struck the rock twice.  “It was a sad demonstration of hostility by the meekest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3), showing that we can fail in our strengths as well as our weaknesses” (p. 105). God told Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12). I’ve always felt bad for Moses, but one man in our church commented that he did eventually get to see the promised Savior in the promised land when he appeared with Elijah during Jesus’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).

After a battle, more complaining, an encounter with Balaam and his talking donkey, falling into sin with the false gods of Moab, judgment, revenge against Midian, and another census, the people finally come to their second opportunity to go into the promised land. Eleazar has been appointed to take Aaron’s place and Joshua Moses’s place. Boundaries for the tribes are set. Interspersed in the narrative are some of God’s instructions for promised-land dwelling. These were encouraging reminders that they would eventually get there, that they were still God’s people, and that He would keep His promises. In fact, His faithfulness to His promise is probably the only reason the people did make it. The end of Numbers leaves Israel poised on the brink of Canaan, awaiting Moses’s last instructions to the tribes in Deuteronomy. “Though he wasn’t allowed to go in himself, Moses invested the closing weeks of his life in preparing the new generation to enter Canaan and claim the land God promised to give them” (p. 153).

What are some things we can learn from Numbers? According to Wiersbe:

We don’t have to fail as did that first generation; we can be “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8: 37) (p. 14).

The more comfortable we become, the less we welcome change, and yet there’s no growth without challenge and there’s no challenge without change. Comfort usually leads to complacency, and complacency is the enemy of character and spiritual growth. In each new experience of life, one of two things happens: Either we trust God and He brings out the best in us, or we disobey God and Satan brings out the worst in us (p. 58).

So sinful is the human heart that it’s prone to forget God’s blessings, ignore God’s promises, and find fault with God’s providence. “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps. 107: 8, 15, 21, 31) (p. 61).

Over these many years of ministry, I’ve learned that it isn’t enemies outside the local church who do the damage, but counterfeiters who get inside the church fellowship (Acts 20: 28–30; 3 John 9–11). These intruders might march with the church crowd and act like they are God’s people, but they don’t have an appetite for spiritual things, and eventually their true allegiance is revealed (1 John 2: 18–19) (p. 62).

The will of God is the expression of the love of God for His people, for His plans come from His heart (Ps. 33: 11). God’s will isn’t punishment, it’s nourishment (John 4: 31–34), not painful chains that shackle us (Ps. 2: 3), but loving cords that tie us to God’s heart so He can lead us in the right way (Hos. 11: 4) (p. 77).

God in His grace and mercy forgives sin, but in His divine government He allows that sin to have its sad effects in the lives of sinners (p. 78).

Be careful what you say to God when you complain, because He may take you up on it! After all, God’s greatest judgment is to let people have their own way (p. 79).

There is no substitute for faith in God’s promises and obedience to His commandments. Faith is simply obeying God in spite of how we feel, what we see, or what we think might happen. When God’s people trust and obey, the Lord delights in doing wonders for them, because they glorify His name (p. 81).

We have to be careful about judging Israel’s penchant for complaining and failure to trust God. Instead, we need to recognize those tendencies in ourselves and seek His grace to trust, obey, and follow.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Be Confident: Live by Faith, Not by Sight

Our church’s Bible reading program alternates between Old and New Testament books. After we finished Leviticus, our next book was Hebrews.

That was fitting, because Hebrews explains how the OT sacrificial system pictured Christ.

My companions through this reading were my ESV Study Bible notes as well as Warren Wiersbe’s Be Confident (Hebrews): Living by Faith, Not by Sight.

Hebrews was written to Jewish believers in Christ in the first century. Mention is made of the temple as if it were still in operation, and it was destroyed in 70 AD. So we know Hebrews was written before that time.

Jewish believers were facing persecution for varying from what their community practiced. Some were tempted to go back. But the author of Hebrews urges them to keep persevering and reminds them that what they have in Christ is far superior to what they had before.

In fact, the word “better” occurs repeatedly in the book. Jesus is show to be better than angels, Moses, and the priesthood. His once-for-all sacrifice was better than the repeated ones the priests offered. His new covenant was better than the old.

It’s not that the old covenant and practices were wrong: God gave them to Israel. But they were always meant to be temporary, picturing and leading up to Christ’s revelation and ministry.

There are also five major warnings in Hebrews, a couple of which have created confusion. Wiersbe demonstrates that these warnings don’t indicate one can lose salvation, but they do emphasize the need to be sure we’re in the faith and growing in the Lord. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Hebrews 11 is the “Hall of Faith,” sharing examples of those who walked with God through the centuries. Just as they “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16), so readers are reminded that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). And in the meantime, the God of peace will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 11:21).

As modern Gentiles, we might not be tempted to go back to Judaism. But we need this book as well to appreciate what we have in Christ and to heed its warnings and benefit from its encouragements.

Here are just a few of the quotes that stood out to me from this book:

More spiritual problems are caused by neglect than perhaps by any other failure on our part. We neglect God’s Word, prayer, worship with God’s people (see Heb. 10: 25), and other opportunities for spiritual growth, and as a result, we start to drift. The anchor does not move; we do (p. 35).

What does Canaan represent to us as Christians today? It represents our spiritual inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1: 3, 11, 15–23). It is unfortunate that some of our hymns and gospel songs use Canaan as a picture of heaven, and “crossing the Jordan” as a picture of death. Since Canaan was a place of battles, and even of defeats, it is not a good illustration of heaven! Israel had to cross the river by faith (a picture of the believer as he dies to self and the world, Rom. 6) and claim the inheritance by faith. They had to “step out by faith” (see Josh. 1:3) and claim the land for themselves, just as believers today must do (pp. 49-50).

The Canaan rest for Israel is a picture of the spiritual rest we find in Christ when we surrender to Him. When we come to Christ by faith, we find salvation rest (Matt. 11: 28). When we yield and learn of Him and obey Him by faith, we enjoy submission rest (Matt. 11: 29–30). The first is “peace with God” (Rom. 5: 1); the second is the “peace of God” (Phil. 4: 6–8). It is by believing that we enter into rest (Heb. 4: 3); it is by obeying God by faith and surrendering to His will that the rest enters into us (p. 54).

The second conclusion is this: There is no need to go back because we can come boldly into the presence of God and get the help we need (Heb. 4: 16). No trial is too great, no temptation is too strong, but that Jesus Christ can give us the mercy and grace that we need, when we need it (p. 61).

The believer who begins to drift from the Word (Heb. 2: 1–4) will soon start to doubt the Word (Heb. 3: 7—4: 13). Soon, he will become dull toward the Word (Heb. 5: 11—6: 20) and become “lazy” in his spiritual life. This will result in despising the Word, which is the theme of this exhortation (p. 136).

God wants our hearts to be “established with grace” (Heb. 13: 9). That word established is used, in one form or another, eight times in Hebrews. It means “to be solidly grounded, to stand firm on your feet.” It carries the idea of strength, reliability, confirmation, permanence. This, I think, is the key message of Hebrews: “You can be secure while everything around you is falling apart!” We have a “kingdom which cannot be moved” (Heb. 12: 28). God’s Word is steadfast (Heb. 2: 2) and so is the hope we have in Him (Heb. 6: 19) (p. 23).

Faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some “feeling” that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word (p. 144).

I enjoyed delving into Hebrews again, especially with the faithful, helpful companions I found in these aids.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragements, Grace and Truth, Senior Salon, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Be Holy: Becoming “Set Apart” for God

Leviticus probably is no one’s favorite book of the Bible. In fact, as one man in our church put it, Leviticus is where Bible reading plans go to die.

But Leviticus is part of God’s inspired word, and “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It is “quoted or referred to over 100 times in the New Testament.” So it’s highly worthy of our study.

As our church came to Leviticus in our Bible reading schedule, the ESV Study Bible notes and Warren Wiersbe’s Be Holy (Leviticus): Becoming “Set Apart” for God were invaluable companions.

It doesn’t take long to see that God’s holiness is the main theme of Leviticus. “The word holy is used 93 times in Leviticus, and words connected with cleansing are used 71 times. References to uncleanness number 128. There’s no question what this book is all about.” As I mentioned before, a seminary professor teaching Leviticus had his students try to live by its regulations for a period of time. One result was that holiness was a primary focus throughout the day, in regard to everything the students did.

Also, as Ken Baugh points out in his introduction to this book, “Almost everything in Leviticus anticipates the life and death of Jesus. The sacrifices, festivals, rituals, and laws foreshadow God’s redemptive plan. Jesus becomes the means to remove the guilt and penalty for sin through His substitutionary death on the cross. His death provides the final atonement for all sin.”

Though I saw some of those glimpses of Christ in past reading of Leviticus, this time they seemed to be on every page.

A couple of quotes from the book that stood out to me:

God’s church is supposed to be “a holy nation” in this present evil world, to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2: 9 NIV). The Greek word translated “declare” means “to tell out, to advertise.”

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isa. 5: 20 NIV). The first step toward disobedience is often “reclassifying” sin and making it look acceptable instead of abominable.

Have you ever heard a preacher or teacher say that seven is the number of perfection in the Bible? I had, but I didn’t remember ever hearing why that was so. Wiersbe explains here:

The Hebrew word for seven comes from a root word that means “to be full, to be satisfied.” It’s also related to the word meaning “to swear, to make an oath.” Whenever the Lord “sevens” something, He’s reminding His people that what He says and does is complete and dependable. Nothing can be added to it.

This book helped me get more out of Leviticus than ever before.

What we have studied should make us realize the awfulness of sin, the seriousness of confession and restitution, the graciousness of God in forgiving those who trust Jesus Christ, and the marvelous love of our Savior in His willingness to die for undeserving people like us.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Be Loyal

In Be Loyal (Matthew): Following the King of Kings, Warren Wiersbe notes that we don’t have any recorded words of the apostle Matthew in any of the gospels. Even in his own book, he didn’t write about himself: he wrote about “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).

Matthew was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. He had been a tax collector when Jesus called him to follow. Wiersbe comments, “Being accustomed to keeping systematic records, Matthew gave us a beautifully organized account of our Lord’s life and ministry” (p. 18).

I don’t think I had considered before that “Matthew’s gospel is the bridge that leads us out of the Old Testament and into the New Testament” (p. 17), but I see it now.

The Old Testament is a book of promise, while the New Testament is a book of fulfillment. . . .“God promised a Redeemer; and Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise. Fulfilled is one of the key words in the gospel of Matthew, used about fifteen times.

One purpose of this gospel is to show that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promises concerning the Messiah.

Matthew used at least 129 quotations or allusions to the Old Testament in this gospel (p. 18).

Matthew wrote topically rather than chronologically. He gave the history and heredity of Jesus in His birth and genealogy and then laid out His credentials. “He recorded at least twenty specific miracles and six major messages” (p. 19). He related Jesus’ character, principles, and power. He shared how Jesus taught and trained His disciples and how He was betrayed, suffered, died, and rose again in victory.

A few more quotes that stood out to me:

Jesus also fulfilled the law in His teaching. It was this that brought Him into conflict with the religious leaders. When He began His ministry, Jesus found the Living Word of God encrusted with man-made traditions and interpretations. He broke away this thick crust of “religion” and brought the people back to God’s Word. Then, He opened the Word to them in a new and living way—they were accustomed to the “letter” of the law and not the inner “kernel” of life” (p. 49).

In Matthew 6: 22–23, Jesus used the illustration of the eye to teach us how to have a spiritual outlook on life. We must not pass judgment on others’ motives. We should examine their actions and attitudes, but we cannot judge their motives—for only God can see their hearts. It is possible for a person to do a good work with a bad motive. It is also possible to fail in a task and yet be very sincerely motivated. When we stand before Christ at the judgment seat, He will examine the secrets of the heart and reward us accordingly (Rom. 2: 16; Col. 3: 22–25) (p. 66).

This dramatic incident [in 8:28-34] is most revealing. It shows what Satan does for a man: robs him of sanity and self-control; fills him with fears; robs him of the joys of home and friends; and (if possible) condemns him to an eternity of judgment. It also reveals what society does for a man in need: restrains him, isolates him, threatens him, but society is unable to change him. See, then, what Jesus Christ can do for a man whose whole life—within and without—is bondage and battle. What Jesus did for these two demoniacs, He will do for anyone else who needs Him. Christ came to them, and even braved a storm to do it. This is the grace of God! He delivered them by the power of His Word. He restored them to sanity, society, and service (p. 79).

Why compare God’s Word to seed? Because the Word is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4: 12 SCO). Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it, and that life can be imparted to those who will believe. The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and be permitted to bear fruit. It is shocking to realize that three-fourths of the seed did not bear fruit (p. 108).

“Why did Jesus walk on the water? To show His disciples that the very thing they feared (the sea) was only a staircase for Him to come to them. Often we fear the difficult experiences of life (such as surgery or bereavement), only to discover that these experiences bring Jesus Christ closer to us (p. 124).

Many Christians have the mistaken idea that obedience to God’s will produces “smooth sailing.” But this is not true. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus promised (John 16: 33). When we find ourselves in the storm because we have obeyed the Lord, we must remember that He brought us here and He can care for us (p. 128).

As we look into the Word of God, we see the Son of God and are transfigured by the Spirit of God into the glory of God (p. 150).

“Come and see!” was followed by “Go and tell!” (p. 266).

As always, Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary was a great companion through Matthew.

(Sharing with Carol’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Be Delivered

The book of Exodus contains some of the most dramatic passages in the Bible: baby Moses being placed in a basket in a river after Pharaoh’s command to kill Israelite male babies and being found and rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter, God speaking from a burning bush, the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the golden calf.

But Exodus also contains chapters that seem a little tedious at first, like the instructions for the tabernacle and all its furnishings and the priests’ wardrobe.

A good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible and a short commentary like Warren Wiersbe’s Be Delivered (Exodus): Finding Freedom by Following God help fill out understanding of these passages.

At the end of Genesis, Joseph had brought his family to Egypt to provide for them during the prophesied famine. He knew this people would be returning to their homeland, but evidently he didn’t expect that to happen in his lifetime. He made his family promise to take his bones with them when they went back.

Wiersbe notes that “the Hebrew text of Exodus begins with the word and, for God is continuing the story He started in Genesis” (p. 17). We’re not sure how much time passed before “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), but by that time all Joseph’s generation had died off (1:6) and the children of Israel had multiplied so much that Pharaoh was afraid they could turn on Egypt. So the Egyptians “ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service” (1:13-14). Pharaoh went so far as to call for the killing of Israel’s male babies.

After Moses’ miraculous deliverance, he got off to a rocky start trying to help his brethren: in trying to save one from a fight, he killed an Egyptian. When he realized his deed was known, he fled, married, and tended sheep for 40 years, until God called to him from a burning bush. After a lot of convincing, Moses answered God’s call to go back to Egypt to deliver Israel from 400 years of slavery.

That process did not go as Moses had thought it would, but God was in control. The plagues sent on Egypt were not random. Each plague countered a god the Egyptians worshiped. God was not just rescuing His people: He was making Himself known as the one true God. There’s evidence that at least some Egyptians came to believe on Him.

After Pharaoh finally let Israel go in defeat, they started a new chapter. Not only did God miraculously deliver them: He wanted to actually dwell among them. He taught them His ways and gave them instructions for building a meeting place.

But, though they had been delivered from Egypt, they still carried Egypt in their hearts. They complained over every little thing and blamed Moses. God was patient with them at first: they had been in Egypt for a long time and needed to become better acquainted with Him and trust Him. Eventually the people made a golden calf to worship while Moses was away receiving God’s law. And God had to deal with that. Moses’ intercession in 32:30-34 and chapter 33 are some of the most touching places in the Bible.

When the people repented, they responded to God’s command and made the tabernacle just as God had instructed. And God’s glory filled the tabernacle.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the different parts of the tabernacle, and that’s one area where study Bibles and commentaries help a lot. Wiersbe’s book had a diagram and the ESV Study Bible had several drawings about what the tabernacle and its parts looked like. Wiersbe went into a lot of detail about what each part represented.

Wiersbe’s overarching theme was freedom: the Israelites needed to be freed from Egypt physically but also in their hearts.

Fools use freedom as a toy to play with; wise people use freedom as a tool to build with (p. 13).

Exodus teaches us that freedom is not license and discipline is not bondage. God tells us how to enjoy mature freedom in His will, a quality that is desperately needed in our churches and in our world today (p. 13).

I have multitudes of places marked, but here are a few other quotes that stood out to me:

God used Israel’s experiences in Egypt to prepare them for the special tasks He gave them to accomplish on earth: bearing witness to the true and living God, writing the Holy Scriptures, and bringing the Savior into the world (p. 18).

The phrase as weak as a baby doesn’t apply in the kingdom of God, for when the Lord wants to accomplish a mighty work, He often starts by sending a baby. This was true when He sent Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, John the Baptist, and especially Jesus. God can use the weakest things to defeat the mightiest enemies (1 Cor. 1: 25–29). A baby’s tears were God’s first weapons in His war against Egypt (p. 21).

What does it mean to harden your heart? It means to see clear evidence of the hand of God at work and still refuse to accept His Word and submit to His will. It means to resist Him by showing ingratitude and disobedience and not having any fear of the Lord or of His judgments. Hardhearted people say with Pharaoh, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice?” (5: 2) (p. 41).

The same sun that melts the ice also hardens the clay. It all depends on the nature of the material (p. 41).

There was one place where I disagreed with Wiersbe. He says of Moses’ famous argument about why he couldn’t do what God commanded in Exodus 3-4 , “Moses was clothing his pride and unbelief in a hollow confession of weakness” (p. 26). I don’t think his claims of weakness were hollow. When Moses left Egypt, he was a wanted man. His misguided attempts to help his brethren had backfired. God didn’t say Moses was wrong when Moses listed his weaknesses. But God promised to be with him and give him everything he needed. I can identify with Moses a lot in these passages and have to lean on the same truth: that it’s through God’s presence and ability that I can accomplish anything for Him.

One aspect I noticed in this trek through Exodus was how Moses grew as a leader from quaking in his boots to confident in God’s working.

Overall I found this commentary very helpful and informative.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

Book Review: Be Authentic

Be Authentic (Genesis 25-50): Exhibiting Real Faith in the Real World closes Warren Wiersbe’s trilogy of commentaries on the book of Genesis.

These chapters in Genesis focus primarily on Jacob and his sons, especially Joseph.

Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were very different personalities. They struggled with each other even in the womb (Genesis 25:22-23), and their parents’ favoritism only fueled the fire.

God had chosen the younger Jacob to be in the line of the family He would use to bless the world rather than Esau, the older. But Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, used that information to manipulate circumstances rather than trusting God to accomplish what He had proclaimed. That brought Jacob’s conflict with Esau to a head, resulting in Jacob fleeing to his mother’s relatives.

There he fell in love and got a taste of his own scheming medicine. The next twenty years were hard, but they helped develop his character. “Little by little, Jacob was learning to submit to God’s loving hand of discipline and was growing in faith and character.”

He had twelve sons, but favored Joseph. Jacob seemed not to have learned about the dangers of parental favoritism from his own situation. “The man who had grown up in a divided an competitive home (25:28) would himself create a divided and competitive family.” Joseph’s brothers, in jealousy and hatred, sold him into slavery, took his special coat that his father had made for him, spread animal’s blood over it, then let Jacob conclude that Joseph was dead.

Though a slave, Joseph seemed to have a talent for administration. But even his master saw that “The LORD was with him, and the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:3). Joseph rose to prominence until he became second only to his master. But then he was lied about and sent to prison. He rose to prominence there as well, and aided two of Pharaoh’s servants. But the one who was restored to his portion forgot Joseph—until Pharaoh had a dream that troubled him, and the servant remembered Joseph had helped him with his dream. So Joseph was called for, interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, gave him sound advice, and once again rose to prominence as the second in the land.

And then one day his brothers showed up in Egypt. But they didn’t recognize him. These chapters are some of the most dramatic in the Bible, keeping me in anticipation even though I have read them before and knew how the story would turn out.

Wiesrbe’s title for this commentary comes from his conclusion that, “In short, they were authentic, real, believable, down-to-earth people. Flawed? Of course! Occasionally bad examples? Certainly! Blessed of God? Abundantly.” These people are an encouragement that God works with and accomplishes His will through flawed individuals.

There were many helpful and instructive things to observe in these chapters. I was blessed to see the changes in some people—Jacob over time, and his son, Judah, especially. But a few things in Joseph’s story particularly stood out to me this time. Because Joseph so often comes out on top even when he’s thrown into dire circumstances, I think we sometimes downplay his suffering. But when he named his sons in reference to his afflictions, it really spoke to my heart:

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Wiersbe pointed out that Joseph could have become bitter, but instead he maintained his faith in God and kept a tender heart, showing compassion towards others. “Joseph’s sensitive heart was a miracle of God’s grace. For years dead Egyptian idols and the futile worship given to them had surrounded Joseph, yet he had maintained his faith in God and a heart tender toward his own people. He could have hardened his heart by nursing grudges, but he preferred to forgive and leave the past with God (41: 50–52).”

Then, as often as I have pored over the Scriptures about suffering and reconciled myself to the fact that it’s a tool God uses in wisdom and love, I find myself still asking “Why?” sometimes. I wondered why Joseph had to go through all he did when he was one of the “good guys.” But Wiesrbe pointed out that if Joseph had remained at home as the favored son, he might have grown up into a very different kind of person.

A few more quotes from the book:

Being a victorious Christian doesn’t mean escaping the difficulties of life and enjoying only carefree days. Rather, it means walking with God by faith, knowing that He is with us and trusting Him to help us for our good and His glory no matter what difficulties He permits to come our way. The maturing Christian doesn’t pray, “How can I get out of this?” but “What can I get out of this?”

In the life of a trusting Christian, there are no accidents, only appointments.

When God wants to move us, He occasionally makes us uncomfortable and “stirs up the nest” (Deut. 32:11 NIV).

A good beginning doesn’t guarantee a good ending. That’s one of the repeated lessons taught in Scripture, and it’s tragically confirmed in the lives of people like Lot, Gideon, Samson, King Saul, King Solomon, Demas, and a host of others. Let’s add Isaac to that list.

If we obey the Lord only for what we get out of it, and not because He is worthy of our love and obedience, then our hearts and motives are wrong.

With all their weaknesses and faults, the sons of Jacob will carry on the work of God on earth and fulfill the covenant promises God made to Abraham.

Years later, Jacob would lament, “All these things are against me” (v. 36), when actually all these things were working for him (Rom. 8:28).

God’s delays are not God’s denials.

Too many Christian believers today think that God can use only His own people in places of authority, but He can work His will even through unbelieving leaders like Pharaoh, Cyrus (Ezra 1: 1ff.; Isa. 44: 28), Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 25: 9; 27: 6), and Augustus Caesar (Luke 2: 1ff.). 

The only people God can forgive are those who know they’re sinners, who admit it and confess that they can’t do anything to merit or earn God’s forgiveness. Whether it’s the woman at the well (John 4), the tax collector in the tree (Luke 19: 1–10), or the thief on the cross (23: 39–43), all sinners have to admit their guilt, abandon their proud efforts to earn salvation, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Lord.

According to Hebrews 11:13–16, the patriarchs confessed that they were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” A vagabond has no home; a fugitive is running from home; a stranger is away from home; but a pilgrim is heading home. They had their eyes on the future, the glorious city that God was preparing for them, and they passed that heavenly vision along to their descendants.

One of the major differences between a church and a cult is that cults turn out cookie-cutter followers on an assembly line, while churches model a variety of individual saints on a potter’s wheel.

Martin Luther said it best: This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing; not being but becoming; not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified. (Edwald M. Plass, comp., What Luther Says, vol. 1 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 234–35).

The book of Genesis provides for a rich study. I enjoyed Dr. Wiersbe’s aid on this trek through the book.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragment, Grace and Truth,
Faith and Worship Christian Weekend,
Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Be Obedient

Be Obedient (Genesis 12-25): Learning the Secret of Living by Faith by Warren W. Wiersbe is the second in his three-part commentary on Genesis. These chapters cover the life of Abraham.

Humanity had not had a good track record so far In Genesis: sinning in paradise, murder, drunkenness, immorality, and rebellion. But in His longsuffering, God continued working with man.

In this section, God called Abraham to leave his family, his country, and his idols and go to the land where God sent him. God promised Abraham He would bless him, make his name great, make of him a great nation, and through him bless “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were not sinless examples of living by faith. While I am not happy when anyone makes wrong choices, I am encouraged that even towering figures like Abraham were not perfect, and we can confess our sin, be forgiven, pick up, and go one. Abraham and Sarah are both listed in what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.

Ultimately, Abraham’s story is about God showing grace and faithfulness and setting aside a line of people through whom the promised Messiah would eventually be born.

In the last chapter, Wiersbe lists several ways “all the nations of the earth” are blessed through Abraham.

  • “Abraham left us a clear witness of salvation through faith.” Romans 15:3: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
  • “Abraham also leaves us the example of a faithful life. James used Abraham to illustrate the importance of proving our faith by our works (James 2:14-26). Wherever Abraham went, he pitched his tent and built his altar, and he let the people of the land know that he was a worshiper of the true and living God.”
  • “From Abraham, we learn how to walk by faith.”
  • “Abraham gave the world the gift of the Jewish nation; and it is through the Jews that we have the knowledge of the true God plus the Word of God and the salvation of God (John 4: 22).”
  • “Finally, because of Abraham, we have a Savior.” Matthew 1:1 begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Here are a few of the other quotes that stood out to me in this book:

Living by faith means obeying God’s Word in spite of feelings, circumstances, or consequences. It means holding on to God’s truth no matter how heavy the burden or how dark the day, knowing that He is working out His perfect plan. It means living by promises and not by expectations.

“The victorious Christian life,” said George Morrison, “is a series of new beginnings.”

God alone is in control of circumstances. You are safer in a famine in His will than in a palace out of His will.

When you disobey the will of God, the only right thing to do is to go back to the place where you left Him and make a new beginning (1 John 1: 9).

God’s remedy for Abraham’s fear was to remind him who He was: “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15: 1). God’s I AM is perfectly adequate for man’s “I am not.”

The Hebrew word translated “believed” means “to lean your whole weight upon.” Abraham leaned wholly on the promise of God and the God of the promise. We are not saved by making promises to God but by believing the promises of God.

In times of testing, it is easy to think only about our needs and our burdens; instead, we should be focusing on bringing glory to Jesus Christ. We find ourselves asking “How can I get out of this?” instead of “What can I get out of this that will honor the Lord?” We sometimes waste our sufferings by neglecting or ignoring opportunities to reveal Jesus Christ to others who are watching us go through the furnace.

Once again, I am indebted to Dr. Wiersbe for his helpful insights.

(Sharing with Worth Beyond Rubies, Grace and Truth,
Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Be Basic

The book of Genesis is 50 chapters long and covers a lot of ground. So Warren Wiersbe divided his commentary on Genesis into three volumes. The first is Be Basic (Genesis 1-11): Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis cover creation, the fall, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, and the tower of Babel. The next section begins with Abraham’s life.

Be Basic is probably a good title, because Genesis sets up foundational truths for the rest of the Bible.

Genesis is quoted or referred to more than two hundred times in the New Testament, which means it’s important for the New Testament Christian to understand its message.

Here are a few other passages I have marked:

God didn’t create a world because He needed anything but that He might share His love with creatures who, unlike the angels, are made in the image of God and can respond willingly to His love.

Work isn’t a curse; it’s an opportunity to use our abilities and opportunities in cooperating with God and being faithful stewards of His creation. After man sinned, work became toil (Gen. 3: 17–19), but that wasn’t God’s original intention.

We’re commanded to worship God, love people, and use things for the glory of God and the good of others. When this divine order becomes confused, then God’s creation suffers. When in our greed we start lusting after things, we soon begin to ignore God, abuse people, and destroy creation.

Bible history begins with a beautiful garden in which man sinned, but the story ends with a glorious “garden city” (Rev. 21—22) in which there will be no sin. What brought about the change? A third garden, Gethsemane, where Jesus surrendered to the Father’s will and then went forth to die on a cross for the sins of the world.

As always, I appreciate Dr. Wiersbe’s helpful insights.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Be Amazed

Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship is Warren W. Wiersbe’s commentary on Hosea, Joel, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Malachi. He covers the rest of the twelve minor prophets in two other books. As I said in an earlier review of Be Concerned, these books are considered “minor” only because they are much shorter than the “major” prophets.

And, as with the previous book, Wiersbe gives a little background of each of these prophets, the times they lived, the kings who were in power at the time, and the prophets’ major messages and concerns, a suggested outline of the books, and his commentary.

There are commentaries much longer and more detailed than Wiersbe’s “Be” series, but these are a nice size, easy to use with one’s Bible study.

Wiersbe says in his introduction:

We should be amazed as Hosea describes God’s jealous love and Joel pictures God’s glorious kingdom. Jonah and Nahum both deal with the wicked city of Nineveh and amaze us with God’s gracious long-suffering. Habakkuk watches the enemy approaching and invites us to be amazed at God’s righteous judgment. Malachi amazes us with his revelation of God’s contemptuous people, weary of serving the Lord.

Too many sleepy saints have lost their sense of wonder. The Minor Prophets shout at us to awaken us and invite us to open our eyes and be amazed at what God is doing in this world.

The Lord Jesus admonishes us “to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24: 25), and that includes the Minor Prophets. May we be faithful to receive and believe their messages and to obey what God tells us to do.

I won’t get into any more of the individual books than that, since there are six of them. But here are a few of the many quotes I highlighted:

One of the greatest judgments God can inflict on any people is to let them have their own way.

The essence of idolatry is enjoying the gifts but not honoring the Giver.

Until people experience the guilt of conviction, they can’t enjoy the glory of conversion.

In their trials, they turned to God for help, but in their prosperity, they became proud and turned away from God to idols.

Idols are dead substitutes for the living God (Ps. 115). Whatever people delight in other than God, whatever they are devoted to and sacrifice for, whatever they couldn’t bear to be without, is an idol and therefore under the condemnation of God.

But wrestling with these challenges is the only way for our “faith muscles” to grow. To avoid tough questions, or to settle for half-truths and superficial pat answers it to remain immature, but to face questions honestly and talk them through with the Lord is to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3: 18).

When God’s people deliberately disobey Him, they sin against a flood of light and an ocean of love.

The one thing that encourages us to repent and return to the Lord is the character of God. Knowing that He is indeed “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13 NIV) ought to motivate us to seek His face.

This sounds eerily like our times:

Their concern was for healing and not for cleansing. They saw their nation in difficulty and wanted God to “make things right,” but they did not come with broken hearts and surrendered wills. They wanted happiness, not holiness, a change of circumstances, but not a change in character.

I’m thankful once again for Dr. Wiersbe’s insights into these books.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Be Concerned

Be Concerned commentary on minor prophetsThere are twelve minor prophetical books in the Bible. They are not called minor because they are any less important than the major prophets: they are just shorter books. Warren Wierbe divides his “Be” commentaries on the minor prophets into three different books. He didn’t group them in the order in which they are listed in the Old Testament. Be Concerned (Minor Prophets): Making a Difference in Your Lifetime covers Amos, Obadiah, Micah, and Zephaniah.

Wiersbe gives a little background of each of these prophets, the times they lived, the kings who were in power at the time, and the prophets’ major messages and concerns. Then he offers a suggested outline of the books and his commentary.

A few words about each of these prophets:

Amos was a shepherd and caretaker of sycamore trees. He was a layman, not a member of the religious establishment. For those reasons, he would not have been respected or easily accepted. At this time, Israel and Judah were abounding in luxury, but also in sin and injustice. They performed religious rituals that did not touch their heart. Amos had to warn them that judgment was coming if they didn’t turn from their ways.

Obadiah’s book is short, just one chapter of 21 verses. He prophecies mostly to Edom, the nation that descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother. God deals with them about their treatment of Israel (Jacob’s descendants).

Micah’s preaching helped lead to a reformation under Hezekiah (Jeremiah 26:18-19). But at this time, some of the wealthy of the land were buying up the smaller lands of the poor in defiance of Jewish law. Micah rebuked them, foretold the coming judgment under Assyria, and called the Israelites back to true worship of their God. But they didn’t repent. Micah 7 is one of my favorite chapters in the OT, especially verses 8-10 and 18-20. Micah’s name means “Who is like the LORD,” and that’s echoed in 7:18: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”

Zephaniah mainly preaches about the day of the Lord, a time of coming judgment. Many of the prophets do, but this day is a major theme in Zephaniah and Joel. Zephaniah 3:17 is another favorite passage.

One advantage of a commentary like this is the background information it provides that you wouldn’t pick up just from reading the text. For instance:

Eight times Amos used the phrase “for three transgressions and for four,” a Jewish idiom that means “an indefinite number that has finally come to the end” (Location 135).

Micah used a series of puns based on the names of the cities similar in sound to familiar Hebrew words. For example, “Gath” is similar to the Hebrew word for “tell.” Thus he wrote, “Tell it not in Gath.” Beth Ophrah means “house of dust.” Thus he wrote, “Roll in the dust.” The people of Shaphir (“ pleasant, beautiful”) would look neither beautiful nor pleasant as they were herded off as naked prisoners of war (Location 1438).

The prophets call people to repentance from their oppression, hypocrisy, idolatry:

To seek the Lord doesn’t mean simply to run to God for help when our sins get us into trouble, although God will receive us if we’re sincere. It means to loathe and despise the sin in our lives, turn from it, and seek the fellowship of God and His cleansing. “A broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51: 17 NKJV) (Location 679).

Wiersbe warns, “Whenever a prophet foretold the future, it was to awaken the people to their responsibilities in the present. Bible prophecy isn’t entertainment for the curious; it’s encouragement for the serious (Location 1672).

It’s true in our day as well as theirs that “It’s indeed a great privilege to have God speak to us, but it’s also a great responsibility. If we don’t open our hearts to hear His Word and obey Him, we’re in grave danger of hardening our hearts and incurring the wrath of God. ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Heb. 3: 7–8 NKJV; see Ps. 95: 7–11)(Location 321).

The way we treat God’s Word is the way we treat God, and the way we treat God’s messengers is the way we treat the Lord Himself (John 15: 18–21). “God … has in these last days spoken to us by His Son. … See that you do not refuse Him who speaks” (Heb. 1: 1–2; 12: 25 NKJV) (Location 642, emphasis mine).

Most of the prophets say that, despite fierce and righteous judgment coming on God’s people, He will leave a faithful remnant. Wiersbe concludes with a chapter titled “The Company of the Concerned,” with advice for the faithful in our day.

Malachi 3: 16 is a good description of the kind of “company” God is looking for: “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name” (NKJV) (Location 2341).

I’m not talking about people motivated by anger so much as by anguish. Certainly there’s a place for righteous anger in the Christian life (Eph. 4: 26), but anger alone may do more harm than good. “For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1: 20 NKJV). When righteous anger is mingled with compassion, you have anguish; and anguish is what the “company of the concerned” feel as they behold the moral and spiritual decline of the nation. “Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law” (Ps. 119: 136 NKJV). “Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet Your commandments are my delights” (v. 143 NKJV) (Location 2311).

As always, I appreciate Wiersbe’s help in understanding these books.

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)