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Ripe Justice, Ripe Blessing

King David is a fabulous character in the Bible.  He is the "man after God's own heart", the recipient of the Davidic covenant, a type of Christ, and certainly one of the most faithful and laudable persons in human history.  But there was a time in his life when all of that probably seemed very distant and unlikely. David starts well in the service of King Saul as a musician and armor-bearer, and even earns high praise as the one who saved Israel from the Philistines by single-handedly downing their champion, Goliath.  But that is where things start to go south for the brave, faithful youth.  One day, as the army is coming home, Saul overhears the women singing, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands," and from that moment on there is great strife between David and the jealous king.

The years that follow on the heels of the split between David and Saul are frustrating.  David is pursued as a fugitive all through the wild places of Canaan: up hills and mountains, through the wilderness, and into caves.  On a couple of occasions, David even hides in the service of Israel's enemies - once going so far as to feign madness!

During this time, it is easy to imagine that a person so pursued would experience a large measure of depression, discouragement, and anger over his plight.  And yet, we consistently find David content to wait on his God to settle things in His own time.

On two occasions while Saul is chasing David down through the wilderness in order to kill him, David is given open access to his enemy to score a quick kill that would end the entire pursuit.  Both times, however, the faithful youth spares the life of his lord, citing as the reason both times, "Who can put out his hand against Yahweh's anointed and be guiltless?" (1 Samuel 24:6 & 26:9)

We see a more full description of what is going on in David's mind during times like these in the episode with Nabal and Abigail in chapter 25 of 1 Samuel.  There David and his men are slighted and dishonored by the foolish Nabal, but before David can descend of the man and his family to kill them all, the fool's wife comes to meet David with a large gift of food and with a humble apology and entreaty for David to stay his hand.  To this David responds, "Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from avenging myself with my own hand" (1 Samuel 25:33).  And later on, when Nabal's heart dies within him and he becomes as stone for ten days before finally dying completely, David rejoices by saying, "Blessed be Yahweh who has avenged the insult I received from the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing" (25:39).

And we know that David had to feel this exact same way in all of his dealings with Saul.  Everything that Saul did to him was unjust (even giving away his wife at one point!), but David refused to put out his hand against God's anointed, knowing that, "As Yahweh lives, Yahweh will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish" (26:10).  And so, he was content to wait, but we must never imagine that the waiting was easy.  He probably thought, on more than one occasion, that the best years of his life were passing him by while he was hiding in caves or pretending to be insane in the court of the enemy.  But God knew the plans that He had for David, and ultimately David knew that God knew!

David was faithful to His God, knowing that "Yahweh rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness" (26:23).  He would later write songs that would declare the rich blessings of waiting on Yahweh to avenge and to bless in His own time: "Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14), "Wait for the LORD and keep His way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off" (37:34), "For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him" (62:5).

We all need a good reminder of these truths from time to time.  When we are treated unjustly - and the Bible promises that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12) - we should not allow our enemies to rile us up to the point where we become guilty for taking vengeance into our own hands.  Let God take care of that.  He says, "vengeance is mine, I will repay" (Romans 12:19).  A true faith in the awesome supremacy of God will tell you that He can do it far better than you ever could anyway, so don't let your enemy get off easily by repaying him yourself.

In a similar vein, we can often serve God in faithfulness for a long time before we see bountiful blessing.  Oh, there are surely a myriad of smaller blessings all along the way, but I mean the big "fruit-bearing" kind of blessings that are unmistakable - even to the blinded eyes of unbelievers.  Once again, though, it is a true faith that has to see the "treasure in heaven" as being greater than immediate rewards here on earth.  Think on David's life and how long and how often he did the faithful things that he did before God established his kingdom.  Think on these things and take heart.  "Wait for the LORD and keep His way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land; and you will look on when the wicked are cut off."

The Mark of the Feast

So many people today miss the real danger of the message of the mark of the beast in Revelation 13.  They get all caught up in wondering if it's going to be a microchip or a bar-code tattoo that most don't realize they've already been marked. The beast's mark, which goes on the forehead and the hand (Revelation 13:16), is not referring to some technological means of physically marking someone.  This imagery of marking clearly represents a spiritual reality because those who receive the mark are judged for it by God and receive His wrath (14:9-10).  In fact, the great horror of the mark of the beast is that it goes in the same place that God's mark was supposed to go.

God commanded His people to bind His Law as a sign on their hand and as frontlets between their eyes (Deuteronomy 6:8).  The implication is that the Law of God would guide their thoughts (the mark on their forehead) and their actions (the mark on their hand).  And when this mark of God's Law is forfeited in favor of the mark of the beast - the adoption of Satan's rules and morality - then one has truly abandoned the proper worship of God, which is so wrapped up in obedience to His commands, and has decided to worship the Enemy.

The beast's mark is offered everywhere today.  Instead of godly parents teaching the laws of God diligently to their children and talking about them when they sit in their house, when they walk by the way, when they lie down, and when they rise (Deuteronomy 6:7), many send their children to a state-run public school where the beast has his opportunity to influence them for hours a day.  The television pumps metric tons of marking ink straight toward our foreheads and our hands.  The internet is the Devil's own tattoo parlor.  Even taking a leisurely stroll through a local mall is to be surrounded by legions of those who already bear the mark and who are looking for a fresh flesh canvas to cover with their way of thinking.

Our culture shows very clearly that its thoughts and its actions are not guided by God's Law.  No, it bears the competing mark - the counterfeit one - and it wants us to wear it too.

But the beast's mark promises only safety from persecution at the hands of others who bear it.  If you take it, you will "fit in", but that's as far as the benefits go.  Not so with God's mark.  Ultimately, God's promise of protection is far greater than the beast's, because His wrath is more to be feared than man's (Matthew 10:28), but His mark also carries other blessings.

God promises those who are obedient to His commands that He will love them, bless them, and multiply them (Deuteronomy 7:13).  He will bless the fruit of their womb and the fruit of their ground: their grain, their wine, and their oil.  He promises to bless their herds and their flocks.  He will not bring disease on them as punishment, as He did the Egyptians (verse 15).  They will be blessed above all peoples (verse 14).

The Psalms contain similarly glorious promises of blessing for those who obey.  The man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of scoffers will be greatly blessed (Psalm 1).  He who delights in God's Law and meditates on it day and night will be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season (verse 3).  The Psalm even says that "in all he does, he prospers".

Our God is a feast for those who love Him and who obey His commands.  "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him." (Psalm 34:8)

I couldn't stop thinking about this song this morning as I was meditating on all of this.

Carrot & Stick

This should come as no shock to those who have had some experience wrestling with him, but the Serpent is a sly character.  Just look at his tempting of Eve: in one sense, he didn't really say anything that wasn't true (they didn't physically die, they did become like God, knowing good and evil), but in reality, he completely perverted the truth.  And it was his questioning of the authority of God to command His creatures that led to the downfall of the human race and the imprisonment of the universe in shackles of death and decay.  And this maliciously genius Enemy has been tirelessly working at that same end ever since that day. One of the areas where his influence can be painfully and powerfully felt involves the promised blessings and curses from God toward obedience and disobedience to His commands.  Chapters in the Old Testament like Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28 sound downright barbaric to our modern sensibilities.  "I'll make you eat your babies"!!?? (Leviticus 26:29)  I mean, who says that!?  These judgments are harsh!  A lot of churchgoing "Christians" don't want to have anything to do with a God like that.  It's better to just not read the Old Testament at all (and there are many denominations that don't).  No, when bad things happen, these folks would much rather chalk it up to "chance" and let God be the one who says, "There, there", and pats them on the back and makes it all better.  He wouldn't do the kinds of things written in those Old Testament books; He's all about love and compassion.

And there we see the Dragon at work yet again.  He takes some things that are certainly true about God: His goodness, His compassion, His love, grace, and mercy, and then uses these qualities to question God's authority to judge wickedness.  "Did God really say He would destroy you in wrath if you disobeyed?  No, that won't happen!  He's all about love!"

Those of us who know the tricks of the Accuser would expect this kind of ploy.  We might even be used to blocking this punch, but the Devil has another fist, and his use of it goes largely unnoticed.  Satan doesn't just attack God's promised curses for disobedience, he also calls into question God's promised blessings for obedience.

The first part of Leviticus chapter 26 and the first part of Deuteronomy 28 both deal with the amazing blessings that God will shower on His people if they obey Him.  They are just as beautifully wondrous as the curses are shockingly horrific.  There God promises rain in season, increased yield of field and orchard, overabundance of food, peace and security, the absence of dangerous animals from their land, absolute military victory, fruitful child bearing, and even the very presence of God Himself in their midst.  These are great things, and even the folks who don't like the Old Testament don't mind reading passages like this.  But the place where the Snake has inserted his lie is in the fact that these are blessings for obedience.

"We don't believe in a works-based salvation!  It's all of grace!"  Such might be the cry of many Christians if you started telling them that they should diligently obey all of God's commands in order to be blessed.  The last thing that Satan wants us to believe is that we will be happier and more content if we seek to obey all of God's laws, and so here he has used another deception, confusing our unworthiness to receive the gift of salvation with the Bible's teaching that God expects good works on the part of those who have been saved.  It's true that we can't work for salvation.  We are dead in our trespasses and sins until God makes us alive together with Christ - quite apart from our own working (Ephesians 2:1-10).  But once God has saved us by His grace, He absolutely expects diligent and faithful obedience to His commands out of us (James 1:22).

You see, both of these attacks - attacks against the understanding that God pours out wrath on disobedience and against the understanding that God pours out blessings for obedience - seek to lead us away from a careful attention to God's commands.  If something bad happens, it isn't because you disobeyed, and if something good happens, it isn't because you were obedient.  We need to throw off this deceit of the Enemy and strive to work hard in obedience to receive God's blessings and avoid His wrath.  It is absolutely good and right and biblical to do so.