After he was out drinking with some mates one night, Jonothan Beninka tried to walk home along a railway track. But he fell and knocked himself out and finished up in hospital after being hit by a train. He lost an arm, a leg and some fingers. Every day he feels like crying because of the impact of his injuries on the relationship he has with his family. He can’t pick up his children like most dads. One decision changed his whole life forever.
When we look at the lives of the sons of Jacob in the Bible, we see that our choices have consequences. In particular, sinful behavior has negative consequences.
The nation of Israel was named after Jacob whose name was changed to Israel (Gen. 32:28; 35:10). Jacob had 12 sons and in those days the position of leadership of the family clan was usually passed on to the eldest son. And the eldest son’s birthright was a double portion of the inheritance (Dt. 21:17).
But we see from the Bible that the tribe of Judah (4th son) became prominent instead of the tribe of Reuben (1st son) – king David was a descendant of Judah (10th generation, 1 Chron. 2:1-15), Jerusalem the capital of Israel was located in their territory and they were the last tribe to be conquered and taken into captivity. This was unusual because Judah was the fourth oldest son of Jacob and not the firstborn.
Of Judah’s descendants, the most prominent in the Old Testament is king David and the most prominent in the New Testament is Jesus Christ. Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6), the “son of David” (Mt. 1:1; 22:42; Lk. 1:32, 69; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5; 22:16). One of Christ’s titles is, “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). This relates to Judah being promised the right to rule “until he to whom it belongs [Jesus] shall come” (Gen. 49:8-10).
After the Babylonian exile, the Israelites were called “Jews”. This name is derived from the word “Judah” and was used because, by that time, virtually all Israelites were descendants of the kingdom of Judah (the rest had assimilated into other nations). Also, the Jewish religion was known as “Judaism”. So Judah’s prominence is reflected by these words.
Jacob’s last words
When he was on his death bed Jacob gave a farewell message to each of his sons (Gen. 49:1-28). Beginning at the eldest and progressing to the youngest, he predicted what was in store for their descendants.
Although he is the firstborn, Reuben is told he is unstable and will not excel because he slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah (Gen. 35:22, 49:4). In those days it was customary for new kings to assume the harem of their predecessors (2 Sa. 3:7; 12:8; 16:21; 1Ki. 2:22). So this was an arrogant and premature claim to the rights of the firstborn. Because of his sin of incest, Reuben lost the rights of the firstborn. His right to extra land was given to Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1-2) and his leadership right was given to Judah.
If the eldest son lost the rights of the firstborn, we would expect these rights to be transferred to the second-born son. Simeon was Israel’s second son. Israel tells Simeon and Levi (his third son) that their descendants would be scattered and dispersed within the nation of Israel. This was fulfilled when the Levites weren’t given an allocation of land like the other tribes and Simeon’s allocation was surrounded by Judah’s – the tribe of Simeon was assimilated into the tribe of Judah. (Josh. 14:4; 19:1-9). The reason given is that they were angry, cruel and violent (Gen. 49:5-7). For example, after their sister Dinah was raped by Shechem (Gen. 34:1-7), Simeon and Levi killed all the men of the city and plundered their women, children, and possessions (Gen. 34:25-30). Also, this increased the threat of the Canaanites attacking Jacob’s family.
Jacob’s greatest and longest blessings are given to Judah and Joseph (Gen. 49:8-12; 22-26). Judah is promised leadership over the other tribes, which was fulfilled by king David. Jesus Christ was also a descendant of Judah (Mt. 1:3; Lk. 3:33). Judah would be praised for victories over their enemies. Their supremacy is symbolized by the lion’s supremacy in the animal kingdom. Some of Judah’s descendants are also promised peace and prosperity (Gen. 49:11-12).
So, there are two main reasons why Judah was the most prominent tribe of Israel. First, Reuben forfeited his rights by his incest and Simeon and Levi forfeited their rights by their cruelty and violence. They were disqualified for misconduct. Judah was the next in the order of birth and that is why he received the blessing. Second, this prominence was prophesized by Jacob before he died.
But the brother’s treatment of Joseph also offers some insight into this topic.
Treatment of Joseph
Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. After Joseph dreamt that his family would bow down to him, his brothers were filled with jealousy and hatred toward him (Gen. 37:4-5, 8, 11). When Joseph was sent by his father to visit his brothers, they plotted to kill him. Judah’s leadership potential is shown when they agree to his suggestion to sell Joseph into slavery rather than kill him (Gen. 37:26-27). Joseph is taken to Egypt where he rises to a prominent position before there is to be a famine. During the famine, his brothers travel to Egypt seeking food.
When Joseph commanded his brothers to bring Benjamin to Egypt, Reuben told his father that he would put both of his sons to death if he didn’t bring Benjamin back (Gen 42:37). On the other hand, Judah said that he would guarantee Benjamin’s safety and be personally responsible for him (Gen. 43:8-9). If he didn’t bring Benjamin back, then he would bear the blame all his life. Here we see that Judah was willing to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety, whereas Reuben offered his sons to take the consequences instead.
When the brothers returned to the city because Joseph’s silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, the Bible says that “Judah and his brothers” went into Joseph’s house (Gen. 44:14NIV). And then Judah responded on behalf of the brothers when Joseph said “What is this you have done?” (Gen. 44:15-34). So Judah takes a leadership role amongst his brothers. He also offered to stay at Joseph’s in Egypt instead of Benjamin so that Benjamin could return to his father (Gen. 44:33-34). This is in accordance with his previous offer to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety.
When Jacob’s family moved to Egypt during the famine, “Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen” (Gen. 46:28). So Jacob recognized Judah’s leadership role in his family.
So we see that before Jacob made his predictions, Judah took a leadership role in his family and took personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. His conduct qualified him for this role.
Lessons for us
The choices made by Reuben disqualified him from receiving the rights of the firstborn. These rights weren’t transferred to Simeon or Levi because of the choices they made. But the rights were transferred to Judah because of how he chose to behave. So, our choices have consequences.
Reuben, Simeon and Levi experienced negative consequences because of their sinful behavior. So sinful behavior has negative consequences.
What has changed since then? We aren’t Israelites living under the law, but Christians living under the new covenant instituted by Jesus. Our eldest sons don’t inherit leadership of the family or a double portion of our wealth. Instead, humility is important and we receive spiritual rewards after death at the Judgment Seat of Christ. So, our choices do have consequences – in this life and after death.
Sin separates us from the God who empowers us. It weakens us. So our sinful behavior does have negative consequences. It can also have some lasting consequences as Jonothan Beninka found out. But when we confess and repent of our sin, our relationship with the Lord is restored (1 Jn. 1:9).
Written, July 2015
About 4,000 years ago a man made some choices that had catastrophic effects on his family. His name was Lot and the important events of his life are recorded for you to read in Genesis 13, 14 and 19.
Lot was a nomadic herdsman who lived in the Middle East and moved around the country with his uncle Abraham. They were both successful, each having many animals and employees. This led to conflict between the employees of the two men because they were competing for the use of the same pasture land.
Abraham was wise. He knew there was plenty of land for both families, so he suggested that they separate and move to different parts of the country. Out of kindness, he gave Lot the first choice of where to move and graze his herds.
So Lot had to make a decision. He chose the plain of Jordan because there was plenty of water and pasture land for his animals. He thought this would be the best for his business. He also chose to live near the city of Sodom, which had a reputation of being evil. Maybe he was thinking of pleasure and his social status. In the meantime, Abraham continued to live in the mountains and to worship God.
The Bible records the consequences of Lot’s choice in Genesis 14. In those days there were wars between the leaders of the different cities. In one of the battles, Lot and his family and all their possessions were captured by the enemy and taken away. Fortunately, when Abraham heard about this he came down from the hills and rescued Lot and his household from the enemy.
Some say this was an early warning for Lot to move from the evil city of Sodom. Eventually, a stronger warning was given because as a result of the great evil in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God had decided to destroy them.
In Genesis 19, we are told that God sent two angels as messengers to help Lot and his family escape the coming disaster, although they were not eager to leave. Then there was a volcanic eruption and the cities in the valley were destroyed. Sadly, Lot’s wife disobeyed the warning of the angels not to look back and died in the catastrophe.
As a result, Lot was left without a wife, or any possessions. He moved to the hill country and lived in a cave with his two daughters. He had lost nearly everything as a result of his choices.
What a contrast between Abraham and Lot! Even though Lot is described as righteous (2 Pet. 2:7-8), he apparently left God out of the picture when deciding where he and his family would live. Instead, he seemed to be driven by his love of business, pleasure and social status. The result was much trouble for him and his family, and little usefulness for God. Also, his descendants became the enemies of God’s people (Ps. 83:1-8). On the other hand, Abraham, also referred to as righteous, made wise choices, became known as the friend of God and was called the father of many nations (Jas. 2:21-23; Gen. 17:4-5).
This reminds me of the choices we all make during life, and the law of cause and effect. Many of the situations in our life are caused by our decisions. We should recognize that all of our choices have consequences.
We make decisions every day of our lives. These can be visualized as a series of forks or crossroads in the journey of life. For instance, as individuals we need to decide the following: Who will be our friends? What employment will we seek? Whom will we marry? How will we spend our recreation time? What kind of attitudes are we developing? How often will we read the Bible and pray? How often and where will we fellowship with other believers?
Parents need to make decisions such as the following: Where will we live? How many children will we have? What kind of education will our children receive? How much of the information available to us – from such sources as cable television and the global internet – will we allow ourselves and our family to take in, realizing that there is a huge amount of false information out there that can lead us astray?
All of the choices we make have consequences for us, for our family, for our friends and for our community. They result in behavior patterns and habits that lead to various events, situations and outcomes. If we realized ahead of time the consequences of our choices, we would surely be more careful to look to and trust God when making them. If Lot knew beforehand the consequences of his choices, don’t you think he would have re-thought those choices? Each choice we make either moves us towards God or away from Him and His will for us.
The Bible gives two graphic illustrations that are relevant to the subject of choices and consequences. These are a farmer who plants seeds (Gal. 6:7-9), and the builder who constructs a building (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
The first teaches us that we harvest whatever we plant. If we follow selfish desires, we will harvest destruction, but if we follow the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life. The farmer plants the seeds, which then grow. When they are full- grown the crop is harvested.
The crop may be vegetables, cereal grain, or fruit. But what actually grows depends on the seeds sown. If you sow corn seeds you will get corn, not cucumbers. If we sow weeds, we should expect only weeds as our crop.
Imagine you are planting a seed each time you make a choice, and that together these are growing into a crop. The principle is that we harvest what we plant. The question is: What kind of harvest can we expect from the choices we have made?
In the second illustration, our life’s activities are likened to the construction of a building. We are warned to make wise choices and be careful how we build, because whatever we build will be tested by fire on the day of judgment. Those whose buildings survive will be rewarded.
In a period of 70 years, the average length of life according to Psalm 90:10, there are 25,567 days. A lifetime can be visualized as a building, such as a house, that is constructed by putting one brick in place each day. The challenge is whether your “building” (or those of your family members) will survive or be destroyed when tested?
Don’t be like Lot who thought, “What is good for my business is good for me and my family as well.” He harvested destruction, and all that he had built collapsed. His family life and business were devastated, although he survived “as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15 NIV).
Seek His Help
What we selfishly think is best may turn out for the worst and result in lots of trouble. How can we avoid such catastrophe? By being less like Lot and more like Abraham who, when faced with a choice, asked for God’s help. He was productive for God. Of course, God knows everything and can guide us through the Bible, through answered prayer, through the counsel of Christian friends and through our consciences. The question is: Are we seeking His help and listening to His advice?
In many ways, we end up harvesting what we plant and living with what we build. Remember, your choices have important consequences. They affect your life both now and later.
Published, November 1997
Living in a world shaped by tragedy and heading for destruction
Disasters such as wars, famines and freak weather events can change the course of our lives. Let’s look at four major disasters, two from the past and two from the future, that bring great tragedy to humanity and the physical world.
The typical sequence of events for a disaster begins with a warning that may include a choice, followed by a cause which initiates the disaster, and a consequence which follows the disaster. The consequence can be immediate, or it can extend into the long-term future. Major disasters can have lifetime consequences that extend to the after-life.
1. The Fall Of Humanity
After God created Adam and Eve, He gave them a warning: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17 NIV). So Adam and Eve had a choice: either to follow God or to make their own rules and live without considering God. It was a test of obedience that we all face from time to time. In their case the penalty for disobedience was spiritual and physical death.
The cause of the first disaster on earth was Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God. They failed the test and were the first people to sin. After this they hid from God among the trees in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8); they felt shame, fear and guilt and were separated from God. Later they were banished from the Garden (Gen. 3:23-24).
We all experience some consequences of their action; when they sinned, sin entered the entire human race and decay and death spread to everyone (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). It drastically changed everything in the world: the ground was not so productive and thorns and weeds came into existence (Gen. 3:18); people had to work hard and struggle to earn a living (Gen. 3:17, 19); “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22); there is pain, suffering, illness, tragedy and tears (Rev. 21:4); and humanity is destined to be separated from God, which is spiritual death.
The fall of humanity into sin was the predominant disaster and it has led to the other three disasters. It has affected us all, as we all inherit a rebellious sinful nature, being naturally rebellious and sinful from birth.
2. The Global Flood
Nine generations after Adam and Eve, the wickedness on earth was so great that God was actually sorry he had made people. He used Noah to warn them to change their ways. Noah preached for up to 120 years warning them of God’s judgment if they did not repent (Gen. 6:3; 1 Pet. 3:18-20; 2 Pet. 2:5). The next great disaster was caused by people rejecting Noah’s preaching and continuing in their sinful ways (Gen. 6:5).
God allowed all the underground waters to gush up everywhere, and torrential rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights (Gen. 7:11-12). Flood water covered the earth for 150 days. “Every living thing that moved on the earth perished – birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind … Only Noah was left, and those with him in the boat” (Gen. 7:20-24).
A global flood destroyed the landscape; living creatures and all land vertebrates died, except those on the boat (Gen. 7:22; 2 Pet. 3:6). It probably also destroyed any evidence of earlier civilization. The landscape was totally changed with the uplift of new mountain ranges and the formation of the continents and oceans as they are today. There was a new start to civilization on earth. As a result of this catastrophe there are huge sedimentary layers across the earth; fossil graveyards have been found and we use fossil fuels for transport and for generating electric power. All this should remind us of the worldwide flood of Noah’s time.
The Bible teaches that the ungodly will be judged by God. The next two disasters concern two aspects of these judgments – namely, events on earth culminating in its destruction, and the eternal state. They are both consequences of rejecting God’s revelation to mankind.
3. The Day Of The Lord
The phrase “day of the Lord” appears in 22 Bible verses, and it refers to any time that God acts in judgment (2 Pet. 3:10). In the New Testament, it means God’s judgment at the end times. It is “a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it” (Isa. 13:9). It is “a time of doom for the nations” (Ezek. 30:3), when “the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” (Joel 2:31).
This coming “day of the Lord” is comprised of two main events – the tribulation, and the end of the world as we know it. The tribulation is a seven year period when God will judge unbelievers living on earth (1 Th. 5:2-3; 2 Th. 2:1-12), ending when He returns in judgment at His appearing in power and glory (Mt. 24:27,30; 2 Th. 1:7-10). Paul warned his generation that the “day of the Lord” was an event yet to come (2 Th. 2:2).
The Bible also teaches that the universe will be destroyed and re-created (2 Pet. 3:7,10,12-13). Everything will be destroyed, and the earth will be renewed and purified through a judgment by fire. Einstein discovered that matter (m) is stored-up energy (E = mc2, c being the speed of light) that can be released in nuclear reactions when matter is converted into vast amounts of energy. There is plenty of energy for a great disaster today, just as there was plenty of water in the early earth.
Of course there are scoffers who laugh at the warning of God’s imminent judgment (2 Pet. 3:3). They say, “You Christians have been threatening us with a terrible judgment upon the world. You tell us that God is going to intervene, punish the wicked and destroy the earth. It’s just nonsense! We have nothing to fear. We can live as we please. There is no evidence God has intervened in history. Why should we believe He ever will?”
But they ignore the biblical and geological evidence of the big flood, and the ancient traditions about it from many nations around the world. As in Noah’s time, people are being warned today of God’s judgment and told about the possibility of being rescued through the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Why the delay in God’s judgment? He is being patient because He does not want anyone to perish, and is giving people more time to repent (2 Pet. 3:9). So far He has waited thousands of years, giving everyone more opportunity to be rescued from the coming two disasters.
The cause of the “day of the Lord” is unbelief and refusal to accept God’s provision for mankind. Those who reject the good news of salvation will be left behind after the Rapture – when Christ comes to take the believers away to heaven as He promised, delivering them from the extreme distress of the tribulation (Dan. 12:1; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10).
This day will come upon the unsaved as a thief, by surprise and causing loss (Mk. 13:32; 1 Th. 5:2-3; Rev. 16:15). Because they will not be prepared or ready, they will experience extreme suffering that is “unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, none would survive” (Mt. 24:21-22). The terrible consequences for those living at that time are described in the seals, trumpets and bowls of Revelation 6-19. It will be a time of great fear and terror when people will panic and wish they could die rather than face God’s judgment (Rev. 6:15-17). Christ spoke about this time in Matthew 24-25, which culminates in the battle of Armageddon where Christ defeats all His enemies on earth (Rev. 16:14-21).
4. The Lake Of Fire
The Bible says that a “day of judgment” is coming when God will judge the world in justice (2 Pet. 2:9; Acts 17:31). The “lake of fire” is a term to describe the place of everlasting punishment after the final judgment. Jesus also described it with the Greek word “Gehenna,” which was a valley near Jerusalem where a fire was kept burning at the city’s garbage dump (Mk. 9:43; Lk. 12:5).
As in Noah’s time, those who reject the warning of God’s judgment are destined to experience much suffering and pain (Mt. 22:8-13). There are two reasons why: first, they have rejected the true God as revealed in the creation and in their conscience (Rom. 1:18-2:16); secondly, they have rejected the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ (2 Th. 1:8).
The consequence is judgment at the great white throne and being sentenced to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” in the “eternal fire” (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10-15). This “eternal punishment” is called the “second death” (Mt. 25:46; Rev. 2:11; 20:14) where there will be trouble and distress due to God’s wrath and anger (Rom. 2:8-9). The agony is described graphically by the rich man in Luke 16:22-28. The eternal torment and separation from God (2 Th. 1:9) is like an eternal death. There is no possibility of rescue or escape. It is the ultimate disaster that never ends.
The Key To Understanding Our World
Knowing of these four disasters helps us understand the future of our world. We have all been impacted by the Fall (of humanity), which teaches that we are all sinners. Our biggest problem today is that people are generally not aware of sin; the word seems to have been removed from their vocabulary. This is a result of unbelief in the Fall (into sin) as a real, historical event that has drastically altered the earth’s history.
The Fall should remind us that we are not gods or masters of our destiny. If we live as though we are, then our destiny is the lake of fire. Those not aware of the Fall are not aware of their dangerous situation; like the people of Noah’s time, they are on the road to disaster. The Fall was also the ultimate cause of pain, suffering and death. God allows us to experience the consequences of our choices so we will have more time to turn to Him and avoid the lake of fire.
The global flood should remind us that God judges sin, regardless of what humanity may think – remember, the scoffers perished in the disaster. We also see from the Fall and the flood that our choices can have lasting consequences (Gal. 6:7-8).
The day of the Lord and the lake of fire, the two disasters yet to occur, remind us that we are accountable to God. They show that disasters are on the horizon. Are you prepared for them? Those who trust in God will be rescued from them.
Unbelievers are scoffers who haven’t realized they are in danger. Don’t be like those who perished in the great flood. If we trust in God’s provision we can avoid the coming disasters and be prepared for the future – for life after death.
What should be our response as believers when thinking about the disasters facing the world or when facing personal disasters? According to the Bible we should:
- Be clear-minded, alert, prepared, self-controlled, not alarmed, and we should warn others (Mt. 24:6,44; 1 Th. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 4:7)
- Live by faith and obey God (Gen. 6:22; Heb. 11:7)
- Be holy, pure, godly and at peace (Gen. 6:9; 2 Pet. 3:11,14)
- Encourage one another (Heb. 10:25)
- Look forward to a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13)
C. S. Lewis wrote: “God will invade our world … When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the Author walks on the stage the play is over… It will be too late then to choose your side … That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it or not. Today is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us the chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”