Good times and bad times at Shechem
What can we learn from history? The Bible says that it was written for our instruction (Rom. 15:4; 1 Tim. 3:16). It gives us examples to follow and examples to avoid (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). And it can give us confidence from God.
The city of Shechem was in a valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim in central Israel, 55 km (35 miles) north of Jerusalem and 11 km (7 miles) southeast of Samaria. It was strategically located on the main road through the central hill country of Palestine “(the way of the Patriarchs”, or “the Ridge route”). But it had no natural defenses and required extensive fortification. Shechem was a very ancient commercial center due to its position in the middle of vital trade routes through the region. (more…)
Massacres and miracles at Jericho
Some places are associated with massacres (like Srebrenica) and some with miracles (like Lourdes), but both occurred at ancient Jericho. Jericho in the Middle East is said to be one of the oldest settlements in the world. It’s also the lowest city in the world, being in the Jordan rift valley.
Jericho was a strategic location on the route from the fords of the Jordan river to Jerusalem. This route is part of an ancient route between the Kings Highway to the east and the Via Maris (way of the sea) to the west. These were the major ancient routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Jericho was one of the gateways to the land of Canaan. It was the access point to the hill country of Palestine from the Trans-Jordan, being 8km (5 miles) west of the Jordan river and 22km (14 miles) east-northeast of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem experiences a Mediterranean climate, but due to the “rain-shadow” effect, Jericho on a plain in the Jordan valley has low rainfall. Because of a spring it’s an oasis in a desert which has been called “the city of the palms” (Dt. 34:3; Jud. 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chr. 28:15NIV).
In this post we look at some historical events that have occurred at Jericho.
The promised land
The exodus was when the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. The first mention of Jericho in the Bible is near the end of the journey when “the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho” (Num. 22:1). At this time Jericho was a fortified city occupied by the Canaanites.
Before their leader, Moses, died, he viewed the promised land from Mount Nebo, including “the valley of Jericho, the city of palms” (Dt. 34:1-4). Jericho was central in the land that was occupied by the Israelites: between Hazor in the north and the Negev in the south and the Trans-Jordan towards the east and the Cis-Jordan towards the west.
When the tribes of Israel were allocated land in Canaan, Jericho was in the territory occupied by the tribe of Benjamin. Jericho was near the boundary of Benjamin with Ephraim to the north (Josh. 18:12, 21). And the southern boundary of Benjamin was the Pass of Adummim (Josh 15:7) – the road from Jericho to Jerusalem goes up this ridge.
The Bible explains why the Canaanites were invaded and driven from their land. God told Abram that his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years and after this “your descendants will come back here (Canaan), for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:13-16). The peoples of Canaan were dispossessed of their land as an act of God’s judgement when their sin had reached God’s limit (Dt. 9:4-6). They were guilty of idolatry, sexual immorality, religious prostitution, witchcraft, and child sacrifice (Lev. 18:24-27; Dt. 9:4-6; 18:9-12).
Joshua at Jericho (1410BC)
The Israelites entered the promised land by crossing the Jordan River near Jericho. Because Joshua and the Israelites followed the Lord’s instructions, God gave them a great victory over the fortified city of Jericho. It was a miracle that the walls of the city fell down when the army shouted. Jericho was destroyed and lacked walls and gates for centuries after this because Joshua placed a curse on whoever would rebuild them (Josh.6:26). Only Rahab and her family, who cared for the spies, were rescued and saved from the massacre (Josh. 6:22-23, 25).
So the city and its occupants were destroyed because of their wickedness. And God gave it to Israel as their first possession west of the Jordan river. This incident reminds us: that Joshua had faith in the true God but the Canaanites didn’t, that God judges people’s sin, and that salvation is available to the repentant.
Israel destroys Jericho (1375BC)
But later on Jericho was destroyed by the Israelites themselves! When the Israelites punished the Benjamites because of a rape and murder at Gilead, 25,000 of the Benjamites died in battle and the Israelites “put all the (Benjamite) towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire” (Jud. 20:48).
So there was another massacre in Jericho and the town was burnt once again. In this instance, God’s people also experienced God’s judgement.
Ehud at Jericho (1316BC)
When the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, Jericho was attacked and captured by the Moabites (Jud. 3:12-30) and Jericho was ruled by the Moabites for 18 years. After the Israelites cried out the Lord, He gave them a deliverer named Ehud. Ehud assassinated Eglon the king of Moab and “took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab” (Jud. 3:28). So the Moabites were defeated and Jericho was ruled by the Israelites once again.
So, when the Israelites turned away from God, Jericho was captured and ruled by foreigners. But the city was regained by Israel after they repented and prayed.
Up to this time, Jericho was a place of battles, massacres and destruction.
David’s men at Jericho (995BC)
When king David sent some men to the king of the Ammonites, the king shaved their heads and cut off half of their beards, humiliating David’s men (2 Sam. 10:1-5). So David instructed them to stay at Jericho until their beards had grown back. This means that Jericho was still occupied at this time although it had no city walls or gates.
Fortification of Jericho (850BC)
When the kingdom was split into Judah and Israel, they became more vulnerable to foreign invasion. Two such enemies were Moab and Ammon, just east of the Jordan river. That’s probably why the city walls and gates of Jericho were rebuilt (1 Ki. 16:34) as a fortified city in the time of King Ahab (about 850 BC). Jericho had lacked such fortifications for about 560 years. Was the fact that Jericho was now fortified why Moab and Ammon attacked Judah from the south rather than from the east (2 Chr. 20:1-26)?
Elisha at Jericho (850BC)
Idolatry was prevalent in the 9th century BC in the kingdom of Israel. Even king Ahab worshipped Baal (Canaanite storm god) and Asherah (Canaanite goddess of love and fertility) (1 Ki. 18:18-19). But there were 7,000 Israelites who didn’t worship Baal (1 Ki. 19:18). These people who worshipped the true God were probably led by prophets. Besides Elijah and Elisha, there were groups of prophets at Bethel and Jericho (2 Ki. 2:3, 5). The prophets from Jericho went with Elijah and Elisha to the Jordan river to witness the miracle by which Elijah and Elisha crossed the river. But only Elisha returned and he had Elijah’s coat which symbolized that he was succeeding Elijah. Elisha began his ministry at Jericho with a miracle turning brackish spring water into pure water (2 Ki. 2:18-22).
So at this time there was a group of godly people living at Jericho and the prophet Elisha performed a miracle there.
David and king Zedekiah at Jericho (976BC & 586BC)
In God’s covenant with Israel, if they disobeyed God they were to be driven from their land (Dt. 28:32-37). And this is what happened 680 years later (when the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel) and 820 years later (when the Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Judah).
Two Jewish kings fled from Jerusalem to Jericho. When the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed Jerusalem, the army and king Zedekiah escaped at night and fled towards the east. But the Babylonian army chased them and captured the king in the plains of Jericho (2 Ki. 25:3-6; Jer. 39:4-5; 52:8). David made a similar trip when he escaped from Absalom in 976BC by travelling from Jerusalem to the Jordan river (2 Sam. 15:28-16:14).
After the Babylonian exile, in about 537BC, 345 men of Jericho returned to Judah (Ezra 2:34). And in 444BC, men from Jericho helped to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 3:2). This showed that there were still godly people living at Jericho 260 years after Elisha began his ministry and that they returned to live in Jericho after the exile.
Jesus at Jericho (AD30)
The Jericho of New Testament times was built by Herod about 2.4 km south of the ancient site. It was at the mouth of Wadi Qilt, which is the valley north of the Pass of Adummim. In the middle ages the crusaders built a town about 2 km east of the ancient site and the modern town has expanded to include the ancient site.
Jericho was on the route between Galilee and Jerusalem if you wanted to avoid travelling through Samaria. It is supposed that the sites of Christ’s baptism (at the Jordan river) and temptation (at a mountain west of Jericho) are near Jericho.
In the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29-37), the traveller was attacked as he was going down from Jerusalem (797m above sea level) to Jericho (250m below sea level). The distance was about 29 km (18 miles) and the difference in altitude about 1050m. At that time, it was a narrow, winding mountainous trail or footpath through rocky desert terrain. And there were plenty of hiding places and escape routes for bandits. Robberies in the wild and lonely terrain were so frequent that a Roman garrison had to be stationed there to protect travellers.
On the trip to Jerusalem before His death, Jesus stayed at Jericho. This was where the tax collector Zacchaeus was converted (Lk. 19:1-10) and Bartimaeus was healed of blindness (Mk. 10:46-52). This healing seemed to have occurred after Jesus left ancient Jericho (Mt. 20:29; Mk. 10:46) and before He reached Herodian Jericho (Lk. 18:35). After this Jesus climbed the ascent to Bethany, Bethphage and Jerusalem.
This history of Jericho began with a fortified city that was destroyed by God and ended with a fortified city that witnessed miracles of God. Between these times the city lacked fortifications and was destroyed and conquered. During this time period, Jericho was occupied by the Canaanites, the Israelites, the Moabites, the Israelites, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Seleucids and the Romans.
This reminds me of what Paul told the Athenians, “From one man He (God) made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27). God determines the beginning and end of nations and the lands that they would occupy.
The incidents that happened at Jericho illustrate God’s supernatural power. The city walls fell when the army shouted. Ehud was able to assassinate Eglon. And Elisha and Jesus did miracles.
The people of Jericho were punished when their sins had reached God’s limit. In a coming day God will punish our sinful world because, “her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God remembers her evil deeds” (Rev. 18:5NLT). Meanwhile, on which side of the walls of Jericho are we?
Some of the occupants of Jericho were ungodly (the Canaanites, the Moabites, and the Israelites who disobeyed God by practicing idolatry) and some were godly (Elisha and the prophets, and the Jews who returned from the Babylonian exile). And some changed from being ungodly to godly (Rahab, the Israelites who repented of their idolatry, and Zacchaeus).
Lessons for us
Over the centuries, many things happened at Jericho – massacres, rescues and miracles. But it was always under God’s control. Likewise, many things happen in our lives. But we can be assured that God is in control.
Let’s trust God like Joshua, and change from our ungodly ways like Rahab and Zacchaeus. Paul told the Athenians how to do this by repenting of their ungodly ways by trusting in Jesus because “He (God) has set a day when He will judge the world (at the second coming of Christ) with justice by the man (Jesus) He has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him (Jesus) from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
Written, June 2018
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel
Many battles at Megiddo
Jesus is greater than …
Did you watch the recent soccer World Cup? One of the close games was the semi-final between the Netherlands and Argentina which went to a penalty shoot-out. There was a great cheer when Sergio Romero stopped the first Dutch shot. Even more when he did it again. He was a hero for the Argentinians.
We all have heroes. We all admire someone and have desires that can influence our behavior. Today we are looking at the highlights of the first 10 chapters of the book of Hebrews where we see that, because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the one to follow and live for.
We don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know that it was written to Jews. That’s why it’s called Hebrews. These Jewish Christians were being persecuted for their faith (Heb. 12:4-13). Other Jews usually persecute those who convert to Christianity. In this instance, Jewish Christians were being tempted to go back to their Jewish customs and maybe force Gentiles to follow them as well (Gal. 2:14). The book answers the question, while the Jews have their heroes and customs, what do Christians have?
Who were the heroes of a devout first century Jew? Their earliest ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (who was also named Israel) and Joseph (Acts 7:2-16; Heb. 11:8-22). Their leaders such as Moses (Acts 7:20-41; Heb. 11:24-28 and Joshua were also heroes. Their kings such as David and Solomon. Their priests, particularly the High Priest. And their prophets who conveyed messages from God.
They also revered the Mosaic Law given at Mt Sinai which governed their life and the temple in Jerusalem because that was where God lived on earth (Acts 7:44-47).
Hebrews shows that Jesus is better than all their heroes. It’s a bit like a song by Rod Boucher that went:
God is better than football
God is better than beer
God is better than cricket
God’s there all the year!
Greater than the prophets
The writer of Hebrews jumps straight into his topic: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).
The Old Testament was written by the prophets and the New by the apostles and their associates. The revelation of God’s truth is added progressively as we move from Genesis through to Revelation. What Jesus taught is summarized in the gospels. His teachings supersede those of the Old Testament prophets. While the prophets predicted the Messiah (Acts 10:43), Jesus was the Messiah. So of course He is greater than the prophets.
Seven more reasons are given for Christ being superior to the prophets, including Jesus made the universe and sustains it. He is the divine God. Through His death, our sins can be forgiven. And after His resurrection and ascension, He now sits on a place of honor and privilege at God’s right hand. None of these apply to the prophets.
Who are equivalent to prophets today? I think that scientists could be because they speak with authority. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the scientists”.
A British geneticist has published a book titled, “The Serpent’s Promise: The Bible Retold as Science”. He claims the Bible is out of date and that science is a better way to understand the universe than through its doctrine. So he gives the scientific version of parts of the Bible.
What do we do when experts and scientists ridicule the Bible? What about when they make statements that conflict with the Bible? Do we always believe them? Or are we skeptical?
Not only is Jesus greater than the prophets and scientists, He is also greater than the angels.
Greater than the angels
Straight after this, Hebrews says that Jesus is superior to the angels (Heb. 1:4). The Mosaic Law was given by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). In the Old Testament, angels brought messages from God (Zech. 1:14-17) and protected God’s people (Dan. 6:22). Angels also told Mary and Joseph about Christ’s birth (Mt. 1:20-25; Lk. 2:26-38). That’s why the Jews revered angels.
The Jews thought that Jesus was only a man and therefore He was inferior to the angels (Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:7). But Hebrews says that Jesus is superior to angels in two ways: as Son of God (Heb. 1:4-14) and as Son of Man (Heb. 2:5-18).
As Son of God, Jesus has a close relationship with God the Father. That’s what this metaphor means. But God never addressed an angel as His Son. The angels praised God at His birth (Lk. 2:13-14) and will worship Christ when He returns to rule over the earth (Heb. 1:6). Another contrast is that Jesus rules while angels serve. Jesus is in a position of honor and power at God’s right hand, while angels serve God’s people (Heb. 11:13-14).
Hebrews stresses “It is not to angels He has subject the world to come” (Heb. 2:5). According to Psalm 8, mankind was to have dominion over the earth, not the angels (Ps. 8:6-8). But this dominion was lost when Adam sinned. Hebrews reminds us “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them” (Heb. 2:8). This is illustrated by the fact that some people are still killed by animals. But there is hope because he writes, “But we do see Jesus … now crowned with glory and honor”. As Son of Man, in a coming day, Jesus will rule over the earth and restore mankind’s dominion over the rest of God’s creation on earth.
Then Hebrews describes how the effects of the fall into sin are reversed. Jesus became a human being and offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for our sin. It notes that Jesus became a man, not an angel and Jesus saved people, not angels (Heb. 2:16-17). So even as a man, Jesus was greater than the angels. He did what they couldn’t do.
Who are equivalent to angels today? I think that those into dreams and visions, meditation and the new age could be because they involve spiritual experiences and the mystical. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than those promoting spiritual experiences”.
How do we respond when someone claims that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah? Or if they blame demons for all their ailments and misfortunes? What if they always seek to know God’s will through dreams and visions?
Not only is Jesus greater than the angels and those promoting spiritual experiences, He is also greater than Moses and Joshua.
Greater than Moses and Joshua
Moses was one of Israel’s greatest national heroes. He led them out of slavery in Egypt and received their law at Mt Sinai.
Next we are told. “Fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Heb. 3:1). He is our Apostle and High Priest. These are figures of speech. An apostle is sent – Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father. Whereas a high priest entered God’s presence to make atonement for the people of God (Heb. 2:17). So Jesus represents God to us and also represents us before God. He is a mediator or go-between.
Then there is another figure of speech – “God’s house” means God’s people – it is explained later as “we are His house” (Heb. 3:6). Moses was a faithful servant in all God’s house, which means that he served the Israelites (Heb. 3:5). But Jesus Christ was the builder of the house and He was God (Heb. 3:3-4. He was also faithful as the Son over God’s house (Heb. 3:6). Being a Son means that He is equal with God. So Jesus is greater than Moses.
Joshua took over from Moses and led the Israelites into Canaan, which was to be a land of rest for them. But most of them died before they reached Canaan and those that entered didn’t find that rest (Heb. 3:1-19). Instead there was conflict in Canaan, and sin, sickness, sorrow, suffering and death. While Joshua was unable to provide rest, it is available through Jesus Christ – “we who believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3). So Jesus is greater than Joshua.
Who are equivalent to Moses and Joshua today? I think that Presidents, Prime Ministers, kings and queens could be because they lead nations. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the leaders of nations”.
What if someone believes that a certain politician is superhuman and can solve all our problems? If they praise them and put them on a pedestal?
Not only is Jesus greater than Moses and Joshua and the leaders of nations, He is also greater than the Jewish high priests.
Greater than the Jewish high priests
Next Jesus is called “a great high priest” (Heb. 4:14). We have already said that He represents us to God like a high priest did for the Jews. His priesthood was greater than the Jewish one because it was like that of Melchizedek in the Old Testament (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-3). Melchizedek was king of Salem (now called Jerusalem) in the time of Abraham. His priesthood was similar to Jesus’ priesthood because it didn’t depend on his genealogy (he was not a descendant of Aaron like in the Jewish priesthood) and his priesthood continues forever (it didn’t end when he died like in the Jewish priesthood).
Three reasons are given to show that the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus is greater than that of Aaron:
- The first involves tithes and blessings (Heb. 7:4-10). Abraham paid Melchizedek a tithe of 10%. The one who collects a tithe has a greater position than the one who pays it. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The one who blesses has a greater position than the one who is blessed.
- Second, there has been a change in the priesthood (Heb. 7:11-19). The eternal priesthood of Jesus has replaced the temporary priesthood of Aaron. But the Jewish priesthood was established by the Mosaic Law. This means that the law has also changed. Because of Jesus, both the Jewish priesthood and their law have been replaced. When Jesus died this was signified by the tearing apart from top to bottom of the curtain to the Most Holy Place in the temple. (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45).
- Third, the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus is perpetual and permanent (Heb. 7:23-28). Jesus lives forever, whereas the Jewish high priests were replaced when they died. Also Jesus is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens”. He didn’t need to offer sacrifices for His own sins because he was sinless. Also, “He offered Himself”, not an animal.
So the Jewish priesthood was superseded by a divine eternal priesthood.
Who are equivalent to the high priests today? I think that archbishops and popes could be because they are religious leaders. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the religious leaders”.
What if someone believes that a certain religious leader is always right and can solve all our problems? If they put them on a pedestal?
Not only is Jesus greater than the Jewish high priests and the religious leaders, He also offered a greater sacrifice.
His sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices
We now come to the writer’s main point – “Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1). Here’s his answer to the Jews who say ‘We have the temple, the priests, the offerings, and the ceremonies; but you Christians have nothing like this’. His response is ‘We have such a high priest’ who sits at the right hand of God in heaven! Our high priest is in heaven close to God! He is greater than all your Jewish high priests. We have Jesus Christ. What you have is “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb. 8:5). You have the model, we have the full-scale. You have a photo or illustration or copy or shadow or silhouette, we have the real thing (Heb. 8:3; 9:23).
Christ’s ministry as a high priest was superior to that of a Jewish high priest because He worked under a superior covenant (Heb. 8:6). The new covenant, which superseded the old Mosaic covenant has “better promises” because they are unconditional, not conditional on obedience like the old covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:6b-13). “God found fault with the people” because they were unable to obey the Law of Moses. So it was replaced with the new covenant which depended on God alone. He said:
- “I will put my laws in their minds”
- “I will be their God, and they will be my people”
- “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”
This makes the old covenant and its priests and animal sacrifices obsolete (Heb. 8:13).
Since the writer is going to contrast the offerings of Christ and Judaism, he selects the most important offering – the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur; Lev. 16) (Heb. 9:7). This is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. On this day the high priest sacrificed an animal to pay for his sins and the sins of the people. He entered the Most Holy place of the temple and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat of the ark. But Jesus put away sins, not merely covered them. And He gave believers a clear conscience, not an annual reminder of sins (Heb. 9:14, 26, 28; 10:3). This shows that Christ’s ministry is greater than that of the Jewish high priest on the Day of Atonement.
But Jesus was not only the high priest, He was also the sacrifice. He was a “better sacrifice” (Heb. 9:23) because He offered Himself as a sacrifice, instead of animals (Heb. 9:25-26). One sacrifice was sufficient – it was “once for all” (Heb. 7:27; 10:10), not again and again (Heb. 9:25). It gave “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). Fortunately the Old Testament system of sacrifices has now been superseded by Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 10:8-10).
The New Covenant is an unconditional agreement of grace which God will make with the Israelites when the Lord Jesus sets up His kingdom on earth (Jer. 31:33-34). Today Christians enjoy some of the blessings of the New Covenant but its complete fulfilment waits until Israel is restored and redeemed nationally.
What is equivalent to Jewish sacrifices today? I think that good works could be because that is how people generally think they will get to heaven. So an updated principle is that “Jesus’ sacrifice is greater that our good works”.
We get requests to support charities and the needy. Some do volunteer community service. How do we rate such good works against spreading the good news about Christ’s sacrifice?
Lessons for us
Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old heroes? To those who occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord. Those which are popular and followed by the majority.
We have seen that Jesus is greater than all the Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses and Joshua, and the priests. He is also greater than all our heroes whoever they may be including scientists, those promoting spiritual experiences, and the leaders of nations and religions. Likewise Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices and our good works.
What about our desires for money and what it can buy? Our desires for recognition, success and popularity? And our desires for recreation, entertainment, leisure and pleasure? Are we placing these temptations above living for Jesus? How do we use our time? How do we spend our money?
Because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the greatest of all. So let’s follow and live for Him.
Written, July 2014
Also see the next article in this series:
Keep on running – Heb. Ch 10-12
Also see summary of the book of Hebrews:
Never give up!
Perseverance or backsliding?
The Bible records many of the words spoken and written by people in ancient times. In this article we look at what we can learn from some of the words spoken by six godly men near the end of their lives. The men are: Joseph, Moses and Joshua from the Old Testament and Jesus, Stephen and Paul from the New Testament.
Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob. As Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, Joseph was one of the original children of Israel! Jacob’s descendants were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt and rose to second in command under Pharaoh king of Egypt. God used him to save his family and the Egyptians from a 7-year drought – in this sense he was their savior. During this time his father’s household also moved to Egypt.
Final words. At the age of 110 years, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place’” (Gen. 50:24-25NIV). As he knew that God had promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites and trusted that God would take them from Egypt to Canaan, he made them promise to take his mummy (embalmed body) with them so it could be buried in Canaan.
Lesson for us. Joseph’s faith is an example for us to follow, “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones” (Heb. 11:22). “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 1:1). So up to the end of his life Joseph trusted that God’s promises would be fulfilled. He didn’t backslide from when he trusted God in his youth.
Moses was an Israelite born in Egypt in the third generation after Joseph. God used him to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – in this sense He was their savior. In the exodus about 2 million Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea and travelled towards Canaan. He took Joseph’s mummy with him (Ex. 13:19).
Final words. Before his death at the age of 120 years Moses transferred leadership of the Israelites to Joshua and told him, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged “(Dt. 31:7-8). He encouraged Joshua to continue leading the people by reminding him of God’s continual presence. Then he taught them a new song and gave a farewell message in which he assured them of God’s protection and support, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27).
Lesson for us. Christians should appreciate God’s continual presence, protection and support via the indwelling Holy Spirit. We should be encouraged by this, whatever our role may be. This also helps us to be contented and avoid the love of money or possessions (Heb. 13:5). Also, are we training the next generation in God’s ways like Moses trained Joshua?
As one of the faithful spies, Joshua didn’t die in the desert like the rest of the Israelites who rebelled against God. After the death of Moses he led the Israelites into Canaan.
Final words. In a farewell message before he died at the age of 110 years Joshua said, “Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:14-15). He urged them to worship God instead of idols. At this time they buried Joseph’s mummy in Canaan in accordance with his request (Josh. 24:32). The Israelites followed the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua, but turned to idolatry soon afterwards (Josh. 24:31; Judges 2:7, 10-13).
Lesson for us. Godly people like Joshua can have a great influence on others. They are faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like the others who died before reaching Canaan and so didn’t enjoy their inheritance on earth.
According to Luke’s genealogy, Jesus Christ was in the 52rd generation after Joseph (Lk. 3:23-37). Jesus was unique as He was not only a person like us, but He was also the Son of God who made the universe (Lk. 1:35)! Because He was divine, Jesus lived a perfect life and did no wrong. But He was executed and then came back to life and later returned to heaven. When Jesus died He took all the punishment that we deserve so that we can go to heaven if we trust in Him. In this sense He is a Savior for all humanity.
Final words. At the age of about 33 years, after the three hours of darkness when He was suffering crucifixion, Jesus said “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). This meant that he had finished what He came to do, which was to suffer and die on our behalf. The way had been provided for sinners like us to be saved from eternal punishment and go to heaven instead. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus told His followers, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). They would tell others living across the known world about Jesus.
Lesson for us. First, we need to accept Christ’s gift of salvation, because we can’t do anything else to deserve heaven. Second, once we follow Jesus we need to share the good news about Him to others.
Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to serve in the first church at Jerusalem. He was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. Because Stephen preached powerfully about Jesus, the Jews made false accusations about him. In a long speech he listed the failures of the Jewish people, which made the Jews so furious that they stoned him to death.
Final words. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:59-60). Jesus made similar statements before He died (Lk. 23:34, 46).
Lesson for us. The more we focus on Jesus and what he has done for us, the more we become like Him.
Paul was a young Jewish leader who persecuted Christians and was associated with the stoning of Stephen. But God changed his life in a spectacular way and he became a follower of Jesus who spread across the Roman Empire the good news of Jesus had done.
Final words. In his last letter Paul wrote, “… The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He continued to trust God even though life had been difficult and the end of his service was near. He had obeyed the doctrines of the Christian faith and passed them on to others such as Timothy. Like the winner of a Greek athletic race was awarded a wreath (1 Cor. 9:25), his faithful service would be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Lesson for us. Godly people like Paul remain faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like Demas who “loved this world” and deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).
Until our final day, let’s imitate these godly men by having:
- The faith of Joseph that God keeps His promises
- The assurance of Moses that God is always with us as His Holy Spirit, who provides security and contentment.
- The godly influence of Joshua who didn’t backslide
- The message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ
- The Christ-like life of Stephen
- The perseverance of Paul who didn’t backslide
Because of the examples of these final words, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 13:1-3). If we pay careful attention to these examples “we do not drift away” from an active faith in Christ (Heb. 2:1).
Written, December 2012