New Covenant lens….

hebrews

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.  ~ Hebrews 13:4-5

I’ve been studying and teaching Hebrews for the past 4 months. We are on the last chapter … and I have learned so much. It was not an easy book to study or teach and has stretched me and challenged me outside of my comfort zone.  But it is definitely a book that has helped me understanding the benefits of the New Covenant more than anything else I’ve read.

Hebrews is such a fitting name for this Epistle.  Not because it was written to Jews, but because of what Hebrews means.  The word comes from the Hebrew verb ivri meaning “to cross over”

The very first Hebrew was Abraham and there were 2 ways in which he “crossed over”… first, he crossed over from Mesopotamia into Canaan and secondly, he crossed over from the world of idol worship that was familiar to him and his family to a new realm, one in which the One True God was worshipped instead. In both senses Abraham became forever an “ivri” – a Hebrew, one who crossed over.

That fits this Epistle so well — crossing over.  These Jews had crossed over from the familiar realm of the Old Covenant to life in the unfamiliar but liberating, grace filled New Covenant.  They were under intense persecution and were being pressured into returning to the Old and this letter was to encourage them to remain in Christ.  This letter presented to them  a contrast of the old and new covenant — and the supremacy of Jesus and the New Covenant… a far better, superior covenant.

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness;

Our study of this book was verse by verse, always keeping it in context of who it was written to and why.  When I came to chapter 13, specifically verses 4 and 5, it just seemed so out of context to command them to keep the marriage honorable and the marriage bed undefiled with the warning that God will judge the immoral and those who commit adultery.  And then in the next verse he’s telling them to live free from the love of money and be content with what they have.  Sex and money…. were those the two biggest concerns the writer of Hebrews has for these believers?

Of course we are to live holy, pure, godly lives.  Of course we are to be faithful in our marriages and sex is wrong outside of the marriage relationship.  Of course we are to not be covetous, greedy, or lovers of money.  And of course we are to be content with what God has given us.

But is that all this verse is saying?

Remember, the book of Hebrews is about the contrast of Old Covenant and New Covenant.  The writer has explained theses contrasts to us for the last 12 chapters and has warned us several times throughout this letter to not fall from grace, to not turn away from Christ (apostasy), to steer clear of idolatry and going back to Judaism, and to enter into the rest of the finished work of the cross.

So, with all of that in mind, we don’t want to look at these 2 verses through the lens of the Old Covenant pattern which is…. if I am not faithful in my marriage or if I sleep around — if I mess up!  If I sin in this area!  If I do those things, then God is going to judge me.  The problem with that “Old Covenant” lens is that He already poured out all of His judgement for my sins on Jesus.

  • Isaiah 53:5: The punishment that brought our peace was upon Him
  • 2 Cor 5:21:  He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 
  • Romans 5:8-9:  But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!

This letter was written to believers (believing Jews) not unbelievers/unsaved.  So, even if I did do those things after I’m saved, God doesn’t call me an adulterer or a whoremonger.  He calls me righteous!  He sees me as I am… not by what I do or have done.  

So who does God call the adulterer and the whoremonger?  Who does He refer to as covetous?

  • several verses in the other epistles mention sexual immorality as a false teaching — Eph 5:3-7; Jude 1:4; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 2 Peter 2:14; 1 Tim 1:3-10; 
  • Jeremiah 23:10 also talking about false prophets and calls them adulterers.
  • Sexually immoral in Heb 13:4 is the same Greek word used in Heb 12:16 to describe Esau as a fornicator.. an idolator.  — The root word is porne which means an idolatrous community.
  • Adulterers in Heb 13:4 is “moichos” which figuratively means an apostate
  • In the Old Testament, whenever Israel went into idolatry, God called it “adultery.”
  • Idolatry is spiritual adultery
  • Col 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry
  • 2 Peter 2:3  By covetousness they [the false teachers] will exploit you with deceptive words;

Historically, at the time this was written (and the other epistles), there were false teachers that had infiltrated the churches and were attempting to turn the believers away from the grace of the New Covenant…. away from it’s teachings… away from Jesus.  

What were some of the strange, false, demonic doctrines that these false teachers were teaching?

  • There were those who were forbidding marriage, believing celibacy was purity and pleasing to God (1 Tim 4:3)
  • There were those who were perverting the grace of God into a license for immorality (Jude 1:4)
  • Of course there were the Judaizers who were encouraging them to go back to the Law (which is adultery/idolatry – Romans 7:1-4)
  • All of these false teachers were motivated by greed (covetousness – love of money)

….and be content with such things as ye have:

Be content in the original language is “with the things that are present.”  Present = right now.  So, what was “present” for these Believing Jews the writer was talking to?

  • They had put their faith in Jesus alone for salvation.
  • And because of it, they were suffering intense persecution and the reality of having to flee Jerusalem and everything they had previously known
  • From all that was familiar… the temple, the priests, the sacrifices.. their family and friends.

Remember they were feeling the pressure to return to Judaism and they were being influenced by false teachers.  This is an encouragement to them not to fall back into idolatry (the Law/Old Covenant) but walk free of that because Jesus is enough.

For hasn’t He promised you that “I will never leave you; never will I forsake you  

1 Kings 8:57 — Part of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple was that the Lord would never leave them nor forsake them.  He was declaring that God had kept His promises and not one word had failed which He promised through Moses.

What a fitting thing for the writer of Hebrews to remind the people of…. he’s already told them that the New Covenant is far superior to the Mosaic covenant.   Now, he’s encouraging them that if God kept His promises and not one word failed which He promised Moses, they can trust Him to be with them and never leave or forsake them because “Jesus has obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb 8:6). 

Then he reminds them that their response because of that… because Jesus is enough…should be “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me.” (Heb 13:6)

When you begin reading the Bible through the lens of the New Covenant you begin to see things in Scripture that you never saw before…. and you truly begin to find the Father’s heartbeat.  This grace filled New Covenant is liberating!

~Robin

Naaman the Syrian

naaman the syrian

And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath   ~ Luke 4:27-28

I started this blog post 2 weeks ago but a death in my immediate family forced me to put my study on hold.  Now that life has resumed back to normal, I’m excited to start blogging once again.  We had been talking about Jesus’ teaching of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the past two blogs (see Jesus is our Jubilee and The widow of Sidon) and the people of Nazareth’s response to His teaching.  He was revealing to them that He had come to be a light and a blessing… to show forth His salvation… to the Gentiles (unbelievers) as well as the Jews.  He was reminding them of their covenant responsibility to co-labor with Him in being a blessing to ALL the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3)…. He had blessed them to be a blessing… to release that blessing to ALL we come in contact with.  

This example must’ve struck a nerve with them and just pushed them over the edge…. this example that He gave was unthinkable to their natural reasonings!  The widow represented Gentile sinners but Naaman represents much more than that… he was the captain of the Syrian army… the Syrians oppressed Israel.  They were enemies of Israel.  Much in the same way that the Romans were the oppressors of the group sitting and listening to Jesus.  Surely being a light and a blessing didn’t mean extending it to their oppressive enemies did it?  

Remember, God’s heartbeat is for the nations.  He was so intent on showing the Israelites His love and compassion for ALL people, and that ALL people can have faith in God, that He chose one of the most hated men in Israel at that time to prove it.  God in His mercy pursued Naaman…. there were MANY lepers in Israel but none of them were healed except Namaan the Syrian (Luke 4:27)  

The Syrians were always terrorizing and attacking Israel and then taking prisoners back to Syria… on one of these raids, Namaan carried off a little girl from Israel and made her his wife’s servant (2 Kings 5:2).  Chapter 5 opens with the Lord allowing Syria to win a battle, although we don’t know who the other side is.  The Bible also tells us that Naaman was mighty, honorable to his King (King Aram) and strong in battle.  But his military strength and glory were marred by an incurable disease of leprosy.    

This little girl that he kidnapped tells Namaan’s wife about the prophet Elisha and that Namaan could be healed if only he were with him.  I love the little girl in this story… she is definitely a co-laborer with God…a minister of reconciliation.  She is being a blessing to even the one who took her captive.  She has complete faith that if Namaan were to see Elisha he would be healed!  She had faith in her God that He is not only able to heal but is willing to heal…. even an enemy of Israel!

While this story in Luke 4 is a rebuke to the people that they are neglecting their covenant role of being blessed to be blessing to ALL the people of the earth… thankfully however God doesn’t just rebuke us and leave in our neglectful condition.  It is also an invitation to be His ambassadors of unconditional love… God’s love that He poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5) … to even our enemies… those who oppose us… oppress us… or even enslave us (as Namaan did to this girl).  

Namaan goes to see Elisha.  An enemy of God, one who has attacked, killed, plundered Israel, one who has leprosy… an outcast of outcasts is standing at the door of the man of God hoping to be healed.  He comes carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing and with his horse and chariot and wealth.  What a sight Namaan was… power, prestige, a commanding presence.    He had yet to acknowledge with the psalmist that “Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7).  

But rather than respond to such pomp and circumstance as Namaan was undoubtably used to people doing…. rather than come personally, Elisha sends a messenger to him telling him to go and wash 7 times in the Jordan river and he will be made clean. God alone would get the glory for healing Namaan… not Elisha… because Namaan was expecting Elisha, the prophet of God, to heal him… he didn’t even know the God of Israel yet.  His trust was in a man whom he assumed had “magical” powers.  Naaman comes from a pagan country, where his “prophets” made quite a spectacle when they healed the sick. According to the Bible Commentaries, they raised their hands in the air, and shouted for the sick to be healed.  But God was after Namaan’s heart not just in healing his physical body… He was pursuing Namaan.    

However, Naaman almost misses his miracle healing because of pride and self importance.  The first words out of his mouth were “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.  In fact he went away more than just mad… the word used means wrath, rage, full of poison and venom.  

He thought!  He had a preconceived idea of how he thought his healing would come about.  How many times have we missed or almost missed our miracle because we thought God would do something the way we preconceived it?  We had it all figured out in our minds!  Thank God He is not bound to the limitations of our preconceived ideas or the boundaries of our thinking!!  Let’s let go of our limited expectations and have faith in the God of Israel and His limitless way of manifesting miracles in our life.

Naaman thought the resources he trusted in were better than what God was providing.  He said the rivers in Damascus are better than Israel…. they are tov.  Tov is good… to be in proper working order, the way it was meant to… the way God created it to work.  Naaman’s pagan ways were far from tov!  He lived in a culture that didn’t function the way God created us to live.  We were created to love Him… not to serve false gods. 

He was asked to do nothing less than to betray the faith of his fathers. He was being asked to be willing to acknowledge that there was a possibility that Israel’s God could do something the Syrian god was unable to do. Naaman would have to let go of everything he trusted in and trust God for his healing.  The Jordan means to descend… Namaan would have to humble himself… to descend… to lower himself in order to be made clean.  And this was exactly what Jesus was saying to the people in the synagogue listening to Him that day… if they wanted salvation, they were going to have to let go of everything they trusted in… their adherence to the law…their good works…. and admit they were the poor, the blind, the oppressed, unclean.. that they were no different from Namaan.. or for that matter their Roman oppressors…in need of a Savior.    Instead of responding to the rebuke and the invitation to release His goodness and His presence… His salvation…. to the Gentiles (the unbelievers), they responded with offense.  

So, after being encouraged by his servant to do what was asked of him, he steps out in faith and humbles himself by dipping in the dirty Jordan 7 times.  Naaman experienced the overwhelming power, presence, and mercy of Israel’s God and his whole attitude changed.  Naaman had a whole-hearted transformation: “Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.’”  When Naaman goes back to Elisha’s house – he’s a changed man! There is no mention of horses and chariots this time as he returns to Elisha.  And he doesn’t just declare the goodness of God but that God is the only God in the entire world.  This is a radical statement for a man of his time, living in a polytheistic society.

Naaman’s God is now the God of Israel and he declares he will only make sacrifices and offerings to God. Before he didn’t want to wash in the Jordan River, because the waters of Damascus, were better than any of the waters of Israel, and now he wants to take dirt from Israel (v 17). The Bible Commentaries say: he wants to take dirt because God’s presence was in Israel.  His solution to worshiping in Syria was to take Israeli dirt with him.  He asks God to forgive him, when he has to bow to other “gods” because of his obligation to the king. This gentile, knows it’s a sin to bow down to any other “god” that isn’t the God of Israel.  Elisha blesses him and tells him to go in peace.  Luke 4:27 Jesus says there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”  God’s heart is for the Nations…. Naaman was a changed man… a spiritually cleansed man all because of one little Jewish girl who had compassion on him… her oppressor.