how to save a nation
How is a nation or a people saved from destruction? When they have lost their way, when they have fallen from grace, when they have gone so far down the rabbit hole that there appears no way out, how can they be recovered? What can we personally do, what can we as individuals do to help stave off an approaching national calamity? Are we just waving lanterns at a runaway train, or is there something else, something more that can be done?
There is a sobering account given us in the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of the book of GENESIS concerning a couple of evil and wicked cities and their calamitous end. We read there of how the great patriarch Abraham saw what was coming and attempted to save this land from its doom. Thus, this remarkable incident may hold for us the key to preserving any land or country which has turned away from GOD and HIS righteousness, and may very well tell us what we as individuals can do that might help preserve and prolong that which is otherwise destined for destruction.
This curious narrative is centered upon a conversation, a barter if you will, which Abraham had with the LORD concerning whether or not the city of Sodom would or would not be destroyed. He reasoned to GOD's righteousness in appealing for the city's salvation.
- GENESIS 18:23-33 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
- And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
- And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes: peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five?
- And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
- And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there.
- And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
- And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: peradventure there shall thirty be found there.
- And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
- And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: peradventure there shall be twenty found there.
- And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
- And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: peradventure ten shall be found there.
- And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake. And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.
We find it most extraordinary that Abraham was on such intimate relations with GOD Almighty that he was comfortable with negotiating and bartering with his Maker. Evidently he doubted that fifty righteous men could be found in that city so he haggled his way down to just ten. Thus, Abraham was confident that GOD would spare this evil city if even just ten righteous persons could be found there.
Abraham knew that the righteous would not be destroyed with the wicked. Experience had taught him that the Judge of the earth would do right. What would preserve the city was just one fellowship of ten righteous persons. As such, what the record plainly tells us is that what GOD looked for among all of the evil and wickedness, was virtue. But if HE could not find even one righteous fellowship within that wicked city, then HIS justice was called for and required; the place must then be destroyed.
The lesson for us today is that if we want to save our land, if we want to stave off its impending doom, then at least some of us must learn to be righteous. We ourselves must become those righteous, godly individuals which stand in the gap. Righteous and godly and virtuous persons are who GOD looks for before pronouncing judgment upon a city or nation.
- 2 CHRONICLES 16:9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. . . .
Indeed, the LORD is not bent on looking for someone to destroy, but rather HE is searching for and seeking someone to save and rescue. HE wants to find people who are willing to turn from their lost and erring ways to HIM. Thus, if there is a sufficient number of persons in a community or nation who are willing to give up their froward ways, then GOD's judgment may very well be averted.
We should note and recognize that it is usually only a remnant of a people which carry the rest. It is inevitably the few, the handful which are able to turn the tide of unbelief. Rarely if ever does the majority awaken to godliness and virtue. Most are just spiritual hitchhikers, content to ride along upon the faith of the called and the chosen.
Scripture is filled full of incidents of a single individual, or perhaps a few believers leading their community or nation through some great ordeal or unto some great feat. Unfortunately scripture also tells us that after such great causes or righteous endeavors have brought or achieved a deliverance, that time seems to erase the memory of that event. Others then step in and steal the show, so to speak. The unrighteous and uncaring, the greedy and selfish somehow are able to climb or elbow their way to the top, to the positions of power and influence, so as to take the helm of the vessel to divert it to their own selfish desires.
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The story looks to always be the same. After some particular struggle is overcome and a people or individual is given wealth and comfort and power, then either he or his descendants forget the source of this goodness and begin to abuse their fortunate position by mistreating and abusing their associates and neighbors. Either that or they just get sidetracked by the pleasures and treasures of their good fortune and begin to disregard the real purpose for all which GOD had given them, which is to do good and learn to be godly.
We learn of Eli's sons becoming dishonest and corrupt scoundrels (1 SAMUEL 2) and thus being supplanted by Samuel. But then we read of Samuel's sons also taking bribes and corrupting judgment (1 SAMUEL 8:3). History appears to repeat itself one generation after another. A righteous godly individual is chosen and set up to lead GOD's people out of some danger or peril, but then when his heirs come to power they often know nothing of the true way or the righteous paths and wander into their own sin and debauchery. Scripture tells us that it had been this same way for ages.
- JUDGES 2:10 And also all that generation [Joshua's] were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
This record in JUDGES relates how that new generation deserted the LORD, and so they were delivered into the hands of their enemies, becoming themselves greatly distressed. Howbeit, in the succeeding years GOD raised them up judges which delivered them from oppression time and again, but as soon as that judge had died the majority of them returned to their former evil ways. Thus, they were only partially and temporarily delivered from their enemies so that they could be proved and tested so as to see who was going to keep the way of the LORD and walk therein (2:18-21).
As such, each generation had to be taught anew the lessons of truth. Each needed to learn for themselves the consequences of unbelief and disobedience and rebellion. Each must be taught, if they would listen, the same tried truths which their ancestors had also had to learn.
After this period of the Judges we are told of Saul being raised from his lowly status to king of his nation (1050-1010 B.C.). But he then grew to become selfish and jealous of his newfound position, plotting and conniving and pursuing his loyal subject David, to have him killed. We then read of king David's grandson and chosen heir of Solomon, Rehoboam, rejecting the wise counsel of the elders and thus instigating a civil war (922 B.C.) wherein ten of the twelve tribes of Israel seceded from their nation, overthrowing all of the great goodness GOD had blessed them with (1 KINGS 12 & 2 CHRONICLES 10).
Eventually those ten rebel tribes themselves where overthrown by Assyrian enemies and carried off to slavery into distant lands (721 B.C.). Some time later, the remaining two tribes were themselves captured, and many of their citizens carried away to hard bondage in Babylon (587 B.C.). Then for seventy years the Promised Land was a sad wreck, a desolate and forsaken Land overrun by thieves and robbers, and overgrown with thorns and briars (ISAIAH 32:13).
All of the struggles of the previous generations seemed to be for nought; GOD promising this Land to Abraham and his heirs, Moses leading the nation out of bondage in Egypt into this Promised Land, and then under the leadership of men like Joshua and David the Jews were able to overcome their adversaries to finally establish the all powerful and all prevailing glorious kingdom of Solomon. But then it all got ripped in two and was torn apart. Then everything degenerated and fell to pieces because they did not or would not stay faithful to GOD's word.
- ISAIAH 1:19-20 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
This is not to say that prayers and preaching and teaching the word won't avert and delay a coming judgment. It will and often does (JAMES 5:16). We read in scripture of the reforms of the kings Hezekiah (715-687/6 B.C.) and Josiah (640-609 B.C.) who were each able to change their wayward nation from self-destruction to the righteous path. No doubt the influence of the prophets Isaiah and Micah impacted greatly Hezekiah, as did Jeremiah with king Josiah. These godly prophets contributed much to their nation's turning from the evil ways of their fathers.
- MICAH 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
- ISAIAH 1:16-17 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
- JEREMIAH 9:24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.
This is what the prophets taught that the LORD looked for and delighted in; justice, lovingkindness and mercy. HE was not searching for proud boys or even a moral majority, but rather for those few who strove to walk humbly with HIM. HE was looking for righteousness, for godliness, for virtue. These are what turns away HIS anger and wrath, not blind confidence in one's own stubborn ability. GOD isn't searching for a people or a nation with a strong military. Nor is HE looking for a land with a rich and noble history. Rather, GOD seeks out a remnant who will choose to believe HIS word and thus become those righteous, godly and virtuous individuals that can stand in the gap (ISAIAH 66:2).
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As such, king Hezekiah humbled himself and took the prophet's words to heart and repented of the path his nation had taken, turning them from their own self-destruction.
- 2 KINGS 18:3-7 And he [Hezekiah] did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
- He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses.
- And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth . . . .
But as the pendulum swings both ways, the righteous remnant of a nation or people must be continually and persistently on their guard against the temptings of selfishness and rebellion. Freedom and truth are rarely more than a generation away from being set aside or snuffed out. As such, after Hezekiah died his son Manasseh arose to power, who did not regard the words which the prophets had taught. Thus the nation and people were again plunged into misery and led away from the LORD unto sin and treachery (2 CHRONICLES 33) and eventual enslavement (JEREMIAH 15:4).
These scripture lessons were designed to teach us that the purpose of this present earthly life is learning, not lounging. Each generation in every age must be taught the lessons of rebellion and obedience, of selfishness and lovingkindness. Each and every individual must have the opportunity to learn what it means to reject his Creator, thus finding himself standing alone on the edge of the abyss. But then he can also learn what it means to be forgiven and gathered under GOD's loving care and guidance.
The scriptures were written and preserved that we might have access to many of the lessons which former generations so often failed to learn. The words of the prophets were given so as to teach doctrine, reproof and correction that the hearers might discover how to become righteous (2 TIMOTHY 3.16-17). Let us therefore consider and ponder just what were the central and all pervading themes which the prophets taught? What were their repeated messages and warnings to their fellow countrymen? What words did GOD give Isaiah, Micah and others which eventually turned the remnant of their nation and people from the evil ways of their ancestors to the righteous path of truth and goodness?
In the fortieth chapter of his book, Isaiah described a voice which came to him instructing him to Cry out a message to his nation! The prophet then asked, What shall I cry? and the voice answered with this brief but vital and all important word,
- All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower's. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of Yahweh blows upon them. (The grass is without doubt the people.) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains forever. (Jerusalem Bible, verses 6 -8)
Isaiah was instructed here to fearlessly and boldly declare to his listeners and warn them that all of their pomp and splendor, all of their comforts and majesty was utterly fleeting and could very well all be snuffed out in a moment. All which many of them valued and prized was no more lasting or dependable than the withering grass or the fading flower. Only the words of GOD could be trusted or depended upon.
The message was practically the same centuries later when the apostle James asked his readers, "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (JAMES 4:14). Their only concern seemed to be for the profits they anticipated (verse 13) when they traded with that doomed city, Jerusalem (see Francis Bassett's The Catholic Epistle of St. James, page 64).
Little did many in this nation realize that they were again on the brink of total collapse, yet they were living and acting and treating the prophets' words as foolishness. As James wrote, they were heaping treasure together for the last days, and this very gold and silver was going to be a witness against them (JAMES 4:3). We can well imagine that at the resurrection when they tried to deny their selfish evil ways, the Judge would simply point to the treasures they had accumulated and the case would then be closed and their sentence pronounced.
Many in that generation had not taken to heart Yeshua's (Jesus') command to help the less fortunate and do good to even those which hated them (MATTHEW 5:44). Instead they despised the poor (JAMES 2:6), they with-held the laborer's wages (JAMES 5:4) and they condemned and killed the just (JAMES 5:6). Too many lived for themselves and turned a cold shoulder upon the needy. They forgot that the reason they had been blessed with all of the good things of life was so that they would be able to help others. Instead they often turned a blind eye. They thought only of this life and its pleasures and treasures and regarded not the next life and all of its eternal rewards (MATTHEW 6:20).
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As such, we would do well to keep in mind just how fragile, frail and feeble this earthly life really is. All of our accomplishments will pass away and be forgotten in a short period of time. Thus king Solomon wisely warned that one should remember his Creator while they were still young (ECCLESIASTES 12:1); no doubt so that they would have an entire lifetime to learn the necessary lessons of life. According to Vine's Dictionary, this word remember is from the Hebrew word zakar, which has to do with retaining something or someone in one's thoughts.
The word was used in many significant passages throughout the Hebrew Bible. First in GENESIS 8:1 when it was written that "GOD remembered Noah" and thus caused the waters of the great flood to recede. It is again used when "GOD remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow" of Sodom (GENESIS 19:29). In EXODUS 6:5 it is again applied to GOD remembering HIS covenant when HE sent Moses to rescue HIS people out of their bondage in Egypt. As such, Solomon's instruction to remember GOD means more than just having a brief and fleeting thought of HIM. It has the sense of being moved or motivated in some powerful and significant way by those thoughts of GOD.
This present life's chief purpose is to teach us how to be righteous, how to be godly, how to be virtuous. Indeed, this life's primary aim is so as to prepare us for the next life. Thus, the first great lesson for us to learn is that this life, this existence is as brief as a vapor, and apart from the resurrection we also will someday whither and vanish away as does the grass under the heat of a blistering sun.
The entire reason we are given life is so as to learn to be righteous. It is GOD's intention that we acquire discipline and devotion so as to grow and produce the fruit of the spirit. All of our experiences and relationships are for the express purpose of teaching us and guiding us in the way of righteousness. We are not here for seventy or so years just to fill our bucket list or become financially stable. We are being prepared for the next life, the after-life, the life which endures beyond the grave.
This is the little known truth which Yeshua learned and revealed to His followers. Don't waste away the few years we are given on frivolous and trivial pursuits. Don't let the pleasures and treasures of this life sidetrack us from our real purpose. Instead, learn to discipline our minds to faithfully adhere to GOD's words.
If one wants to know what it takes to be righteous, then simply study and master Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount. There Yeshua was attempting to point His followers heavenward; He was directing them to a new and better way. He was revealing unto them the path which leads to righteousness. Not the broad and wide way which leads to destruction but the narrow way which leads to eternal life, which few seem to find (MATTHEW 7:13-14).
But the recognition and realization that this present life was so fragile and fleeting was only the first part of the prophets' warning. More importantly and perhaps even more vital for the listener of truth, was the rest of their message which spoke of GOD's greatness.
- ISAIAH 40:12-18 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?
- Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counseller hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?
- Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance . . . . All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
- To whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
The great sin of our own age is that for the most part we have crowded GOD out of HIS creation. Too many have believed the lie that the heavens and the earth just grew out of nothing, or out of some primordial slime or space dust. It is the height of arrogance and ignorance to suppose that a single living cell, far more complicated than any modern computer, just evolved over time from natural causes or timely accidents; let alone the creation of the eyeball, or the human brain, or the billions of stars and planets circling in their precise and calculated orbits.
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Isaiah continued in this same chapter questioning those who chose dumb idols over and before their Creator.
- ISAIAH 40:21-22 Jerusalem Bible Did you not know, had you not heard? Was it not told you from the beginning? Have you not understood how the earth was founded?
- He [GOD] lives above the circle of the earth, its inhabitants look like grasshoppers.
- He has stretched out the heavens like a cloth, spread them like a tent for men to live in.
The Creator has spread out the boundless expanse of space and filled it with stars and galaxies as a moving and unfolding exposition, illuminating the vast ceiling for our planet. What few earthlings seem to realize is that these heavenly bodies all tell the great story of the ages. They speak of GOD's plan of redemption which was all laid out plainly in the movements of the twelve constellations, from Virgo (the virgin) to Leo (the Lion).
Then speaking further of the heavenly bodies, Isaiah states;
- ISAIAH 40:25-26 Jerusalem Bible 'To whom could you liken me and who could be my equal?' says the Holy One.
- Lift your eyes and look. Who made the stars if not he who drills them like an army, calling each one by name?
- So mighty is his power, so great is his strength, that not one fails to answer.
The prophet as well as the psalmist (PSALMS 147:4) reminded his listeners that the stars were all named by GOD. When the student takes the time to ferret this out, he learns that originally GOD gave descriptive names to the heavenly bodies and the twelve constellations so as to show and tell the story of the ages, from GENESIS 3:15 to REVELATION 22:16. For further insight, the interested reader may want to consult E. W. Bullinger's fascinating work, The Witness of the Stars.
Thus, to think and teach that our astonishing Universe is simply the result of the accidental collision of gases and atoms, is to be horribly and hopelessly deceived. The actual truth is so utterly obvious and evident that one is astounded to hear the nonsense emanating from the professors of evolutionary theory. That reptiles became birds as the result of them being unable to catch their prey by only running, so they began leaping and then flying is such an absurd supposition that it defies intelligent consideration. That these lizards lost their scales to develop interwoven and layered feathers, and then somehow developed hollow bones to make them more abler for flight, only proves how little evolutionary adherents think through some of their tenets. See the Study, Consider the Lillies.
Isaiah then went on in this same chapter to remind them that this tireless GOD also created the earth;
- ISAIAH 40:28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. (see also ISAIAH 37:16; 66:1-2 & JEREMIAH 10:11-16)
One might wonder then, why would it even bother the great Creator of the heavens and the earth, why would it irritate or annoy HIM, whether or not HIS poor insignificant creatures recognized and worshipped HIM? If all nations are as nothing, if mankind is as insignificant as a bunch of grasshoppers, then why is GOD Almighty offended when they go and worship a stone, or a tree or something they themselves have invented and fashioned as their god? Of what great matter could it be to the Creator if HIS creation wanted to reject HIM as their Maker and instead believe the lie that all of life just evolved over the ages?
The cold hard fact is that it doesn't bother HIM, at least not to the degree that HE would seek to punish them for their idolatry. What the Creator is concerned for is the remnant, the few who do believe and worship HIM. All the rest are simply unfortunate souls which furnish sad and failed examples of stubborn obstinance to GOD and HIS word.
GOD may sometimes use the unrighteous and ungodly as illustrations to show how not to live, and the fateful consequences for those who thus reject HIS instructions and directions, but of course GOD does not take pleasure in unbelief. We see in scripture HIM repeatedly encouraging the fallen and wayward to choose the right path (DEUTERONOMY 30:19 & MATTHEW 18:12-13), but each individual is responsible for the choices he makes.
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Paul further wrote that the scriptures themselves were written for just that purpose, for our learning.
- ROMANS 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
The scriptures were written for instruction concerning the hope of a future life, after resurrection (14:10-12). This is why they were written and preserved, so as to teach us and give us the necessary tools so as to be prepared for that life, for the responsibilities we will find ourselves accounted with there. But as Isaiah noted, it is usually only a very small remnant that hear and answer that call.
- ISAIAH 1:9 Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
As such, Lot escaped the destruction of Sodom because he was righteous. GOD's concern is especially for HIS elect, HIS servants, HIS devotees. Those are the ones HE preserves and teaches and brings to maturity. All the rest are only unfortunate casualties. Each by his own decision decides which way he will go, whether towards the truth or towards the lie. It is no doubt that by one's own choosing his life is often cut short and extinguished. It is also according to the choices he makes whether or not he is to be resurrected into GOD's eternal kingdom.
When one strips off all of the high sounding platitudes and philosophical jargon, idolatry is not much more than a person stubbornly determining for himself his own selfish course in life. Mankind generally wants to live as he sees fit. He doesn't want and doesn't think that he needs anyone to tell him what to do or what not to do. Whether it's his parents, his teachers, his elected officials or his preacher, he wants to do it his way. So it also is with his Creator. If he can do away with a Creator then he doesn't have to answer to HIM either, or so he thinks.
The ancients did this by making and fashioning stone and wooden idols, which incidentally couldn't see or hear or talk. Modern man does it by creating his own Universe where everything came from nothing. All has evolved, so they think and teach, so what need we of a Creator? Now we can make our own rules. No longer do we need to be under the thumb of some all powerful and all knowing Creator. We can break free from the tether and run wild, if we so choose.
But none of it really upsets GOD's purposes or intentions. HE carries on with HIS own work of calling and redeeming those few who seek and strive to enter into the narrow gate (MATTHEW 7:14). HE masterfully uses the world's fallen and errant ways as learning tools to alert and educate HIS chosen so that they can be trained to avoid all of the pitfalls that swallow up the unbelievers and GOD rejectors.
GOD is mostly concerned with making HIS own followers righteous, and godly and virtuous, for the next life. If others choose to reject GOD and HIS ways, that doesn't throw GOD's plans into chaos. GOD simply cuts them loose and lets them drift out into the vast ocean of doubt and confusion, as they continue on to their own destruction and demise.
In the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, Paul gives us added insight into the causes and reasons why some individuals choose an ungodly and unrighteous lifestyle. He also thrice alludes to this idea that GOD cuts unbelievers loose so as to let them pursue their own ruin.
- ROMANS 1:18 For the wrath [orge] of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [katecho] the truth in unrighteousness.
The Greek word orge, which this version renders as wrath, deserves a brief comment. Of course we know that Almighty GOD does not get angry or mad, for those are purely human traits. Thus, when a passage attributes to GOD human characteristics, that is simply a figure of speech as if one might say that the ground is thirsty. The ground cannot have a human felling of thirst, but that paints for the listener a more picturesque and graphic description than simply saying that the ground was dry. So when Paul wrote that GOD was angry, that sketched for his readers a scene where HE was represented as perhaps fuming, or slamming his fist down upon the table. In other words, HE is pictured as really being ticked off.
There is another Greek word here which we should also note. It is the word katecho, translated here as hold. The word's first occurrence (which usually provides great insight into a word's meaning) is in an interesting and enlightening parable which Yeshua shared with His followers. It is somewhat lengthy but important so we will give it entirely as Matthew recorded it, according to the King James Version.
- MATTHEW 21:33-45 Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen [tenants], and went into a far country:
- And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.
- Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.
- But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize [katecho] on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
- When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
- Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
- Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
- And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
Several things should be noted here. First, these tenants who had been given charge of the master's vineyard wanted it for themselves, so they wickedly slew his servants and son, thus thinking to seize the property as their own. This word seize (katecho in the Greek) is the very word Paul used in his letter to the Romans to describe the action of the unrighteous and ungodly in regard to the truth.
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With this association of katecho in these two passages, we can better understand that Paul was writing that unrighteous and ungodly men had seized and took possession of the truth for their own gains. They were selfishly wanting it for their own profit and were little interested in unfolding it to the believers. Instead, as Paul subsequently wrote, they used and manipulated it to further their own ungodly lifestyle, changing it for the lie (verse 25). They corrupted it by watering it down (2 CORINTHIANS 2:17), and they handled it deceitfully (2 CORINTHIANS 4:2), even transforming themselves to appear as the apostles of Christ (2 CORINTHIANS 11:13). Thus, just because someone holds a Bible in his hands and appears to be real sincere, that means little as to whether or not he is speaking the truth.
The second thing for us to recognize from Yeshua's parable is that regardless of the actions of these unrighteous and ungodly men, GOD was in complete control. As Yeshua revealed, "The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner".
The head of the corner was the keystone which would eventually be centered above a doorway, locking the other stones together. But because of this stone's irregular shape, as the walls were being erected it might at first be set aside as un-usable. But then when the masons came to the place where they discovered that it's odd shape and size would fit perfectly into the space upon which the other stones were to rest, it was then recovered and laid in it's place.
In other words, though GOD's purposes may be temporarily set aside and might sometimes appear to be thwarted, they never are. GOD only allows the unrighteous to appear to triumph, when in reality they are all just furthering HIS own purposes.
In returning to Paul's letter to the Romans, we further read how he itemized and detailed their sin to show the course of their demise.
- ROMANS 1:19-22 The Jerusalem Bible For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and diety- however invisible- have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made.
- That is why such people are without excuse: they knew God and yet they refused to honour him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew . . . .
Ignoring and rejecting the clear evidence of a Creator, that the creation points to a Creator, there was and still is no excuse for a person's ungodly and unrighteous behavior. When such people stand before HIS judgment throne after their own resurrection, and have to answer for how they chose to live their lives, they will have no defense or justification for their evil and selfish ways. They might be able to invent excuses for it here in this life, but in the next life, before an omnipotent GOD they will be hard pressed to present a justification for their blind folly.
The obvious purpose of a creation is to point us to the Creator. Thus, being thankful for HIS blessings on our lives is probably one of the first things that sets our hearts on a course to find and know HIM. But without admitting a Creator, without acknowledging HIS eternal power and godhead, we have little or nothing to be truly thankful for. We can't thank a god we won't admit exists, even though HE showers us with countless blessings.
What blessings? Maybe just the miracle of the Bible. The plain fact that it has been preserved down through the ages, despite the countless attempts of ruthless persecutors or misguided theologians and scholars to extinguish it, is more of a wonder than we can ever appreciate.
How about our Nation? The forefathers crafted a document endeavoring to protect us from evil and wicked rulers which had for eons worked and conspired to enslave their people. The only thing we have to do to enjoy these blessings of liberty is to crawl out of bed each morning. Most of us also have the great blessing of health, and employment and confidence that we can journey out each day without too much concern with being mugged or killed. Numberless others on this planet have few if any of these blessings.
How about the phenomenon of color? What a great blessing it is to be able to enjoy the beautiful array of flowers in a meadow, or the stunning glory of a sunset. How about sound? That we can talk with one another and share our thoughts, our fears and our loves is truly remarkable. The fact that we can vocalize our thoughts, which sound waves then carry as words into another person's ears, and then these sounds are mystically transformed into their thoughts, is nothing other than fantastic. And what a great blessing it is that we can enjoy music. What is the evolutionary purpose of music? It, like the songbirds of the morning are some more of the wonderful gifts and blessings from our Creator.
Paul wrote here that the empty minds of the thankless were thus filled with nonsense, inventing all kinds of silly and stupid philosophical theories. Even though they thought themselves to be wise, even though they might have convinced their students and colleagues that they were in possession of the truth, they were actually fools; blind fools leading other blind fools along with them to their doom.
In verse 24 Paul wrote that GOD gave them up to pursue the vile desires of their own hearts. Then again in verse 26 he wrote that GOD gave them up unto shameful degrading passions. Then for the third time in verse 28 Paul wrote that GOD gave them up because they did not see fit or think GOD worthy to be retained in their minds.
This word translated in verse 28 as retained is from the Greek word dokimazo which has the sense of having recognized an object as genuine only after its examination (The New Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon). Of course, shutting their eyes to the fact that the creation was evidence of a Creator, refusing to even acknowledge GOD as their Maker, they had little or no inclination to retain thoughts of a Creator in their minds.
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Thus, GOD cut them loose to go and pursue their own demise. Each of us is given freedom of choice to either grow into an understanding of who GOD is or to close our eyes to GOD's reality and go our own way. Of course our end is determined by the choices we make, or have made.
Howbeit, GOD's justice upon a nation or people is rarely immediate. HIS warnings and threatenings may echo over the course of many years, sometimes centuries. Thus, for the sake of HIS righteous remnant GOD may postpone a deserved judgment upon a Land or people; or as the result of prayers and intercessions HE may delay or temporarily set aside HIS wrath, but that should never lead us to think that HE excuses evil or will not hold accountable an individual's ungodly lifestyle. Unless one genuinely repents, he is not going to get away with anything. But if and when that ultimate national or personal collapse finally comes, it will no doubt be swift and complete.
This was exactly the situation in the first century when Yeshua and His disciples warned their fellow countrymen of their own impending doom. For forty long years His disciples continually shouted out warnings of the nation's coming demise.
- ACTS 2:40 He [Peter] spoke to them for a long time using many arguments, and he urged them, 'Save yourselves from this perverse generation' [DEUTERONOMY 32:5].
It was the same old song, just a different generation with different prophets. Isaiah, and Micah, and Jeremiah had performed their dutiful and often difficult tasks centuries before, and now a new set of prophets were restating and re-warning their own generation.
How were they to save themselves from that perverse generation? A few had pleaded with Peter, 'What must we do?' He then answered, 'You must repent!' (ACTS 2:37-38). That was the primary action that was demanded. If they wanted to stave off the approaching doom, then the nation needed to repent and be converted.
- ACTS 3:19-21 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets . . . .
For four decades these new prophets tirelessly attempted to get them to heed the warnings of this approaching collapse but for the most part few believed and amended their ways. Some even reasoned that because nothing had changed despite the many previous warnings, therefore it was a safe bet that no catastrophe was nearing. Not being students of history, not realizing that this same old song and dance had been played out many times before, they rejected the clear evidence of what lie ahead for their nation.
- 2 PETER 3:3-4 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
This "promise of His coming" referred to the return of Christ when He was to punish those evil tenants who had wickedly seized the vineyard, as is minutely laid out in REVELATION. Then at that time He would also reward His own servants with resurrection into eternal life (MATTHEW 16:24-29 & 1 THESSALONIANS 4:15-18).
But many didn't see the coming catastrophe because they were wholly focused on this present life, on its trifling pursuits. They evidently didn't consider and ponder how fragile this present life was. They didn't think about moth and rust destroying their earthly treasures, so they failed to store away any heavenly treasures. In other words, when the day of reckoning finally arrived, they were absolutely bankrupt.
Thus, as seekers of that heavenly kingdom, we today we must continually drive our minds towards and into GOD'S word and refuse to be sidetracked by the philosophies or pleasures and treasures of this present life. We must learn to discipline and train our minds to think and act in righteous, godly ways. We must put off the old man and put on the new. As Paul elsewhere wrote,
- EPHESIANS 4:22-24 NEB . . . . you must lay aside that old human nature which, deluded by its lusts, is sinking towards death. You must be made new in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature of God's creating, which shows itself in the just and devout life called for by the truth.
A just and devout life is the only evidence that one has laid aside the old man and is learning to put on the new nature. John the Baptist demanded to see the fruits of his listeners' repentance (MATTHEW 3:8) and Yeshua revealed that only by their fruits can we know whether or not a person is genuine (MATTHEW 7:16). As such, GOD's word must cause a change, a transformation (ROMANS 12:2) in a person's life and lifestyle to be authentic.
And again in another of Paul's letters,
- COLOSSIANS 3:8-10 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Scripture's message is that we must put off and lay aside our old ways and begin to walk according to the righteous way. We must quit acting in the selfish manner within which the old nature would have us act, and instead begin to learn the new way of goodness and righteousness and godliness. We must feed that new man which is being created within us.
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This is what GOD looks for before allowing a people or nation to be let go or cut off. If there is a national repentance then GOD's wrath may very well be averted. But if not, if they continue to focus wholly on the trivial pursuits of this petty life, then we should not be surprised if GOD again wipes the slate clean and starts anew. Even so, as with past ages and histories, we can expect that the righteous will find a way out.
It is the contention of this Study, that not only is righteousness and godliness possible to achieve, but that is the express purpose for which we came into this world. Indeed, it is of the upmost importance for us and our times for men and women to learn how to become righteous and godly and virtuous.
- 1 JOHN 3:7, 10 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. . . . In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
Doeth righteousness and doeth not righteousness! These are active verbs. They require action on our part. This is not what is sometimes referred to as a son-ship right, where GOD taps us with HIS magic wand instantly making us righteous. This is us doing something to become righteous or not doing it to remain unrighteous.
Yeshua likened the kingdom of heaven to a fishing net which gathered both good and bad.
- MATTHEW 13:47-50 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world [age]: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The simple truth He was endeavoring to illustrate with this parable, was that in the resurrection, when men were to be gathered together unto GOD's judgment, that there would be both good and bad, worthless and worthy. It will then be shown which were righteous and godly and virtuous and which were not (ECCLESIASTES 12:14). It will then be known which individuals wasted away their lives on meaningless and trivial pursuits, and which devoted themselves to discipleship and the obtaining the spiritual fruit (the reader may want to consider the Study, Nurturing and Harvesting the Fruit of the Spirit).
When they receive their sentence, those destined for destruction will only then realize their foolishness. But then it will no doubt be too late. Then there will only be wailing and gnashing of teeth. But they were not going to wail and gnash because of the fires of hell. Those fires were intended only for the purpose of destruction, not punishment (see Hell Fire). Rather they will be sad and mad because of the sentence of guilt being pronounced upon them.
That each individual is responsible for his own life, his own decisions, Paul fully explained in this same letter to the Romans.
- ROMANS 6:13, 16, 19 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. . . . Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? . . . . I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
To yield is the repeated theme in these passages, but it is really a poor choice for the Greek word paristemi from which it was translated. Its meaning isn't like yielding to oncoming traffic or yielding to a more powerful opponent. Rather, its sense is to cause something or someone to stand close by, so as to present them to others (Bulinger's Lexicon), and then in that presentation to demonstrate or show the quality of the person or thing exhibited (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon). Consider the like occurences in ACTS 1:3; 2 CORINTHIANS 11:2; EPHESIANS 5:27 & 2 TIMOTHY 2:15.
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Thus, Paul was writing in ROMANS that his readers should exercise do care because when they stood before the judgment throne of GOD, that their own works were going to give valuable testimony either for or against them (verses 4-11). "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" (verse 12). As such, do not present yourselves as instruments of unrighteousness. Do not present yourselves as the slaves of sin. Do not present yourselves as slaves to uncleanness. Instead, present yourselves unto GOD as slaves to righteousness and holiness.
- 2 THESSALONIANS 1:5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
How else are we to understand this passage except that some are going to be counted worthy while some are not? It all must have to do with their lifestyle. How did they invest their time and energies while in this present life? How did they respond to the doctrine, reproof and correction of the scriptures? Did they change and adjust their trajectory or did they shrug off and turn away from the LORD's instruction?
- HEBREWS 12:11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
I don't know how it could have been said any plainer or clearer. The chastening or instruction and training of the LORD (verse 5) produces the fruit of righteousness. GOD's intention is to train HIS children to be righteous and godly and virtuous. But HIS purpose is not just for us to be righteous, and godly and virtuous. Not to have these fruit as a badge upon their chest. Evidently we are progressively being made righteous so as to better serve HIM, both in this life and the next. We know little of the responsibilities we will have in the next life, after resurrection, but righteousness and godliness will be obvious prerequisites.
- REVELATION 22:11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
This is a very important and curious passage. John was writing to those individuals who were to shortly enter into the Day of the LORD at Yeshua's return in 70 A.D. (see the Study, Whatever Happened to Timothy?). They were on the cusp of a new age when the old dispensation was to be wiped away with the total destruction by the Romans of the Jewish temple and city and nation-hood. His comment in this passage meant and referred to the fact that the time was so short before this event came to pass (REVELATION 1:1; 22:10) that it was now too late for any of them to change who they were.
If they had already developed within them the righteous and godly fruit, then they would enter that Day as righteous. But if they hadn't, if they had failed to respond and repent to the word of GOD, if they were still unjust and selfish and envious, then the time was too short for a change. This is how they would enter into the next life and face their Judge (see The Parousia by J. Stuart Russell, page 531).
One of the great keys we possess so as to save this country or nation from destruction, is to learn ourselves to become good and generous and forgiving. As we grow to show forth these righteous and godly traits, as we recognize GOD opening doors for us so as to help the downtrodden and reach out to the needy, we will be doing our best to stave off an impending doom.
This current time is not the worst situation this nation has ever had to face. It was born in adversity when George Washington led a defeated and rag tag pathetic group of militia on to defeat the greatest and most powerful Empire in the world. How did he do it? How did he rise above every imaginable obstacle which was thrown in his path? How did he manage to astound the world with his remarkable victory? Because he was foremost a man of prayer, and GOD honored his moral and good life by helping him overcome the seemingly impossible.
The following quote is from one of his contemporaries, a renown Lutheran pastor, the Reverend Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, dated May 7th, 1778.
- I heard a fine example today, namely, that his Excellency General Washington rode around among his army yesterday and admonished each and every one to fear God, to put away the wickedness that has set in and become so general, and to practice the Christian virtues. From all appearances this gentleman does not belong to the so-called world of society, for he respects God's Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness. Therefore the Lord God has also singularly, yea, marvelously, preserved him from harm in the midst of countless perils, ambuscades, fatigues, etc. and has hitherto graciously held him in his hand as a chosen vessel.
The nation found itself in perhaps an even worse situation when certain leaders and plantation owners of the slave states led their citizens into a disastrous rebellion. Fortunately for the peoples of both sides, GOD had prepared another great but unassuming leader, Abraham Lincoln, to somehow hold this fractured nation together. We should note that he also was preeminently a man of prayer. He knew the Union could only survive by GOD's mercy and grace upon its people, and again against all odds, he too saw success.
After his election to the Presidency, as he prepared to leave Illinois for Washington D.C., in February, 1861 he gave these few remarks to those who waited to see his train depart.
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- "My friends," he began, after several moments of silence, "no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feelings of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell."
These two leaders, among others, were raised up by GOD to establish and preserve this great land of promise. Neither patriot relied upon their own abilities for they knew that that would have been utter folly. Instead they had learned to rely on an omnipotent GOD who was able save them from destruction, and to deliver victory to them in the dire hour of their need.
Yet we can't ride upon their shirt-tails indefinitely. Our own generation must rise to the cause of virtue. We too must become men and women of prayer and fortitude. We must learn ourselves how to become righteous, and godly and virtuous.
We won't ever save our nation or community by trying to save it. It is too far gone for that. Rather, we can only save it by first saving ourselves, by personally developing and nurturing the fruit of the spirit. Then we must put it all in GOD's hands. Only HE is wise enough and strong enough to thwart the scheming of the wicked. Only HE can turn evil back upon those who wish our Country and community evil. Only GOD can make the impossible happen.
But first there must be a righteous fellowship worthy of saving. First there must be someone to stand in the gap. Thus, we must grow to produce the spiritual fruit. We must become godly. As Benjamin Franklin well said, "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."
There is a curious note, seemingly casually mentioned in the record in GENESIS concerning the coming destruction of Sodom, that Lot "sat in the gate" (19:1). This doesn't mean that he was relaxing in repose as he greeted and welcomed new visitors to his city. There would have been no reason for the reader to know that. Rather, we are told that he was sitting in the gate not only because that was where business and legal affairs were transacted by the civic leaders (RUTH 4:1 & DANIAL 2:48-49), but more so because that was the ideal spot to intercept strangers before they entered that dangerous and treacherous city.
Evidently Lot was quite aware of the perils lurking in the streets for any newcomer, and thus he was endeavoring to shield and protect them, even if that meant endangering himself by lodging them in his own home (GENESIS 19:3). Lot was evidently a good and honest and caring individual who did all he could to shield and protect strangers from danger. Indeed, Peter even tells us that Lot's righteous soul was vexed daily by the evil deeds which he witnessed.
- 2 PETER 2:7-8 The Jerusalem Bible . . . . he [GOD] rescued Lot, however, a holy man who had been sickened by the shameless way in which these vile people behaved- for that holy man, living among them, was outraged in his good soul by the crimes which he saw and heard of every day.
Is it not only natural for any of us to be vexed by the wicked and lawless deeds of the godless and selfish and corrupt, which we also see daily? It is only right that we should want to shelter the innocent and those unaware of the evil lurking in their path. But it is also tempting to run for cover and shield ourselves behind our own locked doors, and close our ears to the cries of the needy. Howbeit, that is not what GOD has called us to. That is not what HE has made us for.
As we grow in our relationship with our Creator, we will begin to realize that HE has our back. Not for us to be foolish and reckless, but for us to recognize HIS hand in placing those with needs in our path. We are well equipped to help lift another out of their dilemma and GOD expects us to do no less. I'm often reminded of Yeshua's parable of the Good Samaritan (LUKE 10:30-36). Curiously, the scene which the Lord depicted showed the Levite and the priest passing by on the other side to avoid the man in need, while the despised and scorned Samaritan ran to supply help.
- 2 PETER 3:13-18 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless . . . . Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
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