Proverbs 31 Woman

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The last woman we are looking at in our series on women in the Bible, is the woman described in Proverbs 31. She is not a real person who has lived, but the description of an ideal woman of character. I have always hesitated to study the Proverbs 31 woman because it always brought to mind images of churchy women, with big hair, attending Christian women’s conferences, and trying so hard to be perfect. But that is not at all what the Proverbs 31 woman is about and I believe that many women have the same misconceptions that I did.

So, to understand it we just need to lay a little ground work before we dive in. There are just a few things we need to understand first.

  1. Culmination of Proverbs – First, we need to see that this passage occurs at the very end of the book of Proverbs for a reason. It is the culmination of everything that has been taught leading up to this. The picture of the “wife of noble character” is meant to give the reader an image of what it would look like to apply all the teachings in the book of Proverbs to one particular life and situation. So instead of giving us a picture of what a perfect wife looks like – it’s meant to give us a picture of a wife of noble character based on the teachings of Proverbs. This means, that we can do the same with whatever circumstance we are in ourselves, whether man or woman. So this Proverb isn’t just for married women with kids, or for a man looking for a wife – it is for all people to help them to understand what it means to live out the teachings in Proverbs.
  1. Not a Full Picture – Secondly, this also means that it is not a full picture of who we are called to be as Christians. It does not cover all the bases of how we are called to live as Believers. So for example, it doesn’t really talk about humility or prayer, although we know that both are part of living out the Christian life. Instead it focuses on the themes of Proverbs such as diligence and prudence. And all of these stem from wisdom, which is the over-arching theme of the entire book of Proverbs. So basically, we are being given a practical picture of what wisdom looks like in real life.
  1. An Acrostic – Lastly, this entire passage is an acrostic. An Acrostic is something that is ordered or structured based on the first letter of each line. In this case it is the Hebrew alphabet. So each line in this passage begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and goes in order from what we would call “A to Z.” This means that there isn’t a logical/linear ordering of what is said, it is more poetic. This is why we have this handout. To help us study the Proverbs 31 woman I have divided the passage into 3 overarching categories. So put away your Bibles, and just use this sheet tonight….unless you think you can follow ok using your own Bible.

The Premise

Let’s start by looking at the first verse, verse 10, and also the second to last verse, 30. (And as a side note, you all know I generally prefer the NIV over the ESV, but in the case of Proverbs I am sorely disappointed by the NIV’s translation and I think the ESV stays much more true to the Hebrew and doesn’t distort the meaning with poor word choices like the NIV does, so that’s why this handout is from the ESV). Ok, verses 10 and 30…

10    An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

These two verses basically establish for us the premise, or the purpose of this passage. Verse 10 begins the passage with a rhetorical question making a statement. An excellent wife, who can find? or in other words, an excellent wife is hard to find, she is rare. And then the next line backs-up this statement, An excellent wife is far more precious than jewels. Let’s dissect this for a minute…

Excellent – what does this description mean? Well, here the NIV does actually help us a little. It translates this word as “noble” which means “fine personal qualities and high moral standards or principals.” So basically, the word excellent is referring to her outstanding character…which the rest of this Proverb is going to describe/unfold for us.

Precious – secondly a wife with outstanding character is described as being more precious than jewels. This means that a woman such as this is to be valued and not wasted or treated carelessly. So our passage is going to describe a woman that is rare and more valuable than any other kind of woman.

Then jumping ahead to verse 30, we get more of an understanding of what it is that motivates this woman and makes her so great. It tells us that all she does flows from her fear of the LORD. Now remember that a synonym of the word used here as “fear,” is “reverence.” All she does stems from her reverence for God, her deep respect of her heavenly Father. And the book of Proverbs is based on this exact thing, that all wisdom and knowledge flows from a fear/reverence of God. Proverbs 1:7 is said to embody the theme of Proverbs and it says,

7                The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Remember what we just talked about, everything in Proverbs is about living wisely, and here it tells us that wisdom starts with a deep respect for the Lord.

Now, some women are intimidated by the description of the Proverbs 31 woman, and others have responded to it in unhealthy ways all because they miss this and don’t first begin with a fear or respect for God. In light of this, what are some bad motives some women might have in their desire to be a Proverbs 31 woman? Instead of fear of the Lord what reason might some women have for trying to live this out?

  • Comparison – trying to live up to others
  • Competition – trying to be better than others
  • Perfectionism – desire to be the best or be perfect
  • Super-mom – trying to live up to Mrs. Jones and do it all
  • Image – trying to look good, be attractive to others, reputation

As the author here says in verse 30 it has nothing to do with a desire to be charming or beautiful. Not that those things are bad or that a woman with character can’t also possess those qualities. But the point is, they can’t be the driving force or the goal. Being a woman of character is not about looking good or getting people to like you, it is simply about pleasing the Lord and living your life for Him. And we need to be sure to keep this in mind as we look at the description of this woman and how she lives.

 Two Categories

So I have basically “filed” each verse under one of two categories to help us as we study it. There are many sub-categories we could put them in as well, but since most of this lesson was composed in airports, planes, hotel rooms, and such I decided to stick with just two.

DILIGENCE

The first category I want us to look at is the one I have titled “Diligence,” or “Hard-Working.” We could probably even say “Dedication.” Let’s walk through these verses, and then we’ll put them together.

v.13            …[she] works with willing hands.

The first half of this verse says ”She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” So it’s referring to basically an every day menial task she has to do. The NIV says she works with “eager” hands and the NAS says she works with “delight.”

So the picture we get here is of a woman working hard with a good attitude and with purpose. She doesn’t give in to a bad attitude about the tasks before her, she doesn’t get bitter, or lazy, or take shortcuts. Instead she does her work with pleasure and stays focused. Many of us might have experienced this in the first few weeks of a job, but we all understand the slippery slope into laziness and bad attitudes. But a woman of character does not give in to those things, but instead works eagerly and willingly.

v.14            She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.

So here we are given an analogy of what she is “like.” Merchant ships went to far away places to bring back items to enhance the lives of the people there. Items they could not get for themselves. Here, it says that just like the merchant ships she “brings her food from afar.” Basically what this is simply saying is that she goes out of her way to feed her family well. The modern day comparison I thought is that rather than picking her kids up Happy Meals at the McDonald’s on the corner, she goes a little out of her way, to the Farmer’s Market to get her family healthy and good quality food. She does what she needs to do to feed her family well even though it might mean extra effort on her part.

  v.15            She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens/servant girls.

In that day and age just about every home of decent means had servants who helped run the household. And the head of the house’s duty was to feed the servants as well as the family. In Luke 12:42 Jesus refers to this person as needing to be faithful and wise in regards to when they will feed the servants and the rest of the household.

And here it tells us she gets up while it is still dark to feed the servants and the household. Why do you think she would do this? What would be the benefit?

  • If she can get that out of the way early then she has more time to get her duties done.
  • The earlier she feeds the servants the quicker they will get to work as well
  • So by getting up while it is still dark she increases everybody’s effectiveness and productivity.

This is not easy for most, but it is wise to do which is why Proverbs 20:13 says,

13             Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

A woman of noble character does not let a love of sleep keep her from the work that is laid before her each day and she is willing to sacrifice in order to be productive and effective.

v.17            She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.

The phrase “dresses herself with strength” here is actually “girds her loins” in the Hebrew and is a saying throughout the Old Testament. And it’s equivalent to maybe us saying “roll up your sleeves” or “toughen up.” So basically it is saying here that she rolls up her sleeves even for physical labor. She is wiling to get dirty to get the job done. And because of it she has strong arms. She gives her work all she’s got and she’s stronger because of it.

v.19            She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.

Ok, so a distaff is basically the spool the raw flax and wool come on, and the spindle is the spool it is stored on once it has been spun. Again, a very physical duty she does. Spinning her own materials rather than buying them at much higher prices already spun. This is another picture of her diligence and physical exertion

v.27            She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Verse 27 gives us an overarching statement that summarizes all of what we just read. Everything she is doing here is part of her job as head of her household. This means she sees all the work she does not as meaningless, but as meaningful, like a real job. And because of that she does not give in to laziness. Proverbs 19:15 tells us that laziness just breeds sleepiness and un-productivity leading to poverty – she rejects this and does not enjoy the indulgences of laziness but instead reaps the fruit of her labor.

What are some ways that we can be idle or lazy at work?

  • Facebook, email, surfing web pages, etc…
  • Socializing too much with co-workers
  • Not staying focused on the tasks that are a priority but instead doing what we want to do
  • Not wanting to go above and beyond and do things we haven’t been asked to do or things we really don’t enjoy
  • Not giving it your best effort everytime

All people are tempted by these things, even the Proverbs 31 woman, but the difference is making a commitment to not give in to them and avoiding them at all cost.

DISCERNMENT

This brings us to the second category, “Discernment” or “Stewardship” which primarily involves our judgment and decision making abilities. So again, let’s go through each verse and then we’ll put it all together…

            v.13            She seeks wool and flax…

Now, this seems like a very simple and mindless thing to add in, but if anyone has ever had to pick out textiles before, then you know that it is not. Wool and flax were the primary materials for making clothing and homegoods and one of her biggest jobs would have been finding quality materials at good prices. The Hebrew word translated as “seek” here means “to seek, to inquire, to investigate.” So she’s not just popping into the Wal-mart of textiles, but she is really applying herself to find the best materials for the best price. She is using her judgment and her engaging her mind because she see the greater purpose in even the smallest tasks that she has to do.

v.16            She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

Here we read something that we might find surprising. As head of the household part of her job is investing money and expanding their assets. She had financial responsibility and independence. And here we see two aspects of her discernment….

  1. She is a good steward of their finances. She doesn’t just go out and buy a field on impulse, instead it says she “considers” it, which means she weighed her options, she was careful, thoughtful, and used wise judgment.
  2. She used the earnings of that investment for the good of the family. Instead of taking that money and buying that name brand purse she had always wanted, or getting the massage and pedicure she deserved for her hardwork – she turned around and invested it right back into the land by planting a vineyard on it to make it even more profitable for the family.

In this one verse we see how seriously she takes her role in her family by using great discernment in being a good steward over what they have.

v.18            She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.

This verse is referring to the things she does that bring income to her family. And it says that she perceives or sees that it is profitable. The literal Hebrew word is taste, she can tasted the profit of her labor and it fuels her to keep working, even at times into the night. Now we need to be careful not to walk away from this Proverb thinking we don’t need sleep, because we do. But what it is saying is that at times we do need to make sacrifices to get our work done, at times we will need to work into the night.

v.20            She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Now this verse is one that could have been in a category all on it’s own, maybe called “charity” or “generosity.” But since I was trying to simplify it I chose to include it under discernment because of the nature of what it says she does. First, it says she opens her hand then it says she reaches out. Both of these pictures are of her actively moving towards the poor and needy. This means, on top of all she has to accomplish each day, she is also making time to go to the poor and needy and serve them.

This is very humbling for us to hear because most of us feel we are too busy to fit hands-on charity into our schedules. But here’s a woman with more to do in a day then I have to do in a week and yet she is actively making it happen. It is a result of her discernment and stewardship that she does it. It is a priority to her and so she make sure that it is a part of her weekly duties.

And why does she do this? For the same reason we read in verse 30 at the beginning, out of her deep respect for God. In Deuteronomy 15:11 God reminds His people that He commands them to reach out to the poor and be generous. And Proverb 22:9 says,

9             He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor.

v.24            She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.

Here we read yet another way she makes money for her family, she makes linen garments/clothes and sells them. It also says she delivers sashes to the merchants. Now it is unclear as to whether she is selling or giving her sashes to them, and each translation uses a different word. But either way, we still get the picture of her involvement in commercial activity as part of her household duties. And we can all imagine that this takes wisdom, prudence, knowledge and so on.

v.26            She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

Lastly in this category, it touches on something that has not been talked about. What she speaks to others, what comes out of her mouth. And it goes right along with the theme of wisdom in Proverbs. We read in Proverbs 10:31 that,

“The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,”

And that is exactly what it says about her here, that her mouth brings forth wisdom. Now there are actually several ways the second half of this verse is translated so there are two ways to look at it. One view says the correct literal translation would be that the “law of loving-kindness” is on her tongue, which would imply that she teaches God’s covenant love to others (NIV). Or it could be more like “loving instruction” which you see is how the ESV comes up with teaching with kindness. But either way, we get an idea of what she not only does, but also what she says.

The Result

Finally, I just want us to take a brief look at what the result is of a life lived in this way. What are the fruit of her life and the way she has chosen to live it? The last verse in this passage says,

31             Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

The gates refer to the city gates, which in that time served as the center of economic and civic life. It’s where the leading men of the city gathered. So what is the fruit of her hands? How is it that she will be praised by others?

She is Valued –

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,

and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm,

all the days of her life.

23 Her husband is known in the gates

when he sits among the elders of the land.

28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently,

                                                            but you surpass them all.”

  • One of the results of her noble character is that her husband trusts her, and we really saw that didn’t we especially in the financial independence and responsibility she had. He lacks no gain because he can only gain from having a wife like this.
  • She seeks to do him good and not harm
  • v.23 Seems a little out of place at first, but most likely what it is there for is to show that her charater and choices have contributed to her husband’s success and reputation. Who she is has earned him respect.
  • Her children and her husband praise her, she is valuable to them and they see that she is rare and precious.
  • v.29 is her husband basically saying, some one can do noble things, but you are noble.

She Benefits Too –

21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,

for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes bed coverings for herself;

her clothing is fine linen and purple.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,

and she laughs at the time to come.

  • One of the rewards of her diligence and discernment is that she doesn’t have to live in fear of what is to come, and she can even smile at the future. She has done all she can do, she knows her preparation will pay off.
  •  And not only that, because of her hard work she is able to provide nice things even for herself – she is well dressed. For some reason we think that you choose one or the other, but here she choose character and as a result she was able to cloth herself with beauty. In a sense, her clothes were and outward visual of who she was on the inside.

Remembering What it’s About

As we close I just want us to briefly go back to verse 30 and remind ourselves what this is about…

30            Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

As we seek to be women of noble character, like the woman in Proverbs 31, we need to remember that at the foundation of it is worship. She lives the way she lives because of her faith in God and her reverence of Him. Just as we are called in Romans 12 to “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices” the Proverbs 31 woman is also living her life as a sacrifice for God, worshiping Him through the way she lives.

 Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       Read verse 30 aloud. Why is charm deceitful/deceptive and beauty vain/fleeting? Why is being a woman of character who fears the Lord better?

●       What are some areas of your life where you struggle to be discerning and be a good steward?

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Lydia & Priscilla, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Two Working Women in the Bible

In the U.S., 60 % of women work outside the home. There are 9.1M women-owned businesses in the U.S. And, of married working women, ½ of them are the primary breadwinners in their family. With so many of us in the work force, it’s important for us to look at how God works through women who are professionals. What does it look like to be a Christian woman in the business world?

We’re going to see that God uses women in big ways in the spread of his gospel, and he uses them in and through their vocations, their jobs, their callings. They weren’t called to quit their job when they become a Christian or got married. We’ll see that we are to serve God through our work and where we are in life. Our texts tonight are found in Acts 16 and 18. The two women we get to look at are Lydia, who was a dealer of purple cloth, and Priscilla, who was a tentmaker. We’re going to look first at Lydia, who was the first convert to faith in Europe, and then at Priscilla, who labored alongside her husband and Paul in teaching others. Both women were able to learn first-hand from Paul, because they invited him into their homes.

Context of the book of Acts in the Bible

Open Your Bibles to Acts 16. To put into context where these women’s stories are in God’s overall story in the Bible, they’re both in the book of Acts. Acts occurs after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It tells the story of the founding of the church and its growth through the Holy Spirit in the early days. The disciples went out to convert and teach the Jews and Gentiles about Jesus. Acts is where we meet Saul of Tarsus, who is dramatically converted on the road to Damascus, and who receives the new name of Paul. The second half of Acts charts his 3 missionary journeys. Our stories of Lydia and Priscilla are found during his 2nd journey.

Lydia- Acts 16:11-15, 40

Paul and Friends Go to the City of Philippi. Look at Acts 16:11-15.

“From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”

We encounter here the group of missionary men: Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke; Luke’s the one who wrote the book of Acts. They have just been traveling in the Northern regions of Asia, but were forbidden by the Spirit from actually entering Asia or preaching the gospel there. Paul then saw a vision of a man of Macedonia (modern-day Greece) standing and begging him saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). That’s where we meet Paul and his companions here in verse 11. They are following the Spirit and moving to Macedonia. This is their first time onto the continent of Europe.

Verse 12 tells us that they are staying in the city of Philippi, which is the city Paul will later write the book of Philippians to.

Verse 13 then tells us “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul seeks them out, sits down and begins speaking to the women who had gathered there. I love that it was a man in Paul’s vision that called them over, and when he gets there, he finds a group of women praying.

They Meet Lydia, a Dealer of Purple Cloth. In verse 14, we are introduced to Lydia. It says,

“One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God.”

Right here, we learn 4 things about her. First, her name is Lydia and she was among the women gathered for prayer, and she was listening to Paul’s message. Prayer is important to her and to the life of her community.

Second, it says she was a dealer of purple cloth. What do you think of when you hear the color purple? Think in ancient days what purple signifies… What do you think this tells us about Lydia?

  • purple would be associated with royalty, with wealth,
  • she is known as dealer- has her own business
  • think of an art dealer- she would have to have money to buy goods then sell them at profit

She is successful and has her own business. In the next verse we’ll see that she has her own household as well, which would have included servants.

So, third, we learn that she’s from the city of Thyatira. Remember that Thyatira was one of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation that we just got finished studying. That church had tolerated the woman Jezebel. Lydia is from modern-day Turkey but is now living in Greece. Actually, the city she is from is from the region called Lydia. So it has been speculated that her name comes from the region where she’s from, which is famous for the purple cloth. She probably got her name by being so closely associated with her business and trade.

The fourth thing we learn about her is that she is a worshiper of God. The phrase worshiper of God is used elsewhere to describe Gentiles, not Jews, who went to the synagogue and sometimes converted. She would already be learning about God and studying him. She is already seeking the Lord.

God Opens Lydia’s Heart to Believe

And it’s here that God meets her. The next thing we read in verse 14 is that “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Paul is now telling the women about the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures in Jesus Christ, preaching Jesus as Lord who has come to give forgiveness, in God’s name, for the repentance of sins. God is the one who acts in opening her heart to understand these things and to believe.

When I was living in NYC, God opened my heart to understand the gospel. I remember sitting in church during one of my pastor’s series, he had been preaching for 6 weeks on the same topic. I began to notice that he was basically repeating the same message at the end of each sermon. Finally, one Sunday, it hit me. It was like the light-bulb finally went off in my head. I began to understand the gospel. Christianity is not just about getting saved to get into heaven. It’s about a way of life. God loves us and went to the cross to bring us back to him and give us new life. Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, but it is about God who came down to us to show us the way to him. We don’t have to work our way up to find favor with God, but he’s already shown us how much he loves us. I was to follow him because I understood why he died for me. I was to follow him out of thankfulness for his great love and mercy towards me. That changed me. I know that only God could open my heart to truly begin to understand this and to live a new way.

Lydia Invites Them to Stay in Her Home

Look back at verse 15 then, here we learn that Lydia is baptized, together with the members of her household. Then she invites the men into her home. She says, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” (which they should, since they just baptized her), “come and stay at my house.” Then Luke tells us that she persuaded them. Why do you think Lydia persuaded them to stay at her house? Why would she want these men to stay with her?

  • to serve them- she would have the space
  • to welcome them,
  • also to learn from them

Yes, she, this successful, well-known businesswoman, has now invited them to come and stay in her home so that she can (serve them, but also) learn from them.

Lydia’s House a Place of Refuge

We next encounter Lydia in verse 40. Paul and Silas have just been imprisoned in the Philippian jail, God has miraculously saved them from it; the jailer has been converted and, with his household too, baptized. Verse 40 says that after they “came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.” After their ordeal, they return to her house. Lydia has now opened her home as a place of meeting for this young group of believers and as a refuge from the persecution that is going on in the city.

Lydia’s life has changed. She knows that her work takes on greater importance and significance now that she follows Jesus. She takes in as much as she can, learning, and opening her home to the missionaries, new believers and the growing church in Philippi.

Priscilla- Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 24-28; 1 Corint 16:19; Romans 16:3-5

Next, we get to look at Priscilla. She, too, is a woman with a vocation who is called by God to be an integral part of his church. Look at Acts 18:1-3. We learn that Paul has now traveled down through Athens and come to the city of Corinth. Inverse 2, we are introduced to Aquila, Priscilla’s husband. He is a Jew, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius, the emperor, had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Commentators believe they were part of a group expelled for following Christ and causing an uproar in the city. Many believe they would have been taught by some Jews who were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost and who returned to Rome telling about Jesus’ death and resurrection and giving of the Spirit.

The end of verse 2 tells us that Paul went to see them and verse 3 tells us that “because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” So they all make tents for their profession. They have a trade and work with their hands. She is a working woman too, like Lydia. It’s because of their job and skill that Paul hears of them, comes to them, and ultimately stays with them while he’s in Corinth. Because of their shared trade, they were able to invite Paul into their home. We can assume that the 6 days they were working together that he would have taught them more about Jesus. Paul ends up staying in Corinth with them for a year and a half.

Moving to verses 18-19, we learn that “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.” And in verse 19, “They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila.” He preaches in the synagogue, but when they want him to stay longer, he declines and heads on out, leaving Priscilla and Aquila there alone.

Why do you think Paul takes them with him from Corinth, and then leaves them there in Ephesus? (Why take them at all?)

  • he’s been training them
  • he trusts them
  • he’s ready to leave them and let them carry on the work

So yes, Paul would know that they were ready to then go and do the same work on their own. He had taught them and discipled them, and now they were ready to do the same in the city of Ephesus. This is just what we see does actually happen.

Priscilla and Aquila Teach and Train Apollos

In verses 24-28, a man named Apollos, a Jew, from Alexandria in Egypt, came to Ephesus. “He was a learned man, [or well-studied,] he had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” So here comes this great preacher, who’s a very smart man, who knows the Lord, has a gift of speaking, and taught accurately about Jesus, but he didn’t know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, only the baptism of John.

Verse 26 says, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” What do you think we learn about the process of making and being disciples from this story?

  • you have to learn, to study,
  • invite someone into your life,
  • can do it while working,
  • then share it with others

Notice the difference in how Priscilla and Aquila handled this situation and how we today might handle this situation. They don’t call Apollos out publicly; they don’t tell him he’s wrong or kick him out of the synagogue, but instead, they invite him into their home and teach him more adequately about Jesus. (Notice how much private instruction and discipleship is going on in the home and through shared work in this story.) They gently correct him in his theology. Apollos went on to be an instrumental leader in the church at Corinth.

So God had used Priscilla and her husband and worked greatly through them. Paul came to them because they shared a profession with him. He stayed with them for a year and a half, and then took them with him on to Ephesus. And because he would have trusted them, he left them there to begin the church and to teach others and make new disciples who would then go on to teach other people in the process. God was multiplying the church through Priscilla and her husband and because of their profession.

The Importance of Priscilla and Aquila in Paul’s Work

The end of their story, we can piece together from a few mentions in the rest of the NT, in Paul’s letters. From the closing of the book of Romans (16:3-5), we learn that Paul considered Priscilla and Aquila his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Not only are they fellow tentmakers, but now he calls them his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. It also says there was a church meeting in their house. They have been instrumental in starting various churches and in training up leaders, all because Paul came to them one day, because they were tentmakers like he was. God met them in their work. Just look at how big God’s plans were for using them, when they were first kicked out of Rome for following Jesus.

To wrap up Lydia and Priscilla’s stories, we see that they’ve come a long way in their faith from when they first were encountered by Paul. Work was an integral part of who they were. But God didn’t just call them to be a really good purple cloth dealer or a tentmaker. He did do that, but he called them to be disciples of Christ too, first and foremost. He called them to learn about him and to be a part of the church, of God’s community, to encourage others and to teach and disciple others, even as they continued their work.

Application- What does this mean for our lives today?

Two things I want us to take-away from Lydia and Priscilla’s stories:

1. You are important in God’s mission and your work is important. God works through every one of his people to proclaim his gospel. Turn to Colossians 3:23-24. God has this to say about our work: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Do you approach your work with all your heart, knowing that it is the Lord Christ you are serving? Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to convict you and help you live into this. Our work includes our jobs, but includes all of life. In all of life, know that you are serving the Lord.

2. You are called to be a disciple and learner, but also a disciple-maker and sharer of your faith. Be thinking about what it means to learn from someone and then to lead someone. God has called each of us to be a friend to others, and to share Christ with others. This doesn’t just mean you should be trying to convert that family member who won’t even give you the time of day, but we should be doing this with Christians too. Reach out to someone in your small group or a friend, invite them over to hang out, have coffee together or a meal. But be intentional in your conversation. Ask them where they are in their faith, what are their struggles, how can you be praying for them. And then pray together.

Conclusion

To sum it up, this is what God is at work in the world doing. He is drawing people to himself, opening our hearts, teaching us, but also calling us to learn and pass it on, to not just be consumers of information. We are a part of what God is doing in the world. He uses us where we are, in our jobs: either as a boss, as a business owner, as an artist, a writer, a lawyer, a teacher, a manager, or as an employee working for someone else. Everything we do witnesses to God and the one whom we serve.

Questions for Application and Discussion

  • What are some practical ways you can begin to approach your work and life with a Col 3:23-24 mindset? (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.”)
  • Discuss ways that you personally can grow in learning then passing on what you’re learning to someone else. Commit to doing this with one person this week.

Mary & Martha: Luke 10:38-42

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Tonight we are looking at some women in the New Testament who many of you are already familiar with, Mary and Martha. So go ahead and turn to Luke 10 and while you turn there I’ll just give us an idea of where we are at in Jesus’ story. By the time Mary and Martha come on the scene, Jesus is pretty well established. His teachings have become more widely known and He has already performed many miracles. The first passage we are going to look at tonight is going to be very brief, but in just 5 short verses it gets straight to the heart of what many women struggle with. And by looking at the three passages that talk about Mary and Martha we are going to see a beautiful development of these women and their faith, specifically of Martha’s. So it really will be a great picture for us as women. So let’s look at this first encounter starting in verse 38

 38                As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

So we can assume here that Martha is meeting Jesus for the first time even though she has probably heard a lot about him. We aren’t told how Jesus ended up at Martha’s or why it was her house that was opened to Him. Maybe she was known for her hospitality, maybe she ran a bed and breakfast type business out of her home. We also don’t know if she was just hosting them for the day and maybe a meal or two, or were they staying the night? Who knows.

But what we do know is she has opened her home to 13 men which tells us that Martha is hospitable, gracious, and a servant. In the NIV it says Martha “opened her home to him” but in the NAS, the literal translation of the Greek it says “Martha welcomed Him into her home” which tells us it wasn’t out of obligation but that it was her desire to have them there. So maybe in addition to being hospitable she is also interested in who Jesus is and in His teachings she has heard about. Let’s keep reading…

 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

Now we meet Mary, Martha’s sister. While we learn that Martha has opened her home to Jesus, what we learn about Mary is different. In contrast to Martha, she is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching. So we are given to brief glimpses of Martha and Mary. In this brief picture of Mary, what can we learn about her? What might be implied in her actions? First you might notice that she’s not helping Martha to get the house and food ready, maybe she’s not the “worker bee” type. Maybe she’s more relational, more type B. Sounds like she may be the younger sister. Perhaps she sees the importance of having Jesus right there and makes it a priority to listen to Him. Either way, she sees learning from Jesus as more important than the other details that need to get done.

Another question we might ask here is, seeing that Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching, what does this imply about Jesus? What might we learn here about Jesus? He is ok with a woman at His feet, just like a disciple. He viewed women knowing Him as being just as important as men knowing Him and His teachings. He did not tell her to go do the “woman’s” work. So the scene is set, now let’s read what happens next…

 40a But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

Verse 40 begins with a key word “but.”  Now, when you are telling a story and you insert the word “but” generally that means there is a problem, or something that doesn’t line up, or there’s a contradiction, or you are going to contrast two things. So what is being contrasted here? Mary and Martha. Mary is focused on Jesus…but Martha is distracted. First, let’s look at what she is distracted by, and then let’s look at what it means that she is distracted.

The Preparations

It says here she is distracted by “all the preparations that had to be made.” We already know that 13 men showed up at her door unannounced and that there is a possibility that they will need to eat and need a place to sleep. So these preparations might include preparing meals, making beds, cleaning their feet, drawing water from the well, and so on. And we remember that in that day and age you didn’t just run to the store to buy some bread, you actually had to make it by hand. These things were going to take a lot of work and a lot of time.

The text uses the word “had” to let us know she is not going above and beyond as maybe a modern Dallas woman might do with little favors and such for their guests, no what she is doing is what “has to be done” in order for them to simply be fed and possibly have a place to sleep. So what we need to understand is that the problem is not “what” she was doing. The literal translation of this verse is that she was distracted by “much service/serving.” She was serving others, which we know was at the heart of Jesus’ message to mankind. So if taking care of preparations and serving was not the problem, then what was the problem? What was the “but” referring to?

Distracted

Well, the clue that is given to us here is that she was “distracted” by her service. The Dictionary defines distracted as “unable to concentrate because one’s mind is pre-occupied.” The Greek word that is translated here as distracted means “to be worried.” And the definition of worry is “to become anxious by dwelling on difficulty or troubles.” One translation’s notes (NET) explains that the connotation of this Greek word is that she was being “pulled away.”

So let’s put this all together to more fully understand what was wrong with what Martha was doing, what was the problem? All of these explanations imply one thing, that there is something that she should be concentrating on but she’s not, something that she is being pulled away from. And therefore, her new focus, what she is distracted by, we’re about to see, has led her to be anxious, worried, and to dwell on her difficult situation. We are going to unfold this more in a minute. So now let’s read what Martha does next, the rest of verse 40 says…

 40b She (Martha) came to him (Jesus) and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Maybe in the beginning Mary was helping Martha, but she quickly was pulled away and was now enjoying their new company and enjoying herself, instead of serving as Martha was doing. While Martha was doing all the work, Mary was relaxing with the boys. So, Martha finally goes to Jesus to make things right.

Look at Martha’s progression here:

  1. Jesus, don’t you care? (about her, about justice, etc…)
  2. Look at what Mary has done wrong!
  3. Look at the trouble I am in because of her!
  4. Jesus, do what I think you should do to fix this situation – tell her she’s wrong and to get up off her duff and help me.

Personal Example

My guess is that each of us has been in a similar situation at least once in our lives before. Just 2 months ago I was in a very similar situation. We had just found out we were pregnant and 5 days later were throwing an engagement party for some dear friends of ours. And not only were we hosting, but I was making all the food and beverages for the party. So that day Michael helped me hang lights, prep food, and set-up. At the beginning he even helped get drinks, grill some meat, and set out the food. But then, suddenly, there was a turning point. And I can still see this image in my mind. Here I am in the kitchen surrounded by drink tubs full of melted ice and overflowing trashcans – ready to cut the cake and pour the champagne, and Michael is nowhere to be found.

Then I look out on the back porch, where the party was, and he is just snuggled right into the middle of the table surrounded by all his friends, with a cold beer in his hands. He was just as relaxed as ever having the time of his life. And here I was newly pregnant and feeling it and not sure what to do first because there was so much to be done! I remember bouncing between feelings of injustice (it just wasn’t fair that he wasn’t slaving away too, we were both the hosts) and feelings of jealousy (I wanted to rest and enjoy our guests too but I couldn’t because there was too much to do!)

Well, this is exactly what Martha was thinking too. And she did exactly what we all want to do in a situation like that….she went straight to the “authority figure,” ratted out the injustice, and demanded He make it right….all while questioning the love of Jesus…don’t you care? Now, while I controlled myself from doing that during the party, I did share my “feelings” with Michael afterwards and definitely used the pregnancy as my pity-ploy and my own version of “don’t you care?” So what will Jesus say in response? Let’s look at verse 41

 41  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things…

 First, Jesus begins by focusing on her, not Mary. This is something that since we were children we have hated! When you feel wronged by another person the last thing you want the person with power to do is to point out your fault in the matter. But this is exactly what Jesus does…Martha, you are worried, upset, (NAS) bothered, (ESV) anxious, troubled, about many things…so again, this reiterates what the narrator already implied by describing Martha as “distracted.” Then Jesus says…

 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What is the first word here we should take note of? BUT. So again, there is going to be a contrast. The first time there was a “but” it contrasted Martha’s diligence with Mary’s neglect of the preparations. But now, to the reader’s surprise (and I’m sure to Martha’s) Jesus turns that on it’s head. In contrast to Martha’s worry and anxiety, Jesus says Mary’s choice to instead sit at his feet and listen to His teaching is

  1. The one thing that is needed/necessary
  2. That it is the better decision
  3. That it will not be taken away from her – so in other words, No Martha, I will not tell Mary to get up and help you! He will not take away from her this time she has to sit at His feet and learn.

Change vs. Choice

The first thing we need to notice about Jesus’ response is that He did not say, “Be more like Mary.” He did not say, better is the one who listens than the one who serves. It wasn’t about Type A vs. Type B. Jesus was not concerned with their personalities. One isn’t more Christlike than the other.

Instead, He pointed Martha to the one thing that was equally attainable to them both, regardless of personality or gifts. He simply said Mary chose better, she chose what was needed. When faced with the choice to work or to worship, she chose what was better, worship. So Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to change, but to choose.

This speaks loudly to people like me who are very task-oriented. We aren’t called to set aside the duties of our lives to worship and study the Word 24/7. But, there is a time for work and a time for worship. We all face this tension every single day. Each morning I know I need to start my day with Jesus and in the Word. I know it is the better choice. But there are days when I let my “preparations” take over, become more important, and I don’t make the better choice. That’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Martha’s Progression

The next thing we need to notice is how Martha’s choice to work instead of worship affected her. Look at the progression…

 1.     Distracted – First, she allowed herself to get distracted by all the preparations. This means she allowed something inferior to steal her attention away from what was superior. She was majoring in the minors instead of the majors, as we might say. Another way to put it is that she didn’t keep as a priority what was most important so what was least important distracted her. She chose serving over time with Jesus and then allowed that service to distract her from what was most important.

 2.     Distorted – And when we do this, the 2nd stage, is that it causes our vision to get distorted. We begin to think our new focus is actually more important. Martha, got distracted by all the preparations, serving others, and then began to see her situation as a burden, allowing herself to become full of anxiety and worry. And then she also began to believe that the work that had to be done was more important than spending time with Jesus who was the reason for it all. Her serving was no longer about others, it was now about herself. Her serving was no longer filled with joy, but filled with bitterness and selfishness. Her vision was distorted and she could no longer see clearly.

3.     Doubt – Then, the 3rd “D”, the 3rd stage, is that it led her to doubt Him. To doubt Jesus’ goodness and love for her. She really meant it when she asked Jesus “Don’t you care?” At that point her vision was so distorted that all she could do was doubt Him. And we do exactly the same thing, when we don’t make time with God a priority and we allow ourselves to get distracted from Him, our vision becomes distorted and we can no longer see the circumstances of our lives clearly, and this almost always leads us to doubting God. And it all comes down to taking our eyes off Jesus and putting them on inferior distractions.

Cart Before the Horse

When we choose to put other inferior things before our time with God it is the same as that old saying, putting the cart before the horse. It just won’t work. When we put the things of this world and our “work” before our relationship with God and our worship of Him our vision will become distorted and our faith will suffer.

Why is this? What happens when we spend time with Jesus? How does it affect us and the way we view and live our lives? Well first, it gives us perspective that we can’t have on our own. It helps us to see God’s hand in our lives. This is also where we find His peace and it calms us. When we spend time with Him we learn to trust Him. We find rest and refreshment. It also reveals what should be our priority and gives us guidance and direction.

Example:

Just last week a friend and I were venting about a frustrating situation and after about 15 minutes of that we finally just prayed about it. And the second we started praying peace just washed over both of us. And God began to give us both a clearer perspective on the situation, calming us, and helping us to trust Him with it. This is just a small glimpse of what happens when we make time with God a priority in all things. Venting was honestly a distraction that was leading to a bad attitude and clouding our vision, but the second we made the better choice we saw why it was the one thing that was needed.

It will not be taken away from her

The last thing that Jesus said to Martha was that Mary had chosen better and that ”It will not be taken away from her.” Just a minute ago I explained that Jesus was saying here that He would not make Mary stop listening to Him, He would not take that away from her. But I think that is only half of what He meant.

The other half, is that what Mary was getting out of those moments at Jesus’ feet would stay with her forever. God’s Word is eternal. What we learn about Jesus stays with us throughout our lives. I have heard many many testimonies of kids raised in Christian homes whose parents made them memorize scripture. Later those kids rebelled and walked away from God. But then they all talk about how in their darkest moments they would recall entire verses from the Bible that they had memorized 10, 20 years before. This is because God’s Word, as it tells us in Hebrews, is living and active. It is eternal and it is full of life.

And Jesus knew that Mary and Martha would need what He had to say for what was to come. If you read John 11 before you came, then you saw that it was the story of Lazarus, their brother. And he dies because Jesus did not come to save Him when He found out Lazarus was sick. He intentionally stalled and let Lazarus die. But when Jesus does finally show up after Lazarus is dead He encounters a very changed woman. Martha’s house is full of people, yet the minute she hears Jesus is in town she drops everything to go to Him. Then she goes on to express a very strong and solid faith in the light of such a tragedy in her life. She even confesses that Jesus is the Messiah which is something that His own disciples are still struggling with..

Martha humbled herself to Jesus’ rebuke and obeyed His words. Somewhere along the way she began to put Him first and make knowing God a priority. Imagine how Martha would have responded to her brother’s death and Jesus’ neglect, if her faith had not grown. How much more would she have felt that it wasn’t fair and that Jesus didn’t care?! But she doesn’t say this because her vision is no longer distorted.

Conclusion

Let’s finish tonight by looking at the last little glimpse we are given of Mary and Martha. Turn to John 12.

 1   Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Martha served, and Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. One might think by looking at this scene that nothing has changed. But we know, that for Martha, everything has changed. She has learned that there’s a time to worship and a time to work, and that worship should always be our priority before work. And not only that, but she has also learned how to make her work a form of worship. Her perspective is clear, so instead of becoming distracted, anxious, and focusing on the difficulty of her work – she can now see it as a joy, as her service to the Lord, she is using her gifts of hospitality and service to honor Jesus. It really is a beautiful transformation to see.

As we look at Martha, the lessons she learned, and the transformation that took place in her life we need to ask ourselves: Am I choosing to worship Jesus before the things that have to get done? Do I see my time in the Word, with God as the one thing that is necessary in my day? And if you are not sure how to answer those questions, then I bet another way you could figure it out is by looking at your attitude, your perspective on life, and your view of God to determine whether you are or not. Do you find yourself doubting God and His goodness? Then make time with Him your number one priority.  Do you often get buried under anxiety and worry, dwelling on the difficulties of your life? Then remember that there is only one thing that won’t be taken away from you…that your relationship with God through Jesus, and His Word.

And remember in this that in all the different spheres of your life….work, family, friends, neighbors, commitments, etc…God is not calling you to change who you are in order to follow Him…but to choose to put Him first in all things. And then to let your life flow out of that as a form of worship.

Questions for Discussion & Application:

●       In what ways do you relate with Martha’s story?

●       What distracts you from spending time with God and causes you anxiety and worry?

Deborah & Jael: Judges 4-5, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Did you know that of the Forbes 100 most powerful women, 3 are supreme court justices (or judges), 9 are the heads of state (or the leaders of their countries), and 4 of them are first ladies (known because they are wives)? Of these 16 powerful women, 8 of them tell us that they are mothers too. We see in our modern world that women have been honored for their gifts and talents and have grown into roles of power and influence.

Last week, we talked about the one of the most helpless of women, Hagar, a slave in a foreign land, who is taken as a 2nd wife to Abram just to produce an heir. In contrast, tonight, we get to talk about two women who were on the opposite spectrum. Deborah was among the powerful elite of Israel during the time of the judges, and Jael proved her valor through a courageous act. We’ll see that even in the ancient world of the Bible, there were women honored for their gifts and talents and who had roles of power and influence in God’s kingdom. We meet Deborah and Jael in Judges 4 and 5.

Deborah was known for her wisdom and discernment in deciding disputes between the Israelites. She was a prophetess, receiving direct words of revelation from God. She was a leader of the entire Israelite nation. Like we saw with Mary 2 weeks ago, she knew her primary role was to follow God, in all the aspects of her life. Like the 16 powerful women of today, Deborah, too, was a judge, a leader of her nation; she also was a wife and a mother.

Jael also stepped into her divinely appointed task at the right time. She, like Deborah, rose to the occasion and was able to deliver the people of God from their oppressors. Through their stories, we’ll see how God sends a redeemer. The Lord rescues his people from themselves by sending a judge to deliver them from the oppressive evil at work in their world.

Context of the Book of Judges in the Whole Bible

Before we jump in, I want to give us a little context on the book of Judges. I want us to see how it fits into God’s overall story of redemption in the Bible. We know that God’s story culminates in the NT with the sending of his own son, to rescue or redeem humanity. We know how the story ends, but sometimes we don’t know how to read and understand these OT stories. So we have to start by seeing them as a part of the larger whole.

The book of Judges comes early on in God’s story. It is after Israel’s time of slavery in Egypt and after God dramatically rescues them through the Red Sea from their oppressors (a story very similar to the one we have tonight). After wandering in the wilderness, they finally were able to enter the Promised Land.

This is where the book of Judges comes in. The Israelites are in the land, but they are still surrounded by their enemies. They don’t yet have a king, and they haven’t been sent Jesus Christ. We’ll see though, that because all of God’s story points forward to Christ, there will be ideas and themes in this story in Judges, that point us to Christ as the ultimate redeemer and leader of his people.

The Circle of Repentance in Judges 4-5
Open your Bibles to Judges 4 and 5. These two chapters tell the story of the only female judge in Israel’s history, really, the only female leader of the people of Israel. Chapter 4 tells the story in narrative form, and Chapter 5 retells the story as a song of praise, written in poetry, praising the Lord for his role in the story. The two chapters complement each other and give us a full picture of what happened during the time of Deborah. I am going to weave the two chapters together tonight where Ch. 5, the song, sheds light on Ch. 4, the narrative.

Stages 1-3: Evil, Oppression, Crying Out. Starting in verse 1, we read:

“After Ehud [the previous judge] died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help” (Judges 4:1-3).

We learn that the people of Israel had gotten themselves into this situation because of the evil that they had done, which would include serving the gods of the Canaanites (Judges 5:8). So the Canaanites, Jabin and his commander Sisera, had 900 iron chariots, and they cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years. For 20 years, the people of Israel were abused and oppressed, beaten down both physically and emotionally by this Canaanite king.

The Circle of Repentance Defined
In the book of Judges, there is a common pattern that emerges in each of the stories. Over and over again in the book, we find a circle of repentance with 5 stages that the people go through. There are 5 stages and we see all of them play out in this story. The 5 stages of the circle of repentance in the book of Judges are:

  1. Israel does evil in the eyes of the Lord; they fall away from God, often beginning to serve the gods of the other people in their land (we see this in 4:1).
  2. They are oppressed. God sends others to oppress them for their disobedience and seeking their own ways (we see this in 4:2-3).
  3. They cry out to God for help. The oppression is too much for them to bear, so they turn back to God and cry out to him, usually in a last-ditch effort and act of desperation (it took them 20 years in this case) (we see this in 4:3).
  4. God raises up a deliverer for them: a judge. The judge is usually a military leader who saves the people (this will be the bulk of the story).
  5. The fifth and last stage is peace. God gives the people and the land peace and rest for the life of the judge (we won’t see this until the very last verse of the story in 5:31).

But, like I said, it’s a cycle, so it repeats. After a time of peace, the people forget the Lord again, do evil, are oppressed, cry out, then a new judge is raised up to deliver them and give peace, again.

Their Oppression

So after turning from God, the Israelites in this day were oppressed. We learn from the next chapter, Judges 5:6-8, what their oppression was like. Look in verse 6, we see that the roads were abandoned and travelers took to winding paths, out-of-the-way, because they were afraid. In verse 7, we see that village life had ceased-there was no social interaction-and inverse 8, that there was not a shield or spear among 40,000 in Israel. Not only were they afraid, and hiding out, but they had no means of protection either. They were completely weak and vulnerable and under the control of Jabin and his powerful chariots.

Stage 4: God Raises Up a Deliverer: Deborah

It’s at this point in the story that we meet Deborah. Look back at Ch. 4, verse 4, we read:

“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading [or judging] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm [tree] of Deborah…and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4-5).

Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge or leader for the people. The only other judge in Scripture that was also a prophet was Samuel, who we studied last fall. What qualities do you think she would need to fill these roles (prophet, leader, judge, wife, mother- 5:7)? How about: wisdom, discernment, understand hearts of men and women and children, trust in God, balance of many roles, etc.

1. Deborah as Judge
We’re studying a judge in the book of Judges, but what was an ancient judge? Was it someone who held court with a gavel, like in our modern day? Well, there’s an aspect in which Deborah does do this as she settles disputes among the people, but the ancient judge was also a ruler, a rescuer, and deliverer for the people from their enemies. The role went well beyond settling cases of disagreement. What they do is a gift and calling from God; they delivered their people.

2. Deborah as Prophetess
In verse 6, we see God speaking through her, giving his plan of rescue for the Israelites. She sends for Barak, son of Abinoam, saying:

“The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands'” (Judges 4:6-7).

God reveals to her to summon Barak to lead the people out from under the oppressive hand of Jabin. But, we see in his response, a lack of faith in this word from God. In verse 8, he says, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Barak wavers. He hears the command of God, but he’s willing to disobey if Deborah doesn’t go with him. His response goes to show that there really wasn’t any male leadership in Israel at that time. Deborah replies in verse 9 that she will go with him, but because of the way he’s responded, she says,“the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” A woman will be the one to deliver Israel and to give them the peace and rest.

Then verses 9-10 both tell us that “Deborah went with him.” What do you think Deborah would be feeling as she goes into battle with 10,000 men? Maybe: scared, afraid, or trusting in God? What would give her the emotional strength/faith to do this? Maybe the roles she’s already been called to, her past interactions with God, trust in her abilities, having received direct words from God (prophecy), wisdom in deciding disputes, trust God’s word is true…

Yes, so her strength would come from God. In Judges 5:2-3, she praises God, and says that the people willingly volunteered themselves to serve with God, then she sings to the Lord. In5:9, she says her heart is with Israel’s princes and willing volunteers. She gains strength from the people-her community-as well as God. Later we’ll see she has strength in God because she sees him at work in nature…and because she knows the Lord has gone out ahead of them (seeverses 4:14, 5:21, and 5:31).

3. Deborah as Commander of the Battle
Next, we move to the scene of the battle in Ch. 4, verses 12-16. Barak’s 10,000 men are to fight the 900 iron chariots of Sisera. While the numbers might seem to be in Israel’s favor, they are still severely outmatched. The riders of the iron chariots had been oppressing them for 20 years, you’ll remember. So, Barak goes, because Deborah is with him. And we see that she’s now taking on a military leadership role as well. In verse 14, we see she’s the one who commands the troops, giving the battle cry to “Go!” The Lord has revealed to her that today is the day they will defeat Sisera. The Lord says that he has gone out before them.While Deborah goes with the troops and with Barak, the Lord has gone out ahead of them.

So Barak’s men charge down the mountain toward Sisera and his chariots, and verse 15 says that “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots.” Not Barak routed Sisera, but the Lord did. We learn that Sisera abandons his chariot and flees on foot; meanwhile all the other men were killed by the sword (verses 16-17).

4. The Lord as Deliverer
What has happened though, we don’t really get much more information here in Ch. 4? We do know that it’s the Lord’s battle and that he had a hand in it, but how could they beat the iron chariots and why would Sisera abandon his? Ch. 5 gives us more information about the way God wins this battle for them. So look at Ch. 5, the second ½ of verse 4, we see that “the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel” (Judges 5:4b-5). God sends a storm. The ground would turn to mud, and iron chariots on wheels pulled behind horses aren’t going to get too far. The chariots would get stuck, and Sisera’s power would be rendered ineffective.

Ch. 5, verses 20-21 adds that “From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!” says Deborah (Judges 5:20-21). So the rain and the swelling of the river swept away the power of Israel’s oppressors. The Lord routes the army by his mighty hand and his mighty power. The battle was not won by man, but by the Lord. God is the divine warrior who ultimately rescues his people, using the team of Deborah and Barak to help carry out his plan. (Verse 21 tells us that Deborah’s soul gains strength from seeing God working a natural miracle.)

5. Jael as God’s Instrument
But what’s happening with Sisera? Back to Ch. 4, verse 17-22, remember that he escapes; he flees from the battle as the only survivor. On his escape route, exhausted, he comes upon the tent of an ally.

Verse 17 tells us that he comes to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who had friendly relations with the Canaanite king Jabin. But, verse 11 above tells us that he would be distantly related to the Israelites too, by marriage through Moses. So he would have loyalty to both sides.

In verses 18-21, we learn that Jael, lures Sisera into her tent, telling him not to be afraid. He accepts her hospitality. She covers him and offers him milk to drink, rather than the water he requests. She promises to divert anyone who comes looking for him, but as soon as he falls asleep, she carries out a different plan. She takes a tent peg and a hammer and drives it through his head, killing him instantly.

When Barak comes looking for him, Jael calls out to him, telling him in verse 22, “‘Come, I will show you the man you’re looking for.’ So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple-dead.” Jael has just killed a man. What are we to make of Jael’s actions? Is she a hero or a treacherous woman? What would do you think would drive her to do this?? Are we to follow her lead?

  • remember that the honor would go to a woman, it was already prophesied
  • this is in warfare
  • we should not follow her lead… (see below, “ancient warfare vs. modern”)

6. Jael’s Actions Blessed

Let’s look at what this story has to say about Jael’s actions. Ch. 5 sheds more light for us. Look at verse 24 with me:

“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell-dead” (Judges 5:24-27).

Here Jael is called most blessed of women for her role in killing the commander of the oppressive army. She is the one who literally delivers the people in this story; she is God’s instrument. Back in Ch. 4, verse 23, the writer says that “On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king.” Jael, a woman and wife, a tent-dweller and foreigner, stepped into the role that God called her to. She was willing to save the people from their enemies and to rescue them when needed. She dealt the decisive blow that saved the people.

7. Ancient Warfare vs. Modern
But what about for us? Are we to follow her example in battle? Do you think that God wants us to be sure and kill our enemy if he ever is passing by our house? The NT would definitely tell us no, this is not God’s way now that he has sent Jesus. By the standards of ancient warfare, though, these two women were both heroes. But today, we don’t fight battles like they did in the OT. Now that we live in the NT times, our enemies are the spiritual forces of darkness.

Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Since Christ has come, the battle is different…He has already won, so instead of literal armor, we put on the spiritual armor of God. Yes, we will still see flesh and blood enemies, but we are not to fight them in the same way. We are to use our spiritual weapons and armor.

Stage 5: Peace
At the end of this story, Ch. 5 verse 31, we see the final stage in the circle of repentance, after Sisera died, “then the land had peace forty years.” The circle for this judge was complete. The cycle of Deborah as judge with Jael as her warrior ended with lasting peace for 40 years.

Christ as Ultimate Deliverer and Giver of Peace
Let’s begin to wrap up by looking at what would this story have meant for the original hearers? They would have seen that through Deborah and Jael’s courage and faith, the Lord rescues his people Israel from the trouble they got themselves into by doing evil in his sight. God sends a judge to redeem the people from their oppression and situation. But since it’s a circle of repentance, it happens over and over again; they needed a new judge, each time they got themselves into this circle. The point of this story in Judges is that God intervenes to send someone to help rescue Israel during times of oppression.

For us, we have to look not just at how the original hearers would have taken this story, but how we are to take it now that Christ has come. In the context of the whole Bible, we learn that God is the ultimate one who redeems his people, even as we saw in this story-it was God who routed the army. As we look forward to the NT, we see that Jesus is the redeemer, he is the leader, who finally and ultimately delivers his people from themselves. Deborah and Jael’s story, these two women, point us to Christ’s work. Outside of a saving relationship with Christ, we are weak and poor, oppressed by the spiritual forces of darkness; we are in need of God’s divine intervention. We need Christ as our savior, redeemer, and judge to fight the battles for us, because we have no hope of winning them on our own or of bringing lasting peace on our own. Only he can do it.

Application and Conclusion
What does this mean for you and me? Well, we no longer have to bear the oppressive weight of evil. We don’t have to wait for the redeemer, the deliverer, he’s already been sent. We don’t have to wait for God’s peace; it too has already been sent.

Now yes, we may still today see this same circle of repentance play out in our own lives; we are human after all… We need to be aware of it, but we also need to recognize that we are not left in it. We need to repent when we stray from God and come back to him. The more we grow in our Christian walk, the less we should enter into the depths of this cycle. What I mean is that we shouldn’t move so far out in disobedience that we don’t even acknowledge the Lord anymore. We need to learn to recognize that he has been there, right beside us, all along, and that he has already rescued us from our worst battle with sin and evil.

In conclusion, God’s promise is that he is the one who provides the victory and the one to accomplish it: his son. As women, we need to be willing to step into the roles he has called us and to use the gifts he has given us. We also need to learn to have strength in our faith in God and trust in him to deliver us, from whatever our situation may be.

Questions for Discussion and Application:

  • What is an area of your life right now where you feel trapped in the circle of repentance (disobey, feel oppressed, cry out, be delivered, then have peace)? How can you begin to move forward out of this?
  • How has God called you to step out as a woman to a role that might be uncomfortable for you? How do these women’s stories help us gain perspective on God in our own lives?

Hagar: Genesis 16:1-16

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The second woman we are going to be looking at in our 6 week study on women in the Bible is a little more of an obscure character. Hagar in the Old Testament. So turn to Genesis 16 and let’s look at Hagar’s story.

Verse 1 introduces us to the characters in this story, it says…

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar”

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of who Sarai & Abram (who we will later know as Sarah & Abraham) are and where they are at in their lives. When Abram was 75 God called him on a journey and promised Abram that he would have offspring and that He was going to make him into a great nation. During this journey they encounter the Pharaoh of Egypt and to make a long story short, Pharaoh makes them very wealthy giving them “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” (12:16) They finally settle in the land God said He would give to them. So in Chapter 16 this is where we find Abram and Sarai, he is 86 and she is like 76, and they are waiting for this child God is supposedly going to give them.

The other character we meet is Hagar, who we are going to be focusing on tonight. And here we learn that Hagar is Sarai’s “Egyptian Maidservant.” From these two words we actually learn a lot about Hagar. In Genesis 12:16 it told us that Abram received from Pharaoh livestock and servants as a sort of bribe. Hagar was most likely one of those servants who was given to him. Just knowing this we can really begin to paint a picture of what Hagar’s life was most likely like. Society treated her like a piece of property, equal to sheep, cattle, donkeys, and camels. Servant sounds ok, but in reality she was a slave. And in that culture as a woman she had even less value and worth. So think about what Hagar must have felt and how she must have viewed her life. She was torn from her family, her friends, and even from her culture and her country when Abram left Egypt with her as part of his newly acquired property. She had no choice in the matter, she is now a slave to a strange foreign couple being dragged away from everything she had ever known.

So those are our main characters, so now let’s set the stage, verse 2…

2 “so [Sarai] said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said”

 In verse 1 we learned that in their old age they are still childless, which is a problem since God had promised them off-spring and He told Abram it would be a blood child. So Sarai, in verse 2, does what just about every woman would do in a situation like this. She has given God plenty of time to do His part, but He hasn’t, so she analyzes the situation and concludes that even though God told Abram He would have manyy offspring, He has kept Sarai from having children, which must mean He wants her to have children in a different way so she needs to come up with plan B to help God carry out His plan.

And she decides that since she can’t have children, Abram will have them through her servant Hagar. Now what we need to understand here is that in their culture it was a common practice protected by the law to have children through a servant if you were barren. Verse 1 makes this clear when it says she was childless but she had a servant, what that means is that she had another option. And it says in verse 2 she would build her family through Hagar…so when this baby is born it would not be Hagar’s, it would be Sarai’s. Sounds like a good plan, and Abram agrees to it. (and I would love to spend a lot of time on why Abram is such a passive husband in this story, but it’s not our focus, maybe another time!)

So Sarai carries out her plan, look at verses 3-5

3 “So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.  4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.  5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

So Abram marries the servant Hagar, sleeps with her, and she gets pregnant. I think we can only begin to imagine how Hagar felt about all of this. Abram is 86 and Hagar is most likely somewhere between 14 and 30. How might this little arrangement affect Hagar? How do you think she is feeling? Put yourself in her shoes. What do you think that was like? She’s not married which means she is a virgin!! She may have been disgusted to have to have sex for the first time with an old man who is also a foreigner. Perhaps she feels hollow, like she is nothing but an object, a means to and end, without a say in the matter. The one thing she had was her own body, and now even that didn’t belong to her. She was robbed. Being a wife and mother was the highest calling on a woman’s life in that day and age. Just like you and I, she dreamt of that. Can you imagine all your dreams coming crashing down on you as you realize what your true fate is and that your fairy tale will actually never come true.  Perhaps at night she dreamt of the day a man would save her from her situation and give her purpose and meaning in life. But, instead she must live a nightmare. And we can bet she was hormonal! I know this sounds funny, but seriously, in those first few weeks your hormones go nuts. We got in the biggest fight of our marriage when we were two weeks pregnant only to find out several days later that I was pregnant and the hormones had played a big role in it. On top of all of this remember that she actually has no rights to that baby, if Sarai wants it as her own she can take it and even send Hagar away.

Now we can understand why it says in verse 4 that Hagar despised her mistress when she found out she was pregnant. In the dictionary it explains that to despise someone is much worse than to dislike them, “it suggests looking down on someone with great contempt and regarding the person as mean, petty, weak, or worthless.” The ESV even says here that “she looked with contempt” on Sarai. It was visible and full of hate.

Now for the irony of all ironies. In light of the contempt Sarai is receiving from Hagar in verse 5 she turns to Abram and blames him for everything. But we know, this was all her plan! Abram didn’t do anything to her, she did this to everyone else. Secondly, she completely fails to recognize her mistreatment of Hagar and only sees the “wrong [she is] suffering.” Even if what she forced Hagar to do was common and protected by the law, she doesn’t for a moment consider Hagar’s feelings and the situation she is now in.

But again, Abram passively bows out of this sticky situation and tells Sarai to do what “she thinks is best.” And evidently what she thinks is best is to mistreat Hagar right back. Which is also a natural human self-protective response. And in response, Hagar runs away.

Now the scene changes and the focus becomes solely Hagar, and we are introduced to a new character. Look at verses 7-8,

7   The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert…  8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.”

 What is the most amazing thing about what it says happened in verse 7? Well, first is that the angel of the Lord appeared. The Angel of the Lord is a messenger from God who represents God Himself and speaks the very words of God. So the Angel represents God’s presence. But what is truly amazing is that the angel of the Lord found Hagar! She was an Egyptian slave woman, she was not even of God’s people. She didn’t know God and didn’t believe in Him. But she had probably heard of YHWH since Abram had a relationship with God. And here we are told the Angel of the Lord comes to her. He finds her. She wasn’t seeking Him out or even praying to Him as far as we know. But God came to her in her darkest hour and revealed Himself to her.

And when He finds her He asks her about her situation. Where have you come from and where are you going? So basically, what happened Hagar and what are you planning on doing? By coming to Hagar and asking these questions God is treating Hagar as a human, an individual. He shows her that her life has purpose and meaning enough for God to take notice and show concern. Everything in the world has told Hagar she is worthless and that her life has no meaning, but God is showing her that He sees her very differently and that she does matter in His eyes. And in one sentence she gives her exasperated answer, she is running away from Sarai. That says it all.

Now if you were in a situation where you were being mistreated, even abused by your employer, and you prayed to God for help and guidance, what kind of answers would you expect to get from God? Maybe, I’ll protect you, you’re going to be ok, everything is going to work out. Or at least, run away and take care of yourself and your baby…I will judge and punish Sarai for what she has done. And He could have said, Go back to Abram and tell him what has happened and I will be sure he will protect and love you. But instead, God says what we would least expect and what seems most harmful to Hagar.

“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

He tells her to humble herself. To return to a harmful and horrible situation and to submit to a crazy woman. He never once tells her “Yes, Sarai is wrong and I will judge her for that.” Think about it, if she goes back and submits to Sarai it will look like Hagar is accepting responsibility and admitting fault! WHY would God tell Hagar to do something that is so obviously harmful and oppressive to her? Why wouldn’t God vindicate Hagar or at least free her from an unfair situation?

Our Limited Perspective

When we are in a situation that isn’t fun, that is oppressive, or is causing us sadness or pain, our natural instinct is to run. The way we see and understand the world we think that God would never want us to be in such difficult places, that He would want us to do whatever we can to be happy and live a peaceful life. But our vision is limited, temporary, and often worldly. And when we look at our lives through our limited perspective  we often fail to see God’s greater plan or even consider that God’s plan might include a difficult situation. So we justify running away.

But God’s perspective is not only bigger, it is eternal. And sometimes God’s will for our lives does include us submitting to difficult situations or hardships. Sometimes doing that is even required in order for God to do what He plans to do. And this is not an oppressive thing, it is always infused with God’s love for us and the knowledge that He will always care for us and be with us in those lowest and darkest of times.

When we view Hagar’s situation through those lenses, what might God’s plan have been for Hagar? What good could we possibly see in her returning to Abram and Sarai? Perhaps this was God’s protection over her and her child. She would certainly be safer in their home than out in the desert where she could be raped, robbed, and abused. She would have a safer and healthier pregnancy there than homeless. How would she feed and care for her child living on the streets? And what about breaking the law? By running away from her owners she was breaking the law. She may have been killed for it or even separated from her child once he was born. He would have most likely been sold in slavery as well.

As we think of these things you might be tempted to say “But we don’t know any of this for sure so why create false ideas? We can’t put words in God’s mouth.” Well, think of it this way – We do know that God always has a plan. As Romans 8:28 says, His plans always include not just His eternal purposes but also our good. The Psalms tell us that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. So truly, what the whole of Scripture tells us is that we can look for those things. We should consider what in God’s plans is for our good, for our protection, because He loves us, and so on. That is what it means to have an eternal perspective, it means not just seeing our life at face value, but seeing beyond it to God’s purposes and looking for meaning in all things good and bad. And even then, when we don’t see what good could come of something, submitting because we trust God and His care for us.

But God doesn’t just leave it at that, He does give her a little more to hold on to and to encourage her. He says in verses 10-12,

10  “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.

11                “…You are now with child

                        and you will have a son.

            You shall name him Ishmael,

                        for the LORD has heard of your misery.

12                He will be a wild donkey of a man;

                        his hand will be against everyone

                        and everyone’s hand against him,

            and he will live in hostility

                        toward all his brothers.”

Why would knowing these things be encouragement to Hagar? Why would it help her to return? It validates that He is God because He knows what no man could know. He knows her child, He knows it’s gender which in those days you couldn’t know til the child was born! When Michael and I first saw our baby at the sonogram we both immediately thought of Psalm 139 where it says that God knew us in the womb. I was amazed to think this child that I sometimes wonder if it’s still there or not, is known by God before I will ever even meet him/her. And God doesn’t just know each person before they are born, He knows what every day of their life will hold. And I guarantee as Hagar heard this she also realized that it meant God knew her in an intimate way as well! It shows that He isn’t just telling her to go back on principal but that it is part of a bigger plan. He’s helping her see beyond the dark hole she is in now. In a way God is telling her Ishmael is her son, not Sarai’s. That she will have many descendants. All that matters is how God sees it and that’s the validation she needed to hear. It is her body and the child in it is hers. He gives the child a name which will forever remind Hagar that God sees and hears her since Ishmael means “God hears.” She is not invisible or hidden. And by giving the child a name God helped Hagar to think of the child as a person, to make decisions for the best of that child, to care well for the child, and to know there is purpose in that life. The horrible way he was conceived is now validated and given purpose.

Now in the midst of this encouraging news God also gives her a little bit of bad news in verse 12, your son will be like a wild ass and he’ll clash with lots of people. But regardless of God telling her this she responds in verse 13 saying,

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

And I really think this reflects how this encounter with God has already matured Hagar and given her faith. Her focus is no longer herself and her sad situation, instead she is overwhelmed and encouraged to simply know that God sees her, that she matters, that He will be with her and has a purpose for her life….even if that means she will have more hardships to face. This is enough for her.

We live in a broken and fallen world and the reality is that even with God at our side we will face problems, sorrow, and hardships. But what Hagar learned that day was that knowing God is with us, sees us, and has purpose in all things, makes all the difference. A relationship with God meant more to her than having a perfect life, just like what we saw with Mary last week. And this is what an eternal perspective is, seeing past the temporary and worldly, to see the spiritual and eternal.

In her book, Lost Women of the Bible, Carolyn Custis James says that when Hagar realized this,

“[It] freed her to do the extraordinary – to love her neighbor, to put the interest of others ahead of herself…, and to reflect the image of God in her relationships.” (p.94)

It’s amazing to see the power of stepping away from our lives to regain perspective. Sometimes we get so buried under the complexities of our lives that we can no longer see the big picture and gain perspective. So we have to learn to retreat, to turn to God with those things, and to listen for His voice through His Spirit and His Word giving us encouragement and understanding of the harder things in our lives. I bet many of you are in need of that right now just as Hagar was…

So in verse 15 we read Hagar’s response to her encounter with God, to this retreat which helped her to gain a God-centered perspective on her life. She returned because the God who sees her commanded her to return. She did it knowing the outcome wasn’t going to be everything she had ever dreamed and hoped for. But that’s because it wasn’t the outcome that motivated her anymore, it was simple obedience to the God of creation, humbling herself to His greater plan.

Conclusion

Last week we talked about when we are living in unexpected situations in our lives and things in our lives look nothing like what we had thought. I think tonight’s story about Hagar builds beautifully on top of that. God’s command to us is to “Stay and submit to it.” and the encouragement we can take with us when we do is that God sees what we don’t see. That we are never alone in it. That He is with us. That He has purpose in the dark and lonely places you might find yourself in.

That simply knowing God sees us and loves us can motivate us to do things we never would have imagined doing on our own. And that if you know and trust that God is good and that He loves you, then that thought will bring you hope and joy not despair. Hagar was truly one of the first people in the Bible to see God in a personal way and it changed everything about how she lived and viewed her life. And that is what you and I can learn from the life of a woman who in the world’s eyes was worthless – but whose legacy has lived on to teach women like us thousands of years later some of the most important lessons of our lives….how would Hagar have ever known that that was one of the purposes of such a hardship in her life?

Questions for discussion & application

●       What is an area (or areas!) of your life right now that you feel buried in and are in need of some perspective?

●       What lessons from Hagar’s encounter with God can you apply to those areas of your own life to help you gain perspective?

What are some ways we can “retreat” to gain perspective?

Revelation 21-22: New Heavens & New Earth, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Tonight, I want to start by reading a little bit to you from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  It’s the last book in the series and it’s called The Last Battle.  In it, Lewis tries to explain the difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia.  As you listen, think about your reading in Rev 21-22 of the New Heavens and Earth.  (This story is going to give us a picture of what that new earth is like).

“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste.  Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.  You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.  And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass.  And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass.  And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different-deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.  The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that.  The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.  I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.” (Lewis,The Last Battle, 212-3)

Tonight we’re going to look at God’s glorious picture of the New Heavens and Earth. I want you to think back over our past few lessons, what are some things we’ve spoken of happening at the 2nd coming?

  • spoke about judgment: either you have believed in Christ as savior and been covered by his blood and his work on the cross at the judgment, or you stand based on your own works, which over and over the Bible tells us is not sufficient to win any favor with God: only trusting your life to him is.
  • God’s kingdom becoming kingdom on earth
  • peace

Great, these are all things that will happen at the 2nd coming.  The last picture we get from Revelation is this vision of Rev 21-22: the New Heavens and Earth. Get out your Bibles. We’re going to be flipping around, and I want you to look at and see the different passages we’re discussing. Open to Revelation 21…  We’re going to look in these chapters at 3 sections; we’re going to organize it into 3 parts: 1) A Preview of the New Heavens and Earth in Ch. 21:1-8, 2) A Description of the City in 21:9-22:5, and 3) A Final Call in 22:6-21.

Revelation 21:1-8: A Preview of the New Heavens and Earth

First, 21:1-8: A Preview.  The first 8 verses are a sort of bridge from last week’s talk, where Ashley went through the sections on the judgment of all people, either to eternal life or death in the lake of fire.  The verses we went through ended with the judgment and a focus on the negative side of God’s judgment: what happens to those who don’t believe.  (I know last week’s material was tough.  I know many of you left with a lot of questions about God and left feeling burdened.  But Ashley pointed us to the hope that we have in Christ as well.  ) These 8 verses show us the positive side of God’s judgment, what happens to those who do believe.  This is what’s in store for those who believe and are covered in the blood of Christ, who have washed their robes in his blood. These verses also give us a preview of what we’ll see in the rest of Chs. 21 and 22.  This vision is so beautiful and important.  Let’s look at some of it together.

Read Rev 21:1-5

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”   5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””

What are some things that John sees?  What do we learn in this passage?

  • We learn about the New heaven and earth, New Jerusalem, bride, God dwelling with man, being their God
  • he will wipe away their tears, no more death or mourning or crying or pain!

I want to focus right now on two things in this section: the “old” order of things and the “new” order of things…

The “old” order of things

Verse 4 speaks of “the old order of things” passing away and verse 5 of God “making everything new.”  These verses tell of a start of something new, a new creation that will happen.  Turn to 2 Cor 5:17, Paul says here that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Interesting…Paul uses the exact language that John in Revelation has used.  Paul also says that “the old has passed away” (but Paul’s not talking about the 2nd coming, he’s speaking in the past tense in his own day).  He says the new has come.  The new has already broken into the current creation.

Why does he say we are a new creation if we’re in Christ?  Why does Paul say this?  Well, when we were baptized and believed, scripture tells us that we entered into Christ’s death and resurrection.  So if anyone is in Christ, you have entered into new creation.  We’ve entered into Christ’s triumph over death and the old “order” of things.

We, like Jesus, will receive resurrected bodies.  Our current bodies won’t be destroyed, like his wasn’t, but they will be transformed and immortal.  Jesus, in his resurrected body, ate, drank, was recognizable to his friends, had scars, but was also glorious beyond words.  Jesus’ resurrected body shows us what happens to the old order of things when they have been made new…  When God says he is making all things new, it doesn’t mean he is making them from scratch, but he’s taking what we see in the current, or old, order of things and making them glorious, transforming them.

Back in Revelation 21, verse 1, it says that “the first heaven and the first earth passed away.”  The heaven and earth we know of are part of the old order of things then.  Well, what does that mean for our current earth? What happens to the earth we live on?  Is it destroyed, is it burned up, where does it go?  Is it worth caring for how we treat the earth?

Read Romans 8:18-22:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.   22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

This passage, in verse 19, says that the creation waits in eager expectation.  So the creation is waiting for the 2nd coming.  Verse 21 says that at that time, the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage, and it will be brought into glorious freedom.

That doesn’t sound like the earth is going to be destroyed and burned up, does it?  Paul is saying that the earth too is waiting for redemption, like our bodies are.  So when Rev 21:1 says that “a new heaven and a new earth” come, we see not a death to the old, but a new creation.  A freedom from the effects of sin and the curse that the earth has been under since Adam first sinned.  It will be glorious, that is what the new heavens and earth will be, a redeemed and whole and perfect form of what we currently see around us, of all the beauty that we are able to see even now, but in much greater form.  So our bodies and our current earth will be made imperishable, they will be new creations.

The New Order of Things

So Revelation 21:1-5 gives us a glimpse of what new creation will look like.  There will be no more tears, no more death or crying or pain.  There will be new, resurrected bodies, and a new heaven and earth.  Remember the story I just read from C.S. Lewis, he described the new order by saying: “it’s like looking into that mirror, but seeing that things are in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time, they were somehow different-deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.” The opening section of Rev 21 gives us a picture of the new order of things.

So, is this vision of the new heavens and new earth, something that came along in the NT?  Have you even heard of this before?  Well, this is not a new story.  This isn’t something new that Jesus spoke when he came, actually, the new heavens and the new earth were prophesied about, long before Jesus ever came. Turn to Isaiah 65:17-20…  I want you to see the similarities between what the OT prophesied and what John saw.

17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; 

Isaiah prophesies of this future peace, of the New Heavens and Earth, of a New Jerusalem that will be a joy and a delight to his people.  He goes on to say that they will dwell there, they will build houses that will be theirs forever, they will plant vineyards and eat the fruit, and no longer will they toil in vain. So back in Revelation 21, John sees a vision of this same New Heavens and Earth, this same New Jerusalem that Isaiah had prophesied about nearly 2500 years ago.

Revelation 21:9-22:5: A Description of the City

So, let’s turn to the 2nd section of our reading Chapter 21:9-22:5.  If the first 8 verses of the chapter gave us a preview of the New Heavens and Earth and the New Jerusalem, this next section gives us a description of them. The section from verses 9-14 describes the New Jerusalem.  Look in verse 9, an angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.” Remember that in the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how the bride of Christ is the church.  In verse 10, the angel takes John up “in the Spirit to a mountain great and high” to show him the bride, and he sees a city coming down out of heaven from God.  The city is the bride, it is the church. In verse 11, it says the city shines “with the glory of God, and its brilliance is like that of a very precious jewel.”  In verses 12-14, we see the number 12 showing up again with the 12 tribes of Israel represented in the gates of the city and the 12 apostles in the foundation of the city.  The entire church of the OT and NT is represented and seen in this city.

Measurement 

In verses 15-17, John sees the angel measure the city.  The NIV translation keeps the original numbers, so that we can see their symbolic significance.  We see a multiple of the number 12 again.  The city is 12,000 stadia in length, and in width, and in height.  It’s a perfect cube.  But just to give you a visual of the size of what is described here, 12,000 stadia is equal to roughly 1,400 miles.  This is roughly the distance from here to Los Angeles.  So the length is described as the distance from Dallas to LA (this is a city), the width is the same length, and so is the height.  Well, when the World Trade Center was still standing, it was only one ¼ of a mile tall.  ¼ of a mile.  This city is 1400 miles high.  My point isn’t to tell you this will literally be the dimensions of the city, I don’t know, but these numbers are the same highly symbolic numbers we’ve seen over and over again the last few weeks.

Jewels 

Next, verses 18-21 speak of the beauty that this city and the bride are covered in.  She is covered in rare and precious jewels.  The bride is dressed for the final feast, decked in jewels for her husband, Christ (21:2).  There are twelve of them.  Twice in verses 18, then 21, we learn that the city and its streets are of pure gold, somehow as pure and transparent as glass.

No More Temple

Next, in verses 22-27, we see the fulfillment of two biblical themes.  The first theme is God dwelling among his people: verse 22 says there is no more need for a temple, because God is the temple.  God will dwell perfectly among his people.  In the OT, God had to be separate from his people because of his holiness and their/our unholiness.  In our broken condition, we weren’t given direct access to God, not until Jesus came.  Through the Holy Spirit, we gained that access to God.  He dwells in us now.  We have a foretaste of that access to God.

God is Light

The second biblical theme is carried out in verse 23-25, is that of God as light.  When Jesus came the first time, he said “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  We have a foretaste of it now, when we seek and follow God, he does enlighten us, “his word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto the way” (Ps 119:105).  In the new city, we will know this perfectly.  The sun and moon won’t be our sources of light, but God and the Lamb will be (see also Isa 60:19-20).  Verse 24tells us that the nations will walk by the light of God.  Like I saw a few weeks ago, our races and identities aren’t going to be wiped out.  We’re not going to all look the same in heaven.  Even here we see that the nations are visibly recognizable.

Verses 25-27 speak of the city’s security with no need for protection-the gates are open.Verse 27 says it’s a city that will only be inhabited by those whose names are written in the lamb’s book of life.  This is the future for the church: for Christ’s bride, and we have a foretaste of it now.

Creation/New creation motifs

As we move into Ch. 22, we continue getting a picture of what this future city will be.  The first 5 verses are meant to make us think of the Garden of Eden from Genesis 1-3.  In verse 1, the angel shows John “the river of the water of life…flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city.”  In Gen 2:10 (through v. 14), there was a river that watered the entire garden.  But now, it’s called the river of life.  Ezekiel andJoel, OT prophets, spoke of the waters of life that God would give to his people (Ezek 47:12; Joel 3:18).  If you were here last fall, you heard Ashley teaching on John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well, who Jesus offers living water (John 4:10-14).  That living water, we learned in John 7 was the life that the Holy Spirit gives us (John 7:37-39).  So we see that we have a foretaste even now of new creation.  We have access to this river of life, through the Holy Spirit.

The waters of life, the Holy Spirit, give us rest when we’re weary.  When you feel pulled in many directions, whether from too much travel or being in a new city.  The living water from the Holy Spirit gives us peace and rest.  It nourishes our soul, especially when we feel distant from God… we must ask for his Holy Spirit to fill us even more, to give us the water of life.  God, through Christ, already offers us wholeness and restoration from our broken lives, even now.

Verse 2 recalls the tree of life, except now this tree super-abundant.  It’s on both sides of the river, it has 12 different types of fruit on it, and it bears fruit once a month.  And, notice that the garden is in the midst of the city.  Our lives are moving towards a city, not a return to the garden.  In verse 3, we see that the curse will be finally gone.  We won’t be exhausted from our work and have little to show for it.  We won’t feel like we have to prove ourselves to anyone.  There will still be work, but no more toil in work.  We know this because even Adam in the garden had work before the fall (he had to name the animals), but it was only after the fall that his work was hard and a burden.  This work won’t be anything like we can imagine, because it won’t be under the curse.  Work will be redeemed and transformed; it will be joyful and fulfilling.

Christ came and was crucified, died on the cross, to begin this work, to give us freedom from the effects of sin to show us what new creation is.  This is what the NT is about.  The new creation has begun and yet we see that there’s a radical transformation that’s still to come.

Already/Not-yet

So, now we’ve learned a lot more about the New Heavens and Earth, about the new city called Jerusalem that is coming to this restored and whole earth.

We’ve seen that it’s a future hope, one that is still to come, but I’ve spoken of it as a foretaste, as something present already.  We see glimpses of it in this earth already.  This is what people mean when they speak of “the already/not-yet.” We have a foretaste of new creation already, but not yet fully.

So, it’s not just a totally future hope.  God calls us now to be a part of his kingdom work, of bringing wholeness now to earth, living into the resurrection work Christ has begun.  We are called to live this way, but we don’t do it out of duty, but out of love and thankfulness that God wants to have us be a part of his work, part of his will here on earth.  We are motivated by what God has already started and what he’s done in our own lives.

How can you and I be a part of bringing God’s restoration right now in our own areas of life?

  • engaging the work of “shalom,” restoring God’s peace
  • in our relationships– apologizing and telling someone they hurt you instead of avoiding them
  • to the earth– our part in caring for it-recycling, paying attention to things that corrupt- being a part of change; social causes that have eternal significance

Remember that Christ’s resurrection is what began the change in the old order of things on earth!  Remember too, that Christ died to make this possible.  His death and resurrection are what motivates us.  Ultimately, he is the one who will accomplish it, but he graciously and lovingly invites us, calls us, to join him in his work.

Revelation 22:6-21: A Final Call

As we turn to the final section of these chapters, Ch. 22, verses 6-21, we see John, the angel and Christ all giving final exhortations, final encouragements for the church.   In verse 6, the angel testifies to the trustworthiness of these words, of these visions.  In verse 7, Christ reminds us that he is coming soon.  In verse 8, John testifies that he heard and saw all these things, and then in verse 9, he does the same funny thing that Ashley brought out last time inRev 19:10.  He’s so overwhelmed and taken aback by everything that’s been revealed to him that he falls down and worships the first thing he sees, the angel, who says “get up, don’t worship me, worship God.”  Verse 10 says: the time is near.

In verses 12-16Christ speaks again, reminding us of who he is, what he does and what we’ve already learned about him from the rest of the book of Revelation.  He is coming soon, he gives his reward, he’s the beginning and the end, and he clothes us in his blood, gives eternal life, and judges the actions of those who aren’t wearing the clothes he bought for us with his life. He is the one who sent his angel to give this testimony for the churches, for us.

Invitation

As the book ends in verses 17-21, we see even here an invitation to come to Christ (it’s kind of like the Bible’s last altar call).  Even in the last verses of the Bible, God is still reaching out to people saying come to me.  In verse 17, the Spirit and the bride, the church, say “Come!”  All you who are thirsty: come.  All who want to take the free gift of life: come.  God doesn’t want us to miss his call, to miss this free gift which he gives willingly and lovingly, at the cost of his life.

Verses 18-19 describe what will happen to anyone who changes the words of this book.  This may seem like a strange way to end, but it’s actually very similar to how the last book of the OT, Malachi, ends as well: with a blessing and a curse.

In verse 20, we hear Christ speaking again, saying these things are true. He says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Then we with John say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”  And verse 21 ends with a benediction, like other letters, saying “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, life on this earth matters.  It’s the beginning of a life that will continue without end-this life is the precursor of the life on the new earth.  When we follow Christ, and invite him into our lives, this has already begun; our lives have greater importance.  Our lives take on purpose and meaning.  We have purpose.

I want to close by reading to you from The Jesus Storybook Bible (by Sally Lloyd-Jones) about the end of Revelation:

“One day, John knew, Heaven would come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect home once again.  And he knew, in some mysterious way that would be hard to explain, that everything was going to be more wonderful for once having been so sad. And he knew then that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun. ‘I’m on my way,’ said Jesus.  ‘I’ll be there soon!’ John came to the end of his book.  But he didn’t write ‘The End.’ Because, of course, that’s how stories finish. (And this one’s not over yet.) So instead, he wrote: ‘Come quickly, Jesus!’ Which, perhaps, is really just another way of saying… To be continued…”


Questions for Application and Discussion:

  • How should the idea of new creation already being here, yet not being here fully, affect the way you live your life right now? How?
  • What are ways that you personally can be a part of God’s plan for this earth?

Revelation 12-20 Overview

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What I really want to do tonight is give a birds eye view of Revelation. We are not going into detail and interpreting every little thing, but instead we are trying to give an overall understanding of what Revelation is about and also an understanding of the structure and what it generally means. So it would be like seeing a play and then giving someone a 3 or 4 bullet pointed explanation of the jist of the plot based on what happened in each act without getting into every little detail. So let’s start by reviewing what we learned last week which is very important to understanding what we’ll talk about tonight.

  1. How to approach Revelation – As we seek to understand the strange content we find in this book of the Bible it is important to remember that Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle. We are not suppose to approach it to decode some secret message, but instead to look at the visual imageries and allusions it gives us to understand the spiritual reality of the world we live in today and of what will come in the end. Revelation helps us to make sense of the things we see in our world today, it shows us that God and Christ are at the center of it all, and it points us to the second coming of Christ and the reality of eternity which those who believe in Christ will receive. What we read in Revelation is meant to encourage and nourish us as we live in a fallen world where evil and Satan are present and working, to help us to endure to the end because of the victory of God that is sure to come. Most of what is in Revelation is already in the New Testament but is present here in symbolic form. So to understand the message of Revelation is to have an eternal perspective on the things that happen in our lives today.
  1. What is the 2nd Coming – Another thing to remember, which this is all leading up to, is the Second Coming. The first coming of Christ was when He came to earth as a man and lived for 33ish years. So the second coming is when He will return to earth to gather believers. Matt 24:30-31 (also in Luke 17).

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

So when Jesus returns he will gather those who belong to Him and user in the renewal of the earth.

  1. The 7 cycles of judgment – Look at the Handout. The area between the lines are the 7 cycles of judgments. The bulk of the book of Revelation is a repeating pattern of judgments, most of them carried out in a cycle of 7, and the pattern repeats 7 times. The significance of the number 7 throughout the Bible is that it signifies something that is perfect and complete. As Keeley told us last week, we are not suppose to understand these cycles as occurring in chronological order, but instead as parallel, repeating the same themes of God’s judgment leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. If you remember some of the themes are destruction of the earth, of our resources, of commerce, of those who do not believe in Christ (the inhabitants of the earth), and so on…all as a part of God’s judgment on the wicked. But each cycle offers a unique vantage point on God’s judgment and the later cycles focus more on the most intense phases of conflict and on the 2nd Coming. Keeley gave us a good picture of this by telling us to think of them as each being stacked on top of the other. And another aspect of the pattern of these cycles that we learned last week is that in each cycle there is a sort of interlude, between the 6th and 7th cycle of the numbered cycles, in which the people of God are given a promise to comfort them and encouraged them to endure.

CH. 12-14 THE SEVEN SYMBOLIC HISTORIES & FIGURES

We are starting tonight with the 3rd cycle of 7’s. This cycle is distinct from the first 2 in that rather than a series of numbered “events” focused on the judgments of God, we are given 7 un-numbered figures/characters and their histories which depict spiritual warfare. So let’s walk through these, and I want you to look at the verses as we talk about them. Beginning in chapter 12, verses 1-6 begin with a brief opening scene which introduces us to the woman and the dragon. Then the following verses unfold the story/history of each.

  1. The Woman – The Woman’s story is told in verses 13-17, but she is described in 12:1 as being clothed with the sun. She represents God’s people, the church. And the characteristic of the church that is depicted is that of being a witness of God’s light. And we also see a picture of the Messiah being born out of the people of God.

 

  1. The Dragon – In verses 7-12 we read about the dragon. We are explicitly told in 12:9 that the dragon is Satan, who is the head of the evil spiritual forces in our world. His actions represent his nature to constantly oppose the plans and people of God. His seven heads represent the different ways in which Satan manifests his power. When he fails to destroy Christ, he takes out his wrath on the woman, the people of God, but God protects those who are His.

 

  1. The Beast – In Ch. 13 we are introduced to the beast (v.1-10) and in v.2 it says the beast’s power and authority comes from the dragon, satan. Most likely the beast is not a person, but represents political powers. Powers that might demand worship and persecute those who won’t worship them. Or it could be more subtle in it’s insistence to be looked at as the cure to all earthly problems and trials, in a sense like a messiah. The beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, what people are to look to instead of Christ. So the Beast represents human institutions that are created to have power and authority over people and to meet our needs instead of Christ.

 

  1. The False Prophet – Starting in 13:11-18 we read that another beast comes who has authority on behalf of the first beast and who made the people worship the first beast. If the first beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, who would the false prophet be? A replacement of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit leads believers to worship and know Christ, the false prophet leads non-believers to worship and know the beast. Just as God puts a seal on those who belong to Him, the false prophet marks those who follow the beast.

 

  1. The 144,000 – Again, we are given in 14:1-5 a description of God’s people but this time it is of the 144,000 who (v.4) “did not defile themselves with women, [but] kept themselves pure” So first the church is shown as those who witness to the truth, but now they are shown as those who have remained pure and separate from the way the world has become corrupted.

 

  1. 3 Angelic Messengers – In 14:6-11 we read that three angels come to offer three messages. Their role is to give a final warning that judgment is coming for those who have not repented. Not only will Babylon (who we will talk about in a little bit) fall, but those who don’t repent will face God’s wrath.

 

  1. The Son of Man – 14:14-20 provide us with the 7th figure, the Son of Man, Jesus. This is a vision of the Second Coming of Christ when Christ will come to harvest those who belong to him. We are also given a picture of God’s wrath on those who don’t belong to Him as grapes being trampled on in a winepress.

This clear picture is meant to give believers a strong picture that there are two sides to the spiritual battle that we live in. There is no gray. There are not “many ways” that lead to heaven, there is only one. In the end, we will be found to be on one side or the other. So part of having an eternal perspective is understanding the spiritual reality of the world we live in.

In 14:12-13 we read the interlude for this cycle. What encouragement is given to the saints? To endure patiently, to obey God’s commands, and to remain faithful to Christ. And then a reminder is given that those who die in the Lord are blessed, they will receive spiritual rest because of how they lived.

CH 15-16 THE SEVEN BOWLS OF GOD’S WRATH

Next we find another numbered cycle of 7 judgments. In chapters 15-16 we read of seven bowls of God’s wrath that are poured upon the earth bringing 7 plagues as judgment against evil-doers. The plagues are horrible and bring complete and final destruction upon the earth. They communicate to us again, that God’s judgment will come upon the earth and He will destroy evil and wickedness completely. And there are just a few interesting things here I want to point out:

16:5-7 In these verses the angel in charge of pouring out the bowl of wrath on the waters to turn them to blood, stops and proclaims….

“You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; 6 for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” 7 And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”

“The altar responded”, what does that mean? Who was under the alter in Rev. 6:9? The “altar” refers to those who had been killed for their faith in Christ.

Just as we recognize God’s goodness, His love, His mercy as being good and right. We must also too recognize, like the angel here, that His justice  and judgments are good and right. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, we can’t just worship God because of ½ of who He is, we worship Him for the whole of who He is which includes what we read here. When we read of God’s wrath it should not cause us to question Him, but to stand in awe of Him.

16:15 Is the interlude, the encouragement for the saints. It says,

“Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

In light of these horrible plagues that will come upon the earth as a result of God’s wrath, the saints are encouraged to stay awake, to not become complacent or lukewarm, but to stay strong in their faith. Then they are told to keep their clothes on, which represents Christ, the truth, spirit, God’s Word, which covers over our sins so we will not be found to be naked and shamefully exposed. So in the  midst of this terrifying description of what God’s wrath on the earth, mankind, and evil will look like, believers are suppose to hold fast to their faith and be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, knowing His wrath will not be directed at them.

CH 17-19:10 BABYLON JUDGED & CHURCH VINDICATED

So now we turn to the 5th cycle of 7’s. And it begins when one of the angels holding one of the 7 bowls takes John to see the fate of “the great prostitute.” So look at chapter 17 and we’ll figure out who this is referring to.

Verses 1-6 describe for us who the “great prostitute” is. These verses tell us…

  • kings of the earth committed adultery with her
  • the inhabitants of the earth/non-believers got drunk on her adulteries
  • sits on a 7 headed scarlet beast – look at 13:1, this is the beast!
  • dressed in purple/scarlet, glittering gold, precious stones, pearls
  • held a golden cup full of abominable things & filth of her adulteries
  • Wore the title: Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.
  • She was drunk with the blood of the saints

So what would this mean she represents in our world today?

  • She represents the seductions of the world – worldliness, pleasure, sensuality, power, wealth, and so on.
  • She is the worship of anything other than Christ – idolatry & false religions or beliefs
  • And what does it tell us by describing her as riding the beast? That she is directly connected to the beast, has the same goals, and the same father: Satan.
  • She seduced the world to give her allegiance
  • Babylon represents everything apart from Christ which seduces us away from a life lived for Christ and according to God’s ways.

And, what we see next are 7 judgments against Babylon… 17:7-18:8 The judgment on Babylon begins with three messages/announcements

  1. Explains that war will be waged against he lamb but the lamb will overcome and Babylon will be destroyed. (17:7-18)
  2. Announces that Babylon has fallen. (18:1-3)
  3. Warns the saints to come out from Babylon to not take part in her sins or her fall. (18:4-8)

18:9-20 The judgment comes in the form of laments from those who were “friends” of Babylon, whose lives and lively hoods depended on her, who looked to her for their prosperity and well-being.

  1. The kings of the earth will be terrified and mourn over Babylon’s destruction (9-10)
  2. Merchants will weep and mourn over the loss of commerce and profit (11-17a)
  3. Sea Captains/Sailors will weep and mourn over the same and look longingly at the city burning (17b-19)

When Babylon falls their lives are ruined, their lives lose meaning, they are lost without her because they were dependent on her and had built their lives upon her foundation.

18:21-24 Then we read the 7th pronouncement against Babylon in 18:21-24. An angel announces the final destruction of Babylon and focuses on the finality of it, that it is irreversible and complete.

19:1-10 After the 7 proclamations of judgment against Babylon the vision is followed by a sound of celebration from heaven. As John looks upon this scene of utter destruction of Babylon, he hears rejoicing in heaven. In v. 1 it describes it as a roar of a great multitude shouting, in v.6 he says it was like the sound of rushing waters and loud peals of thunder. We could only imagine what it was like. But we can see what hearing this praise in heaven caused John to do in v.10, he fell to his knees and began worshipping the angel, which of course the angel stopped and told him to worship God!

How can we summarize the message of this 5th cycle? What is it’s unique vantage point? How is it different from the previous 4 cycles?

  • It shows clearly that those who live for worldly things are living for something that is from Satan and is not eternal. And when it is taken away they will be left with nothing, lost and confused.
  • As Christians we talk about this, but do we really believe that it will absolutely and definitely come to an end? That the destruction of worldly powers and institutions will be irreversible and complete?
  • For those whose lives were built on the foundation of Christ and the truth there really will be incredible rejoicing and celebration.
  • So when we are feeling left out from the things of the world because of our faith and the choices we make, this is where we should turn for encouragement knowing that what we live our lives for is eternal.

CH 19:11-21 THE FINAL BATTLE

Now the 6th and 7th cycles are different in structure than the first 5 and do not give us a “numbered” account of God’s judgment but instead focus on the final judgment. The 6th cycle which we find at the end of chapter 19 focuses primarily on the Second Coming of Christ and what happens immediately before and after it. And we are given a very vivid and tangible picture of the consummation of spiritual warfare and what it is about.

In the first half of this passage, verses 11-16, there is a detailed description of Christ. And each aspect of this description affirms His right and authority to judge the world and to conquer evil. When Jesus returns He will come to redeem those who are saved and renew the world, but part of that is the complete and final destruction of evil. So this passage focuses on that aspect of Jesus’ return before then turning to the redemption of His people and of the earth.

Then, in verses 17-21 we are given an image of what this destruction will be like… Verse 20 tells us that the beast and the false prophet will both be thrown alive into the lake of burning sulfur, which is hell. The lake of burning sulfur is always final and irreversible….so they are destroyed fully and finally when Christ returns. Then verse 21 says those who followed the beast and the false prophet, will be killed by the sword in the mouth of Christ, which is the Truth/God’s Word. Their death will come as a result of their rejection of Christ. And verses 17 & 21 tells us that the birds of the air will eat the dead remains of kings, generals, mighty men, and so on. And throughout the OT this is the picture of a dishonorable death. Jezebel and Ahab’s bodies were eaten by dogs as if they were animals themselves. This is the same, those people who lived for the things of this world and for themselves and were “honored” in this world will die in the most dishonorable way.

So this passages reminds us that Jesus will return, that He will conquer evil, and that those who have not put their faith in Him and who live for the things of this world will be judged by His Word and face eternal death because of it.

CH 20: REIGN OF THE SAINTS & THE LAST JUDGMENT

The final cycle is found in chapter 20 and it is going to focus on the destruction of Satan and the judgment of mankind. If you remember from chapters 12-14 we were first introduced to the dragon/Satan, then the beast, then the false prophet, then in chapter 17 to the prostitute/Babylon. Each is in a way built upon the other. And their destruction has happened in the opposite order, leading us to the foundation of them all, Satan. If you look at chapter 20 we can basically divide it into two sections.

The Fate of Satan – 20:1-10

The first section deals with the fate of Satan. In verses 1-6 we learn that Satan is bound for 1000 years and during this period of time he is kept from deceiving the nations and those who have been martyred in Christ are resurrected and reign with Christ in heaven.

Again, we are not going to get into the little details for now, but what we need to do is understand overall what is going on here. The first week we presented to you the different views of the 1000 years called the Millennium. (handout on the dresser). So we know that there are many different takes on what this 1000 years refers to and if it chronologically will follow the Second Coming of Christ or not.

But if you follow the view that these cycles are not chronological but instead develop and unfold the principals and concepts of God’s judgment leading to the Second Coming and that these cycles are symbolic not literal – then we would believe that we are living in the time of Satan being bound now. While he is active and working on earth, because of the death & resurrection of Christ, his power is limited and the gospel of Christ is being spread and the kingdom is growing. The reign of Christ on earth began at the resurrection and continues in the hearts of all believers until the Second Coming of Christ.

Then verses 7-10 tell us Satan’s sure fate. He will gather his followers in all the nations to war against Christ, but Christ will destroy them all. And, satan will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where the prostitute, the false prophet, and the beast have all been thrown. So regardless of your view of the millennium the overall message here is the same. Satan will be fully and finally defeated.

The Fate of Non-Believers – 20:11-15

All of evil has been destroyed. But now each and every person will be judged “according to what they have done as recorded in the books” that are in heaven. And we are told in verse 15 that these books include the book of life which holds the names of those who belong to Christ. Chapter 21 will deal with the fate of believers but first we learn what is the fate of those who did not put their trust in Christ, of non-believers.

v.12 Gives us an image similar to that of a courtroom. Where every person stands before the judge and is held accountable for how they lived.

v.15 But what it says in verse 15 is really what seals the deal. For those whose names are not listed in the book of life, their sins are not covered over with the blood of Christ. And because their sins are not atoned for, and they are unable to atone for their sin, they too are thrown into the lake of fire. Verse 14 tells us this is the second death. The first death was physical, but this death is spiritual and final.

And again, the message we hear in this final cycle is that God has the greatest authority, that all He has said will happen will come to pass, that evil will be judged, He will conquer and destroy all evil, and all of mankind will be held to account and face an eternal fate. While the passage we ended on tonight is sort of a downer, for those who have put their faith in Christ it is meant to be an encouragement. When we stand before the throne, if our names are in the book of life, we will not face the second and final death. This is meant to give us hope and encouragement in our lives today no matter what we are facing so that we will stand fast and hold tight to our faith.

Questions for discussion & Application:

●       The beast, the false prophet, and Babylon all represent the things we are tempted to turn to and worship aside from Christ, the things that seduce the people of the world. What are some of those things in our world today and what do you struggle most with?

●       If the main message of the book of Revelation is to give us hope as believers, how can we apply what is in Revelation to the struggles and temptations that we face today? Try to offer an example of something you are struggling with right now.