Day 211: There’s a Place for Us (Isaiah 56)

“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 56:3-5 ESV

Read The Bible Through: Isaiah 54-58

One year I was doing a reading plan that gave an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading for each day. And it “just so happened” that I read Isaiah 56 alongside the story of Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. And seeing the two passages together absolutely floored me. Here’s what God showed me that day:

The Ethiopian eunuch had “gone to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). What the text doesn’t say, but we know from our understanding of how the temple was laid out, is that the eunuch could only have gone as far as the court of the Gentiles, the outermost perimeter of the temple complex. Not only was he a gentile, but he was also a eunuch, and Deuteronomy 23:1 makes it abundantly (and uncomfortably) clear that eunuchs could not enter the assembly of God.

So the eunuch is sitting in his chariot, reading from Isaiah 52 and 53, about someone who was humiliated and deprived of justice. And I can imagine him relating to every word, because it sure sounds like what he must have been feeling himself. So he asks Philip a poignant, vulnerable question:

“About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:34 ESV)

I love the question behind the question. The eunuch seems to want to know who this is, that would be able to understand his own humiliation so well.

Verse 35 says that Philip “opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”

What gave me chills in that reading plan that day was seeing how close Isaiah 53:7-8 is to Isaiah 56:3-5. I can imagine how the eunuch’s face must have lit up if Philip unrolled the scroll just a little bit more! How Philip might have said, “Guess what! The One the prophet is speaking of has broken down all the walls of separation between us and God! At the point of His death, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom (see Matthew 27:51). Now everyone has equal access to God.

Even foreigners.

Even eunuchs.

Even you. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, the eunuchs who hold fast to the covenant have a place within God’s walls that is “better than sons of daughters.”

Oh, outcast! Oh, child of adoption! Oh misfit! We belong! Because of Jesus!

Day 210: Beautifully Ugly Feet (Isaiah 52:7)

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Isaiah 52:7, ESV

“God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. "
Habakuk 3:19

Through the Bible: Isaiah 49-53

I have very ugly feet. I thought about including a picture, but if I did, this would be the first blog I’ve written that would include a parental advisory label. Seriously, they are that ugly.

But they aren’t just ugly. They are weak. When I was at kids camp last week at the University of West Alabama, I walked an average of nine miles every day. And, oh, how my feet hurt at the end of that week. I was reminded that I am no longer a 20 year old college kid/summer staffer. I’m an old guy with ugly, tired feet.

So I love the Scriptures like Isaiah 52:7 that tell me I have beautiful feet. Or Habakkuk 3:19, which assures me that the Sovereign Lord can give me feet like a deer. Strong. Able to stand on the heights.

The key to beautiful feet is not a pedicure. Beautiful feet, from God’s perspective, come from where you let your feet take you. When you use your feet to bring good news to the world, God will pronounce even the jankiest, fungi-est, smelliest, bunioniest feet beautiful.

The key to strong feet is not Cross Fit. Strong feet, from God’s perspective, are the result of letting God, the Lord, be your strength. We don’t get strong by trying harder. We get strong by letting God lead us.

And he will lead us to hard places. This week, I read the story of Jackie Pullinger, a missionary who has spent over fifty years working with prostitutes, heroin addicts and gang members in a section of Hong Kong known as the Walled City. She writes that in 1966, as a twenty-one-year-old music college graduate, she bought a ticket on the cheapest ship she could find, calling at the greatest number of countries, and prayed to know where to disembark. When she saw the Walled City, a high-rise slum in Hong Kong, she felt the Lord saying she had come home. She wrote:

‘It was almost as if I could already see another city in its place and that city was ablaze with light. It was my dream. There was no more crying, no more death or pain. The sick were healed, addicts set free, the hungry filled. There were families for orphans, homes for the homeless, and new dignity for those who had lived in shame. I had no idea of how to bring this about but with “visionary zeal” imagined introducing the Walled City people to the one who could change it all: Jesus.’

The quote that stuck out to me the most was when Jackie wrote,

God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The trouble with so many of us is that we have hard hearts and soft feet.

Beloved, may we have soft hearts that lead us to hard places! Those hard places may be right in your own hometown! Lord, give us a vision for how we can reach the “Walled City” within our own community.

Day 209: How a Panic Attack Taught Me the Meaning of Selah (Psalm 46)

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (Psalm 46:7,11)

Read Through the Bible: 2 Kings 19,  Psalm 46, 80,  135

The Hebrew word selah appears 74 times in the Old Testament, and all but three are in the Psalms. It appears three times in Psalm 46:

  • Once at the end of verse 3, after the Psalmist reminds us that even when the waters roar and foam; even when the earth is moved and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, we will not be moved. Selah.
  • Twice more, in the repeated refrain , “the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Selah.

The precise meaning of selah is one of the enduring mysteries of the Bible. Some think it is related to a Hebrew word meaning to weigh or measure something in a balance. Others suggest it is related to Hebrew words meaning to praise or to lift up. Since it figures so prominently in the Psalms, most commentators believe it is some kind musical direction— a note to the musicians to pause or rest.

I’m grateful for the wisdom of translators who leave the word untranslated. That way, it gives us the freedom to make a mash-up definition with all three meanings.

Pause: Weigh what you just read in the balance, and carefully consider it, because it’s really heavy. And when you do, lift up your hands in praise.

I had a “selah” moment a couple of years ago. Bear with me, because it’s a long story of how I got to that selah moment in the first place.

It was a Saturday night. My wife and younger son and I were driving home from Atlanta, after spending the day with my Mom, who was in hospice care at the time. We had just gotten to our exit when our daughter in law called saying she was taking our older son to the emergency room. He had been grilling burgers that afternoon when the flames flared up, burning his face, arm, and neck. 

I dropped off the rest of the family and headed back to Opelika. I called a minister friend and asked him to fill in for me in the pulpit Sunday morning.

All this was happening as we observed the one year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic. It had been a year of learning how to livestream funerals that family members couldn’t go to. Of walking a tightrope between church members who were leaving our church because they thought we were overreacting to the mask mandate, and church members who wouldn’t come back because we weren’t taking masks seriously enough. Of seeing giving decline by more than 30% from the previous year. Of wondering if I was the right leader for this church at the time.

I stayed with Caleb until late Saturday night, and got back home to Prattville a little before 1 in the morning. Then on Monday, I drove back to Opelika to stay with him during the day while his wife went to work (her first day at a new job). After taking him back to the hospital for a follow up appointment, I drove back home.

I thought I was fine on the way home. I had a slight headache, but I figured once I got home I could eat, get ready for bed, and the headache would go away.

Instead, the headache got worse. I started breathing deep, trying to will more oxygen into my brain so the headache would go away. I tried to focus on nothing other than keeping my car between the white lines.

I felt myself getting flushed. I knew my breathing was getting more and more rapid, but I couldn’t slow it down. As I got to the exit for Prattville, my hands and feet started tingling.

I pulled into a parking lot a few miles from home and called Trish. She came and got me and took me to the emergency room. They did a CT scan of my brain and chest to look for a blood clots, signs of stroke, heart issues, etc. They ruled out all the big stuff, and concluded that it was an anxiety attack.

But I wasn’t all that anxious! my mind protested. I was just listening to an audiobook. It had been a good day with Caleb. Sunday morning, I felt nothing but affirmation and love from my church family. It was a good visit with my mom.

But as I look back on this episode, I realized that I wasn’t just dealing with anxiety about Caleb, or my mom, or our church. I was dealing with the cumulative effect of the last twelve months. My panic attack was brought on by the sum total of twelve months of anxiety and doubt and fear.

So what does all this have to do with Psalms? Well, it “just so happened” that Psalm 46 was part of my daily Bible reading the day after this episode. And the thrice-repeated selah in jumped out to me as never before.

  • Selah: weigh this carefully: Even when the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, we will not fear.
  • Selah: lift up your voice and praise that the Lord of hosts is with you.
  • Selah: pause. Be still and know that I am the Lord. The God of Jacob is your fortress.

My body, mind, and spirit were crying out for a Selah. I had spent more than a year in fear; watching mountains crumble and fall into the heart of the sea. I had forgotten how to lift my voice in praise. I wasn’t acting as though the God of Jacob was my fortress. I was acting like it was all up to me, and so of course I had not taken time to pause and be still.

And so, when I wouldn’t Selah for myself, God graciously selah’d me. I had an anxiety attack. It wasn’t easy admitting that to my church family, because I didn’t want them to lose confidence in who I am as a leader. But then again, I follow Jesus who allowed His most skeptical disciple to touch the scars in His hands and side. So maybe it’s such a bad thing to let your church family know you are struggling. And God bless them, they loved me through it. It has been nearly two years now, and I haven’t had another episode like that. But I learned a crucial lesson: If you don’t take time regularly to pause, praise, and reflect, your body may very well force you to take that time whether you want to or not.


Day 206: Trash Talk (Isaiah 35-36)

18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”(Isaiah 36:18-20)

Here in Alabama, we take our sports rivalries seriously, and trash talking is something of an art form. We’ve all been on the receiving end of taunts from fans of the other team. But if that “other team” has a long tradition of dominance of their sport (and you know who you are); then their taunts are more than just trash talk. You’ve seen that team crush every other team in the conference, and now they are coming for you. And deep down inside, you dread game day.  You might talk big at the tailgate, but you tremble at the ticket booth!

This was the reality facing Judah’s King Hezekiah. The Assyrian empire was the dominant and ruthless power of the known world at that time. Hezekiah had been king for four years when Assyria laid siege to Samaria, capital of Israel. And now a decade later, King Sennacherib was coming for Judah (see 2 Kings 18:9-13).

Sennacherib mocked Hezekiah’s reliance on God. His emissaries warned the people of Judah not to let Hezekiah convince them to trust in the Lord (2 Kings 18:30). And from Sennacherib’s perspective, his confidence was borne out of experience: every other nation that had called upon their God for deliverance had fallen to Assyria. Furthermore, Sennacherib believed that the high places Hezekiah removed (18:22) were altars to the one True God, instead of the pagan altars they actually were. So Sennacherib mistakenly believed Hezekiah had insulted his God, when actually he was honoring and obeying him. That was his first mistake.

Sennacherib’s second mistake was that he had not figured Hezekiah’s repentance into his game day play book. Unlike Israel; which did not repent and therefore fell easily to Assyria (see 2 Kings 17:7-19), Hezekiah put on sackcloth and sought the Lord from the moment he heard the threat from Sennacherib (19:1). He sought the advice of God’s prophet Isaiah, who assured Hezekiah that God had heard his prayer and would give him victory (19:6-7).  And then he drew up the most powerful play anyone can ever run: he went to the temple, spread out the threat from Sennacherib’s messengers before the Lord, and begged God for deliverance.

15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” (2 Kings 19:15-19)

This is such a good lesson for us in the church today! Your pastor might give you encouragement as you face a problem. You might have your entire Sunday school class praying for a crisis your family is dealing with. But none of that can take the place of you making your own heart’s cry to the Lord. God hears the prayers of all His people; not just His priests and prophets.

God delivered His answer to Hezekiah through His prophet Isaiah. His promise to the King was that not only would Sennacherib not defeat Judah, he wouldn’t even shoot an arrow in Jerusalem! There were horror stories of Assyria’s prolonged sieges against other cities, but Isaiah promised there wouldn’t even be a siege ramp built against Jerusalem (19:32). True to His word, God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers that very night, causing Sennacherib to beat a hasty retreat back to Nineveh the next morning (19:35-36).

It’s worth asking the question, why? Hezekiah was a good king, and he humbly repented before God. But as 2 Kings 18:19 reminds us, Judah’s track record of obedience to God was only marginally better than Israel’s. So why was Judah spared from the same defeat Israel experienced? Verse 34 gives the answer. God preserved Jerusalem for the sake of His own name and because of the promise He had made to His servant David.

God is still zealous to defend His name today! How have you seen God defend His name and His people?

Day 207: “Wait on” or “Wait For”?(Isaiah 40:31)

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Through the Bible: Isaiah 40-43

Nearly all the English translations of Isaiah 40:31 say, “But those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength.” “Wait for” expresses confidence that God meet our needs, restore our strength, and satisfy our deepest longings. Nothing wrong with that. 

But the King James is different. It says, “They that wait UPON the Lord.” There’s a shade of difference there that actually makes all the difference in the world.

One of my first jobs was in a restaurant. I learned what it meant to wait on people. Anticipate their needs. Be attentive to their desires. Stand by, ready and equipped to fulfill their order.

Too often, I wait for the Lord like I wait for my wife or my kids to get ready to go somewhere. Impatiently looking at my watch, thinking about my inconvenience, wondering why they are running late. I need to remember that when I wait ON the Lord, I am serving Him. I want Him to be pleased with my attentiveness. I am eager to meet His needs.

Today, Lord, let me find new strength as I wait upon you.

Day 203: When Your Bible Study isn’t “Deep Enough” (Isaiah 28:9-10)

9 “To whom will he teach knowledge,
    and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
    those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little.”
Isaiah 28:9-10

Through the Bible: Isaiah 28-30

 Isaiah 28:10-13 seems to be people expressing frustration at a teacher that isn’t “going deep enough” for them. Verse 9 basically says, “Who does he think he’s teaching— infants who have just been taken from the breast?”

So they look down their noses at what they think is too simplistic a message: “It’s just precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”

I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve left a church because I didn’t think I was being fed. I’ve been a pastor who has had church members wish we could get into deeper stuff on Sunday mornings. I’ve been a curriculum editor for a Christian publisher, and the number one complaint with our material was that “it just didn’t go deep enough.”

But what do we mean when we talk about a deep Bible study? Is it historical or cultural insights you had never heard before? Is it Greek and Hebrew word studies? Is it challenging application? Regardless of how you define depth, you can rest assured that the Bible itself is more than deep enough.

St. Jerome, who first translated Scripture from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, said, “The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever touching the bottom.”

The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for a theologian to swim without ever touching the bottom.


Here’s the thing: we will never be educated beyond our level of obedience. These people in Isaiah’s day talked like they wanted more meat, but they weren’t applying the simple message they had already heard.

Friends, we are doing The Bible Recap because we love going deep. We love the meat that Tara-Leigh Cobble and her team puts on the plate for us every morning. But learning how to parse a Greek verb nine different ways will never be a substitute for acting in obedience to the simple truths we already know. Please don’t ever feel like you’ve “graduated” from the foundational truths.

One of my favorite Psalms is 131. The entire Psalm is just 3 verses (my kind of Psalm!) Here it is:

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; 
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; 
like a weaned child is my soul within me. 
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” 
Psalm 131:1-3 ESV

I pray for that every day. Let the simple truth of your word calm and quiet my soul. Let me not be occupied with things too marvelous. I hope in the Lord.

Day 202: They Made Kings, But Not Through Me (Hosea 8:3-7)

To me they cry,
    “My God, we—Israel—know you.”
3 Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him.

4 They made kings, but not through me.
    They set up princes, but I knew it not.
With their silver and gold they made idols
    for their own destruction.

Hosea 8:3-4

Through the Bible reading: Hosea 8-14)

Are we to submit to a king the Lord didn’t appoint?

Paul was clear in Romans 13 that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities, because “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1).

The prophet Daniel is the poster child for submitting to a pagan king. He was one of the exiles from Jerusalem that was deported to Babylon, and over the course of his seventy years in captivity, he served four different kings. When he was called on to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, he provided the standard Old Testament rationale for why we are to submit to a king’s authority, even if he is a pagan:

May the name of God
be praised forever and ever,
for wisdom and power belong to him.

21 He changes the times and seasons;
he removes kings and establishes kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those
who have understanding.

Daniel 2:20-21

Both Daniel and Paul argue that no king has ever ruled apart from God’s sovereign purpose. Jesus Himself said the same thing to Pilate. Pilate was amazed that Jesus didn’t try to defend Himself before Pilate, so he said, “Don’t you realize I have authority to release you or to crucify you?” Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:9-11).

So with all that, what are we to do with Hosea? In Hosea 8, God Himself; speaking through Hosea, says that the people “made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not” (Hosea 8:4, emphasis mine).

Hold up: the people set up a prince, and God didn’t know about it? They established a king, but they did it out from under God’s sovereignty? Doesn’t this contradict Daniel, Paul, and Jesus Himself?

It does not. Just because the people did not consult God or seek Him, that does not mean God wasn’t in absolute control over who was on the throne. If we have learned anything through our chronological journey through the Bible, it is that God is constantly working through the actions of ungodly kings, and even the rulers of other nations, in order to accomplish His divine purposes. Look back to how God was glorified through the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (see Day 032: Who Hardens the Heart?). Look forward to Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

The irony of Hosea is that the people were still claiming to know God, even as they refused to seek His face when it came time to crown a king. Look again at verses 2-3:

2 To me they cry,
    “My God, we—Israel—know you.”
3 Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him.
Hosea 8:2-3

Interestingly, questions about submitting to the ruling authorities only seem to come up when we are talking about rulers we don’t choose for ourselves. Daniel prayed his prayer at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. Jesus spoke before the Roman governor.Paul wrote to Jewish Christians living in the Roman Empire.

This was not the case for the people to whom Hosea was writing. We typically don’t have any problem submitting to the authorities we choose for ourselves. Even today, Romans 13 is most often quoted whenever a Christian claims that whoever is in the Oval Office at the time is “not my President, because I didn’t vote for him.”

So the question in Hosea isn’t really about whether or not we will submit to whomever is on the throne. The question is whether those who claim to know God will seek Him before putting a king on the throne in the first place.

Because when we don’t, we reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).

Day 195: Does Micah tell Us EXACTLY Where Jesus Would Be Born? (Micah 1-7)

“And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.”
‭‭Micah‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Many of us are familiar with Micah 5:2, which names Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
‭‭Micah‬ ‭5:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

But we sometimes skip over Micah 4:8, which says that “kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem” would come to “the tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion.”

“Tower of the flock” in Hebrew is Migdal Eder. It was an actual tower in the fields just outside of Bethlehem, and it served two purposes. One, it provided an elevated vantage point for shepherds to keep watch over their flocks.

But even more importantly, it provided a birthing place for the unblemished lambs that would be used in temple sacrifices. I’ve read that shepherds would wrap perfect lambs in swaddling clothes to ensure that they wouldn’t injure themselves before they were pronounced fit for sacrifice.

So, the tower of the flock could have been the place where shepherds were “abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” And it could have provided an ideal place for Jesus to be born. A place that would have had swaddling clothes on hand in which Mary could wrap Jesus.

Jesus, the spotless lamb of God. Who takes away the sin of the world.

Fit for sacrifice.

Full disclosure, scholars are not in agreement on these details. I’m linking to a couple of articles that argue both sides of this below.





Day 193: Having, But Not Hearing (Amos 6-9)

““Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Amos 8:11 ESV

For as long as I’ve been in public ministry, Amos 8:11 has been the defining verse for every sermon I’ve ever preached, every curriculum piece I’ve ever edited, and every camp staffer I’ve ever trained. We are living in the days Amos prophesied about: a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

It’s not a famine of HAVING them. We have more access to God’s Word today than at any point in the history of the planet. In 2013, one survey said there was an average of 4.4 Bibles per household in the United States. Today, thanks to YouVersion and other apps, you have instant access to every English language version of the Bible, and pretty much any other language you can think of. We have access to more Bible study tools than most of us even know how to use. Thanks to the Internet, we have unlimited access to the greatest teachers and preachers in the world.

But we are still starving for God’s Word. Its not a famine of HAVING, but of HEARING. It seems like we are a culture of spiritual bulimics. If that is a trigger analogy for any of you, I am deeply sorry. I don’t want to minimize anyone’s struggle with eating disorders. But I can’t think of a better analogy. We are consuming massive amounts of God’s Word. But we aren’t getting the nutrition it provides. Its like we binge at church, or in small group, or in our morning quiet time, and then we purge when we click over to social media or Netflix or our preferred news network or whatever else we use to distract and divert us.

If you are in a Bible reading plan or are developing the discipline of daily time in God’s Word, keep at it! This is your nourishment. And even when it gets dry or dull or difficult to understand, don’t give up! Feast on God’s Word. But don’t push back from the table so quickly that you don’t digest it. He’s where the joy is. He’s where the nourishment is!

Day 192: Judgment Deserved, But Delayed (Amos 1-5)

Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions… and for four, I will not revoke punishment,” 
Amos 1:3,6,9,13; 2:1,4,6

Amos begins with a distinct poetic device: the repeated phrase “for three transgressions, and for four, I will not revoke punishment.” As usual, the helpful folks at provide a wonderful article about what’s behind this unique literary device. The whole article is great, but here’s the summary:

Three sins” represents fullness or completeness; “four” represents an overflow or a sin that is the tipping point for God’s judgment.

Interestingly, “for three sins . . . even for four” is not followed by four specific sins. In fact, the typical pattern is to list one or two sins and move on. Therefore, the expression is not meant to imply a specific number of sins but to communicate that there is an excess of sins that have led to God’s judgment.

Why Does Amos Keep Repeating ‘For Three Sins… Even For Four’ in chapters 1-2?”on

Each of the nations the Lord calls out would be deserving of God’s judgment for just one transgression. But God allows sin to reach its fullness. Even then, sin hits an overflow point before it is judged.

In the New Testament, the Greek word orge is used to describe God’s wrath. It is the idea of indignation, anger, or hostility toward sin that is held back and stored until it matures and bursts forth. This is the word used in Romans 1:18:

18 For the wrath [orge] of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 

Orge is where we get our word “organic”– something that grows and ripens until its ready to be harvested. And apologies for getting a little PG-13 on the blog here, but its also where we get the word “orgasm.”

What is true of the nations in Amos is true of every single person on earth as well. One transgression is enough to deserve God’s judgment. We are all objects of God’s settled indignation against sin. And left to our own devices, we would all receive God’s righteous wrath against our sin. Revelation 14:19-20 really captures this word picture of wrath [orge] as something that bursts like a ripened grape:

19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia .

So why does God delay the punishment we deserve? Why did he allow the sins of the nations (and our sins as well) to reach a tipping point before He executed His judgment? The Apostle Peter gives us the answer in his second letter:

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9).

God’s love and desire for all to come to repentance has been what has stayed His hand. It was true for the nations surrounding Israel; it was true for Israel; and it is still true for us. He holds back His wrath so we will repent. But He won’t hold it back forever. Peter goes on to say,

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)

Indeed, God’s judgment against sin has already been poured out on God’s only Son. At the cross, all God’s righteous wrath against sin was taken by Jesus:

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Beloved, don’t mistake God’s patience for indulgence! While it is still called today (Hebrews 3:13), repent, and trust in Jesus. He has already borne the wrath your sins deserve.

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