October 6, 2019
Topic: Obedient Faith
Background Scripture: Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 12-13
1 Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.
Using the Hebrew conjunction ‘attah (at-TAW), translated “Now therefore,” referring to what he has been telling them (chapters 1–3), Moses calls on the people to diligently pay attention to the “statutes and the judgments” he is teaching them. The word to “hearken” is the Hebrew, shama‘ (shaw-MAH), which means “to hear intelligently” with the implication of paying attention and obedience. “Hearkening” involves laying it in the heart and changing your behavior to match what you just heard. The phrase “Hear … O Israel” or Shema Yisrael is a common theme in Deuteronomy, calling on God’s people to hear and obey (5:1; 6:3–4; 9:1; 20:3). It is also found in other places in the Old Testament. This phrase is also found in Deuteronomy 6:4–9 where it is referred to as the Shema; there it is recognized as the Jewish confession of faith. The Shema is central in the Jewish morning and evening prayer services. It is recited daily by devout Jews and on every Sabbath day in the synagogue. It is quoted by Jesus (Mark 12:29-30; Matthew 22:37–38, etc).
So, Moses says to the people, based on all that the Lord had done for you, listen and obey all the statutes and judgments that I am about to expound to you. Obedience to this law has its reward: they would live for a long time and enjoy the land, which the Lord of their fathers is giving them. The word translated “statutes” is the Hebrew choq (KHOKE), while “judgments” is mishpat (mish-POT). The two often appear synonymously together in the Bible and are often translated as “decrees and regulations” or “ordinances.” The combined use of the words denotes the sum total of the Law or the covenant (see Leviticus 19:37).
2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Moses tells them that the whole law should be kept as it was given. Nothing is to be added or taken from it, but men should submit to it as to the unbreakable Word of God. In other words, they should not make new laws of their own and join them to God’s set laws. This precept was repeated later in Deuteronomy (13:1–3) and is proclaimed by the prophets (Jeremiah 26:2). They were not to abolish or diminish the law of God or make void any part of it. However, the Scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day were guilty of this offense. They treated the Word of God as less important than their traditions (Matthew 15:1–9; Mark 7:1–13). Jesus says that He did not come to destroy or nullify the law but to fulfill it and that not even the smallest detail of God’s law would fade away until its purpose is achieved. He then warns, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). The Apostle John warns about the consequences for anyone who adds or takes away anything from “this book” (Revelation 22:18–19). Obedience to the law of God is a mark of faith and has its rewards, but disobedience to the law is a mark of unbelief and has its consequences. This truth is made apparent in the immediate history of the people of Israel.
3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baal-peor: for all the men that followed Baal-peor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you. 4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
To reinforce his point and stress the importance of keeping the law, Moses calls the attention of the people to a recent event that took place along the way, as a reminder of God’s consistency and faithfulness to His words. The Israelites had just witnessed how a faithful observance of the law could mean life, while disobedience could result in death. The people had been enticed into the sin of adultery and idol worship at Baal-peor by the daughters of Moab and Median (Numbers 25:1–9; cf. Psalm 106:28–29, Hosea 9:10). All those who participated in this evil were either put to death by the sword or died in a plague (about 24,000 died in the plague). It was not made known the type of plague that killed these people. The Lord probably allowed it because of the people’s unbelief and disobedience to the Law. Apart from safeguarding the moral principles, the Law can be seen as rules for our own and others’ physical safety and health. In this context, the Seventh Commandment reads: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Paul warned the Corinthian church, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). In contrast, all those who held fast to the Lord were spared.
This incident was still fresh in the minds of the people Moses was presently addressing. He says to them, “You saw for yourself what the Lord did to you at Baal-peor” (NLT). The Lord spared their lives because they remained faithful and did not follow the rest of the people to sin; neither did they fall into the trap of the Moabite women in their adultery and idolatry. Moses uses the Hebrew word dabeq (daw-BAKE), meaning to cleave, to cling or adhere, or to stick closer to describe the people’s faithfulness to the Lord. Because of their obedient faith and close relationship with the Lord by obeying the law, they all lived and were still alive at the present time. It is therefore undeniable because they were not only eyewitnesses, but they were beneficiaries of God’s grace and reward of faithfulness. God spared them from being killed in battle or by the plague.
5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
Moses now tells them that he has taught them the Law (i.e., “statutes and judgments”) as the Lord directed him. In other words, he has fulfilled his part, and it is now their part to obey and follow his teachings. Here Moses applies the Hebrew word ra’ah (raw-AW), translated “see or look” (or to see with attention). It is sometimes used as an interjection to stress an important point in the discourse. With the clause “even as the Lord my God commanded me,” Moses seems to say, “I have taught you the whole law, I have not added or subtracted (withheld) anything” (cf. v. 2). It is now left for them to totally follow God’s order as they go into the land. Moses tells them that these decrees and ordinances should guide them once they take possession of the land. Obedience to the commandments should be part of their lifestyle in the new Promised Land.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
Moses now appeals to them to “Keep therefore and do them,” referring to what he has been teaching them, the whole commandment of God. He employs two Hebrew verbs to emphasize the importance of this teaching. The first is shamar (shaw-MAR), translated “keep.” It means “to guard, observe, protect, or attend to.” The second verb is ’asah (AW-saw), which means to “do.” Here keeping or guarding the word of God is tantamount to doing it. In other words, they are to practice or live it out in their daily living and worship. As they keep and practice the law, they will become wise and filled with understanding. When other nations hear of or see them, they would acknowledge them as a great and distinctive nation among other nations because of their wisdom. Therefore, through Israel’s faithful obedience to the covenant, God’s intention was to exalt them among their neighboring nations so that foreign nations would recognize that their God was indeed God (cf. 1 Kings 10:1– 13). Therefore, by knowing God’s wisdom, the people would not only succeed, but they would also be an influence and witnesses to other nations dwelling among them in the land they are about to possess. Their life would shine as light in the midst of a dark world. Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? 8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
Moses reminds the people how privileged they are to have the Lord as their God and to have a righteous Law for guidance. This relationship has put them so close to God that He does whatever they ask of Him. Rhetorically, Moses questions what other nation has a God like the Lord who gives a Law like this. Of course, the answer is obvious: “None!” There is no nation so privileged as Israel. Later in this discourse, Moses would remind them that God chose them and set them apart as His special possession. He did this not because of what they have accomplished, but because of His love for them and because of His covenant with their forefathers. Moses says, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers” (from Deuteronomy 7:6–8; 14:2). Moses emphasized God’s great favor toward Israel. Having such knowledge ought to encourage them to obey the law faithfully. They do not have to work to be worthy; God has already chosen them and will not change His mind.
12 And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. 13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even Ten Commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.
Moses encourages them to be diligent in keeping the commandment the Lord gave to them (vv. 9–11). They should never forget their experience as long as they lived; they should teach them to their children and grandchildren. He narrates to them of their awesome experience when they were gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai. There they witnessed an amazing sight. The mountain blazed with fire up to heaven; black clouds and thick darkness covered the whole place; the place was filled with thunder and lightning. The people were utterly frightened by this sight.
Then the Lord spoke to them out of the fire. Moses reminds them that while they heard the voice of God speak to them, they “saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice” (v. 12). The word “similitude” comes from the Hebrew, temunah (te-moo-NAW), and means “something fashioned out, as a shape, or an embodiment, or (figuratively) manifestation.” It also means an image, likeness, or representation. The people heard the voice of God, but they didn’t see any form of God or how He looks. With this, the Lord made it known His people would be guided by His Word rather than His face. They can hear their God speak but could never see any image of Him that could be copied and worshiped (Deuteronomy 4:12, 15). With this, God forbids His people from worshiping any visible representations of Him or anything created, whether humans, animals, birds, fish, or the sun, moon, and stars. To worship the creation instead of the creator is a form of idolatry (Romans 1:22– 25). Since God has no visible form or similitude, any image intended to look like Him is a sinful misrepresentation of Him. Jesus told the woman at the well that God is Spirit (He has no form, and He is invisible); therefore, He is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Verse 13 continues Moses’ narrative reminding them of the Mount Sinai phenomenon. Although they could not see a form of God, they heard Him speak, proclaiming to them His covenant, which they are to keep and observe. That covenant is the “Ten Commandments,” which God Himself had written on two tablets of stone and given to Moses (Exodus 20:1–14, 24:12; cf. 31:18). “Covenant” is translated from a Hebrew noun, berith (ber-EETH); it is derived from the verb bara’ (baw-RAW), which means “to cut down” or “to create.” It is common to use the word “cut” when making a covenant so that the phrase is “to cut a covenant.” In business even today, people sometimes use the phrase “Let’s cut a deal.” The “Ten Commandments” here are shorthand for the entire Law of the covenant. Referring to a large concept by only mentioning part of it is a common literary device called a synecdoche.
Moses wants the Israelites to remember that obeying the law does not save them; rather they ought to obey the law because they are saved. From verses 7–8 on, Moses couches his exhortations to follow the law not as a “have to” but as a “get to.” This awesome God revealed Himself to the people at Mt. Sinai, not as any form they could understand, but as a voice and a fire. This awesome God gave His people a law that makes its adherents wise and understanding, a law that is far better than any other country’s laws. This awesome God is the one who loves us, and whom we get to worship.
Questions For Discussion
1. Why do you think Moses reminded the new generation of Israelites of the incident relating to Baal-peor (4:3– 4)?
2. What did Moses tell the people to do to gain wisdom and discernment (4:6)?
3. Why was obedience to the statues and ordinances of God vital for the Israelites to have success in the Promised Land (4:14)?
4. Some people argue about the interpretation of a verse to prove their sinful behavior is acceptable according to the Scripture. How can we handle those who add or take away from the Word of God for selfish reasons?
5. How can we instill into the next generations the importance of obeying God’s Word?
6.When we have an encounter with God’s presence during prayer or worship, how does it inspire us to be faithful to God’s commands?
October 13, 2019
Topic: Blessed For Faithfulness
Background Scripture: I Kings 17:8-16
17:8 And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, 9 Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.
Elijah receives instructions directly from God. It was time to leave the first place of hiding beside the brook Cherith, being fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:3). The Lord had made other arrangements for Elijah’s survival. This time God’s instructions take Elijah right into the midst of Baal worshipers. Zarephath was a coastal Phoenician city south of Zidon (or Sidon), the principal city of Baal worship. This was out of Ahab’s territory. The time for another confrontation had not yet arrived. Elijah was to live there and be sustained by the poorest of the poor, a widow. Widows fell quickly into poverty without a husband to provide for them, being reduced to begging. In Israel, the commandments urged the local priesthood or palace to include widows and orphans under their care. This may not have been the case in Phoenicia.
10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.
As he had when delivering his first message and then retreating to the brook, once again Elijah obeys the Lord’s instructions. When he arrives at the entrance to the city, immediately he sees a widow gathering sticks for a fire. But how would he be sure whether she was the one God commanded to sustain him? Surely she is not the only widow in the city. He calls to her and politely asks her to get him a drink of water in a vessel. The expression “I pray thee” turns the simple understanding of the verb as a command (“Fetch me”) into a request. After all, he is the stranger. She would have had to draw this water from a deep well, supplied by underground springs because there had been no rain.
The whole encounter raises questions about hospitality. Usually, men and women did not address one another in public places. It is even more unusual for Elijah, a stranger to the city, to approach a local citizen. Normally, rulers stationed men near the gate of the city. It was their job to check out strangers to determine whether they were friend or foe. Friends would be welcomed into the city and shown the utmost hospitality. Foes would be escorted out. This unusual behavior was likely Elijah’s way of testing to see if she was the one whom Yahweh commanded. Abraham’s servant uses a similar test to ask God to reveal the woman who should marry Isaac (Genesis 24:10–20).
11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.
Instead of fleeing from this stranger, the widow goes to get him the water he had requested. She has no way to know how far he had come without water. Perhaps her instinct for caring coupled with the norms of hospitality took over her sense of fear. When she responds in this way, Elijah is more confident that she is indeed the one. Before she can fulfill his first request, he calls to her with a second request. Again very politely, he asks her for a small portion of bread. Again he is very humble in his request as he does not ask for much, just a morsel.
12 And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.
Somehow, the widow recognizes that Elijah is a worshiper of the Lord, Yahweh, and not of Baal. She is even familiar with the name of Yahweh (“LORD” v. 12). The phrase “as … God liveth” is a common way to affirm the truth of your statement (Judges 8:19; 1 Samuel 19:6; Jeremiah 38:16), as we might say today “I swear to God.” Despite her knowledge of Jews and their God, however, the woman distances herself from them in speaking to Elijah of the Lord “thy” God. Even though the woman is willing to be kind to Elijah and bring him water during a drought, she still affirms that she is separate from him in culture and deity.
Then she confesses to Elijah that she is at the end of her supplies and cannot see how she will provide for herself and her son. Ideally, a widow’s family would take care of her after her father died. However, usually, a woman’s children were grown before her husband died and were physically and financially able to care for the widow. This widow’s son must have been very young if she was still taking care of him even in such desperate poverty. She had planned to prepare this last meal for herself and for her son; then they would die of starvation in a few days.
13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
Elijah gives her assurance, “Fear not.” He tells the widow to go ahead as she had planned, only make a small cake for him first and bring it to him. Then she should prepare for herself and her son. Elijah is asking her to put her trust in him and his God. If she is willing to do this act of kindness first, demonstrating obedience and trust in Yahweh, then she could go on with her plan. But Elijah has more to offer her than words of assurance. He also has a promise from God!
14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.
Elijah tells the widow of Yahweh’s promise to sustain them throughout the drought. The barrel of meal, which contains only a handful, will never spoil or run out. Even the container of oil, which has only a few drops, will never fail to supply their need until the time that Yahweh causes the rain to return to the earth. She will be sustained better during this drought than she had been before if she only trusts in the man of God and obeys what Yahweh had commanded her.
15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house did eat many days.
The widow decides to trust and obey Yahweh, a God foreign to her. Her faith in Baal had not kept her from the brink of starvation, but she experiences the power of Yahweh for herself. And thus, she and Elijah and her son eat for a long time from the food Yahweh supplies. Surely others must have noticed how well fed she and her household looked, while others looked malnourished.
16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
Because of her obedience, Yahweh fulfills His promise. This is the very lesson that Yahweh wants Israel to learn, but they are too busy putting their trust in Baal. Elijah’s successor, Elisha, will help another widow in a similar way. That widow receives an abundance of oil that she can sell to liberate her family from the threat of starvation (2 Kings 4:1–7). God provided for the Zarephath widow daily but provided for the other widow in one grand gesture. Our God does both. Be careful not to overlook God’s small daily provision hoping for a bigger blessing.
Questions For Discussion
1. What compelled Elijah to move to a new location, and how does he forge a new relationship when he arrives?
2. When the widow is most desperate, God commands her to care for a stranger. What does this Scripture reveal about the connection between serving others and self-care?
3. What evidence in the Scripture demonstrates the extreme situation the woman is facing?
4. Why did the widow do what this stranger, Elijah, instructed?
October 20, 2019
Topic: Faith Can Heal
Background Scripture: Luke 7:1-10
7:1 Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
Luke transitions into the account of the centurion by explaining that Jesus enters Capernaum after speaking to the people. The reference to the “people” is important because it refers back to the audience of Jesus’ message and forward to the people accompanying Jesus during His encounter with the centurion’s household (7:9).
2 And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.
This verse reveals the central figure of the narrative: a centurion who had a slave. A centurion was the term used for a man who commanded roughly a hundred soldiers. The story shows this man to have been humane, wealthy, and pious. Although Luke does not provide the details of the servant’s illness, its seriousness is clear; the life of the servant could be described as hanging by a thread, near death. The centurion was concerned, for the slave was dear to him (Gk. entimos, EN-tee-moce, honored, esteemed). The centurion’s love and high estimation of his servant shows that he considers him not only in his function but also as a person. Here we see faith and love mingled together. It is important that, like the centurion, we esteem people based on who they are as people rather than the functions they perform or their social status. Jesus’ love, which reaches both the nearest and the farthest, responds to this double affection.
3 And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.
Because the servant’s situation is a serious one, the centurion decides to take action. The centurion has heard about Jesus and His ministry as a miracle worker (Luke 4:37). His faith leads him to action. However, he appeared to be hesitant to ask Jesus directly for help. This may be because he is a Gentile and Jesus is a Jewish teacher. Sensitive to Jewish sentiment, he does not himself approach Jesus. The centurion feels his unworthiness in the presence of the great Jewish teacher and worker of miracles and thus requests his Jewish friends, who are important people in the community, to intercede for him, which they do most readily. Army officers, as a rule, bear themselves proudly and feel their dignity, yet this commander shows the deepest and most honest humility. The emissaries are described as “elders of the Jews.” It may be implied that the centurion being a benefactor (v. 4), the Jewish elders were not ordered but went as grateful recipients of his patronage. The Greek word presbuteros (pres- BOO-te-roce) may refer either to elders of the synagogue or civic leaders. Each synagogue had its board of elders that administered the affairs of the community. These leaders came with a simple request: they wish Jesus to come and heal the servant. The Gentile soldier believes that Jesus can heal his servant, and so he appeals for his aid.
4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:
In verse 3 we learn what the centurion wanted the Jewish elders to ask, but verse 4 records what they really said. They did more than present the centurion’s request. They went on beseeching Jesus earnestly for this man who was their benefactor. The emissaries brought the centurion’s request and lobbied vigorously on his behalf. The adverb, spoudaios (spoo- DIE-oce) “quickly” (KJV: instantly) indicates an eagerness in their efforts, and the word parakaleo (Gk. pa-ra-ka-LEH-oh) “besought,” or beg and entreat, indicates emphatically the length to which these Jews labored on behalf of this Gentile. They implore Jesus by offering a commendation. They describe the centurion as worthy of benefiting from Jesus’ power. It is also important to note that the elders’ confidence contrasts with the centurion’s own evaluation of himself since he sent others to speak for him.
5 For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.
The elders give the reason they think this man is worthy of Jesus’ attention; this was no ordinary centurion. They specify two things: the centurion had goodwill for the conquered people (“he loveth our nation”), and he had given expression to that goodwill by aiding local worship (“he hath built us a synagogue”). Here is a Gentile who respects Jewish worship and has affection for the people. In addition to showing his heart for the Jewish people, this detail also gives insight into the centurion’s economic status. The centurion clearly is a man of means and generosity.
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:
Jesus accepted the invitation of the elders to go with them. In so doing, He demonstrates that His compassion transcends all racial boundaries and that all are worthy of His mercy regardless of status or ethnicity. Now, when the centurion believes that Jesus is on His way to his dwelling, he holds himself bound not only to await the Lord, but also to receive Him (v. 7). Yet he sends in his place intimate friends of his family, who can in some measure take his place in greeting the highly honored guest. For those who wielded power in Hellenistic society, which was the dominant culture in the time of Jesus, friends were usually political allies or associates. The centurion declares his unworthiness. As such, the centurion sent friends to stop Him and implores Jesus not to trouble Himself to enter the house. In addition to showing his humility, this also shows the centurion’s awareness of Jewish culture. As Jews would be considered unclean if they ate together with Gentiles, most Jews would not even enter a Gentile’s house to avoid becoming unclean. The centurion’s humility stops Jesus from having to confront this social expectation.
7 Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
The messengers’ report of the centurion’s humility continues. He is not worthy to have Jesus come into his home, but neither is he worthy to go to Jesus. However, the centurion has not given up asking for Jesus’ help. He trusts in Jesus’ authority. He recognizes that Jesus has access to God and that this powerful figure simply needed to speak, and healing would occur. He has faith that Jesus’ command is all that is needed. He trusts Jesus to such an extent that he believes His mere word will suffice to heal his servant. It is important to remember that, in antiquity, miraculous healings were expected to involve direct contact (cf. 6:19). The centurion, however, believes in the divine efficacy of Jesus’ word, a conception of language not impossible in antiquity. It is not so much the difference in the transmission of divine power (language instead of action) that amazes Jesus, but the fundamental trust in the power of Jesus’ word. In the faith of the centurion, the word of Jesus, given unseen and from a distance, can deliver the precious servant from his illness. It is a profound insight that the centurion possesses and expresses: even though physically absent, Jesus can show His presence effectively. The lesson is a key one for us today who do not have Jesus’ physical, visible presence with us.
8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
The centurion explains through his messengers why he knows the servant will be healed by the power and authority of Jesus’ word. The centurion makes a minor-to-major comparison. Surely if he, as a member of the government’s army, is obeyed, so also the spiritual forces subject to Jesus will obey Him. The centurion is under another’s authority, but nonetheless is in charge of his own forces. The picture parallels Jesus, who ministers for God, serving Him with a clear sphere of authority. Just as the soldiers and servant obey the centurion, so will those forces afflicting the centurion’s slave obey Jesus. In his reference to his place in a graded hierarchy and subordination to others when he might well have spoken only of his superiority to those beneath him, the centurion demonstrates his humility.
9 When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Jesus’ response to the request is one of admiration and commendation, especially for the centurion’s confident declaration of Jesus’ authority. Jesus’ reaction is emotional: He is amazed at the soldier. Jesus takes note of the quality of a Gentile’s response to him. This unique faith recognizes Jesus’ authority and the power of his word, not only over the illness but also in the face of his physical absence and distance. Neither His presence nor His touch is required for healing, only the power of Jesus’ command and will. The centurion recognizes that God’s power works through Jesus without spatial limitations. Jesus is entrusted with great authority. In addition, there is a resultant recognition of personal unworthiness. Jesus praises the centurion’s humility mixed with deep faith. The soldier approaches the man of God on the proper terms. Through His commendation, Jesus calls us to trust him in a similar way. The question is, “Will you trust as the centurion has?” Such faith brings Jesus’ approval.
10 And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.
Luke’s report simply notes that when the messengers returned, they found the sick servant “whole”; that is, they found him well. Notably, the slave’s healing is reported without any indication of Jesus’ command to be healed. This lack of command is probably to accentuate the focus on the centurion’s faith rather than the healing. The faith of the centurion and the power of Jesus exercised from a distance saved the slave from the jaws of death.
Questions For Discussion
1. Why did the centurion call for Jesus? (Luke 7:1–2)
2. What did the Jewish elders say to Jesus about the centurion? (vv. 3–5)
3. Why did the centurion send friends to halt Jesus’ arrival to his home? (vv. 6–8)
October 27, 2019
Topic: Faith Saves
Background Scripture: Luke 7:37-48
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
A woman in the city described as a sinner comes to know of the presence of Jesus at a meal in a Pharisee’s house. There have been attempts to identify this woman. Early scholars identify this nameless woman as Mary Magdalene, but there is no biblical evidence for this identification. Furthermore, “a sinner” simply states her character. It is too severe to make the usual judgment of the woman as a prostitute or harlot who is known the town over as such. Charity demands that we do not think worse of a person than indicated by the available evidence. As such, “a sinner” may not necessarily imply more than that this woman had at some time done wrong and that her fall became publicly known and damaged her reputation ever after. Simply stated, we do not know the nature of her sinfulness. As the phrase “in the city” suggests, her sinfulness is sufficiently public to be known to the people at large. It does not warrant her label as a common prostitute.
A meal, such as the one that Jesus attended, was not private. People could come in and watch what went on. At the same time, a woman of questionable character would not have been very welcome in Simon’s house, so it took courage for her to come. The woman brings an alabaster flask of ointment. The word alabastros (Gk.) describes an expensive container for costly perfumes. The significance of Christ’s acceptance of an invitation to a dinner in a Pharisee’s house must not be lost. He has dined with Pharisees at other times, too (Luke 11:37, 14:1). However, here he is depicted as treating them in the same way he would treat tax collectors and sinners (7:34). He was neither contemptuous of the religious and wealthy nor prone to give them undue respect. He accepted invitations across the board. He was neither aloof nor class-discriminatory. Ultimately, Jesus was more concerned with the quality of relationships than arbitrary classifications due to the accident of birth, social history, or status.
38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
The narrative has to be understood against the backdrop of dinner settings. People reclined on low couches at meals, leaning on the left arm with the head toward the table and the body stretched away from it. The sandals were removed before reclining. The woman was thus able to approach Jesus’ feet without difficulty. She may have intended to anoint them (or the head), but her emotions got the better of her, and her tears fell on his feet.
She promptly wiped them with her hair, a significant action, for Jewish ladies did not unbind their hair in public. In fact, Jewish women would have their heads covered at all times outside their own houses. Any woman with her hair exposed to public view would be considered promiscuous. This is likely where historical commentators have surmised the woman was a prostitute, but again, this is not necessarily so. While this woman’s ethnicity is never revealed, it is worth noting that Greek and Roman women had fewer restrictions concerning women covering their hair. While Roman women were more likely than Greek women to cover their heads in public, it was socially acceptable for a respectable woman to leave her house without covering her hair at all. Even with that allowance, however, any physical contact between a man and woman in public would have been shocking. Whether this woman had her hair loose in public because she was a Jew used to sexual licentiousness or because she was a Gentile, she would not have usually been welcomed into such an intimate setting with a respectable Jewish man. That this woman wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair would thus indicate not only her humility but also her marginal social status.
Clearly the woman was oblivious to public opinion in the grip of her deep emotion. This will explain also her kissing of the feet. Finally, she anointed Jesus’ feet with the perfume. Normally this would have been poured on the head. To use it on the feet is probably a mark of humility. To attend to the feet was a menial task, one assigned to a slave. The passage does not state why she was weeping. It may have been because she was seeking forgiveness. Or she may have been weeping for joy at the opportunity to be near the One she obviously considered to be the Messiah.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
The whole scene must have appeared shameful to Simon the Pharisee. Jesus’ failure to rebuke this sinful woman is proof to Simon that Jesus has no idea of what kind of woman she is. The irony here is that while Simon is inwardly musing about the limitation of Jesus’ prophetic insight regarding the true character of the woman, Jesus is reading Simon’s thoughts. Simon’s thoughts reveal a common belief: A prophet ought to be able to perceive the character of persons with whom he associates. Jesus shows that He not only has perfect insight into the character of the woman but knows Simon’s as well. In the preceding section, Jesus portrays Himself as one who “ate and drank” and who is a friend of sinners (v. 34). This passage is a perfect illustration for Jesus’ description of Himself. Here we find Jesus dining with sinners.
40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
Here Jesus gives His parable of the two debtors. Jesus seeks to disarm Simon’s prejudice by drawing him into the parable. This parable, both in its substance and application, reveals an excellent example of the overwhelming force and persuasiveness in Christ’s arguments. The parable is straightforward and intelligible, serving the purpose of clarifying a real-life situation. Jesus succeeds in maintaining the conversation and affecting conviction, where direct speech would have failed this objective. The link between the analogy and life is provided by the concept of “forgiveness” applied respectively to debt and sin (v. 42). Jesus is not merely trying to convince Simon that He knows and understands him; He wants to help Simon understand himself. The story, as a parable, opens a new reality to Simon, but the tragic fact is that this reality has already been revealed to him in the relationship between Jesus and the sinful woman, and he remains blind to it. The Pharisee admits that the greatest debtor would feel the greatest gratitude (v. 43).
The implicit Christological teachings in this incident should be noted: (1) Jesus knows Simon’s thoughts; (2) He knows that the woman is a sinner as the parable shows and thus refutes Simon’s second presupposition; (3) Jesus is able to forgive sins—something God alone can do [7:49]; and (4) Simon’s and the woman’s standing before God is revealed and determined by their attitude toward Jesus. Jesus’ subsequent explanation of the miracle shows that each part of the parable has a parallel: The creditor represents God; the debt is sin. From His parable, we can conclude that the debtor who owes less depicts the Pharisee, while the one who owes more represents the woman.
The important feature in the account is the forgiveness of the debt. God is ready and willing to forgive the debts of people and to act graciously beyond expectation. This picture of God’s grace motivates Jesus’ acceptance of those in dire need, regardless of who they are, and His openness toward sinners. It is this very point that Simon needs to realize, as the following verses make clear. The sinner who realizes the nature of the forgiveness received freely will be in a position to love God greatly. Jesus is not concerned with what the sin is, but who the sinner could be through God’s love. Jesus’ awareness of how God can transform people makes Him look forward to what God can make of them rather than dwell on their past (cf. Hebrews 12:2).
44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
Simon has neglected all of the customary courtesies accorded to guests and fails to act as a hospitable host. The phrase “thou gavest me no” is repeated for each of the ways Simon fails in hospitality: water for cleansing (v. 44), a kiss of greeting (v. 45), and oil for anointing (v. 46). The heat and dust of Palestine and the fact that sandals were merely soles bound to the feet with leather tongs made the washing of feet on entering the home both a courtesy and a necessity. Simon fails in this. In contrast to Simon, it is the “sinner” woman, an unwelcome guest for that matter, who provides the hospitality that Simon should have provided. By the logic of the parable, the woman’s actions show her state of forgiveness. Simon has proven by his own treatment of his Guest that he is thoughtless and almost, if not quite, loveless.
The woman makes up for Simon’s thoughtlessness by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. Furthermore, Simon does not kiss the master, but the woman, with purity and true humility, has more than made up for the lack by repeatedly kissing the feet of Jesus. Finally, Simon does not supply simple “oil” (Gk. elaion, EH-lye-own) to anoint Jesus’ head, as was the customary hygiene of the day. A different word for anoint would have been used for religious connotations. Jesus is not blaming Simon for not recognizing Him as the anointed Messiah, only for not helping Him wash up for dinner. Simon’s lack of common hospitality is highlighted more by the woman as she anoints the dirtiest part of Jesus’ body with expensive, aromatic perfume (Gk. muron, MOO-ron, “ointment”).
47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
Jesus’ pronouncement concludes the parable. Curiously, Jesus repeats His declaration of the woman’s forgiveness, first by addressing Simon, then the woman. Simon sees a “woman sinner,” but Jesus sees a “forgiven woman.” In order to properly convey the point that Jesus wants to make from the parable, He has to argue in reverse from the “love” shown by the woman to demonstrate that she has been forgiven. Jesus’ remarks make clear that He knows who the woman is. Simon had doubted that Jesus was a prophet because he believed He had not discerned this about the woman (7:39). The reference to her many sins shows that Jesus knows all along who the woman is. Simon should by now recognize that a prophet is present.
At first sight, the verse would seem to suggest that the woman’s love for Jesus is the basis of her forgiveness. This is not the case. The wording of Jesus’ parable strongly implies the woman’s demonstration of love is an expression of being forgiven: The one who is forgiven much loves much. Love is the consequence of forgiveness. It is important to note that there is no simple calculus of forgiveness and gratitude in the ministry of Jesus. The passage does not tell us how the woman comes to the state of forgiveness, which is the basis of manifestation of her acts of love toward Jesus. Gratitude definitely follows the acceptance of God’s undeserved mercy and forgiveness. To the Pharisee, this woman is still a sinner. Jesus does not in any way deny that her sins are “many,” but that she is no longer under the burden of them. As the next verse shows, she is now forgiven. This is the message of salvation in a nutshell.
48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. These words to the woman are among the most precious words Jesus spoke to her or to the many who are redeemed: “Thy sins are forgiven.”
Questions For Discussion
1. Who was the uninvited guest who approached Jesus during dinner? (Luke 7:37)
2. What did this uninvited guest do for Jesus at the dinner table? (v. 38)
3. How did Jesus respond to the uninvited guest? (v. 48)