Today’s readings are from Genesis 13, Matthew 12, Nehemiah 2 and Acts 12.
In Genesis 13 we see the troubles caused by disobeying God’s command to Abram to leave his family (kinsman) behind.
Abram going back to Bethel, the place of his first altar, reminds me of Revelation 2:4-5…
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.
Get back to basics. After you have disobeyed God, confess your sins and go back to basics.
When Lot’s servants and Abram’s servants were jostling for space (because their flocks had grown quite large), Abram gave Lot first choice of where to go. Lot chose the fertile Jordan Valley and Abram was left with the mountains. But from there God showed Abram all the land which God had promised him. He renewed His covenant with Abram:
14 The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
Then Abram moved on.
18 So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.
Hebron is on the central mountain range, south of Jerusalem.
The hill of Hebron from the southeast (1915 photograph)
Oak of Mamre
Matthew 12 records consistent opposition from the Pharisees, culminating in them saying that Jesus was doing miracles by the power of Beelzebul. First comes the conflict over Sabbath observance (12:1-8). His argument, from David and the priests in the temple, is that there are exceptions. But ultimately, it is because Jesus is Lord over the Sabbath that affirmed that His disciples could eat the grain on the Sabbath.
Jesus again criticized the Pharisees for failing to understand the Scriptures (cf. v. 3), and He quoted Hosea 6:6 again (cf. 9:13). Previously Jesus had cited this verse to show the Pharisees that they failed to recognize their own need. Now He used it to show them that they failed to recognize Him. The Jews in Hosea’s day relied on mere ritual to satisfy God. The Pharisees were doing the same thing. They had not grasped the real significance of the Law, as their criticism of Jesus’ disciples demonstrated. Jesus accused the accusers, and declared the disciples “innocent.” (Thomas Constable)
Warren Wiersbe has this great insight:
“Note that Jesus appealed to prophet [vv. 3-4], priest [vv. 5-6], and king [v. 7]; for He is Prophet, Priest, and King. Note too the three ‘greater’ statements that He made: as the Priest, He is ‘greater than the temple’ (Matt. 12:6); as Prophet, He is ‘greater than Jonah’ (Matt. 12:41); and as King, He is ‘greater than Solomon’ (Matt. 12:42).”
Jesus then healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (12:9-14). When would Jesus learn? Jesus challenged the Pharisees with the reality that they would show compassion to lesser beings (animals) when they were in trouble, why not a human.
The Law said that it was more important to demonstrate compassion than to offer a sacrifice (v. 7; cf. Hos. 6:6).
The Pharisees began to plot to destroy Jesus, so Jesus withdrew from area. His ministry was validated by Scripture, because Jesus was fulfilling Isaiah 42:1-4 (Matthew 12:18-21).
After the Pharisees witnessed Jesus healing a demon possessed man, they claimed that Jesus did that by the power of Satan (Beelzebul). Jesus first challenges their thinking by pointing out that Satan wouldn’t throw out his own minions. That didn’t make sense (12:25-26). Then he asked by whom their sons casts out demons (12:27).
Jesus concludes by verifying that this was done through the Holy Spirit, thus it indicates that the kingdom is present (12:28).
Many people have stumbled over the issue of the sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” which Jesus says is unforgivable, and thus people believe they might have committed the “unpardonable sin.”
My view is that this sin is both event-contained and cumulative. I believe that to commit this sin today we would have to be seeing Jesus do miracles and attribute those to Satan. Also, this was the persistent attitude of the Pharisees, thus condemning them.
Thus, it is not a particular sin which we can commit today. Even the video campaign that came out a few years ago “blaspheming” or disbelieving the Holy Spirit doesn’t exactly fit. What does “fit” as an unpardonable sin is lifelong, persistent disbelief in the gospel.
So if you’re troubled that you might have committed the unpardonable sin (not suicide by the way), you can rest assured that you have not. Whatever sin you’ve committed, no matter how great (Psalm 25:11), can be forgiven. Just confess that sin to God and He promises to forgive you (1 John 1:9).
Jesus says something else about demons in vv. 43-45.
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
I’m not going to discuss all the details of this passage, but simply note that whenever a demon is cast out, it needs to be replaced with Someone else, the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to cast demons out of an unbeliever. You must share the gospel with them, or else it can get worse. This replacement principle is seen in the “put off” and “put on” section of Ephesians 4:25-32.
Nehemiah 2 records Nehemiah’s request to go to Jerusalem (2:1-11) and his initial scouting around the walls (2:12-16) and his motivational speech to the people of Jerusalem (2:17-18a), to which they responded…
“Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. (18b)
Of course, opposition arose, something that will occur regularly in Nehemiah’s work.
Nehemiah prayed for four months about conditions in Jerusalem before he spoke to Artaxerxes about them (cf. 1:1; 2:1). Artaxerxes’ reign began in the seventh Jewish month, Tishri (late September and early October), of 464 B.C. Therefore Nehemiah presented his request in late March or early April of 444 B.C.
Thomas Constable, Nehemiah
Someone has defined leadership as “the art of getting people to do what they ought to do because they want to do it.”
NEHEMIAH’S MOTIVATIONAL TECHNIQUES
|Step 1||He gathered the facts (2:12-16).|
|Step 2||He created a need in his hearers (2:17).|
|Step 3||He reviewed past success (2:18a).|
|Step 4||He revealed adequate resources (2:18b).|
|Step 5||He secured his hearers’ commitment (2:18c).|
Donald Campbell identified 21 principles of effective leadership that Nehemiah demonstrated in chapter 2.
 He established a reasonable and attainable goal
 He had a sense of mission
 He was willing to get involved
 He rearranged his priorities in order to accomplish his goal
 He patiently waited for God’s timing
 He showed respect to his superior
 He prayed at crucial times
 He made his request with tact and graciousness
 He was well prepared and thought of his needs in advance
 He went through proper channels
 He took time (three days) to rest, pray, and plan
 He investigated the situation firsthand
 He informed others only after he knew the size of the problem
 He identified himself as one with the people
 He set before them a reasonable and attainable goal
 He assured them God was in the project
 He displayed self-confidence in facing obstacles
 He displayed God’s confidence in facing obstacles
 He did not argue with opponents
 He was not discouraged by opposition
 He courageously used the authority of his position.
Donald K. Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge, p. 23.
Acts 12 recounts the miraculous deliverance of Peter from prison. The apostle James was killed (12:2) and Peter was imprisoned (12:3). The church prayed for Peter, but had a heard time believing it was him at the door! Verses 21-23 record the supernatural death of Herod Agrippa I. Because of his pride God struck him dead.