What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
After reading this, some carelessly assume that, if Israel had just obeyed God, they would have taken over the Promised Land without having to confront the people already there. This is most assuredly untrue. The blessings and cursings establish a biblical principle for God's people:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will also do this to you. . . . (Leviticus 26:3-4, 14-16)
In a similar way, the promises of Exodus 23 are conditional. The bestowal of blessings depends upon obedience to the covenant. In covenantal matters like this with God, a Christian must expect reciprocity.
Notice this principle spoken by the prophet Azariah in II Chronicles 15:2: "The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Will God bless rebellion by His people? Absolutely not! He answers rebellion by removing His protection.
Consider: Does God make growth and overcoming easy for us, even though He promises salvation? Are there no battles to fight while overcoming? If God completely smoothed the way for us, what would we have to overcome? If He smoothed our way, how would He test our loyalty? Would we be prepared for His Kingdom? Of course, He does not make it easy for us. Each of our paths is designed and tempered to test us on the level of our natural abilities and gifts (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, each Christian's way will be difficult; each will have to fight many battles at his or her level.
If God completely smoothed the way, it would create a walk-in-the-park scenario, eliminating the possibility of God's law being written in our hearts. When other biblical information is added to God's promise in Exodus 23, we see that what He guarantees is that He will drive out the people of the land, making it far easier for the Israelites than if He were not involved at all. God is comparing situations with and without His intervention.
In the analogy, the people of the land are symbolic of human nature, which cannot be made subject to God and His law, according to Romans 8:7. Like human nature, the people of the land could not be driven out without God's help. We can conclude that Israel would have been totally unable to accomplish even what they did had not God been with them.
How can we know that Exodus 23 is not an outright promise that Israel would not have go to war at some point in the conquest of the land? Seeing several scriptures together will make this clear. First, notice Deuteronomy 8:1-3. Clearly, God tests us to see where we stand, revealing to us at the same time where our weaknesses lie. Our standing must be revealed to both God and us because His work in us is a cooperative effort with us. Tests are not normally easy; tests are often clarifying experiences, exposing our strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to reveal spiritual and moral progress or lack thereof, and in so doing should motivate growth in areas of weakness and produce confidence in areas of strength.
We can now add I Corinthians 10:11-13 to our understanding:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
An admonition is an instructive warning. It is not a "chewing-out" but a sobering, thought-provoking prod. Overall, Paul is encouraging us that God is carefully monitoring the tests we experience so that we do not get in over our heads. The sanctification process requires our cooperation with God, and He does not want to lose us through extreme discouragement.
Though He manages the operations of His creative process, His work definitely does not eliminate our involvement. Knowing that God carefully monitors each of us helps us to understand why the Bible cautions us to be careful in how we evaluate each other. God knows, but we certainly do not know all the factors working in other Christians' tests.
In Exodus 23:22-31, God makes six promises and gives one command to the Israelites regarding their conquest of the Promised Land:
1. I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
2. I will cut them off.
3. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
4. I will send hornets before you.
5. Little by little I will drive them out from before you.
6. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand.
His one command, in verse 31, is, "You shall drive them out before you."
Consider what these seven statements reveal. The entire context suggests confrontation between God and the people of the land. However, the command, "You shall drive them out before you," should give us pause. There is more to this than a first glance might indicate. The easy assumption that God would remove every impediment upon Israel's entrance into the Promised Land proves false; that is not how it worked out in history. In addition, the Israelites knew for a certainty that they would have to face the people of the land in multiple confrontations.
In addition, they had already experienced a strong indicator of God's will for them regarding warfare when He permitted the Amalekites to attack the rear of Israel's column (see Exodus 17:8-13). That clash was only the first of an intense spate of battles in which the outcome hung in the balance on occasion. They knew that further warfare was a strong possibility.
Exodus 23:32 adds another factor that strongly hints that God would not simply drive the inhabitants from Canaan: "You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." If He were going to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land before the Israelites, why would He need to make this warning? There would have been no people to make a covenant with!
Exodus 34:11-12, 15 repeats this command even more forcefully. If we take Exodus 23 and 34 at face value, the Israelites would have no opportunity to make a covenant with the people of the land because they would never encounter them to be tempted to make a covenant with them.
If the Israelites came into the land and began tearing down altars, would the people of the land have just stood around and let their revered high places be destroyed without resistance? No way! We can compare this to the confrontations many of us faced when we came to believe God, causing us to stop observing Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday worship and to begin keeping the Sabbath and God's holy days instead. Did our families, friends, and employers give us no resistance to these changes, which severely disturbed these relationships? Did they not defend their lifelong practices?
Because they would have close contact with the land's inhabitants, the Israelites had a choice to make: They could either compromise with the inhabitants regarding their cultures or follow God's commands. The latter choice entailed doing things like destroying altars, which would produce intense confrontations—warfare. The evidence indicates that the Israelites expected that they would have to go to war.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
2 Chronicles 15:1-4
These men of Judah had made the covenant with Him, and this is important for understanding that reciprocity exists in our relationship with God. He begins by drawing near to us, and He expects a similar response from us.
We do not come near to Him in one giant leap. As it is in almost all human relationships, love develops gradually. Some feel that they fall in love with one glance across a crowded room, but what really happens is that the two mistake lust or passion for love. A love relationship exists when two people really know one another; they see all the warts and character imperfections and are still willing to submit to and serve each other in a warm and generous willingness.
God is perfect in His character, and the projection of His personality is also perfect in every way. We are the problem in this relationship; we are the ones with all the warts and blemishes. These faults are in our thinking, our attitudes, and our character. The reason we draw near to God is to have our wrong thinking and attitudes removed, changed. That is what the relationship is all about, so that we can be like God. He is perfect and mature, and He wants to bring us to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Then a marriage can take place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)
2 Chronicles 15:1-2
At the beginning of his reign and for many years, Asa was a very fine king. He was upright, and he turned the Jews around and persuaded them to worship God by the kind of high-quality leadership he gave to them. His leadership was moral, focused on God, and good. The prophet Azariah, the son of Oded, came out to meet him, to encourage him to continue his ways.
Verse 2 shows reciprocity, a principle that we must understand. The Bible shows clearly that God deals with us as we deal with Him, and if we are seeking Him and applying His way, He will respond in far greater measure to us in blessing. Nobody out-gives God. The principle of reciprocity, part of the much broader principle of "whatever one sows, one reaps," brings it down to a finer point and makes it very personal. We need to realize that this principle is at work in our relationship with God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God is teaching us through Haggai that the uncleanness of this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot!
In like manner, preparedness for God's Kingdom cannot be transferred from person to person, because in this lesson, it represents something internal—a matter of the heart. It is an intangible spiritual thing that accrues as a result of spending long periods of time learning, understanding, and honing one's spiritual skills. It is too late when a skill is needed immediately, and it is not there.
The same is true of character. It cannot be borrowed or lent. We cannot borrow a relationship with God. It is non-transferable as holiness is non-transferable. This teaches us that opportunity knocks, and then it passes.
The foolish virgins of Matthew 25 failed to face the possibility that the bridegroom might come later than expected. When they were awakened by the shout, there was no time to do anything except to fill their lamps.
Nobody can deliver his brother. Each person within his relationship with God determines his own destiny. The Laodicean's faith has become perfunctory (Revelation 3:15-19). He attends church and is involved socially with brethren, but in daily life and private times, he merely goes through the motion in much the same manner as the Israelites in Amos' day (see, for instance, Amos 5:1-27).
God shows that those unprepared are not admitted to His Kingdom, but this should not be construed as a callous rejection of a person's perhaps lifelong desire. For, unless the Laodicean repents, he has rejected the Kingdom of God on a daily basis—day after day declining to do God's will, even though it is in his mind to desire the Kingdom. He is not taking care of business, so God gives the Laodicean what he shows by his life what he really wants.
This is the principle of reciprocity. It is similar to an unmarried person who, despite surface appearances to the contrary, never makes preparations for his or her coming marriage. Suppose a man meets a woman who could become his future mate, but even though there may be admiration on his part, the relationship never develops because the woman does little or nothing to show her own admiration. A Laodicean is like this woman, rarely showing any affection for God, too busy to deepen the relationship.
We have to seek God—that is our part. It cannot be casual. It has to be zealous. Is that not what God says to the Laodicean? "Be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year
Here, "spirit" stands contrasted to ritual, rite, or form as represented by His mention of the Temple in Jerusalem (verse 20). "Spirit" implies heart, mind, with gratitude, praise, pure sincerity, and fervent desire to glorify God by being like Him. It is these true worshippers to whom God grants His Spirit. They are close to Him because they seek Him.
Such a Christian presses the relationship. He continues to pursue it right to the end because it is good. Reciprocity is here at work: We seek Him, and He seeks us. He gives us His Spirit, and it flows out from us in good works that bring glory and honor to God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 7)
Jesus Christ says that because some of His people have been keeping His command to persevere, He will keep them from the worst of what lies ahead. They have already proved their faithfulness to Him; He knows where they stand, He sees their track record with Him, and He will not require them to experience everything that the rest of humanity will suffer.
The word translated "kept" or "keep," used twice, plays into this. This word means "to attend to carefully; to maintain; to guard; to hold fast," and the way that it is used indicates reciprocity. We certainly want God to guard, hold fast, and carefully attend to us. We would prefer that He guard us and hold us fast far away from the destruction and torment that will come upon the world! But the flipside is that He wants us to do the same thing—keep, guard, hold fast—with regard to our responsibilities to the covenant.
In other words, if we want God to take an active interest in our well-being during that time, we should understand the principle of reciprocity and take an active interest in Him at this time. If we diligently guard the things He has committed to our trust, He will do the same for us.
Jesus' brother, James, provides insight into the perseverance that Christ wants us to have: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).
The perseverance that we will increasingly need as the end approaches cannot be developed all at once. Goofing off all semester and then cramming for the final exam rarely works in college, and it certainly will not work where our covenant and relationship with God is concerned. James counsels us to be thankful when our faith is tested, because all of those little exercises of faith not only prepare us for substantial trials, but also make us spiritually complete.
The upshot is that no man, by himself, has the strength to endure and persevere through what lies ahead. Without God, we are all dead men, physically and spiritually, but because "power belongs to God" (Psalm 62:11), we can tap into the source of true strength through our relationship with Him. He decides the circumstances of our lives. He alone knows what we need to survive the trials and temptations at the end. More importantly, He knows what we need to be prepared for eternal life.
Remember that God desires godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). He is creating sons and daughters in His image (Genesis 1:26; Romans 8:29). He is using His perfect creative genius to engineer the experiences and circumstances that we need to take on His image and have His eternal character formed in us.
For some, walking with God through the very depths of the end time is what they will need to become "perfect and complete, lacking nothing." A large part of that may be a result of the choices that they make now, and their tendencies toward apathy, complacency, or compromise.
For others who are already keeping His command to persevere, He will keep them from the hour of trial. It does not mean they will not see hardship: They must see hardship to endure courageously. But because of their constancy under duress—because God is not a stranger, and they are already accustomed to walking through life with Him and drawing upon His strength—they will be given a blessing of protection.
David C. Grabbe
Who Will Be Kept from the Hour of Trial?
Find more Bible verses about Reciprocity:
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