Strength, Courage, Rest

Rebecca Brant

I read the words again and repeated them in a whisper. Be strong and courageous. If God would go into war with Joshua, I thought, He would go into that building with me. I opened the car door and stood, gazing at the entrance. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. I took a slow, deliberate step toward the door, then another, making my way across the parking lot. Shaking, I opened the door and walked in, whispering and trusting. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go. Whatever happened that morning, I wouldn’t be alone. When a nurse took me into a counseling room and asked if anyone had come with me, I answered, “Yes, but not in the way you mean.”

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It would be three days before I would get the test results. As I waited for that interminably long weekend to pass, I spent time reading the first chapter of Joshua. The verse that had carried me into that building and through those tests was part of God’s commissioning of Joshua to lead the people of Israel after Moses’ death. Three times as He gave Joshua responsibility for His people, God charged him to be strong and courageous (1:6, 7, 9). He also promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (1:5). Joshua had big shoes to fill and a tough road ahead. To lead God’s chosen people into the promised land, he would have to cross the wilderness, cross the Jordan river, and defeat Jericho. He rallied the people by reminding them of Moses’ words: “‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land’ ” (1:13).

Sitting in my car on a chill November Friday, I stared, paralyzed, at the building where I was to spend the next four or five hours undergoing a series of tests. I gripped the steering wheel so tightly, I could no longer feel my hands. Short of someone coming out to escort me, I didn’t know how I was going to make myself go inside. Then my phone buzzed with a text message from my sister. No greeting, no inspirational speech, only these words: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9).

My mind latched onto the word “rest.” For Joshua and the Israelites, it meant rest from their captivity in Egypt and from their wilderness wanderings. Ultimately, it meant they would be safe, secure, and settled in the land God had promised for generations to give them. But in the immediate context, the promise of rest hinted at success because rest always followed warfare, at least for the victors. Of course, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about another “rest”—eternal rest in heaven for all who believe (John 3:16). As I read God’s many promises in this passage, I wondered which type of rest He would give me—healing or “home”?

As I thought about these verses, I realized Joshua lived on the other side of the cross—before Jesus lived, died, and rose again, before God gave us the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I have the promise of rest and home in heaven, but I˛also have rest now—in Him—no matter the circumstances. After instructing His disciples, Jesus preached throughout the region of Galilee and compelled the people: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30).

We must move into rest. We must live at rest in the midst of the wilderness and while battle rages. We must know—truly believe, not only with our minds but with our very souls—that God’s will is best for us. This kind of rest isn’t easy: I had my first panic attack that Sunday, knowing I would hear test results the next day. But if we have given our hearts to the Lord, then our lives belong to Him to do with as He sees fit, and for His glory. We must relinquish fear to find this rest, to grow into it, because it requires our ultimate trust and absolute surrender to our Lord.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Wherever you go today, rest in Him.

Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4

Constantine, Conspiracy and the Canon

Michael S. Heiser

Dan Brown’s best-selling conspiratorial thriller The Da Vinci Code seems like ancient history now. At its peak of popularity, the novel set records both for sales and for irritating scholars with its view that Jesus and the 12 apostles held to gnostic heresies. The book’s bizarre plot focuses on Jesus’ bloodline extending through a child born by Mary Magdalene. Within that narrative, Brown asserts that the New Testament canon was determined by the Roman Emperor Constantine—who was not friendly to gnostic Christianity—at a time much later (fourth century AD) than any New Testament scholar would endorse. Unfortunately, this myth has since taken on a life of its own.

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The notion that Constantine decided which books should constitute the New Testament springs from the ancient Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 263–339). Eusebius reports that, in a letter written in ad 331, the emperor instructed him to
… order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practised in their art.

This same Constantine had earlier convened the Council of Nicea (AD 325), famous for its focus on the full deity of Christ against Arianism, which taught that Jesus was a created being. Brown carelessly conflated the two events in The Da Vinci Code to put forth the preposterous idea that Constantine had decided at Nicea which books belonged in the New Testament. But can we be sure this didn’t happen? And if not, what exactly did Constantine demand in this letter?

We can be certain that the Council of Nicea did not determine the books of the New Testament at Constantine’s request. The date of Eusebius’ correspondence tells us that Nicea did not consider the issue of the canon. Today, anyone can read the 20 decisions rendered at Nicea (coincidentally called “canons”). 1 None of them concerns the New Testament Scriptures. In addition, accounts of what happened at Nicea were described by several early church historians and theologians who lived at the time of the event or shortly thereafter. Their testimony is unanimous in opposition to the idea that Constantine determined the books of the New Testament.

So what did Constantine want? During the first several centuries of the early church, the issue of which books were to be considered sacred and authoritative was uncertain. Several early lists of sacred books have been recovered, as have records of rejected books. Constantine’s order brought the problem to a point of decision. Once the emperor commanded copies of the sacred books to be distributed, early church leaders were forced to produce the item that needed to be copied. The result was a minimalist consensus canon—books considered authoritative by the vast majority of Christian leaders throughout the empire. Books regularly disputed or already rejected were thus set aside in faith that the Holy Spirit had successfully enlightened His believing Church to reach consensus. We hold that consensus New Testament in our hands today.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 4


1. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. XIV.

Why the Ark of the Covenant Will Never Be Found

Michael S. Heiser

I can still recall the thrill of seeing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the theater. A senior in high school, I had already been infected with the archaeology bug. This movie boosted my interest to a whole new level. As Providence would have it, I followed the path of Indiana Jones—at least academically. I’m still fascinated by the ark, but I no longer believe it is lost and awaiting discovery. I have Jeremiah to blame for that.

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The idea that the ark of the covenant survived Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah is based on the absence of any explicit reference to the ark being among the vessels of gold carried to Babylon (2 Chr 36:5–8). Likewise, the list of items brought back to Judah after the end of the exile makes no mention of the ark (Ezra 1:5–11). The simplest explanation is that the ark was among the “vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD” that Nebuchadnezzar cut to pieces (2 Kgs 24:13). No one would pay to see that movie.

From ancient times until the present day, people have resisted the idea that God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Israel’s holiest object. Testifying to the power of this resistance, there are nearly a dozen theories as to how the ark survived.

Some of these theories are drawn from biblical events. Perhaps Hezekiah gave the ark to Sennacherib as part of his tribute payment (2 Kgs 18). Might it have been removed by faithful priests when Manasseh put an idol in the temple (2 Kgs 21:1–9)? Indiana Jones told millions that Pharaoh Shishak took the ark to the city of Tanis in Egypt when he invaded Jerusalem (1 Kgs 14:25–28). Perhaps the most intricate theory involves Menelik I, the alleged son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, taking the ark to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian royal chronicle, the Kebra Nagast, presents this idea so seriously that rulers of Ethiopia well into the 20th century had to prove their descent from Menelik I.

Other theories grew out of specific passages in ancient texts. Second Maccabees 2:5 records Jeremiah hiding the ark in a cave before Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion. Second Baruch 6:1–9 describes the ark being supernaturally swallowed up by the earth before the invasion, tucked away until the time of Israel’s restoration.

Jeremiah 3:16–17 makes all these hypotheses difficult to believe:

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem …

The passage plainly shows that the ark would be absent because of the exile. Jeremiah 3:16 also insists that “it shall not be made again”—wording that strongly suggests the ark would be destroyed in the impending disaster; if the ark was not destined for destruction, talk of rebuilding it would make no sense at all. Jeremiah 3:17 reinforces this point—the ark was God’s throne. He sat “between the cherubim” of the lid known as the “mercy seat” (Exod 25:18– 22; Num 7:89). But the passage speaks of a day when Jerusalem itself will be called God’s throne. We read about this in Revelation 21:2–3: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ ” A recovered ark of the covenant doesn’t fit this picture—it would be a disappointment.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

When Everything Crumbles

Jen Wise

We spend our time building for the present. We stack bricks of time and energy into relationships, savings and careers. We believe our passion will serve as the mortar that will hold it all together. When it all comes crumbling down—when a spouse cheats, when a position is terminated, when tragedy strikes—we’re left feeling lost.

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Jeremiah witnessed unparalleled destruction during his day. In Jeremiah 39:2, we read of a tragic event in rote historical detail: “In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was taken by assault.” After besieging the city for a year and a half, the Babylonians broke through Jerusalem’s last defenses, took the people captive, and set fire to the city.

Few events would have been more devastating for the Jewish people than watching their city be destroyed. Jerusalem was not only the political and administrative center of the kingdom; it was also the religious center. After David moved the ark of the covenant there, Jerusalem became known as a city established in God’s name. Even in a period of rebellion, Jerusalem’s destruction would have been devastating.

How would the city respond? King Zedekiah of Judah, the rebellious vassal king to Nebuchadnezzar, chose flight. Warned by Jeremiah of the coming disaster—based on his refusal to surrender—Zedekiah lived to witness the Babylonian rulers positioned in the Middle Gate. It was a brazen display of power. Overcome with fear and shame, he and his soldiers fled under the cover of night.

It’s difficult to act in faith as we struggle with failure, fear and shame. The destruction of something we love often exposes the things or people in which we place all of our trust. Rebellious and sinful, Israel and Judah refused many chances to repent. Instead of responding to the prophet Jeremiah’s calls to repent and put their loyalty in the right place, they stubbornly trusted in themselves, choosing to disregard God’s intentions for their lives.

For us, the terror of a ferocious army might take a different form. We might fear the judgment of others, a tainted reputation, or losing control of a situation, but when we let fear determine our course, we deny God’s faithfulness. We shift our focus from Him and turn it to defending, promoting and planning for ourselves.

The prophet Jeremiah stands in stark contrast to King Zedekiah. Charged with proclaiming a message that broke his own heart, he chose obedience in the midst of uncertainty. He chose faith over fear, even while facing persecution from his own people and the heartbreaking destruction of his city (Jer 37:7–16).

That type of faith seems strange in the face of such destruction. It’s the type of faith built only on a foundation laid by God—a God so loving that He sent His Son for us. He repairs what was lost, and He rebuilds what is broken.

Biblical references are from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

Relationship Will Change Us

John D. Barry

Jeremiah 12:1–13:27; Philemon 1:8–25; Proverbs 14:15–35

Although God has granted us complete access to Him through Christ, we struggle at times to live this reality (John 17:15–17). The stale or frightening depictions of God in stained glass and Renaissance paintings have convinced us that He is distant, quick to anger, or disinterested. Nothing could be further from the truth; the Psalms remind us that He is caring, close, and listening (e.g., Pss 22; 23; 26), and He yearns for a relationship with us.

Sometimes it helps to hear the words of others who have struggled with the same thing. Jeremiah provides us with such an example. He remarks, “You will be in the right, O Yahweh, when I complain to you. Even so, let me speak my claims with you. Why does the way of the wicked succeed? All those who deal treacherously with treachery are at ease” (Jer 12:1). Jeremiah knows that Yahweh is right in all He does, but this does not prevent him from freely expressing his concerns.

If we really look into our hearts, we may find that fear is preventing us from entering into an intimate relationship with Him. We’re afraid of what He will say; we’re concerned that He may rebuke us. Indeed, this is what He does when Jeremiah speaks to Him: “If you run with foot soldiers and they have made you weary, then how will you compete with horses? If you have fallen in a peaceful land, then how will you do in the thickets of the Jordan? For even your relatives, and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you, even they call loudly after you. You must not trust in them, though they speak kindly to you” (Jer 12:5–6). Yet within this rebuke, we also find advice—and the advice is comforting. By openly communicating his concerns to God, Jeremiah now knows what he must do. He knows how he must act.

There is joy to be found in knowing that we have a God who listens—a God who is not offended when we speak to Him but is eager for our company. What are we afraid of? After all, He already knows what’s on our minds. We need to grasp the idea that God is all about relationship.

What would change about your life if you went deeper into your relationship with Christ? What should you be asking God right now?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.