The Righteousness of God

Righteousness     The Bible reveals God is righteous.  He is righteous in essence and action.  He loves righteousness and approves of those who walk in conformity to His character and commands.  Scripture declares, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Ps. 119:137).  God’s attribute of righteousness may be defined as that intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates.  There is no law or code of ethics outside of God to which He must give account; but rather, His righteous character is the basis for all His laws and from which all good human laws derive. 

     The attributes of God are manifold and work in perfect harmony with each other, being governed by the all-wise mind of God.  When focusing on God’s attribute of righteousness, it is helpful to keep all His other attributes in mind, as this will provide balance to the Christian’s thinking concerning the character of God.  For example, because God is righteous, all His actions and commands are just.  Because God is immutable, His moral perfections never change.  Because God is eternal, He is righteous forever.  Because God is omniscient, His righteous acts are always predicated on perfect knowledge.  Because God is omnipotent, He is always able to execute His righteous will.  Because God is love, His judgments can be merciful toward the undeserving and humble.  The cross of Christ perfectly displays God’s righteousness in connection with His attributes of love and mercy toward those who deserve only condemnation. 

THE PERSON OF GOD

The Trinity

     This article is a focused study on God’s attribute of righteousness.  However, one cannot talk about the righteousness of God as an attribute without recognizing the Personhood of God.  Righteousness is a moral attribute of personhood.  Personhood requires existence, intellect, and volition.  More so, to say that God is righteous means that one knows something about God.  Knowledge—from infancy onward—is obtained by experience, observation, and revelation.  Knowledge is a resource of the mind.  It is a mental bank of information.  To obtain and build a bank of knowledge, the human mind borrows and invents language as a means of categorizing objects and concepts in order to form a mental framework that allows one to reason and make sense of what is.  One person can communicate with another when they share a similar bank of information—basic words and concepts—and use language as a reliable vehicle for the expression of ideas.  Information about God comes as a revelation.  God has revealed Himself through His creation, through Jesus,[1] and through Scripture.[2] 

     In creation, God has revealed Himself through people who are made in His “image” (Gen. 1:26-27), through nature (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:20), and through His goodness (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17).  He has revealed Himself through His decrees (Gen. 1:3, 11, 26-27; Ps. 33:6), by direct speech (Gen. 2:16-17; Ex. 3:1-10; Matt. 3:17; Mark 9:7; John 12:28), through the mouth of His prophets (Ex. 4:12; Jer. 1:9), and through Jesus (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; Heb. 1:1-2).  Lastly, God has revealed Himself through Scripture (Ps. 12:6-7; John 17:17; Rom. 15:4; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21).  The Bible is written in propositional terms and understood and accepted by those whom the Holy Spirit illumines (1 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:3-4).  Among the various ways God reveals Himself, the Bible provides the most specific information concerning His Personhood, character and actions. 

     Scripture reveals that God exists as a Trinity.  “It declares that there is only one true God; that this God is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is distinct from, yet interrelated with, the others; and that all three persons are fully, equally and eternally divine.”[3]  The Trinity is implied in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:2; 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 9:6; Prov. 30:4), and is more clearly revealed in the New Testament (Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; John 1:1, 18; 10:30; 16:13-15; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).  One could never know about the Trinity apart from divine revelation.  God had to reveal this about Himself.  Unfortunately, throughout history there have been attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity, and this is contrary to Biblical revelation.[4] 

     The three persons of the Trinity are: God the Father (John 6:27; Rom. 1:7; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11), God the Son (John 1:1, 14, 18; 5:18; 8:58; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8), and God the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 1 Cor. 2:11-12; 3:16; 2 Cor. 13:14).  Each Person of the Trinity is co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal.  To say that each Person in the Trinity is co-equal means that each Person shares the same attributes.

The essential oneness of God is linked to Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one (Heb. echad, “compound unity; united one”). This statement stresses not only the uniqueness of God but also the unity of God (cf. also James 2:19). It means all three Persons possess the summation of the divine attributes but yet the essence of God is undivided. Oneness in essence also emphasizes that the three Persons of the Trinity do not act independently of one another.[5]

Overview of God’s Attributes

     Having briefly addressed the doctrine of the Trinity, a presentation of God’s attributes shall follow.  “An attribute is a property which is intrinsic to its subject. It is that by which it is distinguished or identified…God Himself cannot be conceived apart from the qualities attributed to them.”[6]  To know God is to learn about His personhood as well as those characteristics, attributes, or qualities that explain who He is and why He thinks or acts in a certain manner.  More so, it is important to understand that God’s attributes work together in perfect harmony and should not been seen as independent of each other.

The various perfections of God are not component parts of God. Each describes His total being. Love, for example, is not a part of God’s nature; God in His total being is love. Although God may display one quality or another at a given time, no quality is independent of or preeminent over any of the others. Whenever God displays His wrath, He is still love. When He shows His love, He does not abandon His holiness. God is more than the sum total of His perfections. When we have listed all the attributes we can glean from revelation, we have not fully described God. This stems from His incomprehensibility. Even if we could say we had a complete list of all God’s perfections, we could not fathom their meaning, for finite man cannot comprehend the infinite God. God’s perfections are known to us through revelation. Man does not attribute them to God; God reveals them to man. To be sure, man can suggest attributes of God, but these cannot be assumed to be true unless they are revealed by God. The perfections of God describe equally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They describe the nature of the Triune God and therefore each person of the Trinity.[7]

     The infinite personal God can be known, but only in a limited way as a finite creature might grasp.  “The Bible presents a revelation which, though limited by the restrictions that language must ever impose, is of a Person, and this revelation attributes to him those exalted qualities which are His. These qualities thus attributed are properly styled attributes.”[8]  The attributes of God should be seen in harmony with each other.

     Light provides a good analogy of the harmony of God’s attributes.  Light consists of the primary colors of red, blue and green.  These colors are constant in the light wave.  When the primary colors are evenly mixed, they produce the secondary colors of yellow, cyan and magenta.  Objects take on various colors depending on which wavelengths are reflected or absorbed.  When light falls upon an object, such as a tomato, it appears red to the human eye because the tomato reflects certain wavelengths of light while absorbing the rest.  Objects that absorb all wavelengths of light appear as black, and objects that reflect all wavelengths of light appear as white.  Similar to light, God has multiple attributes, and those attributes are constant.  However, when reading through a passage of Scripture, we see only one or more of God’s attributes at a time, depending on what God chooses to reflect about Himself.  In one passage David writes, “Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are like a great deep. O LORD, You preserve man and beast” (Ps. 36:5-6).  These two verses of Scripture reveal God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness and judgments.  But this is not the total sum of God’s attributes.  Other passages of Scripture reveal His graciousness (Ex. 34:6), mercy (Eph. 2:4), truthfulness (John 14:6), and so forth. 

     When studying the attributes of God, the student should never seek to understand them separately from God, as though an attribute of God may exist apart from Him.  More so, the attributes of God are as infinite as God Himself, and to try to understand them fully would be like pouring the ocean into a thimble.  “The attributes of God present a theme so vast and complex and so beyond the range of finite faculties that any attempt to classify them must be only approximate as to accuracy or completeness. So, also, the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible.”[9] 

     A detailed understanding of God’s attributes guards the believer from developing a faulty view of God as well as taking on only certain attributes to the exclusion of others.  A solitary view of God as righteous can lead a Christian to legalistic behavior, whereas a singular understanding of God as loving or gracious can lead to licentiousness.  A thorough Biblical understanding of God will prove healthy for the Christian who seeks to emulate God.  The Biblical revelation of God has practical application for the growing Christian, for as the believer advances in spiritual maturity, he/she will take on the characteristics of God, though only a few of those characteristics may be visible to others at any given moment, depending on the situation. 

     When surveying systematic theologies, theologians will often cite many of God’s attributes as they observe in Scripture.  Below is a sampling of God’s attributes as understood and presented by various evangelical theologians.

Lewis S. Chafer:

omniscience (Ps. 33:13; Matt. 11:21-23; Rom. 4:17), sensibility (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 9:13), holiness (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), justice (Ps. 89:14; Rom. 3:26), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), goodness (2 Cor. 1:3; Heb. 4:16), truth (Num. 23:19; Rom. 3:4), will (John 1:13; Rom. 8:27), freedom (Ps. 36:6; Rom. 11:33-34), omnipotence (no Scripture cited), simplicity (no Scripture cited), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6), infinity (no Scripture cited), eternity (no Scripture cited[10]), immutability (Ps. 102:24-27; Mal. 3:6), omnipresence or immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-12), and sovereignty (1 Sam. 2:6-8; 1 Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:12).[11]

Millard J. Erickson:

spirituality (John 4:24; cf. Luke 24:39), personality (Ex. 3:14), life (John 5:26; 1 Thess. 1:9), infinity (Ps. 139:7-12; Acts 17:24-25), constancy (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Isa. 6:1-4; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), righteousness (Gen. 18:25; Jer. 9:24), justice (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 33:5), genuineness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), veracity (1 Sam. 15:29; Tit. 1:2), faithfulness (Num. 23:19; 1 Thess. 5:24), benevolence (Deut. 7:7-8; 1 John 4:10), grace (Ex. 34:6; Eph. 1:5-8), mercy (Ps. 103:13; Mark 1:41), and persistence (Ex. 34:6; 1 Pet. 3:20).[12]

Henry C. Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen:

spirituality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15; 6:16), self-existence (Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; John 8:58), immensity (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 113:4-6; Acts 17:24-28), eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2; 1 Tim. 6:16), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Isa. 66:1; Acts 17:24), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-10; Prov. 15:3; Matt. 10:30; Heb. 4:13), omnipotence (Job 42:2; Matt. 19:26), immutability (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; Ps. 22:3; John 17:11; 1 Pet. 1:15-16), righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14; Isa. 45:21; John 17:25; 2 Tim. 4:8), goodness (Deut. 7:6-8; Ps. 145:9, 15; Matt. 5:45; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), truth (John 3:33; Rom. 3:4; 1 John 5:20), unity (Deut. 6:4; Jam. 2:19), and trinity (Gen. 1:26; Isa. 48:16; Matt. 28:19; John 1:1; 6:27; Acts 5:3-4).[13]

Norman Geisler:

pure actuality (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Col. 1:17), simplicity or indivisibility (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:18; Eph. 4:6), aseity (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25-28; Col. 1:17), necessity (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2; Acts 17:25; Col. 1:17), immutability (Num. 23:19; Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 1:23; Heb. 13:8; Jam. 1:17), eternality (Ex. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; Isa. 57:15), impassibility (Deut. 10:14; 1 Chron. 29:14; Ps. 24:1; Rom. 11:35-36), infinity (1 Kings 18:27; Isa. 66:1-2; Rom. 11:33), immateriality (Luke 24:39; John 4:24; Col. 1:15), immensity (Job 11:7-8; Isa. 66:1-2), omnipotence (Job 37:23; 40:2; Jer. 32:17; Eph. 1:19; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), omniscience (Ps. 139:2-4, 17-18; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 4:13), wisdom (Prov. 2:6; 3:19; Dan. 2:20; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 2:7), light (Ps. 4:6; 21:7; Isa. 10:17; John 8:12; 1 John 1:5), majesty (1 Chron. 29:11; Isa. 33:21; Heb. 8:1; 2 Pet. 1:16), beauty (Ps. 27:4; 96:9; Isa. 33:17), ineffability (Deut. 29:29; Ps. 139:6; Isa. 55:8; Rom. 11:33), life (Josh. 3:10; Ps. 42:2; Jer. 10:10; Matt. 16:16; Acts 14:15), immortality (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Rom. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Eph. 4:6), triunity (Matt. 28:18-19; John 1:1; 6:27; 20:28; Acts 5:3-4), holiness (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 99:9; Rev. 4:8), righteousness-justice (Ps. 19:9; 89:14; 2 Cor. 9:9), jealousy (Ps. 78:58; Joel 2:18; Zech. 8:2), perfection (Deut. 32:4; 2 Sam. 22:31; Matt. 5:48), truthfulness (Deut. 32:4; Num. 23:19; John 14:6), goodness or love (Deut. 10:15; Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; 1 John 4:16), mercy (Ex. 15:13; Neh. 13:22; Eph. 2:4), wrath (Deut. 9:7-8; John 3:36; Rev. 6:17), transcendence (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 97:9; Eph. 4:6), immanence (Jer. 23:23-24; Heb. 4:13), sovereignty (Ps. 115:3; Job 42:2; Col. 1:16), providence (Ps. 103:19; 135:6-7; Matt. 5:45; Eph. 1:11).[14]

Wayne Grudem:

independence (Job 41:11; Acts 17:24-25), unchangeableness (Ps. 102:25-27; Jam. 1:17), eternity (Ps. 90:2), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), unity (Deut. 6:4), spirituality (John 4:24), invisibility (John 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6; Heb. 4:13; 1 John 3:20), wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Rom. 16:27), truthfulness (Jer. 17:10; John 17:3), goodness (Ps. 100:5; Luke 18:19), love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8), mercy, grace, patience (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8), holiness (Ps. 71:22; Isa. 6:3), peace or order (Rom. 15:33; 1 Cor. 14:33), righteousness or justice (Deut. 32:4), jealousy (Ex. 20:5; 34:14), wrath (Ex. 32:9-10; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18), will (Dan. 4:32; Eph. 1:11; Rev. 4:11), freedom (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 21:1), omnipotence or power or sovereignty (Ps. 24:8; Eph. 3:20), perfection (Ps. 18:30; Matt. 5:48), blessedness (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15), beauty (Ps. 27:4), and glory (Isa. 43:7; Rom. 3:23)[15]

Charles Ryrie:

eternity (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2), freedom (Isa. 40:13-14), holiness (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15), immutability (Mal. 3:6; Jam. 1:17), infinity (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 17:24-28), love (1 John 4:8), omnipotence (Gen. 17:1; 2 Cor. 6:18), omnipresence (Ps. 139:7-11), omniscience (Ps. 139:1-6), righteousness (Ps. 11:7; Dan. 9:7), simplicity (John 4:24), sovereignty (Ps. 135:6), truth (John 17:3; Tit. 1:2), unity (Deut. 6:4).[16]

     However one understands the nature and number of God’s attributes, it is always important to keep in mind that His attributes be taken as a collection that work together in perfect harmony.  “The attributes of God form an interwoven and interdependent communion of facts and forces which harmonize in the Person of God.  An omission or slighting of any of these, or any disproportionate emphasis upon any one of them cannot but lead to fundamental error of immeasurable magnitude.”[17]

The Righteousness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

     The singular attribute of righteousness is the focus of this article, and that attribute is observed in all three Persons of the Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all possess the same attributes, and the particular attribute of righteousness is observed by direct statement as well as action.  The Father is said to be righteous (John 17:25), the Son is called the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14), and the Holy Spirit has a ministry that promotes “righteousness” (John 16:8).  All three shall be observed.

God the Father is Righteous

     On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus spent time teaching His disciples and preparing them for the transition of the coming church age (John 13-16).  At the end of His teaching session, Jesus offered a prayer to God the Father (John 17), a prayer that speaks of His return to the Father, but only after He faced the judgment of the cross.  Jesus did not pray to avoid the pain and shame of the cross, but that the Father would be glorified in it.  In His prayer Jesus referred to His Father as “Holy Father” (John 17:11) and “righteous Father” (John 17:25), and he made these statements knowing that the Father was sending Him to the cross to die as a substitute for sinners (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  God the Father was right to send His Son into the world to reveal His love (John 3:16), and He was right to send His Son to the cross to die in our place (Rom. 5:8).  If anyone had grounds to argue with the Father concerning the events of the cross, it was certainly Jesus.  However, God the Son addressed God the Father as righteous, knowing and accepting His plan of salvation through penal substitutionary atonement.  Not only was the Father righteous concerning His plan for the Son, but He is also righteous as “the Judge of all” (Heb. 12:23).

God the Son is Righteous

     The righteousness of God the Son became obvious when He took upon Himself a human nature, was born under the law (Gal. 4:4), obeyed the law (Matt. 5:17-19), and directed others to do the same (Matt. 8:4; 23:1-3).  “Christ’s righteousness is completely perfect. He lived a perfect life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 3:3), and He fulfilled the demands of the law.”[18]  Jesus is called “that righteous man” (Matt. 27:19), and the “Righteous One” (Acts 3:14; cf. Acts 7:52, 22:14).  “The title ‘the Righteous One,’ was used by the early church as an appellation for Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14).  John declared that believers have an Advocate with the Father, ‘Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’ (1 John 2:1).”[19]  The apostle Peter writes about “the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).  John writes about those during the Tribulation who will sing “the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!’” (Rev. 15:3).  As the Righteous One, Jesus judged, and will judge, with perfect righteousness.  He says, “As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios], because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). 

     It is a sad commentary when we read in Scripture that Jesus was falsely accused of sin.  It is a blemish on sinful mankind that they saw the Son of God, heard His perfect words, and personally witnessed His miracles; yet, they rejected Him and sought to destroy His reputation among the people, saying, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt. 11:19).  And later said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Many false charges were brought against Christ by the Jewish leadership in order to have Him killed.  Scripture reveals, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. 60 They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward” (Matt. 26:59-60).  Both Pilate and Herod found the charges against Jesus to be flimsy and not worthy of putting Him to death.  Luke records:

Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.” (Luke 23:13-15)

     The Jewish leadership and the crowds did not care to hear Pilate’s words.  They did not care about what was right before God or men.  They only sought to have Jesus crucified, so they began to shout, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).  Pilate tried to have Jesus released, but the crowds kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21).  Eventually, “their voices began to prevail. 24 And Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand be granted” (Luke 23:23a-24).  Pilate, in a moment of weakness, caved to the demands of the Jewish mob, so Jesus was sentenced to death and crucified as a criminal, even though He was innocent.  As the Lord hung upon the cross, God the Father judged Him in our place.  The sky grew dark for three hours, between 12 and 3 PM, and during that time God the Father poured out His wrath upon Jesus.  Immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman centurion who saw what had happened “began praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent [or righteous – δίκαιος dikaios]’” (Luke 23:47).  God never creates evil, however, He can and does control those who do (John 6:70-71; 19:10-11; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).  Though sinful men wrongly crucified the Lord, it was necessary that He die as our substitute and bear the punishment for our sins.  Scripture reveals that Jesus “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).  The shed blood of Christ atoned for our sins, and “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:9).  Jesus’ obedience makes us righteous before God, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). 

God the Holy Spirit is Righteous

     God the Holy Spirit has a ministry of righteousness.  The righteousness of the Holy Spirit was revealed by Jesus in the upper room discourse.  Jesus revealed the ministry of the Holy Spirit in which He convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).  The word “sin” is singular and refers only to the sin of unbelief in which men reject Christ as Savior (John 16:9).  “The Spirit also convicts the sinner of righteousness, not unrighteousness. Whose righteousness? The righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God.”[20]  The Holy Spirit also convicts the world of the fact that Jesus has left the world and has been received in heaven by the Father.  This acceptance in heaven is a testimony concerning the righteousness of Christ, because only perfect righteousness can be accepted by the Father.  More so, the Holy Spirit also convinces people that the prince of this world, Satan, has been rightly judged and will face eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:1-3, 10). 

     Another example of the Spirit’s righteousness is found in the book of Hebrews where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus on the cross so He could accomplish the Father’s will by atoning for the sins of the world (Heb. 9:11-14).  The writer to the Hebrews presents Jesus as superior to the Old Testament sacrificial system in numerous ways, and especially His death on the cross which cleanses sinners from sin in ways the Levitical sacrificial system could never do (Heb. 10:4; 10-14).  “The Old Testament sacrifices were limited to outward cleansing; they only cleansed the flesh. But, the work of Jesus avails in the spiritual sphere and results in inward cleansing.”[21]  Jesus was sent by God the Father into the world (John 17:3, 8, 18), and the primary mission of Jesus was to go to the cross and die for sinners (John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8).  His atoning death was an act of righteousness that satisfied the Father’s righteous demands for our sin, and Scripture reveals the Holy Spirit was involved in this most important work of Christ, “who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14).  “With this lovely assertion, the writer of Hebrews involved all three Persons of the Godhead in the sacrifice of Christ, which magnifies the greatness of His redemptive offering.”[22]  The Holy Spirit was right to sustain Jesus on the cross as he offered His blood as an atoning sacrifice to the Father. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min

Related Articles:

 

[1] God has also revealed Himself through the Person, words and works of Jesus; however, that direct revelation is not available to us now, for all that we know about Jesus comes only through Scripture.

[2] The Bible is a library of sixty six books written by nearly forty human authors spanning a period of roughly sixteen hundred years.  Scriptural authority resides in the autographs as they were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  God the Holy Spirit superintended the writing(s) of each author so that what they produced is historically and theologically accurate in all it affirms (the Bible accurately records lies and sinful acts, but it does not affirm those lies or sinful acts).  That which the Bible affirms about the Person and character of God is both accurate and instructive.

[3] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

[4] Throughout history there have been heresies such as: Tritheism, which teaches there are three absolutely separate gods; Modalism, which argues that there is only one god who manifests himself in three forms as Father, Son, and Spirit; and Arianism, which argues that the Son is not equal to the Father and reduces the Son to the status of a creature.

[5] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 199–200.

[6] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 190.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 39–40.

[8] Ibid., 187.

[9] Ibid., 189.

[10] It is peculiar that Dr. Chafer would so clearly explain several of God’s attributes without providing a single Scripture reference to support his assertions.

[11] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI., Kregel Publications, 1993), 192-223.

[12] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Books, 2000), 293-323.

[13] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 75-98.

[14] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 31-572.

[15] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 156-221.

[16] This list is a condensation of the attributes of God as presented by Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 41-50.

[17] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 223.

[18] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two, 333.

[19] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 188–189.

[20] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 362.

[21] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 120.

[22] Zane C. Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 801.

Christ to the Cross – Steven R. Cook

Jesus nailed to Cross

Christ to the Cross ©

I and the Father led Christ to the cross,
Together we placed Him there;
I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost,
His Father’s wrath to bear.
Christ in the middle not wanting to die,
Knelt in the garden and prayed;
Great tears of blood the Savior did cry,
Yet His Father He humbly obeyed.

So He carried His cross down a dusty trail,
No words on His lips were found;
No cry was uttered as I drove the nails,
His arms to the cross were bound.
I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide,
He hung between heaven and earth;
I raised my spear and pierced His side,
What flowed was of infinite worth.

Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go,
A sacrifice without blemish or spot;
A knife was raised, and life did flow,
In a basin the blood was caught.
Past the incense table and the dark black veil,
To that holy of holy places;
The blood of Christ was made to avail,
And all my sins it erases.

Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration
Of the Father’s love for me;
For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction,
Redeemed, and set me free.
Now I come to the Savior by faith alone,
Not trusting in works at all;
Jesus my substitute for sin did atone,
Salvation in answer to His call.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.
May, 2006

A Tribute to a Godly Grandmother

Jeanette Boerner O'DonnellJeanette K. Boerner O’Donnell (4/19/1893 to 12/21/1984) was the only grandparent I knew growing up in Lancaster, California, in the mid 70’s. I was 8 and she was 80 when she came to live in our home for about two years. We stood eye to eye and weighed about the same. She had a crown of silvery hair and kept her shoulders straight when she walked. Her gentle demeanor made others feel welcome. She was loved by those who knew her. 

       Jeanette K. Boerner 1930Jeanette was born in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and lived there until she moved to California in the 1920’s to attend college (see genealogy). She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1929 and then moved to Lancaster, California, where she was involved in her church. She was gifted in music and played the clarinet, the mandolin and the piano. Her love for God as a young girl continued into her adult life and she was not shy about sharing the Lord with others she met along the way. 

       She occupied the little bedroom near the front of the house. My room was next to hers, cattycorner across the hall. I walked past her bedroom each morning as I headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Usually awake at sunrise, she had the habit of praising God before getting out of bed, and sometimes I could hear her whispering praises to the Lord. This was her habit every morning. She would hold her hands slightly above the bedcovers and count praises on her fingertips. A hundred praises before she got out of bed. She liked to start each day with worship and honor to the Lord and often had tears by the time she finished her hundredth praise; tears and a smile. Her love for God was genuine, and it flowed out of her in praise for Him and love for others. My grandmother believed in godly habits, as they led to godly character. 

open-bibleMy grandmother used to say, “Be disciplined in your life.” By discipline she meant, “do what you ought to do, whether you want to do it or not, because it’s right.” When she spoke of doing what is “right”, she often meant according to the standard of God’s Word. For her, the Bible was the guide for Christian faith and conduct. The Christian was to learn God’s Word and then live it on daily basis. She modeled her Christian faith regularly. She also taught me basic rules of etiquette. She demonstrated politeness and good manners toward others and always had good posture when standing, walking or sitting. As a family, we were very poor financially, but she explained that was no excuse for poor manners, a poor work ethic, or a poor education. Above all, it was no excuse to be poor in love. As Christians, we were to look to Christ, both as our Savior and role model. I must admit, at that time, I did not understand my grandmother, and it took nearly fifteen years of growing up before I began to appreciate her in a fuller way. That’s the way it goes in life. We sometimes learn things we don’t fully understand until later, or we don’t appreciate some people until we grow older. 

       My grandmother was an anomaly to me. She was out of place in the world that I knew. My parents, siblings and friends were consumed with their own lives and were steeped in worldly values. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes, but my grandmother sought the Lord. She was a light in a dark place. She represented the highest and best in good behavior at a time when all others around me represented the lowest and worst. It’s easy to be worldly when everyone around you is worldly, but she chose to be godly and to live by biblical values. 

       She was not afraid to share Christ with others. I was with her once in a department store when she decided to share Christ with the man standing next to her. The man was well over six feet, bearded, scruffy, and wearing a black leather jacket with writing on the back. My grandmother turned to him and asked, “Have you made the most important decision of your life?” I did not understand what she was asking him. About fifteen minutes later she was standing with him over in a corner of the store and was sharing the gospel of Christ with him. She explained that Jesus had died on the cross for his sins and was assuring him that he could receive the gift of eternal life if he would trust in Christ as his Savior. A moment later they both closed their eyes and she prayed with him. She was bold when sharing the Gospel of God’s grace. 

       I remember a conflict I’d had with her once at the house. I’d defied her one morning when she’d asked me to perform a trivial task. I remember looking her square in the eyes and saying “no”. She asked me again to do what she wanted, and again I said “no”. She said, “If you don’t do what I ask, you can spend an hour in your room.” I told her, “No I won’t.” I don’t know why I defied her. She promptly grabbed me by my ear and walked me across the living room and down the hall and put me in my bedroom and said, “stay in your room for an hour and then come out and do what I’ve asked.” I told her “no” and proceeded to wrestle with her. She walked out of the room and shut the door behind her. I grabbed the door and pulled it open, and she pulled it shut, then we tugged on the door back and forth for a few seconds until I finally gave up and sat down on my bed. I sat and read my Curious George book, angry that I was made to stay in my room for an hour. After about twenty minutes I thought perhaps she’d gone away, so I quietly snuck over to the door and gently placed my hands on the knob, and with a quick turn I pulled on the door and was surprised to see my grandmother standing on the other side. She was surprised at my attempt to escape. She quickly pulled the door shut and said, “I’ll stand here the whole hour if that’s what it takes to keep you in your room.” And that’s exactly what she did. Afterwards she let me out and I did what she asked. My respect for her increased greatly. 

       My grandmother moved away after being with us for nearly two years. Eventually she went to live with my uncle in North Hollywood. She stayed there until her death in 1984. She suffered a stroke one day at the house and died a few days later at a local hospital. My older sister Cindy was able to visit our grandmother in the hospital before she died. Cindy kissed her cheek, thanked her for her love, sang a hymn and prayed with her while holding her hand. Though limited by her stroke, my grandmother continued to pray and praise the Lord until she died. Her faith was strong to the end of her life. She was a trophy of God’s grace to all her knew her.

       In closing, there was a great spiritual void in my life after my grandmother moved away. There was no one to help me memorize Scripture or teach me right from wrong. As I grew older the ways of the world filled my soul and I fell into darkness. By the time I was 21 I’d ruined my life with drugs and was living on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. I woke one morning to the sound of children walking past the fence near the alley where I’d slept the night before. Years of bad choices and heavy drug use had caught up with me and the few weeks I’d spent living on the streets and at a homeless shelter were enough to wake me to the despair of my situation. Worldly living had produced such a darkness within me, there were times I had considered suicide as a solution to end the misery that was my pathetic life. However, there was hope that morning on the grass. God’s voice broke through, as the influence of a godly grandmother came to my mind. I was thinking about Psalm chapter 1, which my grandmother helped me memorize when I was 8. I kept repeating that Psalm over in my mind, and it helped me focus on God rather than the despair of my situation. From that moment onward I began to look to the Lord and Scripture for guidance. My life has been an uphill climb out of the ash heap ever since then, and I thank God for His blessing me more than I deserve. I am thankful for the godly grandmother He placed in my life at a young age. The biblical seeds she planted took root and have been growing ever since. My life is richer because of her. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:


[1] The Boerner family genealogy: https://boernerfamily.wordpress.com/.  

I am Barabbas

       Several years ago I was doing a Bible study and learned that all four Gospels record the prisoner exchange between a notorious criminal named Barabbas and the Lord Jesus (Matt 27:16-26; Mark 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Barabbas was in jail for insurrection, murder, and robbery, and was surely going to face death for his crimes (Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent of all the charges brought against Him. Pilate, the Roman Governor who presided as judge over the two men, knew it was “because of envy” that Jesus had been handed over to him to be scourged and crucified (Matt 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10). Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of the charges leveled against Him and sought to have Him released (Luke 23:20); however, Pilate eventually proved a weak leader who surrendered to the insane demands of the mob who kept shouting “crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). All of this occurred according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).

     I imagine Barabbas was sitting in his jail cell when a Roman guard came, unlocked his door, and informed him he was free to leave. I suppose Barabbas was puzzled because freedom was not what he expected. Barabbas was in a dark place with no ability to save himself. Outside the prison walls, Jesus was being led away to die as his substitute, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. Spiritually, we are all in a dark place without hope, facing eternal death, and with no ability to save ourselves. But there’s good news! Outside our prison is a free and innocent Man who has died in our place, who bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Paul wrote:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:6-8)

       It was through a simple presentation of the gospel message that I came to believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior when I was eight, with the result that I received forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), and eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28; 1 Cor 15:3-4). Steve-16However, I learned that being saved does not guarantee a godly life. The apostle Peter once wrote to Christians and said, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Pet 4:15). It is possible for Christians to commit all the sins Peter stated; otherwise he would never have given his negative command. As a young teenager living in Las Vegas, Nevada (in the 1980’s), I was completely surrounded by worldly-minded people, and I was free to chase after the world and the lusts of my flesh. For nearly seven years I was unopposed in my pursuit of a life of drugs and crime. From the beginning of my rebellion, I used the hardest drugs I could find (Cocaine, LSD, PCP, etc.). I did a lot of bad things when I was a younger Christian and it nearly destroyed me. 

       One Sunday morning in the summer of 1988, I was sleeping on some grass and woke to the sound of children walking past a fence near the alley where I’d slept the night before. Years of bad choices and heavy drug use had caught up with me and the few weeks I’d spent living on the streets and at a homeless shelter were enough to awaken me to the despair of my situation. Worldly living had produced such a darkness within me, there were times I had considered suicide as a solution to end the misery that was my pathetic life. From the time I started using illegal drugs until that morning on the grass, I had not been living as a righteous man, but rather as the wicked that “are like chaff which the wind drives away” (Psa 1:4). My life at that time epitomized worldliness, as I had rejected God’s authority over my life, and that came with harmful consequences. By excluding Him, I had become my own worst enemy. Though I had excluded God from my life, He had not excluded me from His.

       The Lord loved me and humbled me by divine discipline (Heb 12:5-11). He caused me to suffer for my own good. Like the psalmist, I came to say, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psa 119:71). The Lord brought me to a place where I was helpless and ready to listen to Him. When my heart was broken, and I had no place to look but to Him, then Scripture my grandmother had helped me memorize when I was a little boy came to mind, and I found hope (Psa 1:1-6; 23:1-6). I was homeless, hurt, hungry, wearing only rags, and more thankful than I’d been in many years. The Lord, who allowed me to destroy my life through bad choices, forgave me and called me back to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). I welcomed His love and grace.

       The joy of my salvation was refreshed within me. A fire was ignited in my soul and I was ready to walk with the Lord. I knew I had to be responsible and face my prison sentence and serve time for the crimes I’d committed, and I knew the Lord was with me all the way. My two year prison term was a time of spiritual development as I faced many tests and grew in my knowledge and application of Scripture. As a Christian, my spiritual growth began the day I submitted my life to God. Many worldly people had previously influenced me in an ungodly way, and I was stupid enough to let them. No more. No more hanging around foolish people, or reading worldly books, or watching movies that promote worldly values, or listening to music that glorifies degeneracy. No more. God had blessed me with everything I needed to grow and mature and I decided to lay hold of that life (Eph 1:3; 4:11-13). Oh, I made bad choices along the way and fell into sin, but God continually showed me grace. I confessed my sin and got back to living the spiritual life and “walking in the light as He Himself is in the light” (1 John 1:7). As I grew in my love for Him I learned that “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

      PrisonCellI remember when I first entered prison back in 1989. The medium security prison unit outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, had a practice of placing new inmates into solitary confinement the first twenty one days after their arrival. My cinder block cell was approximately 6 by 9 feet and had a metal bed and toilet. After I completed my stay in solitary confinement, I was released onto the prison yard with the other inmates. I was tested within hours after being assigned my new sleeping quarters, as I was approached by an inmate who offered to sell me marijuana and I refused his offer. I made it clear to him, albeit respectfully, that I wanted to live as a Christian and had no desire to do drugs. I was treated with hostility, even though I gave none. My initial reaction was to return hostility to him, but I knew that was wrong, as the Scripture directs me:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (Rom 12:17-19)

       I could not control the situation or the other man’s attitude, but at the same time, I could not allow myself to be controlled by it. As a Christian, I had to start living by God’s Word and stop reacting to the sinful attitudes and actions of others as I was previously accustomed to doing. In prison, I was constantly challenged to live by God’s Word and not my circumstances or the pressures of others. This prepared me for living in society after prison.

Steve in Prison 1989On another occasion, I faced a challenge pertaining to racism when I was at a prison unit in northern Nevada. During meal time many of the inmates would sit separately with blacks on one side of the dinner hall and whites on the other side. This was the choice of the inmates. However, some of my Christian friends were black and some were white, and we would sit together at one table to talk about Scripture and pray. Biblically, we realized that there is only one race: the human race (Gen 1:26-27; Acts 17:26). Not wanting to be a slave to the prison culture, we chose to sit together and have Christian discussion. After a few weeks I was approached by another inmate who told me to “stop sitting with the other men” because it “looked bad.” I knew what he meant. I made it clear to this inmate, albeit respectfully, that I was going to sit with my Christian brothers so we could talk theology and pray together. To be honest, I thought there was going to be a fight that morning as this inmate got in my face and tried to bully me. Though I was somewhat intimidated, Christian courage demanded I stand my ground. To be clear, I was not trying to change the attitudes of the other inmates or reform the prison culture in any way. I think that’s impossible; much like I think it’s impossible to reform the devil’s world. I was simply trying to enjoy Christian fellowship with my Christian brothers, even though I knew it meant standing against the corrupt values and practices of the prison culture. 

       To some degree, surviving in prison means conforming to the environment and getting along as best one is able. Where Scripture is silent this can mean compromise. However, living for Christ means walking in the light of God’s Word, and that meant standing against the values of the prison culture at times in order to obey Scripture. I wish I could say I walked according to Scripture all the time, but I did not. I was learning and applying Scripture during my time in prison, and was learning to pick my battles from one moment to the next. Picking battles is very important, for some battles are more important than others. As we learn God’s Word, we’ll gain wisdom for the moment. 

       Steven R. Cook Doctor of MinistryFour months after my release from prison, in 1990, I actively started serving in jail ministry and continued for over twelve years (until June, 2002). I loved teaching Bible classes several times a week and sharing the gospel with others. I started college in 1992 and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services from Wayland Baptist University in 1998. Afterward, I studied Classical Literature for several years at Texas Tech University, and then began graduate school in 2002 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and completed a Master of Divinity degree in 2006. I also completed my Doctor of Ministry degree from Tyndale Theological Seminary in 2017.

Kenny GuinnPardon-1The Lord also blessed me with a pardon. On February 10, 2005, the Governor of Nevada, Kenny Guinn, along with the Nevada Supreme Court and Attorney General, granted me a full pardon for the crime that sent me to prison. In 2006 I had my criminal records permanently sealed. This is the grace of God. The Lord has opened doors of opportunity for ministry and education and undone much of the damage I had inflicted on myself many years before. The fifteen years between the time of my release from prison in 1990 until the time of my pardon in 2005 were very difficult. Convicted felons are generally viewed with great suspicion in society and are automatically denied jobs, places to live and other opportunities in life. I’ve learned that life is not fair and not to expect any justice from the world. I accepted my hardship during that time and lived where I could. I worked menial jobs while I was in school, sought to live honorably, and above all kept my focus on the Lord who gave me joy and hope from day to day. Now I choose to live a simple life and work in quiet. I enjoy writing articles and books and teaching a Bible lesson when someone asks. I am very thankful for all God’s blessings. 

       Above all, I am thankful for the grace of God revealed to me through Scripture. Though I was saved at a young age, it was only through many years of study that I came to understand and appreciate in a greater way what God did in bringing me to Himself through the substitutionary atoning work of His Son on the cross. Biblically, I know it was the Father’s will that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), of which I am one among many; yet, in a very personal way, I see Christ bearing my sin, being judged in my place and bearing the Father’s wrath that rightfully belonged to me. God’s righteousness and love intersect at the cross, in that He displays His great wrath against my sin and at the same time His love for me, the sinner. At the cross, God punished my sin as His justice required and saved me, the sinner, as His love desired (Isa 53; John 3:16). And all this happened while I was His enemy (Rom 5:10)! Had I been alive in the days my Lord walked the earth, I surely would have led Him to the cross myself and driven the nails with my own hands. I would have lifted up His cross and made Him hang between heaven and earth to die. I am a sinner, but for the grace of God I would burn for all eternity. Yet God, in infinite grace and mercy came to me in my depravity and showed me love when I was not seeking Him, and by His grace gave me eternal life when I turned to Christ and trusted Him as my Savior. My name is Barabbas and today I am a free man.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

All is Vanity…Except for God’s Blessings

       “Vanity of vanities…All is vanity” declares the wise Solomon, as he writes of the emptiness of life (Eccl 1:2, NASB). When selecting a word to describe the vanity he saw in life, Solomon chose the Hebrew noun hebel which has at its core meaning the idea of “vapor” or “breath.”[1] Hebel is like the wispy vapor of one’s breath on a cold morning; it appears to have substance, until you grasp at it, and it passes through your fingers and disappears. Hebel also refers to what is empty, useless, futile or meaningless. Note these other English translations:

“Futile! Futile!” laments the Teacher, “Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!” (Eccl 1:2, NET)

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccl 1:2, NIV)

       Solomon primarily uses hebel throughout the book of Ecclesiastes to refer to the worthless activity of human accomplishments (Eccl 1:14, 18; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 16; 6:9; except for 4:6). Solomon sees the skillful labor of men as temporary, unsustainable, and sometimes given over to others who don’t deserve it; and this he regards as “vanity and a great evil” (Eccl 2:21).   Hebel is also used in Scripture to:

Refer to idols worshipped by the Israelites

They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols [hebel]. (Deut 32:21a; cf. 1 Ki 16:13, 26)

Express a man’s frustration

I have toiled for nothing; I have spent my strength for emptiness and futility [hebel]… (Isa 49:4a)

Reveal the transitory nature of life

Man is like a mere breath [hebel]; his days are like a passing shadow.  (Psa 144:4)

So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting [hebel]. (Eccl 11:10)

Show that much of the works of men are worthless

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity [hebel] and striving after wind. (Eccl 1:14)

       Chasing after windSolomon likens hebel to “striving after wind” (Eccl 1:14), which is the most common picture employed throughout the book of Ecclesiastes (Eccl 1:14, 18; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9). When I think of the phrase “striving after wind”, I imagine someone wasting his time trying to catch the wind in his hands. It’s as futile as someone trying to hold his breath for a thousand years or trying to pour the ocean into a thimble. It’s futile. 

       Solomon also sees much evil in the world, and this is in connection with hebel (Eccl 2:21; 4:3-4; 8; 5:1, 13, 16; 6:1-2; 8:3; 11-14; 9:3, 12; 10:5; 12:1, 14). Certainly the world can be a frustrating and evil place, full of worthless activity that consumes our time and makes us feel like we’re chasing our tails. Frustration and evil is all around us and sometimes it’s all we see and hear on the news. A man would have to be blind to miss it. However, if frustration and evil is all a man sees, then he is a very poor man, for he does not see the good things that God gives to men.

     In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon identifies God’s simple blessings for life. These are the natural blessings that are a part of everyday life that we enjoy in time. Solomon reveals God’s basic blessings to be the ability to enjoy the labor of our hands (Eccl 2:24; 3:13; 5:19), a good meal (Eccl 2:24; 8:15; 9:7), and relationships with other people (Eccl 9:7-9). Solomon calls these blessings a “reward” and “gifts from God” (Eccl 5:19-20; 9:9; cf. 3:12). 

There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? (Eccl 2:24-25)

I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. (Eccl 3:12-13)

Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. (Eccl 5:19-20)

So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun. (Eccl 8:15)

Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting [hebel] life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. (Eccl 9:7-9)

       Solomon was a realist who had divine viewpoint, seeing both the evil and the good in this world. Solomon spent much of his life comparing the things he saw and making judgments about life, declaring that some things are better than others (see Pro 24:30-34). Though his eye was fixed on things eternal (Eccl 3:11; 12:5, 13-14), Solomon was also concerned with identifying the things of this life that give us enjoyment. These things, according to Solomon, are the ability to enjoy the labor of our hands (Eccl 2:24; 3:13; 5:19), a good meal (Eccl 2:24; 8:15; 9:7), and relationships with other people (Eccl 9:7-9). Solomon calls these blessings a “reward” and “gifts from God” (Eccl 5:19-20; 9:9; cf. 3:12).

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1]Brown, F., Driver, S. R., Briggs, C. A., & Gesenius, W., The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), 210.