By Alfred Bouter
Sometime after the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Lk. 2:1-20), a group of wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem. They came with an important mission: “Where is He who has been born King1 of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Mt. 2:2 NKJV). How was it that they had come from so far away and yet knew what had just occurred?
In the days of the prophet Daniel, God used him to graciously and miraculously save the lives of many wise men. Nebuchadnezzar then placed Daniel, whom he called Belteshazzar, as head over them (Dan. 1:7, 2:48).2 These wise men and their following generations had come to possess a book written by Daniel which described future events (see 9:24-27, 10:1-12:13). Around the time indicated in Daniel 9, the wise men of a later generation (Mt. 2) noticed miraculous things in the skies and, having been intrigued about them and based on what they knew and observed, traveled to Jerusalem. Once there, they must have been surprised to find that the leaders were not prepared for the arrival of this King – and not interested either.
The reigning king, Herod “the great,” summoned the Jewish religious leaders to find out where this birth had happened, pretending that he wanted to go and worship Him. In reality, Herod was planning to kill this One whom he thought would seek his throne. The scribes quoted Micah (5:2-4) to confirm that Bethlehem of Judea was the place where the Messiah must be born, but they showed no desire to go and worship Him. Herod’s sinister plans were nullified by God’s intervention (Mt. 2:7-15) even though He allowed the slaughter of the innocent babes and infants (vv.16-18).
These details show us that faith and love for Him and His Word are needed to accept “as it is written” – a phrase repeated often in Scripture – and to act accordingly, with the right motives and intentions. Especially in our days of decline and departure, it is essential to hold fast to God’s written Word. Therefore the apostle Paul encouraged his young co-worker, Timothy, to continue in the things he had learned from him and known from the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-17). All believers are encouraged to follow Paul’s example and teaching (1 Cor. 11:1), which are still valid and relevant today.
God Made Known His Thoughts
God made His thoughts for His chosen people known through Moses in Genesis through Deuteronomy. Joshua, Moses successor, communicated God’s commandment to the people to build a special altar, “as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses” (Josh. 8:31). The fourth generation and those that followed departed from God’s thoughts, causing much failure during the days of the judges, as “every one did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:25). In time, God brought the rule of David, the king after His heart, to implement His thoughts (Ps. 132). David passed this reign on to his son Solomon, whom God had adopted as son (2 Sam. 12:24-25), despite David’s own failures.
The plan was that Solomon would, as David exhorted him, “Keep the charge of the LORD your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Ki. 2:3). After his initial obedience, sadly Solomon failed, for his heart was turned to various idols while he officially served God (11:1-11). This led to the division of the kingdom.
In later generations mention was made and practice was observed of the instructions God had given “according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses” (2 Ki. 14:6). Much later, in the days of Jeremiah, after things had gone very bad, especially under Manasseh, God worked a great revival through King Josiah. During that time there was much emphasis on the Word of God, which had been found in the temple by the high priest Hilkiah (22:8). Josiah then “commanded all the people, saying, ‘Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant’” (23:21). Remember, these events happened and were written as lessons for us today (1 Cor. 10:1-13).
Because of Israel’s ongoing unfaithfulness, God sent the Ten Tribes of northern Israel into captivity (2 Ki. 17), during the days of several Assyrian kings. Most of these tribes are still scattered among the nations, and they will be until their future restoration takes place (Ezek. 20).
The Two Tribes – Judah and Benjamin with a remnant of the Levites as well as some belonging to the other tribes – experienced the great revival under King Josiah, yet many of them were sent into the Babylonian captivity, in three successive phases, because of the disobedience of the kings after Josiah (Jer. 24; 2 Chr. 36). When the 70 years of captivity had passed (Jer. 29:10), a remnant returned to Jerusalem, also in three phases, and started to rebuild the temple and restore the city. However, after the 400 “silent years” following the last prophet, Malachi, the remaining Two Tribes were still not ready for God and His King. Then God sent John the Baptist “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk. 1:17; see also Mk. 1:1-13; Jn. 1; Mt. 3; Lk. 3).
The Word Of God Keeps Its Relevance
Even though there was so much departure and failure among what remained of God’s people, it is striking to read seven times in 2 Chronicles that things were done according to what was written.2 The Chronicles were probably written by Ezra the scribe many years after a remnant had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. Second Chronicles in particular describes remnant conditions and faithfulness to the Word during the days before the captivity, despite the prevailing unfaithfulness. Following is a brief overview of those seven passages in 2 Chronicles.
- “Jehoiada appointed the oversight of the house of the LORD to the hand of the priests, the Levites, whom David had assigned in the house of the LORD, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the Law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, as it was established by David” (23:18).
- Amaziah “did not put their children to death, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, which the LORD commanded, saying, ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin’” (25:4 NASB).
- “They decreed to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that the people should come and keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel, at Jerusalem, for they had not kept it as often as prescribed (30:5 ESV).
- “A majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, May the good LORD pardon everyone” (v.18). This shows God’s grace for His failing people who had the desire to please Him.
- “The king also appointed a portion of his possessions for the burnt offerings: for the morning and evening burnt offerings, the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths and the New Moons and the set feasts, as it is written in the Law of the LORD” (31:3 NKJV).
- “Then they removed the burnt offerings that they might give them to the sections of the fathers’ households of the lay people to present to the LORD, as it is written in the book of Moses. They did this also with the bulls” (35:12 NASB).
- “Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and his goodness, according to what was written in the Law of the LORD, and his deeds from first to last, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah (vv.26-27 NKJV).
The remnant that returned to Jerusalem, to the place of God’s dwelling, was characterized by the fact that they did things according to what is written in God’s Word (Ezra 3:2,4; Neh. 8:15, 10:34,36), and they maintained God’s interests in accordance with it.
Gradually, however, despite all good intentions, a system developed where traditions were placed above God’s Word. Malachi challenged the priests and the people belonging to this remnant because they were in their position according to God’s thoughts, but their spiritual condition was not right in God’s eyes. When the Lord Jesus came to fulfill God’s promises, He challenged the leaders for keeping the letter of the law but not fulfilling God’s thoughts. In other words, they acted according to what is written, but did so only in a formal way, not with love to the Lord and His people.
The Lord Jesus often challenged them on this issue, see for instance Matthew 23. In Matthew 5, the Lord said five times, “You have heard that it was said” referring to those traditions. It may be of value to note that “five” in Scripture is a number that speaks of responsibility, like the five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. He followed each with, “But I say…”,4 and then He referred to the unchanging and unchangeable Word of God.
May we learn from these examples to put into practice what is written (Jas. 1:22). Today, this implies acting in accordance with the New Testament teachings – because we are not under the law of Moses – and doing so with the right motives and intentions, for His honor and glory until He comes! God is not only interested that we keep and respect His written Word, but He wants us to do this from the heart, rather than outwardly in self-righteousness by keeping the letter.
|You have heard it said …||But I say to you …|
|“You shall not murder, and whoever murders
will be in danger of the judgment” (v.21).
|Read verses 22-26.|
|“You shall not commit adultery …
Whoever divorces his wife” (v.27,31).
|Read verses 28-32.|
|“You shall not swear falsely, but shall
perform your oaths to the Lord” (v.33).
|Read verses 34-37.|
|“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (v.38).||Read verses 39-42.|
|“You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy” (v. 43).
|Read verses 44-48.|
1. When a baby boy is born into a royal family he is called a prince, but when the Lord Jesus was born He was immediately called King!
2. To know how their lives had been saved, please read Daniel 2. The position Daniel received (2:47) does not imply that he practiced the same things as the wise men, but his special God-given abilities to interpret dreams caused the king to place him over the whole group.
3. The Hebrew text has 16 times a compound word that can be translated “as it is written” (Josh. 8:31; 1 Ki. 2:3; 2 Ki. 14:6, 23:21; 2 Chr. 23:18, 25:4, 30:5,18, 31:3, 35:12,26; Ezra 3:2,4; Neh. 8:15,10:34,36). The same Hebrew term, which occurs seven times in 2 Chronicles, is sometimes translated “as prescribed” or in other ways.
4. “But I say to you” is in Matthew 5 six times (vv.22,28,32,34,39,44). Interestingly, the same Greek word appears a seventh time in Ephesians 5:32.