Are we safe in our houses?

Lockdown resizedBy Rosie Moore.

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.” Isaiah 26:20.

In this series titled Big Questions, we’ve been looking at questions from the Bible. You can stop paging through your Bible, as this week’s big question isn’t there! It’s just a question from inside my own head as I read and re-read the many Watsapp messages applying Isaiah 26:20 directly to our nation in lockdown until the end of Passover on 16th April. When I see a verse in splendid isolation, I like to read what comes before and after the little gem to make sure that it actually says what I thought it said! Without context, it’s tempting to make myself the centre of the text and miss the depth of God’s message for all time. This week, as I allowed verse 20 to take its place within the whole chapter, against the backdrop of the rest of the Bible, I began to see that this little verse is indeed God’s word to His people, but in a far richer sense than I first imagined. Now that you’ve stocked up on all your supplies and are finally able to take a breath, I’d urge you to read chapter 26 slowly on your own. I will highlight extracts and draw out the main themes of the text, before considering how these apply to our own state of emergency.

Two cities

Isaiah 26 is essentially a song about two cities. The first is the strong city that God himself has made for all His people. Its gates are always open to its righteous citizens who keep faith. Salvation itself is the city’s walls of defence. There is safety, protection and privilege for those who live within its walls:

“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.
Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith” (Isa 26:1-2).

But the alternative is a lofty city of human pride and self-sufficiency. Its inhabitants will be humbled and its useless walls will be demolished and levelled to dust. The bricks and mortar of this proud city are no protection at all, and the feet of the poor will trample down the symbols of their oppression:

“He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor” (Isa 26:5-6).

Isaiah 26 is a song of trust, praise and meditation for God’s people, but it also asks each one of us which city we call home.

Double peace

Wedged between the two cities is one of the most encouraging promises that God’s people can hear in times of turmoil:

“You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal (Isa 26:3-4).

In the Hebrew, “perfect peace” is a double peace that comes to those who are devoted to God and firmly fix their eyes on Him under all circumstances. It is a steady and stable attitude that rests on his unchanging love and mighty power, unshaken by surrounding chaos.

Profound peace from God is nothing like the transitory peace that comes through the Headspace app on our cellphone, a session of yoga or a long walk on the beach. It’s not based on circumstances or state of mind, but on the eternal Rock (Phil 4:7Isa 26:4).

The waiting room

Throughout Isaiah’s prophecy, he is moving between the present (700BC) and the future. While the prophet is pointing to God’s glorious future, he never forgets the harsh realities for God’s people living on earth now. Verses 7-21 describes that present waiting room:

It’s a time when many people happily receive God’s benefits, but reject God himself and continue to do evil. They refuse to learn from God’s grace or his warnings (Isa 26:10). It’s a time when some people are blind to the hand of God in their lives (Isa 26:11), and when other gods rule instead of the One True Lord (Isa 26:13). It’s a time when God’s people are longing for redemption and groaning in distress, discipline and disgrace (Isa 26:916-18).

But at the same time, it’s also a world where God always makes a level path for the righteous (Isa 26:7). It’s a time when God’s faithful people wait and yearn for His name and His renown, rather than seeking their own fame. It’s an opportunity for God’s people to walk in faith and obedience (Isa 26:8-9). The waiting room is a world where God establishes peace for his people and grows them into a commonwealth that glorifies His name (Isa 26:15). Best of all, it’s a world where the dead will live again:

“But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead (Isa 26:19).

It’s into this great tension that God speaks the poignant word that’s been shared all week on social media:

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by” (Isa 26:20).

It’s a truly amazing instruction, which is just as relevant for God’s waiting people today. But does this verse promise that God will keep us safe in our houses until the end of Passover, when the COVID threat has passed us by?

Hide yourselves for a little

It’s impossible to understand what this verse promises us today without looking through the lens of what happened in Egypt 1750 years before Isaiah was born: Isaiah 26:20 is a vivid picture of the first Passover night when the angel of death passed over the Israelite houses whose doors were marked by the blood of the lambs. The parallels are unmistakeable.

When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down (Isa 26:20).

At this first Passover in Egypt, God’s people literally hid themselves in their homes for the night until He led them safely out of slavery to their promised country.

But God’s word to His waiting people today must also be seen through the lens of what Jesus did on the cross at Passover in 33AD. Isaiah’s song longs for redemption, but God did indeed come to earth to bring redemption! He came in the form of His Son, the Passover Lamb that we remember at Easter, whose blood hides us from the wrath of God. This season of Lent is the time to marvel at this great peace that the Lord accomplished for us, just as Isaiah foretold (Isa 26:12). And it is the only basis for the perfect peace described in Isaiah 26:3-4.

The gospel tells us that anyone can enjoy the safety of the strong city of God, but we must trust in the salvation God Himself has provided. It is Jesus’s righteousness, and not our own, that makes us a “righteous” nation (Isa 26:7;2). Only His salvation forms our “walls” of protection (Isa 26:1). Jesus is the Lord of all the earth (Isa 26:13) and in Him the dead will rise again (Isa 26:19).

Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s song and He is the only safehouse that exists in this world.

The only safehouse

Our true safety depends on which passport we hold and to which city we belong. That is the primary message of Isaiah 26. But what does exactly does Isaiah 26 promise the people of God in our current lockdown, as we wait for COVID to pass?

Let’s think beyond our ‘safe’ middle class houses for a moment and imagine what it’s like to be God’s faithful people working in hospitals and ICU’s, pharmacies, old age homes, in the streets and the supermarkets, risking their lives to bring the viral pandemic under control. They are being sent out of their homes to protect the vulnerable. Imagine for a moment God’s people who are homeless, split from families or hooked up to a respirator fighting for their lives. The reality is that many of God’s faithful people don’t have “safe houses” to lock themselves into. But does that mean that they’re not secure or protected by God? Does that mean that they cannot “wait and hide themselves for a little” during this pandemic, or any other disaster?

Of course not! Scripture shows us that the image of hiding in our houses is a metaphor, (although very apt and sensible counsel for our time). Our hiding as Christians entails trusting that, for a little while, we suffer grief in all kinds of trials, our faith will be refined and prove genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is believing that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17). Our waiting includes longing with all of creation for the earth’s final redemption (Romans 8:18-27Isa 26:16-21), as well as praying with hope in the promises of God’s word. But it also means acting lovingly for the good of others who need our help (Micah 6:8), caring not just for our own families, safe in our own homes, but for our neighbours too. Wherever we are and whatever we face in the coming weeks, we can give thanks and rejoice, because our hope, protection and safety are rooted in God’s good purposes (1 Thess 5:16-18Rom 8:28-30).

So, in answer to our big question, Are we safe in our houses? the answer is Yes and No. Staying home is the best way to flatten the curve of coronavirus in our nation, but not even Buckingham Palace was a safe place for Prince Charles! And more importantly, no one is safe from the incurable virus of sin which infects us all, not from the outside, but from the inside of every human heart. No amount of social distancing can save us. The only cure for this deadly virus is the vaccine God has provided. Jesus is the Passover Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Lockdown over this Easter period is a good time to unite as families and a nation, to reflect on how broken our world really is and how much we need a Saviour. It’s a good time for Christians to remember that we’re just campers here (1 Peter 2:11), citizens of a heavenly city with solid foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10). There is only one “safe house” to lock down in, and that is the house built on the Rock (Matt 7:24-27Luke 6:47-49). Jesus himself told us how this is done:

“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Building on the Rock

My friends, this song of Isaiah has been a great blessing to me this week. Whether you know Christ in a personal way or not, the current State of Emergency asks us all some urgent questions. Let none of us be like those who will not learn that we’re beyond human help (Isa 26:10-11). I appeal to you to humbly ponder these questions and lock down in prayer:

  1. To what city do you belong —God’s safe city, or a flimsy city built on money, self-righteousness and pride?
  2. Do you experience the peace of a steadfast mind (Isa 26:3-4)?
  3. What are your heart’s desires (Isa 26:9)? Do you long for Christ’s salvation to reach the ends of the world? Do you yearn for His return to bring final redemption to our world? Do you live for God’s renown (Isa 26:8)? Or do you just hope for immediate relief from COVID-19 and safety in this world?

Prayer based on 1 Peter 1:3-6:

We praise you, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you that in your great mercy, you have given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We take safety and hope in an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us. Protect our nation, protect our homes, especially the most vulnerable among us. Thank you that through our faith in Jesus, we are shielded by your power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. Keep us faithful as we wait in our houses for our true home, and give us grace to hide ourselves in you.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Do you not care that we are perishing?

Boat in distress resized Panic and fear are natural responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, as our cellphones alert us to  every advance of the viral storm on our borders, neighbourhoods and homes. Scientists estimate that between 40% and 80% of our population will be affected by the Coronavirus. But it is good to remind ourselves that we are not the pivot of history and our storm is not unique. Many plagues have stalked the planet before ours: In 260AD, Smallpox killed a third of the Roman Empire, and in 251AD a form of measles wreaked havoc on the world. In 1347 the Black Death wiped out 20 million people over five years. Then came the Plague of 1527, and a massive Cholera outbreak in London in 1854. The Spanish flu of 1918 killed over 50 million of those who managed to survive World War 1, and only five years ago, Ebola claimed 11 000 lives. Even now, billions of desert locusts are swarming in East Africa, posing a huge threat to the region’s food security.

Where is God in these great storms? Does He even care? To the naked eye, it may appear that God is powerless, asleep or indifferent to our world, if He exists at all.

These thoughts are implicit in the question that Jesus’s own disciples asked Him as they watched furious waves breaking over their fragile fishing boat: “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

It was a personal and urgent question, since Jesus was fast asleep in the boat while they were baling water and fighting the storm. The miracle worker who’d just healed a paralytic, seemed detached and impassive to their plight. Or was He?

Today’s text is Mark 4:35-41.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Storms reveal faith and fear

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18).

The disciples already knew that Jesus was a powerful rabbi who taught with authority, healed the sick and cast out evil spirits with a word. They’d seen Jesus forgive the sins of a paralysed man and restore his atrophied muscles. Jesus had already shown them that he was powerful, good and wise. He was starting to reverse the chaotic effects of sin and sickness.

Yet, while the waves were breaking over their own boat, threatening to sink it, the disciples were confronted with an x-ray of their unbelief (Mark 4:40). At this stage, they did not fully grasp who Jesus was and what His Kingdom meant. Three questions in this brief story reveal their troubled hearts:

Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” They accuse Jesus of indifference.

Why are you so afraid?” Jesus gently questions their panicked response.

Do you still have no faith?” Jesus probes deeper to the root of their fear.

We may know more than the disciples did on this terrifying day, but even as Christians, storms scan our hearts like giant x-ray machines and confront us with these same questions. Fear and faith are always vying for control. It’s easy to say that Jesus is the ruler of the universe generally, but it’s harder to trust him personally when the earth is moving under us. It’s easier to believe what we see with our eyes, than trust in the invisible Creator, who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps 121:3-5). It takes faith to trust in things not seen when the winds and waves are in our face (Heb 11:1). Storms test and grow genuine faith in Jesus.

Storms blast away our illusions of security. They expose the truth of our weak bodies, our volatile stock markets and fragile mortality. That’s exactly what the Coronavirus is doing. Apart from the immediate threat of illness, COVID-19 will have dramatic economic effects on families and communities in the coming months, perhaps years. Like believers in every storm, we are challenged to exercise our faith by caring for our neighbours’ needs and demonstrating what we believe about God’s unseen Kingdom. God’s greatest treasures are often hidden in our most difficult storms.

As clergyman James A. Aughley wrote: “As a weak limb grows stronger by exercise, so will your faith be strengthened by the very efforts you make in stretching it out towards things unseen.

Storms reveal Christ

There’s a fourth crucial question in our story. In the calm after the storm, the even more terrified disciples ask each other: “Who is this then, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The storm forces them to question who Jesus really is and whether they can surrender their lives to him. The answer holds the key to this story.

In fact, the answer comes a chapter later from the lips of a demon-possessed hermit living among the tombs, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7).

The story of Jesus calming the storm is a dramatic preview of who Christ is and why He came to earth: He talks to the ferocious, life-threatening storm as if it’s a yap-dog. He literally orders the furious storm to shut up and sit down, and it obeys! Even the wild waves are tamed. It’s no wonder the disciples were even more afraid in the calm than the storm! They glimpsed the invisible Kingdom of God and sensed the presence of the King in the boat with them.

The disciples may have joined the dots more quickly than us. They knew the Old Testament symbols of turbulent waters and surging seas were pictures of spiritual and political forces that are hostile to God. When Jesus said, “Be still”, He revealed himself as God of heaven and earth, and declared war on His enemies. By overturning the forces of evil and chaos on the lake, he showed Himself to be “God of our salvation and the hope of all the ends of the earth:”

“O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas…
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs (Ps 65:5-8).

O Lord God of hosts,
who is mighty as you are, O Lord,
with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them…
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. The heavens and earth are mine” (Ps 89:8-11).

In stilling the storm, Jesus showcased his invisible kingdom and His identity as King.

Don’t you care that we are perishing?

But even if Jesus rules the winds and the waves, it is still legitimate to ask if He cares. A King can be powerful, but not care for his subjects at all. Jesus answered that question himself:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

The disciples’ question is full of dramatic irony. They believed that drowning that day was the worst fate they could face. Physical death was their idea of ‘perishing,’ as they watched their lives flash before them. Yet, this scene on Lake Galilee was just a drop in the ocean of what Christ would soon do to save the world from truly perishing:

To ‘perish’ is to be utterly consumed by the final, furious storm of God’s judgment against our sin (Rev 6:16). Since only Jesus can atone for sins, our only safe place is in the boat with Him. Just as Noah’s family was safe in the Ark when the Flood came, Jesus is the only and ultimate shelter from an infinitely more desperate death than drowning (Matt 24:37-39). Only those who believe in Him will be delivered when the storm of God’s wrath comes.

Jesus proved how much He cared. We only have to hear his prayer in Gethsemane, see his mutilated body on the cross, and listen to his cry of being God-forsaken, to know for sure that our faith in Jesus is well-founded. If that’s not proof that He cares, what will it take?

Let not your hearts be troubled

Jesus woke from his sleep of death to bring peace to our sinful, dysfunctional hearts. That’s the greatest miracle of all for those who put their trust in Him! And at the right time, the Lord will restore His disordered, furious, wild, turbulent and groaning creation, just as He stilled the winds and waves (Joel 2:25-26Isa 65:25Acts 3:21Rev 21:4-5).

Be still for a moment and imagine that lake after the ferocious storm. Focus on the invisible person of Christ and his unseen Kingdom. Let him tame our our worries and fears as we make them obedient to his power and love:

In every storm, we can be sure that Jesus does care for us. The Lord never slumbers or sleeps, even if it appears that way (Ps 121:41 Peter 5:7). If we’re in Christ, He’ll be in the boat with us by His Spirit, even when we die.

As we wash our hands and hunker down in our homes, we need to take this opportunity to anchor ourselves and our families in what we know is true, rather than being tossed about by every new case of COVID-19 and the uncertain future. We need to resist sensationalism and hysteria, because exercising faith means looking beyond what’s seen with the naked eye (2 Cor 4:18). Faith is seeing ourselves as a pinprick in the big storyline of Scripture: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. And faith means living now, not in fear and bewilderment, but in wisdom and the certain knowledge of what God is doing to redeem a people for himself and restore all of his Creation. Practical faith is making Jesus our secure hiding place by believing His Word and praying to him. It’s finding creative ways to care for each other as Jesus cares for us, and being always ready to give a reason for our hope in the rock-solid Kingdom of God– especially on social media! It’s the unseen things that must shape our values, our responses and everyday priorities. That’s how faith will win over fear. And that’s how our hearts will not be troubled.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Laura Story asks the question of God: “What if blessings come through rain drops? What if the rain, the storms, the hardest nights–are your mercies in disguise?”


Lord God, thank you for caring enough that you left heaven and took the storm of judgement on our behalf on the cross. Thank you that your Word gives us many glimpses of your wonderful, eternal Kingdom, where you reign with peace, order and righteousness. Lord Jesus, keep our minds focussed on these unseen things as we navigate the challenging storm we face. Reassure our hearts that you are always with our loved ones and you care for us. Help us to look beyond ourselves to our neighbours who are physically vulnerable, or those who don’t know the peace only you can give. Teach us creative ways to love people even when we cannot make physical contact. May your invisible Kingdom govern our responses in the days ahead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Did the Lord not make them one?

In last week’s big question (Have we not all one Father?) I wrote, “As a mirror reflects a face, our relationships reflect our religion”. If last week’s devotion was about living together as God’s sons and daughters, today’s is about living as the Bride of Christ. Once we grasp the ultimate Marriage to which all human marriages point, it should radically shape how we view marriage and romantic bonds. In the same text from Malachi, we’ll look at why faithfulness in marriage is such a big deal to God.

Malachi 2:10-16Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and a detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! 13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

A consumer contract

Our social mentors on love, sex and marriage are training us in faithlessness. Our culture is not too different from Judah in 400BC. If TV is an indicator, it seems we’ve traded the solemn covenant of marriage for a frivolous game or consumer contract based on feelings, compatibility and self-expression. I’m thinking of shows like ‘The Bachelor/ette’, ‘Love is Blind’, ‘Married at First Sight’; ‘Say Yes to the dress’; ‘First dates’, ‘90 Day Fiancé’; ‘Love Island’, ‘Our Perfect Wedding’, ‘Boer Soek ‘n Vrou’, ‘Cheaters’, ‘Are you the one?’ and ‘Uyang’thanda Na’?

We’re obsessed with hunting down the perfect partner and arranging the perfect wedding, but no one is interested in what happens when the honeymoon is over! These series may be entertaining, but the inferences aren’t subtle: Dating and getting married is like picking out an outfit from the shopping mall. We can return or exchange it when it no longer suits our tastes. Customized vows are a celebration of how you feel about your partner at the altar, all decked out in white dress and tuxedo, but they’re as fluid as shifting sands. Falling in love, having sex and getting married appear to be no more than romantic games we play, while break-ups and divorces are the inevitable bruises we get along the way.

Like any transaction protected by the Consumer Protection Act, there’s the right to choose, to privacy, to a cooling-off period and the right to return defective goods and claim a full refund if they are “of inferior quality, unsafe or hazardous.” If Pete had married me on that basis in 1993, he would have returned me shortly after the wedding!

A covenant of one-ness

 Did the Lord not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” (Mal 2:14-16).

But, Malachi understood that marriage is a sacred, one-flesh covenant. Marriage and sex are God’s idea, with no resemblance to the consumer contract the people of Judah have made it. After all, it was God Himself who presided over the first perfect wedding between a man and a woman in a perfect Garden. He is the same silent witness to every marriage thereafter (Mal 2:14). That first marriage was based on serious, permanent, exclusive promises. When their bodies came together in sexual intimacy, they were one flesh, “naked and unashamed,” with each other and before God (Gen 2:24-25). No walls, secrets or fear of rejection came between them. No performance or defect in husband or wife altered their union. What a beautiful picture of one-ness in every sense, spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual! It was not a contract based on feelings and convenience that Adam and Eve stepped into at the beginning of the world, but a covenant of lifelong companionship and committed love, regardless of feelings or circumstances. Marriage was designed for God’s glory and their good. Of course, everything changed when Adam and Eve rejected God’s order and sin came into the world, but Eden remains the prototype of what God intends marriage to be, and Jesus endorsed it (Mark 10:6-12).

We enter into the same covenant of faithful love when we make marriage vows to each other. Let these promises sink in for a moment:

“I take you to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, in the presence of God I make this vow.”

Is this how we understand marriage and sex, or have we bought into the counterfeit version peddled by our culture?

Let no one separate

Jesus said, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:8-9).

Neither does the Bible allow us to separate our earthly marriage vows from our relationship with the Lord. Even our prayers may be hindered if we fail to honour our marriage partner (1 Peter 3:7).  That’s because we cannot separate earthly marriage from the great love story between God and His people. Human marriage was created to be a living, tangible image of that ultimate Covenant of faithful love between the Lord and His ‘treasured possession’ (Mal 3:17).

This interconnection explains Malachi’s outrage that Jewish men were marrying pagan women and rejecting their covenant wives. Three times he calls for faithfulness to the “wife of their youth” (Mal 2:1415b). Their adultery is living proof of their treachery to the Lord, who redeemed them as a people, loved them as a husband and longed to rejoice over them as a bridegroom over his bride (Isa 54:562: 5).

In fact, an entire book of the Bible personifies the Lord’s redemptive love towards his adulterous people, and it is written in the language of marriage:

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. 20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord….The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes” (Hosea 2:19-203:1).

Judah had broken their relationship to God by looking for protection, fulfillment and pleasure in the arms of a foreign god, instead of returning to the one true God, the Lord who had always loved them (Mal 1:2).

Returning to the Groom

While it’s impossible to fully grasp the profound mystery of the ‘marriage’ between Christ and those who follow Him as Lord, we do know that Jesus described heaven as a wedding feast for God’s own Son and he invited everyone to come inside (Matt 22:2-13). We also know that Jesus himself is the Groom of the Old Testament and his bride is his people throughout history (Matt 9:15Mark 2:19Eph 5:2732). Like any loving husband, Jesus is jealous for our love and purity. He vows to present us spotless when He returns to take us home to live with him forever (Rev 19:7-9Rev 21:222:17). So it doesn’t matter whether we are single, married, divorced or widowed, every forgiven Christian is Christ’s treasured possession, his bride (1 Peter 2:9).

We can also be sure that we didn’t become Christ’s bride by performance, perfection or moral purity, but only because we responded in repentance to his greatest act of love towards us—his death on the cross. It was no commercial transaction, but a one-sided covenant of grace and forgiveness. All we had to do was repent, believe and receive his mercy (1 Peter 2:10).

Wearing the wedding clothes

We can be certain that God’s Son, our Bridegroom, is busy building a place in which his bride will live with him forever. Only the Bridegroom can provide the wedding dress of “fine linen, bright and clean” for the wedding supper (Revelation 19:7-9Matt 22:11-13). That’s why we need to confess our sin and ask to be cleansed and made one of his own.

For Christian couples, our marriages are dim pictures of what’s to come, but they are powerful drafts of how we make each other ready for the wedding supper of the Lamb. Are you playing an active part in the Lamb’s wedding preparations? If the Bridegroom returned today, would you and your spouse be ready?

If grace and repentance are required to attend God’s heavenly wedding, they are also the only way to live as husband and wife. Each time we break the one-ness of our covenant by being selfish, harsh or disloyal it is only genuine repentance and forgiveness that can redeem our bond. Reaching out to one another in grace and repentance can be hard and painful, but not nearly as miserable as an estranged marriage, or the anguish of divorce. Of course, there are Biblical concessions for divorce, but it should never be a first resort (Mark 10:5Matthew 19:91 Cor 7:15).

Guarding the spirit

Malachi warns us to guard our spirit, not just our actions. That’s because faithlessness begins in the heart and mind, and runs much deeper than cheating on your spouse (Matt 5:2228). Through pornography, anger or sulking we can break faith with our marriage partner, even if we don’t take a step out of the house. We are all guilty of faithlessness in one way or another.

To guard our marriage, we need to turn back to the ultimate Bridegroom over and over again to receive his mercy. Only when our hearts are devoted to Jesus, will we listen to him and value what matters to Him. Only He can make you a considerate husband who honours, protects and helps your wife to become all that God intends her to be (1 Peter 3:7Eph 5:27-32). Only reverence for Jesus can give a wife inner beauty and the grace to submit happily to her husband, even if he’s unbelieving or harsh (1 Peter 3:1-5). Only with Christ’s help can we raise children who love the Lord, as single or united parents. Only when a single person is faithful to Jesus as their Groom, can they be sexually steadfast and marry only a believer (1 Cor 7:392 Cor 6:14). It is only the ultimate Bridegroom who can knit a faithless man and woman together as spiritual companions, so that they nudge each other a step closer to Him every day. The kind of self-giving love needed to make our marriages beautiful, is unnatural to us and flows only from Christ who submitted to his Father, even to death, that we may be saved.

Like a garden, a nurtured marriage will grow and be fruitful, but left to itself, it will grow wild or die. If our faithless, wandering hearts are prone to think the grass is greener on the other side, let’s get busy watering our own garden.


The feature photograph is of my grandparents, Charles and Muriel Brand, who lived to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. I distinctly remember watching them in their kitchen at the end of their lives, Grandpa at the Magimix blending ingredients so my blind gran could serve her famous chicken liver paté. She was his megaphone at the dinner table when his deaf ears could no longer follow the conversation! Although my gran was an eccentric nutcase, my grandfather showed us what it means to delight in the wife of his youth. Apart from a four-year separation during World War 2, they cherished each other till death parted them at the age of 96, within five months of each other.

Excellent resource

Marriage Supper of the Lamb” is the last in a series by Timothy Keller which greatly refreshed Pete and my marriage. Listen to all 9 messages with your spouse or the person you hope to marry, so that you don’t settle for anything less than marriage as God intended. (Click here)

Have we not all one Father?

This is the first in a series titled “Big Questions.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but almost every page of the Bible is full of questions. Questions from man to God, questions from God to man, honest questions we dare not speak aloud, revealing and challenging questions. Over the coming weeks I hope to explore some of these big questions in their context. My prayer is that their answers will shape how we live out what we believe in real life. I do hope you’ll stay with us for this journey!

Today’s question, “Have we not all one Father?” is from Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. In 430BC, the prophet Malachi fires four questions at the covenant people of God: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” Concerning marriage, he asks, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” In our text, Malachi asks probing questions that are just as relevant to God’s people living in a faithless world today. He urges us to stop messing about with shows of religion, but to ‘guard ourselves in our spirit’ and honour our marriage partners and fellow believers. That is how we honour the Father who first loved us and joined us together in a covenant of adoption through his Son. As a mirror reflects a face, our relationships reflect our religion. There’s no way to divorce our relationship with God from our earthly relationships, especially the most unique and intimate union of all—Marriage. Let’s pray that we would live out our identity as children of God so that the truth of the gospel is visible in our relationships.

Malachi 2:10-16

10“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?”  11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

One faithful Father

“I have loved you,” says the Lord…My covenant with Levi was one of life and peace (Mal 1:2Mal 2:5). That’s the launch pad of Malachi’s oracle to the people of Judah in 430BC and the backdrop of our text today. We cannot give a whole answer to Malachi’s question unless we look through the lens of God’s covenant with His people through Abraham, Moses…and the perfect and final Mediator—Jesus Christ.

Malachi is reminding Judah that Yahweh has been completely faithful and true to them. He has loved them with an everlasting love. He is no tyrant or killjoy. Instead, God’s rule brings life and freedom to those who live under it. It is a covenant designed to promote human flourishing, not to stifle expression. Malachi cuts through the smoke and mirrors of their empty religion to expose three ways in which the people have despised God’s love and shown contempt for His covenant of life and peace.

  1. They broke trust in their dealings with each other (Mal 2:10).
  2. They married women who didn’t believe in the one true God, cutting off a godly legacy for future generations (Mal 2:11-12).
  3. They were unfaithful to their wives, trading them in for more desirable pagan women (Mal 2:14-16).

Yet, all the while they worshipped God with tears and brought Him their half-hearted offerings. They expected their God to save and bless them, but lived as though they were not accountable to Him (Mal 2:13). This was like groundhog day—a repeated pattern of faithlessness, hypocrisy and idolatry throughout the Old Testament.

Yet, over and over again the Lord calls the faithless to return to Him and be healed. Through another prophet (Jeremiah), God likens Himself to a despised father and the rejected husband of a faithless wife:

“I said,
How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me.

20 Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord…’”

22 “Return, O faithless sons;
I will heal your faithlessness.” (Jer 3:19)

Despite the faithlessness of Judah, Malachi foresees a day when the “sun of righteousness will come with healing in its wings” for those who fear God’s name. It’s the picture of God’s rule of life and peace being restored among his people and families being reconciled (Mal 4:2-5). Four hundred years after Malachi’s prophecy, the New Testament reveals God as Father, not of every person who is physically born, but those born again in Christ (John 1:13).We become sons and daughters of God when we know ourselves to be faithless, treacherous sinners and put our trust in the only faithful Son who ever lived—the Lord Jesus Christ. When He becomes our sin-bearer and master, we become Abraham’s seed, co-heirs bound together in God’s family forever (Gal 3:26Gal 4:5-7). It’s the covenant of adoption that allows us to call God “Abba! Father!” And it’s this covenant that is the bedrock of what it means to be a Christian in our relationships.

The covenant of adoption

J.I Packer describes the staggering implications of being a son or daughter of God:

“What is a Christian? The richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father….Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother. Every Christian is my brother or sister too…This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life and of a God-honouring life.” (Knowing God).

My dad has handwritten Packer’s little manifesto for each of his grandchildren, to remind them of who they are, wherever they might be in the world. The covenant of adoption speaks radically to how we treat other believers (Mal 2:10) and how we see marriage (Mal 2:11-16).

God cares how we treat other believers

In the context of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters, being ‘faithless’ and ‘profaning the covenant’ is not just about lying or cheating one another, but also about failing to honour our spiritual siblings. There are many subtle attitudes and blatant behaviours that destroy family bonds and break faith between us. If the Church is Christ’s beloved Bride—then an insult towards a spiritual brother or sister is an injury to the Lord Himself. We’re a preview of God’s heavenly kingdom to the world around us, whether true or distorted. That’s why dismissive, disrespectful and scornful attitudes have no place amongst Christians, even if we disagree with each other.

On the flip side, we have the prototype of our Father and older brother to imitate in our dealings with each other: Faithful in care and mercy. Generous and interested in all that we do. Wise and available to help us. Patient with our weaknesses. Loyal friend and encouraging coach who sticks with us even when we mess up again and again. Father who disciplines us and runs towards us when others run away. Friend of faithless, unworthy sinners like ourselves. Our Father intends for this kind of faithful love to be the signature of his covenant children too (1 John 2:9-113:10-174:7).

As a parent, I know how much pleasure it gives me when my children treat each other with kindness, but I also know how it grieves me when they fight and refuse to say sorry or forgive. We’ve all seen how the actions and words of one child can greatly harm or help the whole family. Children give joy or grief to their parents by their attitude to one another. It’s the same in God’s covenant family.

If you and I think that we are eternally secure children of God, justified by faith alone, but we refuse to allow Jesus to rule over our human relationships, we must ask ourselves if we are showing the fruits of true repentance (Luke 3:8-11). Jesus himself asks us this in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar (Luke 16:19-31). The complacent Pharisees insisted that Abraham was their father, but Jesus replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did” (John 8:39).

The Bible is not ambiguous about the ‘works’ that befit those who share a spiritual Father. Let’s meditate on some of them now as we respond to Malachi’s big question: “Have we not all one Father?

Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13).

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25 NASB).

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:5).

Prayer based on Ephesians 4:2-6:

Our Father in heaven, help us to be humble and gentle like our older brother Jesus. Give us grace to be patient, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your great love for us. Help us to be led along together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another. Lord, remind us that we are all parts of one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. For us there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and we all have the same God and Father who is over us all and in us all, and living through every part of us. In Jesus’ name and for His sake, Amen.

Next week’s devotion: Did He not make them one?

Please join us next week as we look at the second big issue from our text—Why marriage matters.