Day 316

Stick At It

Wisdom Psalm 123:1-4
New Testament Hebrews 10:19-39
Old Testament Ezekiel 20:45-22:22

Introduction

Maryam and Marziyeh were arrested in Iran in 2009. Their crime: being Christians. They were blindfolded, interrogated and became ill during their time in prison. They were taken to court. Mr Haddad, the prosecuting lawyer, asked the two women if they were Christians. ‘We love Jesus,’ they replied. He repeated his question and they responded, ‘Yes, we are Christians.’

Mr Haddad asked whether they regretted becoming Christians, to which they replied, ‘We have no regrets.’ Then he stated emphatically, ‘You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form.’ They stood firm and replied, ‘We will not deny our faith.’

When Mr Haddad told the women to return to prison to think about their options and come back to him when they were ready (to comply), Maryam and Marziyeh responded, ‘We have already done our thinking.’

The author of Hebrews writes to Christians who are the subject of persecution: ‘You stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering’ (Hebrews 10:32) – as Maryam and Marziyeh did before their prosecutors. (Thank God they have been released – we interviewed them as part of the Alpha Film Series: https://alpha.org/watch/alpha-film-series/)

The will to persevere is often the difference between success and failure. This is true of learning a new skill or sport or achieving success at school or work. It's been said, ‘Observe the postage stamp; its usefulness depends on the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.’ ‘Stickability’ is also a key to the Christian life. If you want to learn to read the Bible, pray, resist evil or whatever else, learn to persevere. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers not to be ‘quitters’ but ‘to stick it out’ (vv.34–39, MSG).

Wisdom

Psalm 123:1-4

Psalm 123

A song of ascents.

  1 I lift up my eyes to you,
   to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
  2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
   as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
  so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
   till he shows us his mercy.

  3 Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
   for we have endured no end of contempt.
  4 We have endured no end
   of ridicule from the arrogant,
   of contempt from the proud.

Commentary

Look to God for help

‘I look to you... God, look up to you for help’ (v.1, MSG). Like the psalmist, wait patiently for God to help. Stick at it in the face of opposition: ‘We have endured much contempt. We have endured much ridicule from the proud, much contempt from the arrogant’ (vv.3b–4).

His response to this opposition is to turn his focus on to God. He writes, ‘I lift my eyes to you… our eyes look to the Lord our God’ (vv.1–2). This focus is built upon a recognition of who God is – the one ‘whose throne is in heaven’ (v.1) – and also on his relationship with God.

God is ‘the Lord our God’. Look to him to help you: ‘like servants alert to their master’s commands, like a maiden attending her lady, we’re watching and waiting, holding our breath, awaiting your word of mercy’ (v.2–3, MSG).

Prayer

Lord, whatever happens, help me to endure, persevere and to keep my eyes fixed on you.

New Testament

Hebrews 10:19-39

A Call to Persevere in Faith

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,

  “In just a little while,
   he who is coming will come
   and will not delay.”

38 And,

  “But my righteous one will live by faith.
   And I take no pleasure
   in the one who shrinks back.”

39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Commentary

Stand your ground

Millions of Christians around the world today are still being persecuted for their faith. The letter of Hebrews is written to Christians who were the subject of persecution (possibly at the hands of Nero in Rome). One of the main purposes of the book is to encourage the readers to persevere. The writer has finished his doctrinal exposition. He now begins a prolonged call to perseverance. Here he gives reasons, incentives and encouragements to stick at it.

  1. You can be confident

    Persevere because of what Christ did and does for you. You have a new freedom, boldness and confidence. You are welcomed into God’s presence through the sacrifice of Jesus: You ‘can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God into “the Holy Place”. Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice’ (vv.19–20, MSG).

  2. You are not on your own

    We are to persevere because we have one another to help. As the writer urges us to ‘hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess’ (v.23), he does so in the context of community. Gather together often: ‘consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another’ (vv.24–25).

  3. This really matters

    He warns against deliberately continuing to sin (v.26). This means something like sinning ‘defiantly’. He warns of ‘a mighty fierce judgment... if you turn on God’s Son, spit on the sacrifice that made you whole... God has warned us that he’ll hold us to account and make us pay... Nobody’s getting by with anything’ (vv.26–31, MSG).

    This is often applied to people outside of the church but actually it was written in the context of the Lord judging his own people. This is not something his readers have fallen into. He reminds them of the time when ‘you stood your ground’ (v.32).

  4. The rewards are great

    He encourages them to ‘Remember those early days when you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse – some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing that they couldn’t touch your real treasure’ (vv.32–34, MSG).

  5. Be patient

    Life is long and life is short. On the one hand, life is long. In the course of a lifetime there will be tests, trials and difficulties that require stickability: patience, endurance and perseverance: ‘Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised’ (v.36, NLT).

    On the other hand, life is short. In a short time, we will either have died or Jesus will have returned:

      ‘For in just a little while,
       the Coming One will come and not delay’ (v.37, NLT).

The writer has full confidence that his readers will persevere: ‘But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved’ (v.39).

Prayer

Lord, help me to persevere and to encourage others towards love and good deeds as we meet together.

Old Testament

Ezekiel 20:45-22:22

Prophecy Against the South

45 The word of the Lord came to me: 46 “Son of man, set your face toward the south; preach against the south and prophesy against the forest of the southland. 47 Say to the southern forest: ‘Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. 48 Everyone will see that I the Lord have kindled it; it will not be quenched. ’”

49 Then I said, “Sovereign Lord, they are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables? ’”

Babylon as God’s Sword of Judgment

21 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel 3 and say to her: ‘This is what the Lord says: I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. 4 Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north. 5 Then all people will know that I the Lord have drawn my sword from its sheath; it will not return again.’

6 “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 7 And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning? ’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

8 The word of the Lord came to me: 9 “Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Lord says:

  “‘A sword, a sword,
   sharpened and polished—
  10 sharpened for the slaughter,
   polished to flash like lightning!

“‘Shall we rejoice in the scepter of my royal son? The sword despises every such stick.

  11 “‘The sword is appointed to be polished,
   to be grasped with the hand;
  it is sharpened and polished,
   made ready for the hand of the slayer.
  12 Cry out and wail, son of man,
   for it is against my people;
   it is against all the princes of Israel.
  They are thrown to the sword
   along with my people.
  Therefore beat your breast.

13 “‘Testing will surely come. And what if even the scepter, which the sword despises, does not continue? declares the Sovereign Lord.’

  14 “So then, son of man, prophesy
   and strike your hands together.
  Let the sword strike twice,
   even three times.
  It is a sword for slaughter—
   a sword for great slaughter,
   closing in on them from every side.
  15 So that hearts may melt with fear
   and the fallen be many,
  I have stationed the sword for slaughter
   at all their gates.
  Look! It is forged to strike like lightning,
   it is grasped for slaughter.
  16 Slash to the right, you sword,
   then to the left,
   wherever your blade is turned.
  17 I too will strike my hands together,
   and my wrath will subside.
  I the Lord have spoken. ”

18 The word of the Lord came to me: 19 “Son of man, mark out two roads for the sword of the king of Babylon to take, both starting from the same country. Make a signpost where the road branches off to the city. 20 Mark out one road for the sword to come against Rabbah of the Ammonites and another against Judah and fortified Jerusalem. 21 For the king of Babylon will stop at the fork in the road, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen: He will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver. 22 Into his right hand will come the lot for Jerusalem, where he is to set up battering rams, to give the command to slaughter, to sound the battle cry, to set battering rams against the gates, to build a ramp and to erect siege works. 23 It will seem like a false omen to those who have sworn allegiance to him, but he will remind them of their guilt and take them captive.

24 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you people have brought to mind your guilt by your open rebellion, revealing your sins in all that you do—because you have done this, you will be taken captive.

25 “‘You profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, 26 this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. 27 A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! The crown will not be restored until he to whom it rightfully belongs shall come; to him I will give it.’

28 “And you, son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says about the Ammonites and their insults:

  “‘A sword, a sword,
   drawn for the slaughter,
  polished to consume
   and to flash like lightning!
  29 Despite false visions concerning you
   and lying divinations about you,
  it will be laid on the necks
   of the wicked who are to be slain,
  whose day has come,
   whose time of punishment has reached its climax.

  30 “‘Let the sword return to its sheath.
   In the place where you were created,
  in the land of your ancestry,
   I will judge you.
  31 I will pour out my wrath on you
   and breathe out my fiery anger against you;
  I will deliver you into the hands of brutal men,
   men skilled in destruction.
  32 You will be fuel for the fire,
   your blood will be shed in your land,
  you will be remembered no more;
   for I the Lord have spoken.’”

Judgment on Jerusalem’s Sins

22 The word of the Lord came to me:

2 “Son of man, will you judge her? Will you judge this city of bloodshed? Then confront her with all her detestable practices 3 and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols, 4 you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made. You have brought your days to a close, and the end of your years has come. Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughingstock to all the countries. 5 Those who are near and those who are far away will mock you, you infamous city, full of turmoil.

6 “‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. 7 In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and ill-treated the fatherless and the widow. 8 You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths. 9 In you are slanderers who are bent on shedding blood; in you are those who eat at the mountain shrines and commit lewd acts. 10 In you are those who dishonour their father’s bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. 11 In you one man commits a detestable offense with his neighbour’s wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father’s daughter. 12 In you are people who accept bribes to shed blood; you take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbours. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord.

13 “‘I will surely strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst. 14 Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you? I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will disperse you among the nations and scatter you through the countries; and I will put an end to your uncleanness. 16 When you have been defiled in the eyes of the nations, you will know that I am the Lord.’”

17 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, the people of Israel have become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver. 19 Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you have all become dross, I will gather you into Jerusalem. 20 As silver, copper, iron, lead and tin are gathered into a furnace to be melted with a fiery blast, so will I gather you in my anger and my wrath and put you inside the city and melt you. 21 I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath, and you will be melted inside her. 22 As silver is melted in a furnace, so you will be melted inside her, and you will know that I the Lord have poured out my wrath on you.’”

Commentary

Confront evil

Personally, I find that confrontation is never easy, but it is sometimes necessary. Ezekiel is told to confront evil (22:2). He is called to preach and prophesy (20:46).

His was not an easy task. His message was a difficult one. It was counter-cultural. Yet he persevered. He did not give up. He stuck at it. He kept on preaching. The word of the Lord came to him time and time again and he faithfully proclaimed it.

God knew that it was not easy. He encouraged Ezekiel, ‘set your face’ (20:46; 21:2): ‘Set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. Prophesy against the land of Israel and say to her: “This is what the Lord says: I am against you”’ (vv.2–3). It must have been really hard.

The sins that he speaks against are as relevant to us as they were to the people of Israel: treating parents with contempt, ill-treatment of the poor and marginalised (including immigrants, widows, and orphans), sexual abuse, incest, rape, bribery, greed and extortion (22:7–12).

They have forgotten God: ‘And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord’ (v.12). Those of us who live in the West live in a society that is in danger of forgetting God. As we look around us at a world where there is so much wrong, it can be easy to think that God must have forgotten us. Paradoxically though, passages of judgment like this one actually show us how much God cares for us. God cares passionately about injustice and suffering – that is why he is so angry with those who inflict them on others, and why he refuses to ignore those who suffer.

There is a spiritual dimension to all this too. Our concern isn’t just to oppose injustice, but also to turn people back to God. The wonderful message of the second half of Ezekiel (and indeed of the whole Bible) is that this judgment is not the last word. God will also act in grace, to redeem and save his people.

It is this passionate concern of God for the poor, the downtrodden and the lost that inspired Ezekiel, and that has inspired Christians down the centuries. General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, modelled remarkable stickability. He said, ‘While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I’ll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the street, I’ll fight; while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end.’

Prayer

Lord, help me to set my face with determination not to be put off by opposition, contempt and ridicule. Help me to stick at it; confronting evil and proclaiming the good news about Jesus to the very end.

Pippa adds

In Hebrews 10:23 it says, ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.’

There is so much suffering in the world. Wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, and so many other places, the innocent are being slaughtered, children are dying and Christians around the world are being persecuted. How much harder it is to hold on to hope in these circumstances.

We may not be facing these things ourselves, but everyone faces battles. And our hope isn’t in people or institutions. Our hope is in the Lord, who is faithful.

reader

App

Download The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel app for iOS or Android devices and read along each day.

reader

Email

Subscribe now to receive The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel in your inbox each morning. You’ll get one email each day.

reader

Website

Start reading today’s devotion right here on The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel website.

Read now
reader

Book

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel Commentary is available as a book.

References

Josh Billings, cited in The Salt Lake Herald, 17 May 1895, Untitled filler item, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Salt Lake City, Utah, via Quote Investigator: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/12/22/postage/

William Booth, Cyril Barnes (Ed), The Founder Speaks Again (Salvation Army, 1960).

Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh with John Perry (Ed), Captive in Iran (Tydale, 2014).

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS

This website stores data such as cookies to enable necessary site functionality and analytics. Find out more