“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”
As we have noted already, the density of ideas that are found in these verses is immense and profound. To begin with, we need to tackle this idea of giving light to the eyes of your heart, which is really little more than a continuation of the previous thought. Verse 17 closes with the language of Paul’s prayer for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God to be instilled in the people of these churches. Having such a spirit, then, produces light for the eyes of the heart.
When Moses stands before the people on the plains of Moab to renew God’s covenant with them, he makes a profound statement. Here he reminds them again of the mighty works of deliverance that God has done. He reminds them of the plagues in Egypt and of the defeat of their enemies in the wilderness. He reminds them that their shoes did not wear out and of God’s provision. And further, Moses reminds the people that they have been stubborn and rebellious despite seeing these mighty works. How does Moses explain this? Notice his words:
“But Yahweh did not give to you a heart to know nor eyes to see nor ears to hear, even to this day.”
(Deuteronomy 29:3 — verse 4 in English translations)
Do you see Moses’ point? The people of Israel witnessed these great events with their human eyes. They heard the great sermons on the Law with their human ears. They understood what they heard with a human heart. Yet, at the same time, God did not give them ears or eyes or a heart so that they might hear and respond in faith.
As is written in the prophet Isaiah:
“And he said, ‘Go and say to this people, ‘You shall surely hear yet you will not understand and you shall surely see yet you will not know. The heart of this people will be made to grow fat and his ears will be heavy and his eyes will be blind — lest he see with his eyes and hear with his ears and understand with his heart and turn and he be healed.’’”
These words of God to Isaiah are devastating indeed. God has every intent on keeping Israel dull and unrepentant as a form of judgment upon them. What is even more disconcerting is that Jesus uses these words himself when he explains to the disciples why he teaches in parables (Matthew 13:14-15).
As we look back to Ephesians, the opposite of this language of judgment is what Paul has in sight. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that this church has eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. Further, it will be by a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God that the church will grow in their understanding and that they will live lives in accordance to God’s Word.
At the same time, there is a warning that remains. Those who reject the Word of God and who reject the one who brings that Word will have their ears grow heavy. Or, to borrow from Paul’s letter to Timothy, their ears will grow “itchy” (2 Timothy 4:3). And in turn, their hearts will grow fatty and calloused so as they will not abide with truth but only with those things that suit their sensibilities and passions. Such is the judgment of God and are there not countless illustrations of this all around us today?
“And if not, may fire go out from Abimelek and consume the leaders of Shekem and the house of Millo. Then, let fire go out from the leaders of Shekem and the house of Millo and consume Abimelek.”
Why fire? Sure, fire is a sign of judgment, but more importantly, fire is the only proper way to destroy the brambles (Psalm 58:9). Yet, when the brambles are choking out the forest, there is no good way of burning out the brambles without burning the trees as well. Such is the judgment of Jotham’s parable — he is essentially saying to them that if they think that what they have done is proper, then fine, God will be the judge, but if your conscience convicts you, then let your actions destroy you under God’s hand of wrath.
Paul writes much the same thing in Romans 1, when he speaks of God giving the people up to their sin and lust of their hearts. The point that Paul is making is that one of God’s forms of judgment is to allow people to pursue their lusts, removing his hand of restraint from them, for sin destroys us not only in eternity, but in this life as well. Did the leaders of Shekem know that what they were doing was wrong? Surely they must have. Did the people of whom Paul speaks know that what they were doing was wrong? Again, they must, that is the work of their conscience, yet how often (as Paul also points out) we suppress our conscience and the things that we know are right when we desire to pursue sin.
We sometimes talk about how much times change over the generations. And were we just simply talking about the application of technology, then we are entirely right to do so. My first computer, for example, had 16 Kilobytes of RAM, no hard drive, and took up my whole desktop. Today, I take my MacBook Pro wherever I go. But, if we are talking about human nature, very little has changed. We still are sinners to the core, we still think that the end justifies the means, and we still pursue what we think we want instead of what God thinks is best for us. We still wallow in our sin and are in desperate need of a savior.
“So then, if you acted in faith and devotion when you coronated Abimelek, and if you have created goodwill with Jeruba’al and his sons, and if the honor due his works has been given to him — for my father fought for you and risked his life, and with that he delivered you from the hand of Midian — yet, you rose up against my father’s house on the day and slaughtered his sons — seventy men on one stone — and coronated Abimelek, the son of his servant, before the leaders of Shekem, because he is your brother — if then you have acted in faith and in devotion to Jeruba’al and with his house on this day, then rejoice in Abimelek and let him rejoice also with you.”
And so, as Jotham so eloquently puts it, the bramble is preparing to suffocate the trees and the trees are blindly following along, consumed by their lust for a king of their own making, they cannot see the devastation that their sin will bring. And such is the way with men. These final words of Jotham’s are more of an accusation than a parable — his very presence, as a legitimate son of Gideon (Jeruba’al), seals the condemnation in its fullness. For how can the murderers of the sons of Gideon say with clear conscience that they have acted with faithfulnesss and goodwill or devotion in doing so?
More will come as we are not yet done with Jotham, but the condemnation has been made. As my mother used to say, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” Jotham says, “rejoice together” — essentially, “you deserve one another and you deserve the fire that is to come.”
As we have mentioned before, how often churches are short-sighted. People wish for instant gratification and immediate results rather than taking the harder road of charting a path of faithfulness in the midst of a world that pulls people in many directions. Even here it would be three years before God would bring the curse of Jotham upon the head of Abimelek and his co-conspirators. People forget that God works on his own timetable, but the judgment he promises will come; one never “dodges a bullet” with respect to the God of eternity. Those who conspire to build their empires by enticing a generation away from the church will, in time, reap the vengeance of our God. Woe to them lest they repent of their wicked ways.
“Abimelek had not come near to her, and he said, “Lord, will you kill a nation that is also righteous?’”
Abimelek is making an interesting statement as well as having a deep theological insight. The recognition that he makes is that if God brings judgment against him as king over the people, then the people also will suffer. In the previous verse, God’s judgment is to say, “you are dead…” Most of the standard English translations floating around seem to translate this statement as “you are a dead man…” They infer from the context that individual judgment is given for an individual crime. Yet, God says, “you are dead” and Abimelek’s response is to understand that accusation as a sign of God’s judgment against his nation.
The principle at work is what is called the principle of Federal Headship. He who has authority over the nation both brings blessings and cursings upon the nation. When the head acts faithfully, the nation is blessed; when the head acts sinfully, the nation is cursed and suffers. Hence, when David disobeys God and conducts a census, 70,000 people of the land suffer and die from the pestilence that God sends in judgment (2 Samuel 24:10-17).
In an ultimate sense, this principle is demonstrated in Adam and in Christ. Adam sinned and as a result the whole of the human race has suffered the effects of the fall (as well as creation itself). Yet, through the one man, Christ, redemption is brought to all that are under his federal headship. All mankind are physically descended from Adam, thus we have all inherited his sin. Those whom God has elected from the beginning of time, who will come to Christ in faith, are those who, in faith, are put under the federal headship of Christ and thus given life.
There is typically a part of us that wants to say that this principle is not fair, and in a sense, that is right. This principle is not fair in the most basic sense of the term. What would be perfectly fair is that we would be judged according to our actions and condemned to eternal damnation—each and every one of us. Yet, God in his mercy chose to be unfair to some so that grace may be demonstrated. Thus, to those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, salvation is offered not because of us or because of our name, but because of our Great Federal Head, Jesus Christ.
All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown him Lord of all.