The Right Side of Justice—Joel 3

There will come a day when the fortunes of the Lord’s chosen people (Israel) will be restored. It would seem that Jerusalem was restored at the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C., but the Jews were again dispersed by the flattening of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Again it would seem that Israel was reconstituted as a nation in 1948. But both events did not fully involve what is foretold in Joel 3.

As noted, Joel’s prophecy telescopes to a future day, when the King of Kings finally settles all scores. In Joel’s day, Judah’s immediate enemies boiled down to the Philistines and the Phoenicians (Tyre and Sidon). But in the end, the whole world will stand on the neck of this tiny nation.

At a time known only to God, he will seek retribution. In his vice grip, the world will attempt to recompense for wrongs done, “but if you do recompense Me (he says), swiftly and speedily I will return your recompense on your head.” (v. 4)

This is how it will be done. He will cajole the nations to assemble for war in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, also called the Valley of Decision. This really means the valley of “judges” or “judgement.” He’ll say,

Beat your plowshares into swords
And your pruning hooks into spears;
Let the weak say, “I am a mighty man.”
Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations,
And gather yourselves there. (v. 10-11)

In this “valley” the Lord will roar (v. 16) and all Israel’s enemies will be harvested (v. 13), “and strangers will pass through it no more.” (v. 17)

There are at least three important truths in this passage.

  1. There will be a time when the Lord’s patience runs out. “This will be the day when the Lord will avenge the blood which he has not avenged.” (v. 21)
  2. There will be a time when he seeks retribution. “I will return your recompense on your head.” (v. 4)
  3. There will be a time when he doesn’t “care” anymore. “What are you to Me, O Tyre, Sidon and all the regions of Philistia.” (v. 4)

We say “there is no justice in this world.” Actually, we’re all on the clock. And if we’re on the right side of justice, we will be blessed.

And in that day
The mountains will drip with sweet wine,
And the hills will flow with milk,
And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water;
And a spring will go out from the house of the Lord. (v. 18)

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Seeing Evil, Hearing Evil

Christians should be keenly aware of the evil one, and all his machinations. Learn from his subtle goading of Jesus in the wilderness with half truths. Study his word games with Eve. Examine the utter ruination of a disciple who chose to betray Christ. Read about the alluring manner of Delilah with Samson, or the entrapment of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife. For accounts of evil kings and queens, examine the actions of Ahab and Jezebel, and Herod. Better, think about how the scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus. Then there is all that Jesus said directly about the “prince of the power of the air.”

44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

In all cases, it is obvious Satan has a playbook, and he returns to it time and time again.

Moreover, he operates both in our meager realm and in the the spiritual world above.

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

You might wonder out loud why God has allowed such a force to run rampant and roughshod over all of humankind for so long? Well, the Almighty has an endgame, and it does not end well for the “father of lights.”

In Joel 3 we read of God’s plans to finally rid himself of the evil nations who had their way with his Chosen People. In the end, he will do all the goading, drawing them to the Valley of Jehoshaphat (or “Decision” as in v. 14) to meet their fate.

1“For behold, in those days and at that time,
When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will gather all the nations
And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
Then I will enter into judgment with them there
On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel,
Whom they have scattered among the nations;
And they have divided up My land.
They have also cast lots for My people,
Traded a boy for a prostitute,
And sold a girl for wine so that they may drink. Joel 3:1-3

I digress for a moment to address a current topic from a few miles up. What’s quite clear from history and our present state of affairs, Satan is alive and well, still dishing out misery, death and destruction, pain and confusion. If he was effective with Nero, Stalin and Hitler, and countless others down through time, we cannot downplay a return to the playbook with other leaders in power now. Immediately, thoughts go to the present administration. Know this for sure, though, if there is any leader who truly aligns with God and/or his people, or His purposes, Satan will seek to destroy that leader using every tool, trick or weapon he has at his disposal.

We tend to be duped into thinking Satan scorns who we may scorn on face value, but we should be smart enough to know that he contends with anyone who is touching a raw nerve (his), meaning that person is trending toward right rather than wrong.

We tend to think that God only uses the pious, dignified, and saintly. If that were so, he’d never use me or you! God used Cyrus the Great (see Isaiah 45), the king of Persia, obviously not in the blood line of King David, to return Israel to her land. Today people would scowl at this choice, yet great good was done and the temple was rebuilt.

We must, therefore, cut through the noise, and think like God thinks. He uses willing and unwilling participants, but he tends to tack on blessings to those who give him the credit, or hang out with those who do. We cannot know where someone stands spiritually by outward manifestations or mannerisms alone, or 280-character messages. We can observe, however, the force with which Satan applies to rid himself of these do-good types. If the devil is attempting to move heaven and earth to bring someone down, know for sure that he is striving ultimately against the goodness and influence of almighty God, not because that person is uncouth.

Know this also. The more stubborn and strong a man or woman is in resisting or attacking evil or injustice, the more aggressive, radical, and desperate Satan becomes. It is actually a testament to that person’s authenticity and favorable stance before God, or heavenly assignment (or calling) without belief as with Cyrus, that engenders such unbridled antagonism.

Of course, nations and what they stand for can also be Satan’s target, but at the tipping point, he normally favors cutting off the head of who he considers, or who he would cause us to believe is, a monster.

Now returning to the passage, it appears (at least here) that the Lord is more apt to refer to particular nations as malefactors, rather than kings (Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Greece, Edom, Egypt). Joel 3 addresses the problem of those nations who appear to have gotten away with murder. To them there looms a future day of reckoning in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. More on this coming.

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Seeing is Believing

I find it hard to believe that one saved by Almighty God, who has been given his spirit, can lead a life totally devoid of any Christ-like change. I guess it is possible, but that person would have to take in no food, i.e. never read God’s word, hear no sermon, and quench every word of exhortation from the Spirit. This would have to be one miserable soul, one at least due some temporal discipline to snap him out of it.

The reality is, you see, some profess Jesus but fall away, never showing any spiritual pulse. Others are changed men and women from that moment, devouring the word, perhaps stumbling a bit initially, but immediately moving forward. Here Peter addresses the third group–the miserable souls–who are in, but not seeking any of the qualities that he lists.

These people have no assurance of salvation. You see, doing these things creates a series of spiritual milestones to remember, to prove that something indeed living and powerful resides within us. There will be many occasions when you can say to yourself, “where did that come from!” And all along you are being useful and/or fruitful! The beauty of milestones set is that they’re just a mile back, and easier to remember. You don’t strain to recall the day you said you received Christ, you remember what the Lord revealed to you in the morning!

Seeing what God’s doing in your life in real time is where you want to be.

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Overrun But Not Undone–Joel 2

Movie goers in the late 20th century and certainly now have seen films dominated by computer-generated graphics (CGI). Myriads of warriors can be depicted moving with synchronicity against the enemy. Similarly, Joel does his best to describe a past scourge of locusts, the coming Assyrian invasion, and the promised arrival of God’s celestial army on “that glorious day.”

They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like soldiers; and they each march in line, nor do they deviate from their paths. Joel 2:7

As you study Joel, you can remain confused, or you can understand that the book is both historic and prophetic, possibly at the same time. Telescopically, Joel can be referring to the looming threat from an army to the north, such as that led by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, or the triumphant future coming of the King of Kings. Both will be frightening undertakings, and those on the wrong side will be struck with unshakable fear.

Before them the people are in anguish; all faces turn pale. Joel 2:6

Obedience

So what person does not have to worry about the approaching armies of man, or God? There are a few hints in Joel 2. Here’s the first, the obedient.

For strong is he who carries out His word. 2:11

Can there be anything but success, as God would define it, carrying out “His word?” As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the person who puts God’s word into action will do so with the unlimited might of the Lord.

Without question obeying God’s word is synonymous with doing his will. The Hebrew word here to “carry out” is “asah,” used generically hundreds of times in the Old Testament. It’s primarily translated “to do” or “to make,” but it’s also translated “to accomplish, administer, commit, perform, offer, and prepare,” to name a few. In every realm of life, in every aspect, in every way, the word of God applies, and should be “carried out.” James has some important things to say about this “doing.”

22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22–25

If you make the decision to apply God’s word in your life, you will be empowered to do so. As Christians, this power resides within, and it is the Holy Spirit. This passage in Joel was quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit first filled the early believers (Acts 2:17-21).

It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. Joel 2:28–29

It is not the approaching armies that should cause us to tremble, but not carrying out the words in scripture, from the prophets in the Old and New Testaments, and Jesus himself.

20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:20–21

Contriteness

Obedience is an affair of the heart. So the contrite have nothing to worry about as danger approaches…

And rend your heart and not your garments.” 2:13

…for when we act out of obedience to God’s word, the Lord looks favorably upon us.

“But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. Isaiah 66:2

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:17

“Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the Lord. 2 Chronicles 34:27

And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered. 2:32

Reliance

When besieged, the reliant pour out their hearts before the Lord for deliverance. The model here is King Hezekiah of Judah, who, when looking down the Assyrian king’s barrel, literally laid out his ultimatum in the form of a letter, before the Lord, and prayed for deliverance.

14 Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15 Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19 Now, O Lord our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God.” 2 Kings 19:14-19

He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. 2 Kings 18:5-6

Hezekiah is described as Judah’s greatest king, because he did what was right in God’s eyes, that is, whatever He said to do. As such, Hezekiah “was strong because he carried out His word.”

As a result, no Assyrian arrow was shot into Jerusalem.

32 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, “He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield or throw up a siege ramp against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he shall not come to this city,”’ declares the Lord. 34 ‘For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’” 2 Kings 19:32

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From Bad to Worse–Joel 1

Has anything like this happened in your days
or in your fathers’ days? Joel 1:2

Joel recalls locusts overrunning Israel in his day. These insects devoured everything. This is how he described the destruction.

What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; and what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten. Joel 1:4

So devastating and complete was the ruin caused by these insects, every segment of society was in mourning. All were brought to their knees for lack of food and wine, not only for sustenance, but for offerings to the Lord. What’s more, all happiness was lost.

Indeed, rejoicing dries up from the sons of men. Joel 1:12

It’s hard not to feel the same way now. A global pandemic, wild fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes in strange places, riots and destruction in the streets, political chaos, a powder keg in the Middle East, and these are just off the top of my head.

Down through time there have been incredibly bad stretches, but ultimately things turned around. But there will come a day when it doesn’t. The Bible’s quite clear on there being a “day of the Lord” in the end (23 explicit references), and no one on earth will escape.

Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near,
and it will come as destruction from the Almighty. Joel 1:15

How bad will this destruction be?

There has never been anything like it,
nor will there be again after it
to the years of many generations. Joel 2:2

No wonder Joel correlates his prophecy about the day of the Lord with an episode in the life of the nation so impactful that it was to be passed down from generation to generation (1:3).

Seeing the annihilation brought about by only grasshoppers, how much greater the devastation at the hands of almighty God? Is there then no hope? For the recalcitrant, no. For the redeemed, yes, absolutely!

Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless. 2 Peter 3:14 

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Entrance Requirements—Psalm 15


O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. Psalm 15:1-2

The word for abide means “sojourn.” On a journey in David’s day you would set up camp, and sleep in a tent. At times, you would invite someone into your tent to fellowship with them.

Before Solomon, there was no temple, but the tabernacle; a tent in which was the presence of God, signified by the Ark of the Covenant. It was set up on a hill, as was the temple built on a hill, the Temple Mount. To enter either, you needed to be holy.

Theologian John Calvin viewed David’s words in Psalm 15 in this way: “The meaning of his discourse, to express it in a few words, is this, that those only have access to God who are his genuine servants, and who live a holy life”

Here we are given a simple list of qualifications to fellowship with God, to be invited into his tent. There is a simple test in this Psalm. If you cannot answer affirmatively to each characteristic, that area or areas requires work. This is not a test of your salvation but of your sanctification.

Walking in integrity is first, but this is almost overarching. When someone attempts to climb a ladder whose rungs consist of ungodly behaviors, there are none. There is no evidence on which to indict. We want to maintain short accounts with God, and one with integrity clears them each moment, like breathing out carbon dioxide and breathing in clean air.

It is not hard to maintain your integrity when you are wholeheartedly involved in righteous works. Gainful employment in God’s work keeps us honest. Idle minds and hands leave us open to straying into sin.

Truth telling is a habit learned from abiding with and in the truth. The “sum of Your word is truth” David tells us elsewhere (Psalm 119:160). It becomes both natural and easier to tell the truth than to concoct a self-serving justification. Use of, “but I was just,” is a key indicator of an oncoming lie.

He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; he swears to his own hurt and does not change. Psalm 15:3-4

Most certainly, we are not to connive to do evil against our neighbor, friend, or anybody for that matter. It starts with slander and ends with subterfuge.

This word “slander” describes a searching out process by walking, i.e. spying. We slander when we circle around someone to notice and report to another your assessment of that person, most always speculating on, but not knowing, that person’s motive. Don’t be fooled. This is an antagonistic action against your brother. In doing so “you slander your own mother.” Psalm 50:20

If allowed to progress, this seed sown with a few words of innuendo can become biting sarcasm, scorn, reviling, a fued, or malicious vendetta, even between friends. This war of words surely does not square with a life of integrity. Consequently, your invitation into God’s tent is in serious jeopardy.

Controlling what we say, and the purification of the well from which our words flow (the heart, Proverbs 4:23), is no easy task. James laments about the unbridled tongue, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” James 3:8

A man or woman on God’s invitation list rejects and condemns that which God considers a reproach to his character. If you find yourself disgusted with sin, yours and the world’s, this is where you should be. More importantly, you are now in a much better position to understand his grace and mercy. As they say, “there, but by the grace of God go I!”

In one area, though, a godly person can be harsh with words, by calling a reprobate a reprobate! The New Living Translation describes a reprobate or vile person as a “flagrant sinner.” As opposed to prejudging motives, to call someone out for what is clearly wrong in the eyes of God is to possess the disposition of God. John the Baptist called the leaders of his day a “brood of vipers.” Luke 3:7 On the other hand, when you see a “faithful follower” of Jesus, you weigh them down with honor, as medals weigh down a decorated soldier’s uniform.

Someone welcomed inside God’s tent is certainly the person who keeps their word despite the circumstances. Here it is described anciently, as “swearing to your own hurt.” You immediately think of Jacob, who loved Rachel so much, he served Laban faithfully for seven years to win her hand. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. Genesis 29:20 To lend some additional perspective, she was “beautiful of form and face” and he had “not yet gone into her” during that time.

But the obscure story of Jephthah in Judges illustrates this trait best. To win out over the sons of Ammon, he vowed to the Lord to offer up (sacrifice) the first thing that he encountered when he returned home victorious. Out walks his one and only daughter to greet him “with bells on,” who would thereafter spend all her days a virgin. He said this knowing he gave his word to God, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” Judges 11:35

He does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken. Psalm 15:5

The Old Testament was explicit in its prohibition against lending to a fellow Israelite with interest. They were not to act as a creditor to their brother, but were to be generous. “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.” Exodus 22:25 A key word in the study of finance is leverage. You will hear that term a lot. It means to gain an advantage or a position of strength. Tax collectors were like this in Jesus’ day and they were despised. To lend with interest was to enslave your brother, as the Egyptians did God’s people. God wants us to be gracious as he is to us. If a man can lend a brother money with no strings, meaning he has really resolved to give it to him, he has the heart of God, and if a man repays the sum, he too has the heart of God. Both are welcome in God’s tent.

Bottom line, a just man cannot be bribed. This is simply another form of leverage applied to gain advantage over the innocent. Almighty God looks down on the person who is handed a brown bag of cash to see what they will do. He is very pleased when it is pushed away. A person of integrity cannot be plied away from what is right. He or she cannot be shaken nor will they stumble.

Paul quotes David in Romans 3:10, saying, “there are none righteous, no not one.” He is correct. But in reality, he failed to look in God’s tent. That is where the righteous hang out.

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Enlightenment

1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Psalm 13:1-2

It’s so easy to get down on yourself. This always happens when you haven’t heard from the Lord. When you start taking counsel with yourself.

This doesn’t have to happen when a Bible rests on the nightstand.

We don’t have to wander in the wilderness alone. There’s no need to conjure up the resolve to keep going. There’s no reason to think we’ve got to find a way out.

Look to his word for enlightenment! In it we’ll find find a taste of sweet honey (1 Samuel 14:29). A peg in his holy place (Ezra 9:8).

And most of all, light. The Word ignites our lamp and illumines our soul. (Job 33:30 and Psalm 18:28)

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All Talk–Psalm 12

Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.

Psalm 12:1-2

In evil times, it seems as though all the good people are dead and gone, or under cover.

This is interesting. The Bible does talk about the godly being “taken away,” and on this prospect we should be comforted!

The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart;
And devout men are taken away, while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from evil,
He enters into peace;
They rest in their beds,
Each one who walked in his upright way.

Isaiah 57:1-2

Then why am I still here, you say? Am I the only godly one left? (Shades of Elijah) No, it just seems that way.

But imagine for a moment, and it won’t be too hard, a world where there are no godly people. No longer will truth be spoken. At best, there will be only flattery and Orwellian double-speak (v. 2), followed by vain boasting (see below).

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things; who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (vv. 3-4) The wicked strut about on every side. When vileness is exalted among the sons of men. (v. 8)

Psalm 12:3-4, 8

Unabated, the wicked will take to the streets, strutting about, spewing vileness (word used only here in the Bible), which is utter foolishness in God’s eyes. Is this not the case right now?

Rest easy, there is a God over us all, and he loves and supports his people. Here’s proof.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? (Isaiah 40:27)

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

And reading on in Psalm 12, “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.” (v. 5)

In vivid contrast to vileness of the godless, the the words of the Lord are right, very pure, precious, sweet, tested and tried seven times over, and eternal.

The words of the Lord are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.
You, O Lord, will keep them;
You will preserve him from this generation forever.

Psalm 12:6-7

The reality is this, we remain on this earth for now, and our souls are relentlessly afflicted or oppressed by the evil we hear from unrestrained lips or fingertips, and some of us are even verbally abused and threatened to our faces.

But know this, from this plight our God rescues us!

Be reminded of 2 Peter 2:7-10:

If He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.

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Never Out of Sight

You have seen it, for You have beheld mischief and vexation to take it into Your hand. Psalm 10:14

The forces of evil are and have always been with us. The sinister arrogantly think they operate freely beyond the notice and control of God. They prey on the unfortunate, the afflicted, the innocent, the orphans, the oppressed, all of whom may think they have no champion, but they do!

But the wicked are in God’s full view and he will take them out. The wicked always think they can get away with it, but God always has the last word, the upper hand. They would be immediately wiped clean if it were not for God’s peculiar patience.

What is Satan’s lot in the end will be their lot. Misery loves company.

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Know This

As society rapidly descends into chaos and corruption, and everything we hold dear is ripped from our fingers, know this. “Those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord have not foresaken those who seek You.” Psalm 9:10

Know this also. “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him, and let him see My salvation.” Psalm 91:14–16

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