Digging Deeper: What brings God pleasure?

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education


Estimated reading time: 6 min.

Did you know that God is not impressed by large armies with advanced military equipment?

The war between Ukraine and Russia rages on. Fears mount that this could eventually lead to another world war. Not only there, but wars rage in multiple spots around the earth. Do mighty armies impress God? Some Christians may be tempted at this time to join their national military forces as world conditions continue to worsen. Does God delight in conquest and destruction as many pagan gods did? This Digging Deeper examines a passage in which God tells believers what truly pleases Him. Though the great nations of the world strut their military prowess, God is not impressed. He finds satisfaction in something far more relational.

Our focus verses for this study are: “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy” (Psa 147:10-11 KJV throughout). Daniel Whedon’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments explains the Hebrew stylistic phrasing of verse 10: “Delighteth not… taketh not pleasure—Hebrew poetry loves to divide thoughts into parallel expressions. The English would be more likely to say: ‘The strength and legs (speed) of horse or man’” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Hebrew poetry is distinct from English. Parallelism appears frequently in the third section of the Hebrew Bible, called “The Writings,” which includes the Book of Psalms.

Of Horses and Men

The ESV Study Bible details the type of horse and man referred to here: “strength of the horse. Though it is easy to think of the horse here as an animal used for pulling loads, the image is most likely that of a war horse (cf. 20:7; Job 39:19); likewise, the legs of a man are swift for battle (cf. Ps. 18:33; Amos 2:14–15)” (Tecarta Bible App). The NET Bible Notes explain the military scene portrayed: “Here ‘the horse’ refers to the war horse used by ancient Near Eastern chariot forces, and ‘the man’ refers to the warrior whose muscular legs epitomize his strength” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible elaborates further: “The horse, among all animals, is most delighted in by man for beauty, strength, and fleetness. And a man’s legs, if well proportioned, are more admired than even the finest features of his face. Though God has made these, yet they are not his peculiar delight” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Spurgeon’s Expositions on the Bible offers historical background: “As the kings did in those days; their infantry and their cavalry were their glory. The Lord does not care for that sort of thing; what gives him pleasure, then?…Man boasts of his strength, and he looks at his fine horse, and glories in its strength; but God has something higher and better than sinew and muscle to boast about” (Bible Analyzer 5.5.1.12).

The Lord’s pleasure

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary explains what pleases God: “Mere animal strength is the admiration of the world. Cavalry, chariots, and strong infantry are what earthly men rely on (Psa 20:7); but the Lord’s pleasure is in them that combine reverent fear with believing hope toward Him. It is ‘to them that have no might He increaseth strength’ (Isa 40:29). Those who cast away all self-confidence, and have recourse to God alone, are time especial objects of God’s delight” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

In dangerous times, what brings God’s people victory? The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments that these focus verses are: “Based upon Psa 33:16-18. Jehovah’s delight is not in physical strength, but in reverent trustfulness;—a thought of consolation, parallel to Psa 147:6. Israel might look regretfully back to its ancient military power, or envy the forces of neighbouring nations; but it is by spiritual strength that its victories are to be won” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Israel’s looking back regretfully may refer to a particular period of biblical history when Gentile nations captivated it.

Trust more valuable than might

Our focus verses are part of Psalms 146-150 called The Hallelujah Psalms because each of their first verses begins with “Praise ye the LORD” (Hallelujah). For what would these Jews praise their God? James Gray’s Concise Commentary suggests a scene from biblical history for these psalms: “Psalms 147-150 Are thought to especially celebrate the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and correspond to the conditions in Neh 6:16; Neh 12:27 and other places, although their millennial application is not far to seek” (e-Sword 13.0.0). When the house of Judah returned from Babylonian captivity, they had no army; yet under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, they displayed a trust in God far more valuable than military might.

The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable describe the special privilege believers have in serving God: “It is an awesome thought that we can bring pleasure to the heart of the heavenly Father (Psa_35:27; Psa_37:23; Psa_149:4)” (e-Sword 13.0.0). God wants His people to trust Him instead of armies or allies. Paul Kretzmann’s The Popular Commentary enumerates the privileges God offers to His people: “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, who, realizing their own weakness and vanity, feel their full dependence upon Him, reverently trusting in His unmerited favor, in those that hope in His mercy. Such trust meets with the pleasure of Jehovah and is therefore followed by security and blessing in city, house, and country” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

His true delight

Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible carries this principle even further: “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him – In those who truly worship him, however humble, poor, and unknown to people they may be; however unostentatious, retired, unnoticed may be their worship. Not in the ‘pride, pomp, and circumstance of war’ is his pleasure; not in the march of armies; not in the valor of the battlefield; not in scenes where ‘the garments of the warrior are rolled in blood,’ but in the closet, when the devout child of God prays; in the family, when the group bend before Him in solemn devotion; in the assembly – quiet, serious, calm – when his friends are gathered together for prayer and praise; in the heart that truly loves, reverences, adores Him. In those that hope in his mercy – It is a pleasure to him to have the guilty, the feeble, the undeserving hope in Him – trust in Him – seek Him” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Therefore, the people of God do not trust in their nation’s military strength and prowess. Neither should they give in to the temptation to participate in national military forces. Instead, their trust is in the God of heaven and earth Who delights “in them that fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.”

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

Digging Deeper: Root of Bitterness

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education


Estimated reading time: 8 min.

Did you know Paul warned Christians that if they fell short of God’s grace, they may develop a root of bitterness that defiles them?

God is merciful and forgiving. However, His grace must not be trifled with. Those who fail in God’s grace are in danger of developing bitterness like a deep-seated root of a tree or plant. Paul illustrated it by the patriarch Esau. This Digging Deeper examines Paul’s statement from one of his epistles considering its context and cross-reference to an Old Testament illustration of failure.

Our focus verse is: “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb 12:15 KJV throughout). It should be noted that this verse contains words used for the last time in the KJV: fail, bitterness, springing, trouble. This verse warns of apostasy’s consequences.

In danger of bitterness

Paul wrote his epistle to the Hebrews to dissuade Jewish Christians from backsliding to first-century Judaism because of persecution from unbelievers.  Judaism was a legal religion in the Roman Empire; Christianity was not yet. Some brethren were even in danger of becoming bitter against God because of their suffering. Paul warns them that becoming bitter could cause them to repeat the mistake of Esau.

Some expositors suggest Paul wrote this epistle to the Churches of God located in the city of Rome. If that was the case, R.C.H. Lenski in his Commentary on the New Testament paints a scenario: “We may say that the danger was the greater because the readers were a compact body, all of them Jewish Christians, all worshiping in their old synagogues in Rome, which had now become Christian churches. By returning to Judaism some influential former rabbi among them might draw a large number with him. In fact, as these synagogues had become Christian, so they might again become Jewish” (Bible Analyzer 5.5.1.12).

In Hebrews 12:15, Paul likely restated an Old Testament verse: “Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood” (Deu 29:18). The ESV Study Bible explains the meaning of Paul’s statement: “The author warns against ‘bitterness’ by alluding to Deu 29:18, which describes one who turns away from God and pursues other gods. A bitter and resentful person is like a contagious poison, spreading his resentment to others” (Tecarta Bible App).

Joseph S. Exell in his Biblical Illustrator explains the difficulty of removing such a root of bitterness: “Though you may be able to destroy the fruit, and cut down the branches, the root may be beyond your reach. Though the branches be lopped off, and the stem cut down close by the ground, yet the root left in the soil will keep its hold, and send up another stem, and spread out other branches. So with this sin” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

This verse from Deuteronomy was noted for another New Testament illustration, as explained by Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: “In Acts 8:23 St. Peter makes reference to the same chapter of Deuteronomy as he speaks to Simon Magus, who, above all other men, proved a root of bitter poison in the early Church” (e-Sword 13.0.0). One of my previous Digging Deeper articles, entitled “The Gall of Bitterness,” explained this confrontation between Peter and Simon Magus.

The sin of Esau

In Hebrews 12:16-17, Paul illustrated his case with an Old Testament personage: the bitter end of the Old Testament patriarch Esau. The NKJ Study Bible explains: “Under the Law, the eldest son would receive a double inheritance (see Deu 21:17). Esau lost his inheritance, which included God’s gracious promises, by despising it and valuing the pleasure of food over it (Gen 25:34)” (Tecarta Bible App).

Paul Kretzmann extends this further in his Popular Commentary of the Bible: “That was the sin of Esau, who considered the right of the first-born, though it included the fact that the first-born was also the bearer of the Messianic blessing, so lightly that he sold his birthright for a single meal, for a mess of pottage, Gen 25:29-34. His case illustrates the danger of missed or rejected opportunities. For when Esau afterwards made an attempt to get the blessing of the first-born for himself, he did not succeed, 27:30-40” (Bible Analyzer 5.5.1.12).

Lessons for Christian living

With this context, now we may extract valuable lessons from this passage for Christian living. Daniel Whedon’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments derives significant meaning from the words looking diligently: “The Greek might be rendered episcopizing; the word from which bishop [overseer] is derived. Every Christian should be bishop in this respect, watching for the purity of the Church” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Not only should Christians be concerned with the state of their spiritual health, but also that of their congregation since their lives impact it.

Daniel Whedon’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments then explains root of bitterness: “Not a principle or an event, but a person, who springs up like a poisonous plant in a garden, and whose noxious quality is contagious. So Christ is beautifully called the ‘root of David;’ and, in the Apocrypha, Antiochus Epiphanes is called ‘a sinful root.’ But the allusion here is to Deu 29:18: ‘Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood'” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Based on this, the root of bitterness can be an individual, who like Esau, negatively impacts a congregation because he now had to live with the consequences of “despising his birthright.” Sins can be forgiven upon deep repentance, but consequences may remain. 

We may wonder how this could happen today. William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible explains how some Christians consider it too restrictive to obey Christian principles: “There are always those who think the Christian standards unnecessarily strict and punctitious; there are always those who do not see why they should not accept the world’s standards of life and conduct. This was specially so in the early Church. It was a little island of Christianity surrounded by a sea of paganism; its members were, at the most, only one generation away from heathenism. It was easy to relapse into the old standards. This is a warning against the infection of the world, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unconsciously, spread within the Christian society” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

David Guzik in his Enduring Word Commentary illustrates one way that bitterness can take root in a Christian: “Many are corrupted because of bitterness towards someone they feel has wronged them, and they hold on to the bitterness with amazing stubbornness! What they must do is remember the grace of God extended to them, and start extending that grace towards others – loving the undeserving” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Esau believed his brother, Jacob, had wronged him by stealing his birthright. Esau actually despised it for a mere bowl of pottage. 

Put away bitterness

Bitterness is a characteristic of the ungodly so a Christian must never rationalize it as “righteous indignation”: “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom 3:13-14 KJB). James warns against it as well: “But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas 3:14-15). Paul provides the antidote: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph 4:31-32).

Hebrews 12:15 insists that Christians must look diligently into their spiritual state, as Albert Barnes explains in his Notes on the Bible: “This phrase implies close attention. It is implied that there are reasons why we should take special care. Those reasons are found in the propensities of our hearts to evil; in the temptations of the world; in the allurements to apostasy presented by the great adversary of our souls” (e-Sword 13.0.0).  Christians have much to avoid while living in this world of sin.

William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible offers a final warning about the root of bitterness: “We do well to remember that there is a certain finality in life. If, like Esau, we take the way of this world and make bodily things our final good, if we choose the pleasures of time in preference to the joys of eternity, God can and will still forgive but something has happened that can never be undone. There are certain things in which a man cannot change his mind but must abide for ever by the choice that he has made” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

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Digging Deeper: The Furtherance of the Gospel

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education


Estimated reading time: 5 min.

Did you know the apostle Paul declared that his unjust trials from the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and his subsequent imprisonment in Rome resulted in “the furtherance of the gospel”?

Other people experiencing the same persecutions and slander Paul faced might think that this would hinder the spread of the gospel. Paul understood otherwise. This Digging Deeper explores what he wrote and why he was convinced that God was working mightily through these circumstances, nonetheless.

Our focus verses are: “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14 KJV throughout).

Preaching from prison

Paul wrote this epistle when he was under house arrest in Rome following a series of hearings with the Jewish Sanhedrin and Roman governors, as narrated in the Book of Acts. He wrote to the Philippians, in modern Greece, to thank them for their generosity in supporting him financially after they finally located him incarcerated in Rome. Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible explains the context: “He had been falsely accused, and had been constrained to appeal to Caesar, and had been taken to Rome as a prisoner; Acts 25–28. This arrest and imprisonment would seem to have been against his success as a preacher; but he now says that the contrary had been the fact” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Philippians 1:12 is the first time the word “furtherance” appears in the KJV Bible. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines it as “A helping forward; promotion; advancement” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words explains the Greek word used here: “In Php 1:12, Php 1:25, KJV, prokope, ‘a striking forward’ (pro, ‘forward,’ kopto, ‘to cut’), is translated ‘furtherance’; ‘progress’ in RV, as in 1Ti 4:15. Originally the word was used of a pioneer cutting his way through brushwood” (e-Sword 13.0.0). Marvin Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament adds: “The metaphor is uncertain, but is supposed to be that of pioneers cutting (κόπτω) a way before (πρό) an army, and so furthering its march” (Ibid.). These hindrances served to clear the way for the march of the church in preaching the gospel. Unexpectedly, Paul’s unjust treatment spread the gospel in areas before unreached.

Positive results

The King James Study Bible explains how Paul’s mistreatment advanced the gospel: “The word rather [v. 12] suggests that the Philippians were anticipating the reception of bad news as a result of Paul’s captivity. He informs them rather to the contrary. In His wisdom and sovereignty God has deliberately designed His servant’s present circumstances, as undesirable as they may be, for the gospel’s benefit. Two positive results of Paul’s imprisonment are given in verses 13, 14: (1) Caesar’s palace learned the gospel from him (v. 13); and (2) many Roman Christians were stirred to preach the gospel during his bondage (v. 14)” (Tecarta Bible App).

Near the end of this epistle, Paul sends greetings from brethren in Caesar’s household (court): “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Cæsar’s household” (Philippians 4:22). Paul’s preaching, even under house arrest, had spread to members of Caesar’s family or servants and led to their conversion. Paul had been chained to Roman guards on a rotational basis, with whom he likely had shared the gospel. They may have then shared the good news (gospel) with others of Caesar’s family, staff, and soldiers in their barracks when off duty. Word of mouth spread the gospel even while Paul was confined.

The gospel spreads

Philippians 1:13 reports that the gospel had been transmitted “in all other places.” A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Philip Schaff, tantalizes readers with this geographical prospect: “The expression ‘all other places,’ though seemingly hyperbolic, is not without its interest when we remember that one of the traditions concerning the first publication of the Gospel in Britain ascribes it to Roman soldiers who may have been the hearers of St. Paul in his prison” (e-Sword 13.0.0). This may have been one way the gospel spread as far as Britain even in the first century.

Philippians 1:14 says, “And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” This verse notes that Paul’s imprisonment prompted brethren to step out in faith in their own proclamation of the gospel, as explained by Bob Utley in his You Can Understand The Bible series: “…other Christian preachers in Rome were taking courage from Paul’s attitude and actions to proclaim the gospel while Paul himself was imprisoned” (e-Sword 13.0.0). This is the last time the word confident appears in the King James Version, stressing the boldness of God’s spokesmen in this critical period. Paul’s example of courage and sacrifice motivated them to proclaim the gospel courageously.

God uses our trials for good

Henry Morris’ Defender’s Study Bible provides us with a fitting lesson from this passage: “The Apostle Paul had the spiritual insight to realize that what seemed like great problems and difficulties such as being unjustly imprisoned, could—and would—be used by God to the ‘advancement’ of the gospel. Rather than complaining or even quitting when the Christian life gets hard, the Christian should remember that God can make even ‘the wrath of man’ to bring praise to Him (Psalm 76:10)” (e-Sword 13.0.0).

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.

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