Saturday, 21 January 2023
“Behold, you despisers,
Marvel and perish!
For I work a work in your days,
A work which you will by no means believe,
Though one were to declare it to you.” Acts 13:41
After giving his gospel presentation, Paul next provided words of warning to his hearers, saying, “Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you.” With that, he now cites the substance of Habakkuk 1:5. His words follow that of the Greek translation. The Hebrew of this verse says –
“Look among the nations and watch—
Be utterly astounded!
For I will work a work in your days
Which you would not believe, though it were told you.”
With that noted, the words of Paul as recorded by Luke begin with, “Behold, you despisers.” Of this, Barnes notes –
“The change from this expression to "ye despisers" was made by the Septuagint translators by a very slight alteration in the Hebrew word - probably from a variation in the copy which they used. It arose from reading בּוגדים bowgadiym instead of בגּוים bagowyim. The Syriac, the Arabic, as well as the Septuagint, follow this reading.”
Paul, using this commonly accepted translation now equates the words of Habakkuk concerning Israel’s mindset at the time of the Babylonian invasion to that of the coming of Christ. The Lord told Israel that the Chaldeans would come upon Israel and prevail, but Habakkuk prophesied that they would never believe it. The Lord elsewhere in Scripture also prophesied of the coming of Christ. But in His coming, it was known the same disbelieving attitude would prevail. Paul is warning his hearers not to let that happen to them as well.
Next, he says, “Marvel and perish!” Rather, the Greek text reads, “And marvel, and perish.” The first word is common and signifies to wonder at, marvel, be amazed, etc. It has already been used four times in Acts at various key points. The second word, here translated as “perish,” signifies to vanish or be removed from sight. The sense is that in their disbelief, calamity would come upon them which would catch them completely off guard and result in their being reduced to nothing.
The Lord had told them in advance what was coming in the arrival of the Messiah. The prophecies were so exacting that all they needed to do was pay attention and accept what He told them at face value. But they wanted something different than what Jesus came to do. The result of their rejection of him would be like that of the destruction of Israel by the Chaldeans. That is understood from the substance of the next clauses. And so, Paul continues with, “For I work a work in your days.”
Israel, even to this modern day, fails to understand that their state in the world is completely directed by the hand of the Lord. A single read through the book of Jeremiah reveals this time and again. They are given the word of the Lord and they simply ignore it. And then, when the prophecies of destruction come about, they stand there gawking in amazement as if it was the most incredible thing they could imagine.
Israel during the Babylonian exile acted as if the exile was some type of accident that would be quickly corrected, but the Lord told them that it was His plan and to settle down and build houses where they were. They could not imagine that their situation was a result of their actions. But the Lord’s guiding hand was over them and they remained in exile for the exact period that He spoke out to them. After that time, they were allowed to return according to the Lord’s word working through king Cyrus.
Paul knew that the substance of the situation was so much the same as at the time of these prophets that he was able to cite Habakkuk as if it was written specifically for his time frame and the current state of Israel. As such, Habakkuk’s warning to the people is now Paul’s warning to them. It is, “A work which you will by no means believe.”
In failing to come to Jesus, it demonstrates a failure to believe in the word of the Lord. But that same word of the Lord promised the destruction of the temple, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the exile of the people from the land of Israel. It was prophesied in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, it was prophesied by Jesus in the synoptic gospels, such as in Luke 21:20-24, and now it is implicitly prophesied by Paul. And yet, even though such prophesies were made, when the events occurred, the people of Israel would not believe that it was the Lord who had done it. That is seen in the next words, “Though one were to declare it to you.”
The word translated as “declare” is first seen here. It will only be seen again in Acts 15:3. It means more than to simply declare but to declare completely. It is the clearest and most complete declaration that can be made. In other words, even if the most exacting details were put forth for the ears of Israel, they would not believe it. And this is just what happened. It had been declared to them and yet in its coming about, they stared at their situation and wondered what could possibly have caused it. At the same time, they completely rejected any notion that it was somehow their own fault.
This may sound incredible, but it is exactly what has taken place for the past two thousand years. Ask a Jew why they are not in their homeland and why they have been hated and persecuted and they will give one of a billion reasons for it. They may even, at times, say, “The Lord was angry with us for XX reason.” But they will never say, “It is because we rejected the Messiah, Jesus, at His coming. It is our fault and we have gotten exactly what we deserve.”
Only with the modern “Jews for Jesus” and other messianic movements have some of them started to come to Jesus and acknowledge that their woes have been self-inflicted wounds. The words of Paul firmly describe the situation that would come upon Israel, and Israel has exactingly fulfilled these words of the Lord as spoken out by Paul.
Life application: As noted above, on rare occasions Jews may say, “The Lord was angry with us and so we have been exiled and punished.” When this is admitted, the reason is not, “It is because we rejected Jesus our Messiah.” Rather, they will say something like, “It is because we did not properly observe the Sabbath,” or “It is because we did not faithfully perform the works of the Torah.”
In fact, one Jew in the recent past claimed that if every Jew on earth would properly perform the Sabbath observance, Messiah would come and would restore Israel to all its glory. In other words, anytime the Jewish people admit that their situation is their fault, they also claim that the resolution to their situation is up to them through their personal deeds. It is a self-based righteousness that they believe will heal them.
This then comes to the core of Paul’s words throughout His epistles. Time and again, Paul warned against the doctrine of the Judaizers. In fact, the book of Galatians is almost entirely focused on this one issue. These people had come to Galatia and had introduced a false gospel, that of adherence to the law for righteousness. Why would they do this?
The reason is exactly what Paul is saying right now in Acts 13. They had rejected the Messiah and His full, finished, and forever work. They sought to obtain a righteousness of their own, apart from His work. Paul’s citation of the prophetic words of Habakkuk wasn’t just fulfilled in the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people. It was being fulfilled with each rejection of his words to the Jews and with each attempt of the Judaizers to subvert the gospel from within.
And it has continued to be the case both among Israel and within the church ever since. Anytime someone follows a path of attempting to merit righteousness before God by his own efforts instead of complete and total trust in the merits of Christ alone, they are a part of Paul’s prophetic words. Be on guard! Watch out for those who would pull you away from the purity of the gospel. Read it again and see where you are included in the equation –
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4
Where is your work included in this? Where are your deeds included in this? What boasting do you have in this? Rather, Paul says when speaking of this gospel message, “Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” Oh! There you are! There is your part! As it says, “and so, you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:11). That is what God expects of you. He has done the work through Christ Jesus. For confirmation of that, take the time to go and read John 6:29. Believe and be saved. Anything else will only lead to a sad end.
Lord God, how grateful we are to know that You have done everything necessary for us to be restored to You. We are not included in what was needed to be done in order for us to be saved. That has been accomplished by Jesus. Now, we just need to believe this simple truth. Christ has done it all! He alone has secured salvation for His people. And we are His people if we simply believe. Thank You, O God, for the simplicity of the gospel. Amen.