practical theology with personal applications
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ABOUT SIN?
Many thing are taught, of course, but these are probably best seen personally in the lives of the people who are mentioned most in the Bible, those who are on the Bible Top 55 list. One of the main goals in the various short studies below is to discover common aspects of the sins that
HOW TO USE THIS MATERIAL
The studies on sin below are not just to be read. Nor are they to be used as sermon points. They are intended to help Bible study leaders prepare to lead lively discussions on sin using the Bible Top 55 list and cards. The Top 55 Booklet also should be referenced concerning lesser-known characters.
Both Adam (#53) and Eve chose to disobey God's command (Gen. 2:16-17, 3:6). So they were both transgressors. Yet, their sins were not identical. Eve was deceived, but Adam was not (1 Tim. 2:14). He knowingly and willing sinned against God by choosing to go along with his wife (Gen. 3:6). Though his thinking at that point is not explained, it is clear that he chose to put the woman first rather than God. Sins of that type have, of course, been common ever since.
It is popular today to speak about the positive aspects of various social relationship. That's fine in some ways, of course, but the temptation that can come through a friend, spouse, or coworker is often never mentioned.
The world-wide flood that shaped the record of Noah's life (#47) demonstrated that God does not allow collective sinfulness to continue forever. Eventually, though it was slow in coming, God brought judgment. Peter (#13) wrote about another future judgment of the entire world for its sin (2 Peter 3:5-13), comparing it to the one in Noah's day. Both Noah and Peter knew that God would judge the world for its sin, but importantly they also knew that God did not and does not wish to do so. Therefore it came and still seems to be coming slowly.
Unlike Adam, when tested in Genesis chapter 22, Abraham (#7) did not put his loved one, Isaac, before God. In fact, his faith on that occasion is commended in Hebrews 11:17-19. Regarding Hagar, however, Abraham went along with Sarah's plan. At that time, taking a secondary wife had not been directly forbidden by God. So Abram did not sin. Even so, going along with Sarah regarding Hagar was certainly not a good idea.
Cowardly, calling Sarah his sister instead of his wife (Genesis 12:110-20) was partly true but still also a lie and sinful. Thankfully, God graciously intervened, however, so that there was not a disastrous result.
Job (#38) who probably lived in the time of Abraham (#7) is an important person to consider regarding sin. God in essence told Job's three friends that they were false teachers (Job 42:7) for wrongly teaching that God worked in such a way that only sinners suffer. A key aspect of their error was overlooking Satan and attributing to God things that the evil one actually did.
Job, however, was innocent aside from going too far in calling upon God to answer his complaints and requests for insight. He had to repent to some extent (Job 40:1-5, 42:5) because it was sinful to question God too strongly. Later, Jeremiah, another righteous man, also did this on at least one occasion (Jer. 15:18-19).
Like his father before him, Isaac (#14) also falsely claimed that his wife was his sister. (See Genesis chapter 26.) Thankfully, the Lord again intervened to prevent disaster. Perhaps Abraham and Isaac show that dishonesty is the most common sin which is committed because of fear. There is another example of this in John chapter nine, and, of course, Peter's denials were also because of fear. (Cf. Revelation 21:8.)
Jacob's father-in-law, Laban (#40), was dishonest and manipulative, famously tricking Jacob by switching Rachel (#48) and Leah. His greed was obviously the root of most of his sin. His idols (Gen. 31:19), which likely was made of precious metal, probably were a sign of his greed as well. In the end, even his own daughters despised him (Gen. 31:14-16).
That said, perhaps Jacob deserved such a father-in-law. Jacob's greed and manipulative dishonesty are well known as well.
Jacob's twin brother, Esau (#25) was a profane person (Heb. 12:16) which means that he was one who should be expelled from a holy or sacred place. In Ezekiel 21:25, King Zedekiah (#34) is said to have been such as well. These two selfish men were never truly interested in God. Esau demonstrated this by selling his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:29-34). In essence, Esau's sin was the sin of unbelief (Rom. 9:13).
The sinful betrayal of Joseph (#11) by his brothers is well know, but what about Joseph himself? Are any sins reported about him? Some believe that telling his dreams to his brothers was sinful boasting, but we know that the dreams were from the Lord. Jacob rebuked Joseph for his dreams (Gen. 37:10) which shows that Jacob may have considered them boastful. On the other hand, Jacob also kept the dreams in mind (Gen. 37:11) which seems to indicate that sharing them with others was not sinful.
More importantly, Joseph shows us various other things about sin. First, he demonstrated the need to quickly flee from temptation (Gen. 39:7-10). Second, his dealings with his brothers shows that if there is repentance sin can be forgiven. Third, Joseph's life as a whole shows that God providentially works so that even some of the worst sins can still in the end result in good (Gen. 45:4-8, 50:19-20).
Moses' writings, such as the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20, helped clarify what sin is, and helped prepare Israel to live in the promised land as a nation with laws. At the same time, however, the Tabernacle was built and the sacrificial system established so that there was a way to be forgiven and cleansed.
In the wilderness, the people often complained, fell into sin, and were judged by God (1 Cor. 10:1-11). Paul (#10) taught that the lesson to be learned from this by Christians today is to take sin seriously by being careful regarding temptation (1 Cor. 10:11-12). Thankfully, he also taught that God sets limits upon the temptation and always provides a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). So sin is (somewhat) avoidable.
As for Moses, personal sin in striking the rock rather than speaking to it (Num. 20:1-13), the root of Moses' sin seems to have been anger at the sinful people (Num. 20:11-12). Often Moses pleaded with God for the people, but on this occasion he was angry. He was also old at that point and had been through a lot. So fatigue as well as anger probably was involved.
Moses was right to be angry regarding the golden calf (Ex. 32:19-20), but his anger was improper in Numbers chapter 20.
Aaron (#8) is notorious for having made the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-6) which opened the door for various forms of immorality (Ex. 32:6, 25). When Moses asked his brother why he had made the idol, Aaron blamed the people (Ex. 32:21-24). His answer was partly true, of course, but Aaron was still responsible because he should not have gone along with the people. Like Adam, he blamed others and did not accept personal responsibility.
Sadly, this sinful incident is remembered well, and the good things that Aaron did as Moses assistant and as the high priest are not. That is the way it is with sin, however. Reputations are easily and quickly lost.
The false prophet, Balaam (#42), failed as a prophet, since he was unable to directly curse Israel (Num. 23:1-24:25). However he was successful as a false teacher by instructing Israel's enemies to use attractive women to seduce Jewish men (Num. 25:1-18, 31:16). He was motivated by financial rewards. As the most famous false prophet and teacher in the Old Testament, he is also mentioned in 2 Peter 2:15-16, Jude 11, and Rev. 2:14. False teaching is a grave sin (James 3:1).
Is there anyone else on the Top 55 list who taught others to sin? King Abab's wife, Jezebel, certainly did so, but she is not mentioned often enough to make the list. There is a king on the list, other than Ahab, who taught Israel to sin, however. Who?
There is nothing recorded about Joshua (#12) being a sinner, thought his failure to pray and seek the Lord regarding the Gibeonites in chapter nine (Josh. 9.14) seems to be a sin of neglect. Not doing what should be done is the kind of sin that is most easily overlooked. The sinful and deadly greed of Achan was easier to see, though he too tried to hide it (Josh. 6:10-26).
Perhaps the most important point regarding Joshua and sin is that the fullness of time had come for the Canaanites to be judged. Earlier in Gen. 15:16, that time had not yet come. The conquest was God's judgment upon the Canaanites rather than genocide. The appearance of the Commander of the Army of the Lord to Joshua before the fighting began (Josh. 5:13-15) is a clear demonstration of this.
No personal sin is mentioned about Aaron's son and successor, Eleazar (#33), in contrast to his two older brothers, Nadab and Abihu. They were judged by the Lord (Lev. 10:1-2, Num. 3:4).
When the promised land was divided up Eleazar played an important role. So he is mentioned four times in Joshua (Josh. 14:1, 17:4, 19:51, 21:1). Each time his name comes before Joshua's. This helped show that the land was the Lord's. Moreover, through this we again see that the conquest was the Lord's doing and NOT the sinful action of a genocidal army.
It was a sinful age, in part because of the lack of leadership (Jud. 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25). Gideon as one of the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:32) was helpful, but he had many wives and concubines. Then after his death one of his 70 sons killed most of the others (Jud. 9:1-6). There was also a problem because of a golden ephod that Gideon had made (Jud. 8:24-27).
Gideon and the Book of Judges as a whole show that good leadership was needed, but they also shows that even good leaders are inadequate. A king was needed, but the King of kings, Jesus, was the real need.
Samuel (#16) was the last of the judges, and was instrumental in giving the nation a king. Yet, Samuel also warned the nation about the problems that having a king would bring. In the final words of his warning, he even predicted future capitivy and the loss of the kingdom because of sin (1 Sam. 12:25). He knew that both the people and their king were likely to forsake the Lord. The paradoxical problem was that the people needed a king; yet, no ordinary king could meet the need.
Saul's (#4) sinful jealousy and persecution of David (1 Sam. 18:6-8) is well known, but what was the root cause? Why was Saul so insecure? Was it only because of David's popularity? That was part of it, of course, but in large measure, it was probably also because Saul had been tested and failed as king. He had sinned. So twice Samuel told him that he had been rejected by God and would be replaced (1 Sam. 13:13-14, 15:10-26). He should have resigned, but, of course, he did not. So Saul's insecurity and selfish and stubborn resistance to God's will led to more and more sin for the rest of his life. It could have been different, if Saul had repented.
No sinful behavior is reported about Jonathan (#25), Saul's son. It was even right for Jonathan to be angry at Saul because of the shameful way his father acted. Saul threw a spear at Jonathan for no good reason, but Jonathan arose from the table and left. Saul's anger toward Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:33) was sinful, but Jonathan's anger toward Saul (1 Sam. 20:34) was righteous.
After the death of Saul and Jonathan, there was another opportunity for the national situation to be made right. To some extent it was, because David was made king of Judah. However, Saul's military commander, Abner (#42), set up a lesser-known son of Saul as king over the rest of the nation. This was the natural thing for Abler to do, but it was contrary to the will of God that had been revealed through Samuel. It resulted in more long years of war.
Thus Saul and Abner show that sinful decisions lead to sinful actions that self-perpetuate. Sin and error have momentum.
Why did David (#2) commit adultery with Bathsheba? The simple answer is that it was because he saw how beautiful she was and did not flee from temptation like Joseph (#11) had. The more in-depth answer is that after years as king David had become used to getting whatever he wanted, including regarding women. He had multiple wives, and, indeed, God would have allowed him to have even more (2 Sam. 12:8). However as a married woman, Bathsheba was "forbidden fruit" and became a test for the king who was surrounded by "yes men." So David rejected God's command and did not deny himself (2 Sam. 12:9). Also David murdered Uriah, Bathesheba's husband because his earlier and simpler coverup attempts failed (2 Sam. 11:6-17).
Much more could be said about David's sins, but the bottom-line on multiple occasions was that forgiveness was available. David repented and was forgiven (2 Sam. 12:13-14, 24:25, Psalm 51).
Joab (#18), David's military commander is a somewhat perplexing character since he was both good and bad. For instance, he rightly opposed David's census (2 Sam. 24:3-4), but he wrongly supported Adonijah rather than Solomon (1 Kings 1:19). Joab was on the right side with David against Saul and Absalom. However, the murders of Abner and Amasa (1 Kings 2:5-6) show that Joab was actually always on Joab's side. He did whatever he though was best for himself. Usually, agreeing with and helping David was good for Joab as well as the king, but on those somewhat rare occasions when it was not Joab went his own way. If he had been a truly righteous man, Joab would have opposed David regarding Uriah.
The bottom lines is that Joab's sinful selfishness was much like that of many prominent professional people today. So he provides helpful insight into much perplexing behavior that we still see.
David's handsome son, Absalom (#23) was a man of great ability and could serve be a model for modern politicians. He knew how to gain supporters and worked hard at doing so (2 Sam. 15:1-6). He planned carefully and gathered together wise advisors. That said, perhaps the main thing that Absalmom shows is that a greatly gifted person had great potential for evil.
How could a wise man be so sinful? The answer is simple and social. We are influenced by those around us (Prov. 1:11-15, 22:24), and this can be especially true as we grow older. So in old age, Solomon went along with his pagan wives and served idols (1 Kings 11:1-10).
Solomon was like Adam who went along with his wife in eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6). Adam was not deceived, and neither was Solomon. Because of our human desires, especially toward those that we love, there is can be a gap between what we know to be right and what we do. Solomon had a weakness for women, as Adam had a weakness for the woman.
Jeroboam (#29) sinned by causing the people of Israel to sin (1 Kings 14:16), by setting up idols in an attempt to keep the people from going to Jerusalem to worship (1 Kings 12:26-31). Therefore he was a false teacher as well as a bad king. He was also somewhat like the false prophet Balaam (#42). Therefore God dealt harshly with Jeroboam and his house. (Cf. James 3:1)
Jezebel, Ahab's wicked wife, is not mentioned enough to make it onto the Top 55 list. (She is ranked #110.) Nevertheless Jezebel is included indirectly with Ahab (#15) because she encouraged and aided him in his evil deeds (1 Kings 21:15, 25).
The main sin of Ahab and Jezebel was the promotion of idolatry, and God raised up Elijah (#27) to oppose them in this. The great victory over the 450 prophets of Baal in First Kings chapter 18 is the most famous scene. Jezebel's hatred for and threats of violence toward Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2) in some measure probably show that the struggle was not just between flesh and blood (Ephesians. 6:12).
Jehoshaphat's (#36) reign in Judah overlapped that of Ahab in the northern kingdom. Unlike Ahab, he was a good king who did not seek the Baals (2 Chronicles 17:3).
However, Jehoshaphat unwisely and sinfully allied himself with Ahab's family in marriage (2 Chronicles 18:1) with potentially disastrous consequences for Judah. In addition, he built a fleet of merchant ships with Ahab's son which was destroyed by the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:36-37). There was a questionable military alliance as well.
The boastful sinfulness of the Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib, who besieged Jerusalem during Hezekiah's (#17) reign, is exposed in three inspired accounts, Second Kings chapters 18 and 19, Second Chronicles chapter 32, and Isaiah chapters 36. The intervention of the Lord is stresses in all three accounts as well. God is opposed to the proud (James 4:6) both personally and nationally.
Through Isaiah (#51), the Lord reasoned with the sinful nation about their many sins (Isa. 1:2-18). There was oppression instead of justice (Isa. 1:17,23, 5:7,23), and the land was full of idols (Isa. 2:8, 18-20). The corruption was so great that Isaiah himself also felt unclean (Isa. 6:5), but the Lord cleansed his lips so that he could speak for God (Isa. 6:6-7).
There was hope for the people as well, for the Lord was able to save. The nation only needed to repent. This was true in Isaiah's day (Isa. 1:18) and would be so in the last days as well (Isa. 59:1-2). The passage in Isaiah which has the highest frequency of terms about sin (Isa. 59:3-15) is immediately followed by a wonderful passage on the second coming of the Redeemer. In Romans 11:26-27, Paul quotes from this passage in his famous chapter on the future salvation of Israel.
The most famous passage in Isaiah for Christians, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, is in large measure about the sinful rejection of the Messiah by the nation (Isa. 53:1-12). However this chapter contains many positives because the sinful rejection provide for our salvation. The great negative became a great positive. (See the Plus+ Bible Studies page.)
The sins of kings and other leaders have disastrous consequences for their people (Proverbs 29:2). Zedekiah (#34), the final king of Judah, perhaps shows this better than any other king in Israel's history. His refusal to surrender as instructed by Jeremiah was what ultimately caused the destruction of the Jewish capital and temple (Jer. 38:17-21). The stated reason why he refused to surrender was out of fear of other Jews (Jer. 38:19). Obviously he should have feared the Lord instead.
In the midst of great suffering, Jeremiah (#19) went too far in questioning God at least once (15:17-21). Otherwise, there is no mention of Jeremiah's sin. The most famous verses on sin in Jeremiah, Jer. 17:9-10, however, show that human sinfulness is universal and deep. Yet, in contrast to the famous dark verses in chapter 17, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is about the new heart that will be given to the people of Israel when they are regathered in the future under the Messiah and the New Covenant. The new birth and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the present church age forshadows the full fulfillment in the future kingdom.
The color-coded summary chart of the Book of Jeremiah below shows: 1.) that the sins of the people were prominent in the first 19 chapters, 2.) that the sins of rulers was prominent in chapters 20-29, 34-43, and 3.) that the sins and judgments of various nations are prominent in chapters 46-51.
Abominable idolatry in the temple in chapter eight is shown to be the reason why the glory of the Lord departed from the temple in chapters nine and ten. Yet, on the positive side, near the end of Ezekiel we see a new future temple and and the glory of the Lord fills the temple (Ezekiel 43:2-5).
Similarly, personal responsibility for sin is stressed in Ezekiel, especially in chapters 33 and 18. Yet, there is a positive side to this, for the possibility of personal repentance and forgiveness is stressed as well.
Along with Noah and Job, Daniel (#35) is held up as an example of a truly righteous man in Ezekiel 14:14 and 14:20. So it is not surprising that no specific sin of the prophet is mentioned in the book. Nevertheless, according to Daniel 9:20, when the prophet prayed he confessed his own sins along with those of the people. This is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:5. The prophets were not self-righteous hypocrites.
One of the most hopeful and far reaching verses on sin in the entire Bible is Daniel 9:24, which shows that sin shall be ended and everlasting righteousness shall come to replace it through the work of the Messiah. This verse is part of Daniel's famous 70 Weeks prophesy.
Hitler in Europe was like Haman (#54) in Esther. Both sinful men tried to kill all the Jews in their kingdoms. Undoubtedly, Satan was at work in the lives of both, as he will be in the coming Antichrist (#55). (See Revelation chapter 12.)
JOHN THE BAPTIST
John's (#22) message of repentance was much like those of the major prophets mentioned above. Sin was denounce and warnings and predictions of judgment given. On the more positive side, John's message regarding Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29) is in line with Isaiah's messianic prophecies, especially those in chapter 53.
The Righteous King that the world needs, the Lord Jesus (#1), passed three sin and self-interest tests (Mat. 4:1-11, Luke 4:5-13). The first king of Israel, Saul, however, failed three tests: in 1 Samuel chapters 13 and 15 and again when David appeared as a potential rival in chapters 17 and 18. The Lord again passed the test with his three prayers and submission to the Father's will in the garden (Mat. 26:36-46). These contrast with Peter's three denials.
Peter's (#13) three sinful denials were motivated by fear and contrast with the Lord faithful endurance (Hebrews 12:2).
Paul (#10) referred to himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and the least of the apostles because he had persecuted the church (1 Cor. 15:9).
The Antichrist (#55) will be the ultimate man of sin (2 Thes. 2:3) who will attempt to exterminate the Jews, much like Haman (#54) and Hitler attempted to do.
© 2022 by Jon F. Mahar, Hakusan City, Japan