The Race Marked Out for You
When I was nineteen I took part, on a whim, without any training, in ‘The Boundary Run’. It was slightly longer than a marathon and involved running around the boundary of the city of Cambridge, with much of it across ploughed fields.
For the first 14 miles, I was fine. After that, various bits of my body started to seize up. Although I completed the race in a reasonable time, it took me weeks to recover. Running a marathon without training is not a wise thing to do.
The writer of Hebrews says that the Christian life is like running a race. It is more like a marathon than a sprint. We are ‘long-distance runners’ (Hebrews 12:13, MSG). It requires training, endurance and discipline ‘if we are not to grow weary and lose heart’ (v.3). In each of the passages for today, you see what you need to do in order to run ‘the race marked out for \[you\]’ (v.1), as well as some of the results of doing so.
A song of ascents.
1 Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people
both now and forevermore.
3 The scepter of the wicked will not remain
over the land allotted to the righteous,
for then the righteous might use
their hands to do evil.
4 Lord, do good to those who are good,
to those who are upright in heart.
5 But those who turn to crooked ways
the Lord will banish with the evildoers.
Peace be on Israel.
Stay on track and keep going
‘Nothing great was ever done without much enduring,’ wrote St Catherine of Siena.
The key to endurance lies in trusting God: ‘Those who trust in God are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures for ever’ (v.1). This is not based on wishful thinking, but on the character and protection of the God in whom we trust.
God is with you. He is for you. He is above you. He is in you. He surrounds you: ‘the Lord surrounds his people’ (v.2). This protection is something you can rely on ‘both now, and for evermore’ (v.2).
Faith (‘trust in the Lord’, v.1) leads to peace (v.5b) and righteousness (Romans 3:22), and the rest of this psalm focuses on the long-term outlook for both the righteous and the wicked. Regardless of how things may seem at the moment, ‘the sceptre of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous’ (Psalm 125:3a).
The psalmist warns against turning off the track: ‘Those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers’ (v.5). When we wander off the path we lose our peace. The psalmist’s prayer is ‘peace be upon Israel’ (v.5b).
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
God Disciplines His Children
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline —then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Run the race with perseverance
There is a race ‘marked out’ for you that you are urged to ‘run with perseverance’ (v.1). In this race, you have great encouragement. You are ‘surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses’ (v.1). These are the men and women of faith. Those listed in Hebrews 11 have all died, but the witnesses that surround us also include those still alive who are living examples of faith: ‘all those pioneers who blazed the way, all those veterans cheering us on’ (v.1, MSG).
Running your race is not going to be without its obstacles, difficulties, opposition and challenges. There are things that can trip you up along the way: ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ (v.1).
In the ancient world, contestants stripped down to a loincloth for the race. Don’t be a spectator. Get in the race as a contestant.
Too many clothes could hinder an athlete. This is an analogy of getting rid not only of sin but also of other hindrances and distractions. Today, for example, social media can be good but it may also be a distraction.
The key to running the race successfully is to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’ (v.2). Where an athlete looks is key to their success. Good athletes keep their eyes fixed on the finish line.
Jesus ‘never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God’ (v.2, MSG). The only way to make ‘straight paths for your feet’ (v.13, KJV) is to keep looking ahead at the goal rather than looking down at your feet. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. For every one look within, take ten looks at him.
As a follower of Christ, you will receive a lot of opposition, criticism and negative publicity, but it is absolutely nothing compared to what Jesus endured for you.
Jesus is ‘the author \[‘leader’, ‘originator’, ‘pioneer’\] and perfecter \[‘completer’, ‘finisher’\] of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (v.2, AMP). The key to your endurance is to ‘consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ (v.3).
Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus should help you to put it all in perspective. For most of us, in our struggle against sin (like the readers of this letter) we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our blood (v.4).
Running a successful race requires training. Training is hard work; it requires discipline and can even be quite painful.
Here the writer uses the image of parents disciplining their children. It is done out of love: ‘the Lord disciplines those he loves’ (v.6a). Discipline is the proof ‘that God regards you as his children’ (v.6, MSG).
He goes on, ‘God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children’ (vv.7–8, MSG).
‘We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God's training so we can truly live?’ (v.9, MSG). God is training you for your own good that you may ‘share in his holiness’ (v.10). It may be painful at the time but, ‘later on, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God’ (v.11, MSG).
Keep running the race: ‘So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!’ (vv.12–13, MSG).
A Prophecy Against Tyre
26 In the eleventh month of the twelfth year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,’ 3 therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves. 4 They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. 5 Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. She will become plunder for the nations, 6 and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
7 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, with horsemen and a great army. 8 He will ravage your settlements on the mainland with the sword; he will set up siege works against you, build a ramp up to your walls and raise his shields against you. 9 He will direct the blows of his battering rams against your walls and demolish your towers with his weapons. 10 His horses will be so many that they will cover you with dust. Your walls will tremble at the noise of the warhorses, wagons and chariots when he enters your gates as men enter a city whose walls have been broken through. 11 The hooves of his horses will trample all your streets; he will kill your people with the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. 13 I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets. You will never be rebuilt, for I the Lord have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord.
15 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Tyre: Will not the coastlands tremble at the sound of your fall, when the wounded groan and the slaughter takes place in you? 16 Then all the princes of the coast will step down from their thrones and lay aside their robes and take off their embroidered garments. Clothed with terror, they will sit on the ground, trembling every moment, appalled at you. 17 Then they will take up a lament concerning you and say to you:
“‘How you are destroyed, city of renown,
peopled by men of the sea!
You were a power on the seas,
you and your citizens;
you put your terror
on all who lived there.
18 Now the coastlands tremble
on the day of your fall;
the islands in the sea
are terrified at your collapse.’
19 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When I make you a desolate city, like cities no longer inhabited, and when I bring the ocean depths over you and its vast waters cover you, 20 then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living. 21 I will bring you to a horrible end and you will be no more. You will be sought, but you will never again be found, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
A Lament Over Tyre
27 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning Tyre. 3 Say to Tyre, situated at the gateway to the sea, merchant of peoples on many coasts, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘You say, Tyre,
“I am perfect in beauty. ”
4 Your domain was on the high seas;
your builders brought your beauty to perfection.
5 They made all your timbers
of juniper from Senir;
they took a cedar from Lebanon
to make a mast for you.
6 Of oaks from Bashan
they made your oars;
of cypress wood from the coasts of Cyprus
they made your deck, adorned with ivory.
7 Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail
and served as your banner;
your awnings were of blue and purple
from the coasts of Elishah.
8 Men of Sidon and Arvad were your oarsmen;
your skilled men, Tyre, were aboard as your sailors.
9 Veteran craftsmen of Byblos were on board
as shipwrights to caulk your seams.
All the ships of the sea and their sailors
came alongside to trade for your wares.
10 “‘Men of Persia, Lydia and Put
served as soldiers in your army.
They hung their shields and helmets on your walls,
bringing you splendor.
11 Men of Arvad and Helek
guarded your walls on every side;
men of Gammad
were in your towers.
They hung their shields around your walls;
they brought your beauty to perfection.
12 “‘Tarshish did business with you because of your great wealth of goods; they exchanged silver, iron, tin and lead for your merchandise.
13 “‘Greece, Tubal and Meshek did business with you; they traded human beings and articles of bronze for your wares.
14 “‘Men of Beth Togarmah exchanged chariot horses, cavalry horses and mules for your merchandise.
15 “‘The men of Rhodes traded with you, and many coastlands were your customers; they paid you with ivory tusks and ebony.
16 “‘Aram did business with you because of your many products; they exchanged turquoise, purple fabric, embroidered work, fine linen, coral and rubies for your merchandise.
17 “‘Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, olive oil and balm for your wares.
18 “‘Damascus did business with you because of your many products and great wealth of goods. They offered wine from Helbon, wool from Zahar 19 and casks of wine from Izal in exchange for your wares: wrought iron, cassia and calamus.
20 “‘Dedan traded in saddle blankets with you.
21 “‘Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your customers; they did business with you in lambs, rams and goats.
22 “‘The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; for your merchandise they exchanged the finest of all kinds of spices and precious stones, and gold.
23 “‘Harran, Kanneh and Eden and merchants of Sheba, Ashur and Kilmad traded with you. 24 In your marketplace they traded with you beautiful garments, blue fabric, embroidered work and multicolored rugs with cords twisted and tightly knotted.
25 “‘The ships of Tarshish serve
as carriers for your wares.
You are filled with heavy cargo
as you sail the sea.
26 Your oarsmen take you
out to the high seas.
But the east wind will break you to pieces
far out at sea.
27 Your wealth, merchandise and wares,
your mariners, sailors and shipwrights,
your merchants and all your soldiers,
and everyone else on board
will sink into the heart of the sea
on the day of your shipwreck.
28 The shorelands will quake
when your sailors cry out.
29 All who handle the oars
will abandon their ships;
the mariners and all the sailors
will stand on the shore.
30 They will raise their voice
and cry bitterly over you;
they will sprinkle dust on their heads
and roll in ashes.
31 They will shave their heads because of you
and will put on sackcloth.
They will weep over you with anguish of soul
and with bitter mourning.
32 As they wail and mourn over you,
they will take up a lament concerning you:
“Who was ever silenced like Tyre,
surrounded by the sea? ”
33 When your merchandise went out on the seas,
you satisfied many nations;
with your great wealth and your wares
you enriched the kings of the earth.
34 Now you are shattered by the sea
in the depths of the waters;
your wares and all your company
have gone down with you.
35 All who live in the coastlands
are appalled at you;
their kings shudder with horror
and their faces are distorted with fear.
36 The merchants among the nations scoff at you;
you have come to a horrible end
and will be no more. ’”
Throw off everything that slows you down
Western society is in danger of going in the same direction as Tyre. It was wealthy and powerful. It was a nation of successful business and global trading. This has a contemporary feel. As Ken Costa describes in his book, God at Work, ‘Tyre was at the corner of all financial and commercial transactions in the region. Tyre could so easily be the City of London or Wall Street or Tokyo.’
Tyre is an example of society organised to fulfil itself without God. It is attractive (27:3), and that is what makes it so seductive. Money-making, empire building and luxury are attractive.
We are supposed to love people and use things. We go wrong when we start loving things and using people. Consumerism is a great danger in the modern world, but it is nothing new. Tyre was a nation that had ended up loving things and using people – even trading slaves (v.14).
To run the race successfully we have to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ (Hebrews 12:1).
The sins of Tyre were pride, revelling and self-sufficiency (Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 27:3). There was treachery and slave trading (Amos 1:9; Ezekiel 27:13). Ezekiel warns that God’s judgment will fall on the nation (Ezekiel 26:1–6). Its pride will be its downfall. Tyre boasted, ‘I am perfect in beauty’ (27:3).
But God warns, ‘Everything sinks – your rich goods and products, sailors and crew, ship’s carpenters and soldiers, sink to the bottom of the sea. Total shipwreck’ (v.27, MSG).
This prophecy was partially fulfilled in 586–573 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege to Tyre for thirteen years. Nebuchadnezzar did not completely destroy Tyre, but Alexander the Great fulfilled these verses in 332 BC.
The focus on trading, money and consumer goods seems eerily similar to some aspects of modern consumerism (especially in this season as we lead up to Christmas). We need to remember that, however enticing these things may seem, they are transitory and fleeting.
Don’t get entangled. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:1–2). Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Run with perseverance the race marked out for you.
In Psalm 125:2 it says, ‘As the mountains surrounded Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and for evermore.’
This is a powerful picture of God’s protection, strength and enduring love for us.
Verse of the Day
Fix your eyes on Jesus… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Sign up now to receive Bible in One Year in your inbox each morning. You’ll get one email each day.
Subscribe and listen to Bible in One Year delivered to your favourite podcast app everyday.
Ken Costa, God at Work (Alpha International, 2013), p.174.
Henri Nouwen*, If I were to let my life be taken over by what is urgent, I might very well never get around to what is essential* in @HenriNouwen Twitter 31 July 2012, https://twitter.com/henrinouwen/status/230384864438919168 \[Last accessed November 2015\]
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.