Friday, December 17, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 28

Exodus 28:4--"And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest." Moses and Aaron were from the tribe of Levi, which tribe the Lord had selected to serve Him as priests. Note that the garments the priests were to wear had to be holy, "that he may minster to Me as priest." If the garments weren't authorized and sanctified by Jehovah, then He would not accept the priest's offering. The clothing was described in the succeeding verses, and it was composed of the richest, finest materials--the best for God, as it should be. Holiness and the best--and the first--are all He allows in His presence and are all He accepts for sacrifice. If that was true under the older, more imperfect law, how much truer is it under the newer, perfect law of liberty, where all of His will has been delivered to us?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 26 and 27

Exodus 26:30--"And you shall raise up the tabernacle according to its pattern which you were shown on the mountain." The grace of God is a marvelous thing, and we would have no hope of eternal life without it. This chapter begins a lengthy description in Exodus of how Jehovah wanted the tabernacle built, and all the items and utensils that were a part of it. Keep in mind that this tabernacle is a part of the grace of God towards Israel, for through the sacrifices and offerings they would make to Him, He would forgive their sins. Just because there is grace does not mean there is no obedience, and it is a strict obedience. Moses was told exactly how to construct everything in the tabernacle, and in verse 30 he is reminded that there is a "pattern" he must follow. There is also a "pattern" for New Testament Christians: "Hold the pattern of sound words," Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 1:13. The grace of God does not mean we can be presumptuous. "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared," (Ps. 130:4), not "that thou mayest be presumed upon." The love and grace of God should be a motivation for us to humbly submit to Him with all of our heart. So full of gratitude should we be that the Lord will pardon our iniquities that we ought to give our best to serve Him as diligently as we can, and as He has directed us to do to in His Word. This attitude that we can give anything we want to God and He will accept it comes not from Scripture, and is, frankly, beyond my understanding.

Exodus 27:21--"In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel." This is regarding the lamp inside the tabernacle; it was to be looked after "from evening until morning," i.e., all night. There were activities in the tabernacle 24 hours a day; service to God never stops. Indeed, this was to be "a statute forever," or as long as the Lord intended this dispensation to last. The Hebrew word for "forever" can mean an endless duration of time, but that can only be in reference to spiritual things, such as heaven. In a material sense, the word means a lengthy, but indefinite period. It can and does eventually have an end. A willing slave was to serve his master "forever" (Ex. 21:6). Obviously, this can only be until he dies, which is indeterminate at the time of commitment. The Mosaic Age was not eternal; it lasted only until the Christ, thus the tabernacle and all its sacrifices and rituals are no longer in force.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Luke 2 and Exodus 25

Luke 2

Luke 2:36--"Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity." The interesting thing about this verse is that Anna was from the tribe of Asher. We don't hear a lot about any of the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel after they were taken into Assyrian captivity. This has led to a lot of speculation about the "10 Lost Tribes." It has been suggested that they migrated to Britain and became Anglo-Saxons; others propagate that they moved to America. I believe this is the Mormon teaching. Well, at least some of them were still around in Israel, as indicated by Anna's tribal membership. Actually, a proper understanding of the two sticks of Ezekiel 37 teach that all of the Jews who were left, both from the north and the south, were reunited in Palestine after the Babylonian captivity. There weren't many of any tribe left, but that's where they went.

Exodus 25

Exodus 25:2--"Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering." Offerings to God must always be from a willing heart. What good is a forced sacrifice? God wants to see our desire to please Him, and if we are compelled to do anything good, then that mitigates completely the virtue of the deed. This is what makes modern welfare systems basically immoral; people are coerced, by law, to contribute their moneys, which are then distributed as seen fit by bureaucrats. Certainly the needy are to be taken care of, but the Bible speaks nowhere of God being pleased with an unwilling gift. Let us give, and let us give liberally, generously, and from a willing, pure heart. Otherwise we haven't made any headway in our relationship with Jehovah.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Luke 1

Luke 1:1-4--"Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed." Luke's prologue is one of the most interesting, and faith-building, paragraphs in the Bible. As an historian, Luke has been proven true on all matters of which he can be tested; historians only reject his gospel and book of Acts because of the miracles he records. This is simply prejudice, not evidence. I want to do a little word study of this section, looking at a few of the terms Luke uses and how they forcefully proclaim the historicity of his writings.

"Which have been fulfilled" (v. 1). The KJV has "most surely believed." The Greek is a form of the word plerophoreo, which is variously translated (in the KJV) as "be fully persuaded," "be fully known," and "make full proof of." In other words, there is an absoluteness of belief because the life of Jesus is something "fully known" and supported by "full proof." God never asks us to believe something without evidence.

"Eyewitnesses" (v. 2). From the Greek word autoptes. It means an eyewitness, seeing with one's own eye. The apostles didn't simply listen to tales made up by Mother Goose. They saw Jesus and everything recorded about Him in the gospels. Our English word "autopsy" derives from this Greek word. What does the doctor do in an autopsy? He sees with his own eyes the cause of death, so that there will be no doubt.

"Having had perfect understanding" (v. 3). The ASV has "having traced the course of all things accurately." The Greek word is akribos, which is variously translated "diligently, circumspectly, perfectly." The idea is exactly, accurately, diligently. Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit, of course (that's the only way he could have truly had "perfect" understanding), but such inspiration did not preclude a Bible writer from doing research. The Lord knew that future historians would demand such, and thus Luke is at pains here to indicate that he did a thorough investigation of that which he wrote, talking to eyewitnesses, getting the facts "from the very first." What else can an historian do?

"That you may know the certainty" (v. 4). Greek, asphaleia, which is found only three times in the New Testament. The other two instances it is translated "safety." Both of those other two examples, however, also imply certainty and absoluteness (Acts 5:23; I Thess. 5:3). The word has the meaning of firmness, stability, certainty, undoubted truth, safety from one's enemies. Luke wanted Theophilus to know that his faith stood on a firm foundation, that it was true of a certainty, and that there could be no fear from enemies of the gospel.

Everything about what Luke writes in this prologue indicates the absolutely true nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no hesitancy, there is no doubt, there is no speculation--this is historical fact, Luke says, I researched it diligently from the very beginning, I talked to those who were there, I know what I'm talking about, and you can be certain of its truth. That's Christianity.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 23 and 24

Exodus 23:4--"If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again." It's from precepts such as this that the Lord derived the teaching "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Most, if not all, of the principles of New Testament Christianity are found in the old law; not as clearly stated or as fully explained as by Jesus, but they are there, mainly because the same God authored both Old Testament and New. This verse is also a good illustration of the "Golden Rule": "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them." Then Christ said "for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Mt. 7:12). In other words, you can find the same principle in the Old Testament teaching. Exodus 23:4 is a solid example of that.

Exodus 23:10-11--"Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove." The Lord has always required that those less fortunate than we should be taken care of. The Law of Moses had a "welfare system," but it was intended to be voluntary, not forced by government diktat. This is a commandment of Jehovah, but there was no Jewish IRS to enforce it. There is no virtue in being forced to provide for others; God wants to see what is in our hearts. Other passages in the Law exist which deal with taking care of the poor and needy and we will look at them in turn. But the key here is to understand that providing for the poor is a necessary part of pure religion, but doing so voluntarily is the only acceptable course. Unfortunately, there is no clear indication in the Old Testament that the Jews honored this command, but we have no clear evidence that anyone starved in the streets, either.

Exodus 24:3--"So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has said we will do." Easy to say, hard to do. At least it was for this people. More than once (in this chapter) they tell Moses that they will do all that Jehovah commanded them. But there has rarely been a more fickle, capricious people in history than these Israelites who came out of Egypt. They rarely obeyed God, and as a result only 2 of them out of 603,500 (men 20 years of age and older) entered the land of Canaan, an entrance that God had promised them for 500 years. Saying and not doing is called "hypocrisy," and such a term describes these people perfectly. It wasn't just a quality of this generation, however; Jesus dealt with it in abundance, too. In speaking of the Pharisees, He said, "for they say, and do not do" (Mt. 23:3). Words mean nothing without the actions that back them up.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 21 and 22

Exodus 21:6—“Then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” The Hebrew word for “forever” is olem, which means an indefinite, indeterminate, but lengthy period of time—in this case, for the rest of the slave’s life. The word can mean “forever” in the literal sense, but it rarely does. Thus, when God promised Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan “forever” (Gen. 13:15), it was only as long as such served God’s purposes. The Jews finished serving that purpose with the birth and work of Jesus, thus ending this land promise.

Exodus 21:17—“And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” This is a bit striking to our modern sensibilities, but we must always remember that the Law of Moses was given to a primitive, semi-barbaric people 3,500 years ago (just read in the book of Genesis some of deeds of Jacob’s children if you think my term “semi-barbaric” is a little ruthless). One thing a people like this needed desperately was to learn to respect authority; there are laws that must be obeyed in order for a civilized society to exist. If one does not respect father and mother, he probably will not respect any other authority, including God. It was an important moral for these people to learn. One of the great mistakes of modern man is to judge others, and especially earlier societies, by our standards. That is totally unfair to them and improper. God knew what He was doing, and if we will put ourselves back into that time period, we will understand it, too.

Exodus 21:21—“For he is his property.” He is talking about a man’s slave here. A slave was as much the property of his owner as his horse or cow. Yet, there was a difference. The Law of Moses does provide some “rights,” or perhaps a better word is “protections,” for the slave, including freedom after six years (with the exception of verse 6 above). So the harsher aspects of slavery which we read about among other peoples of that day is mitigated extensively by God’s law. Yet, there was no concept of “natural rights” in the ancient world, at least not until the Romans suggested it (especially Cicero), though they did not fully practice it by any means. And again, this modern concept that “all men are created equal” is just that—a modern concept, not a Biblical one. We are indeed equal in the eyes of God, but Jehovah cares little or nothing about political equality. The salvation of the soul is His major interest, and that can happen in an aristocratic, as well as a democratic, society. Indeed, it’s probably more likely to happen in the former, for democratic societies have totally lost the concept of “lord,” and thus have little comprehension of who, and what, Jesus is.

Exodus 22:9—“For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.” There was a judicial system, of sorts, in ancient Israel. It wasn’t as elaborate as ours, but then, there has rarely been one in history that has been. Yet, the idea of doing “justice” is all through the Law of Moses. This chapter (Exodus 22) is replete with laws of justice and right. It didn’t always work in practice once the children of Israel entered and dwelt in the Promised Land, but then our judicial system doesn’t work perfectly, either. The Law of Moses, however, was far advanced for its time in legal matters. Again, some of the regulations do not sit well with our modern conceptions of democratic idealism, but we live in a different age. And all of those which we consider “harsher” laws (such as Exodus 21:17 above), have been done away by the law of Christ. It’s another reason why Judaism is no longer God’s chosen religion and has passed away. If Judaism still had a part to play in God’s plan, then the Law of Moses would still be in effect. And that means all of those laws which we find archaic, unpalatable, and thus unacceptable.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 15 and 16

Mark 15:10“For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.” Pilate wasn’t a good man, but he wasn’t stupid, either. Surely he had heard of Jesus roaming around his province; a man who attracted the large followings that Jesus had would be of some concern to the authorities. But Christ had never done anything wrong, thus Pilate had left Him alone. And when the Jewish religious leaders of the day brought Him before the governor and made accusations that were groundless and harmless, Pilate was perceptive enough to grasp their motives. Jesus was drawing crowds, the chief priests were not. It didn’t take a genius to add two and two.

Mark 15:47—“And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.” From Clarke: “For here a timid man [Joseph of Arimathea], and a few weak women, acknowledge Jesus in death, when the strong and the mighty utterly forsook him.” At the moment, who really had the greater faith in Christ: His apostles or these women? Sometimes—many times—the lowly, nameless widow in the pew is much more pious and devoted than the famous, silver-tongued orator in the pulpit.

Mark 16:16—“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” A lot of ingenious attempts have been made to avoid the simple meaning of these simple words. Martin Luther, in the 16th century, started the doctrine of “salvation by faith only” (no one taught such before him), and it stuck with all the Protestant denominations. And they have continued to stick with that doctrine tenaciously. Thus, Jesus’ words here in this verse simply cannot mean what they seem to mean. Not because Jesus didn’t mean what He said, but because too many men will not give up their religious traditions in order to accept the truth. Isn’t this exactly the reason the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Him and crucified Him? Jesus connects belief and baptism with salvation. The English is powerful, but the original language is even more so. In the Greek, “believes” and “is baptized” are both aorist participles. The action in aorist participles always precedes that of the main verb. So, in this case, “belief” and “baptism” must take place before “will be saved.” It’s an absolute in the Greek, and it accords with other New Testament passages on baptism (cf. Acts 2:38, 22:16; I Peter 3:21).

Sometimes the quibble is made, “But the second clause doesn’t say ‘and is not baptized’.” This is not highly intelligent reasoning. Baptism without faith is utterly vain; why would one who did not believe in the first place submit to being immersed in water? Lack of faith alone is sufficient to condemn; but faith and baptism are both necessary for salvation. Let me use a parallel sentence. “He who eats his food and digests it shall have health. But he who does not eat shall die.” We must eat and digest to be healthy, but if we don’t eat, we die. We must believe and be baptized to be saved; but if we don’t believe at all, we will be damned. Faith must be understood as a principle of action; it is what leads us (trust) to do what God says. How can one truly say they have “faith” in Jesus, that they “trust” Him, and yet deny His words, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved”? True faith won’t argue, it will simply accept and trust.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 13 and 14

Mark 13:31—“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” This is the New King James Version’s rendering of this passage and it catches the sense of the Greek better than the old KJV’s “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” (the ASV has the same reading as the KJV). In the Greek, there is a double negative in the verse; bad English, but emphatic in the original. In effect, “My words shall not never pass away.” Again, this is one of the ways the Greek language emphasized a certain thought. So, even if (when) the heavens and the earth disappear from existence, the words of Christ shall definitely stand. Jesus makes this statement in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in A.D. 70 (read especially my comments on Matthew 24 for a full discussion of Jesus’ teaching on that event.  Follow this link:  Matthew 24). That destruction will surely take place—“My words will by no means pass away.” The Jews thought that their system could never be upset and destroyed; after all, they were God’s chosen people. But “God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones,” John the Baptist told them in Matthew 3:9. The Jews never got it, and they still haven’t. In eternity, we will discover that every word the Lord Jesus, His apostles, and His prophets spoke was everlastingly true, for they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, Himself also God.

Mark 14:25—“Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." This is an important passage to understand. Jesus is establishing what is called “the Lord’s Supper” (the Catholic Church calls it the “Eucharist”). Let’s break down a thought or two in Jesus’ statement. There will come some point in the future (from when He spoke) when He will drink the fruit of the vine again with His disciples. That day will be “in the kingdom of God.” Well, this cannot be heaven, because “flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50). There will be no literal earthly kingdom of Jesus; in other words, He will never literally reign from Jerusalem for 1,000 years, as premillennialism teaches. He cannot do so (see the comments on Zechariah 6:12-13 in my “Minor Prophets” blog for why He cannot reign on earth.  Follow this link:  Zechariah 6). So we must find the kingdom of God somewhere else. That kingdom, the New Testament teaches, is the church. Three quick proofs. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” thus the kingdom had to be established in the first century because that’s when Peter lived. In Mark 9:1, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." So if the kingdom hasn’t come yet, there are some awfully old people on earth right now. Again, the kingdom came in the first century. Further, Paul said we are in it now: the Father “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Notice the past tense—“hath translated.” He couldn’t have “translated” people into something that didn’t exist. “Kingdom” is simply one more designation for God’s people. We are a “body,” a “church,” “sheep,” “saved,” a “kingdom,” and so forth. Each idea conveys a certain relationship with God. In regards to “government,” we are a “kingdom”—Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (I Tim. 6:15)—not a “democracy.” We don’t vote on a new “Lord” every four years. So back to Mark 14:25. When will Jesus drink the fruit of the vine with His people again? In His kingdom. We partake of the Lord’s Supper weekly, and part of that, of course, is fruit of the vine (see I Cor. 11:23-26). The Lord is there with us. While there is a physical dimension to our drinking “the fruit of the vine,” it is largely a spiritual act, and it is in that sense which Jesus “drinks” it with us. If we think only in physical terms, then we miss the major, major component of the Christian religion.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 19 and 20

Exodus 19:5—“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” In one major sense, the children of Israel were going to be a “special treasure…above all people” regardless of what they did: they were the people through whom the Messiah was going to come. It is very important to understand this theme of the Old Testament. Back in Genesis 3:15, after man sinned, God promised that a Savior would come as a human. As we trace the development of this promise—as I did several times in my summary of the book of Genesis—we find the line going through Seth, Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, then Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Thus, God chose the Jews to be this “special treasure…above all people.” Think of how many different peoples, races, cultures, etc. existed in the world at that time. The Old Testament itself delineates dozens—Girgashites, Hittites, Jebusites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, Sabeans…the list is almost endless. And this, of course, doesn’t even touch any peoples living in Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Australia. There have been hundreds of thousands of different tribes and peoples on earth throughout history. But it was Israel whom God gave the Law, and the great honor of bringing the Savior of the world to mankind. The Old Testament hones in on those people, tells their story, because it is the most important story in the world. And the promise was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, as the New Testament tells us. And salvation will come only through Him (Acts 4:12).

The Lord also promised that the Israelites would have special blessings and protections in the land of Canaan, “if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant.” They didn’t do that, so they were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and Babylonians, then eventually lost all of their system of worship when the Romans destroyed their genealogical records in 70 A.D.—a punishment for rejecting Jesus as the Christ (see my posts on Matthew 24.  Follow this link:  Matthew 24).  The current return of Israel to Palestine has nothing to do with any promise God made to them in the Old Testament. See my article on the subject on my main Bible blog.

Exodus 20:11—“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Not in six ages or six eons or six billion years. Six days. If God said “six days,” but really meant, as some teach, six eons of time (to allow for evolutionary progression), then God is being, at best, disingenuous. How would a Jew reading this in Moses’ day understand it? There is no doubt that they would have understood it as 24 hour days. And that is also the clear idea of Genesis 1 (each day had an “evening and a morning,” as 24 hour days do). The only reason some try to get around the six 24-hour days creation teaching is that they wish to compromise with Darwinian theory. There is no reason to do this. The theory of evolution is the biggest bunch of hogwash that man has ever concocted, being devised solely to free man from the necessity of obeying his Creator. It isn’t going to work on the Day of Judgment.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 17 and 18

Exodus 17:7—“So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, "’Is the LORD among us or not?’" There’s not a whole lot of good to say about these people who came out of Egypt. Just a few weeks before they had seen Jehovah perform some of the most awesome miracles in the history of mankind—for their sake—and now they are wondering if He is among them or not. It matters not how much the Lord does for someone; if they do not have the right kind of heart, they will not believe. When the Jews told Jesus that if He would come down from the cross they would believe in Him, they were lying through their teeth. Jesus had given them, for three years, plenty of evidence Who He was; a little bit more wasn’t going to change a thing. The problem wasn’t lack of evidence, it was a lack of an honest, good heart (Luke 8:15). And the same is true today. There is an abundance of evidence for the existence of God, the deity of Christ, and the inspiration of the Bible. But the only one who will see it is he with a pure heart (Mt. 5:8), with no contaminations, preconceived notions, or egotistical narcissism. We must be painfully honest with ourselves; that’s not easy to do, and excuses for rejecting God can easily be found if we wish to find them. But every excuse involves, in some way, wanting to do our will, not His, and that kind of blind selfishness can never be blessed by Jehovah for it will never submit to Him. The evidence that the Lord is among us—as with the Israelites—is overwhelming. Yet how many still ask “is the Lord among us or not?”

Exodus 18:8—“And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them.” A great verse if we look at it closely. “All the hardships that had come upon them.” Yes, there were some. The fright at the Red Sea, the lack of food in the Wilderness of Sin, no water at Rephidim—these are only the ones listed. God tests His people; it builds character. But notice—“the Lord…delivered them.” Wouldn’t it be nice if God simply handed us everything we wanted and needed on a silver platter, with no effort required on our part? Nice, yes; but we wouldn’t be much as human beings if He did. Current government welfare systems that encourage sloth and laziness only produce a people of little quality and worth; they are simply being taught to want more without making any effort of their own to obtain it. God provided for Israel when they could not provide for their own; otherwise, He expected them to make some effort, endure hardship, develop character and virtue. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam was commanded to “dress and keep it,” not lay around and let God or the government do it. Moses had the right idea; hardships do come, and the Lord will deliver us from them. But we just might have to go and pick the manna up off the ground ourselves.

Exodus 18:21—“Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” A number of years ago the “Crossroads” movement used this verse as an example of how to organize evangelistic efforts in the church. Jethro’s advice here has nothing to do with evangelism, or even religion. It’s a judicial structure, designed to settle civil cases, and take a load off Moses’ back. Let’s make sure we do not abuse the Scriptures in an attempt to prove our pet ideas and fads.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 11 and 12

Mark 11:11—“And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” What did Jesus see when He “looked around at all things”? He saw a people who never learned and who had no intention of changing. The next day “Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves” (v. 15). This was actually the second time Jesus had done this; about two years before “He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables” (Jn. 2:15-16). Yet, two years later, they are back at it again. It must have indeed angered and frustrated Him. There are many people today, of course, who use religion to make money, and no doubt, the Lord is just as disgusted with them. The Jews in Jesus’ day did not learn the lesson Jesus was trying to teach them; and the sellers and money changers today haven’t learned, either.

A few points from Mark 12. Please read the context yourself so that you may fully understand the lessons conveyed here.

Mark 12:9—“Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.” In this parable, the “vinedressers” are the Jews. They stoned, beat, and killed the owner’s (God’s) servants (the prophets), and then they killed his son (Jesus). Thus, they would be punished and the “vineyard” (kingdom) given to “others” (Gentiles). This is a prophecy of the mass rejection by the Jews of Christianity, and the large influx of Gentiles. This began to happen in the first century and is evident to this day where the Jews still reject Christianity and the near totality of His church is composed of Gentiles.

Mark 12:14-15—“When they had come, they said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it." You can’t fool the Lord. They tried to butter Him up and deceive Him, but He knew their hypocrisy. Men can be flattered into compromise and error, but not God.

Mark 12:24—“Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?” The Sadducees, to whom Jesus is talking here, did not believe in a resurrection from the dead, and they asked Him a question, trying to trick Him on the matter. They made two mistakes: they didn’t know the Scriptures, and they didn’t understand the power of God. Ignorance of God’s word will destroy us every time (Hosea 4:6), and “is there anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). “He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:3), and if He chooses to raise the dead, that is certainly within His power. The Sadducees had been seduced by the liberal, human philosophy of the day and it turned them away from God. Liberal human philosophy will do the same today.

Mark 12: 37—“And the common people heard Him gladly.” Jesus never lost His following among the multitudes. That is why He had to be crucified, illegally, at night, before the “common people” discovered what had happened. Jesus’ debate was with the religious leaders of the day, whose power He undercut, exposing them for the hypocrites and self-absorbed charlatans that they were. They are the ones who killed Him, not the masses. Now, the mass of Jews eventually did reject Him; but that was later, not during His ministry.

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 15 and 16

Exodus 15:3—“Jehovah is a man of war: Jehovah is his name.” An interesting statement, worthy of a few comments. First of all, we must keep in mind that this “song of Moses” (Exodus 15) is poetry and thus not to be taken with absolute literalness. “Jehovah” is obviously not a “man.” And His basic quality is not “of war.” Indeed, the God of the Bible will render vengeance upon His enemies and the enemies of His people, and quite frequently in the Old Testament, He did that via warfare—using one nation of peoples to attack and/or punish another, the latter of which simply has gone beyond His grace and was in worthy of His wrath. At times, a culture or society was so abominable that it was no longer fit to live on this earth and God used war to annihilate that civilization. It is extremely likely that He does the same thing in the Christian dispensation, but we have no absolute proof of that. We do know that He fights for His people, and Moses’ glorification of Him in this very song is in praise of the deliverance Jehovah wrought, miraculously and wholly without the aid of man, for Israel. His name is “Jehovah,” which, interestingly, softens the “man of war” concept. The name “Jehovah” refers to God’s covenant nature; He made a covenant with all of mankind to send a Redeemer for our sins (Gen. 3:15), and, of course, He made a covenant with Israel to be that nation through whom that Savior would come (Gen. 12:3). That entire agreement and promise of Jehovah speaks of His wondrous grace and mercy. It isn’t His fault if men reject or ignore that covenant and thereby become deserving of meeting that “man of war.”

Exodus 16:3—“And the children of Israel said to them, "Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." How soon people forget! They were groaning under the miserable slavery and bondage in Egypt, but they hadn’t been gone two months yet before they want to go back to that condition. There is justification for their desires, but not for the way they expressed them. A “wilderness”—which is little more than a desert—is not going to have sufficient food to feed the multitude of Israelites who were making this journey. Of course, God knew that and fully intended to provide for them. However, rather than trusting Him in that matter and patiently, humbly asking Him, they have to complain and gripe about it. The Lord was patient with these people, but their constant grumbling eventually led to their punishment; grumbling is indicative of a lack of faith. It is a good example for us. Do we trust the Lord to provide our needs when things don’t look so good, or do we murmur and find fault and long for the world out of which we came? Ask the Lord, reverently, humbly, and thankfully, and wait for His answer. He knows what we need and will provide it in His time, when it is best for us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 9 and 10

Mark 9:43—“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched.” Jesus is certainly not being literal here. Heaven and hell are not physical places so it doesn’t matter how many hands we have. But the principle is clear and unequivocal. This section in Mark starts out with Jesus discussing who is truly great in God’s eyes, and He tells us that the supreme manifestation of the Christian religion is serving others. Even the smallest thing is seen and rewarded by Him (v. 41). But if we cause others to stumble, that is a frightening sin: “it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (v. 42). We are either serving the Lord or we are serving Satan; there is no middle ground. We are either leading others in the proper direction or we are taking them down the wrong path to perdition with us. And there is nothing worse than going to hell for eternity. Thus verse 43. Whatever it takes—hyperbolically represented by cutting off your hand if necessary, or foot (v. 45), or eye (v. 47)—whatever it takes to avoid going to hell, do it! There is no price too high to pay to avoid eternal damnation. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26). The fact that Jesus uses three examples in Mark 9 (hand, foot, eye) tells us of the emphatic nature of this admonition. Jesus came down from heaven; He knew the beauties thereof and the horrors of hell. And there is nothing—nothing—worse than the latter. Whatever the cost, avoid sin.

Mark 10:11-12—“So He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." That’s a pretty simple teaching, and if it didn’t involve something as emotional as marriage, would not create much controversy. But in an age (ours) when about half of marriages end in divorce, and then many remarry a second (or third or fourth) time, this doctrine is far from pleasant. But that doesn’t mean it’s hard to understand. If a person divorces his wife (or visa-versa) and marries another, that constitutes adultery. Why? Because “what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 9), and when man tries to separate what God has joined together, He isn’t going to recognize it, and it matters not one whit whether the state sanctions it or not. If a man “divorces” his wife without just cause (and there is one exception to this strict teaching found in Matthew 19:9), then God will not approve of that “divorce;” in His eyes, the two are still married. So if man “marries” another, in God’s view they really aren’t married, and thus any relations they would have would be “adultery.” The one exception to this is fornication, or marital infidelity (Matt. 5:32; 19:9). A man (or woman) is allowed to divorce and remarry if their mate has been unfaithful in sexual matters. That’s the only reason. Otherwise, the remarriage is an adulterous union. And since adultery is a sin which will keep us out of the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21), the only option is to cease that relationship. Again, easy to understand, hard to apply because of the deep emotions that are often involved.

It is easy to see why such would not be a popular doctrine in today’s world, and why many, many polemical gyrations have been performed to try to get out from under it. An awful lot of people today are living in marriages contrary to God’s word. But, indeed, it is a simple word: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." And God’s word cannot be gainsaid.

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 13 and 14

Exodus 13:17—“Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’" Clarke has an extremely interesting comment on this verse and I share it with the reader: “Had the Israelites been obliged to commence their journey to the promised land by a military campaign, there is little room to doubt that they would have been discouraged, have rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and have returned back to Egypt. Their long slavery had so degraded their minds that they were incapable of any great or noble exertions; and it is only on the ground of this mental degradation, the infallible consequence of slavery, that we can account for their many dastardly acts, murmurings, and repinings after their escape from Egypt. The reader is requested to bear this in mind, as it will serve to elucidate several circumstances in the ensuing history” (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Ex. 13:17). This is the first time I’ve ever heard/read anyone attribute the subsequent disobedience of Israel to their 200+ years of slavery. And I don’t believe a word of it. I said it was an interesting comment, I didn’t say it was credible. But yet, there are some good thoughts here. There is certainly nothing ennobling about slavery. It does sap the will, simply because the fruits of one’s labors go to someone else, not one’s self. Why labor diligently if you aren’t going to be the one who enjoys the benefits thereof? The same can be said of socialist economic systems; high taxation is a disincentive to hard work. Yet, this deals with labor, not morals and religion. A slave doesn’t have to be an immoral, ungodly, pagan cur, and that’s what Clarke is implying in the quote above. The Bible nowhere excuses the rebellious Israelites who came out of Egypt on the grounds of their previous involuntary servitude. Slavery is no justification for sin.

Exodus 14:31—“Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.” These were among the most fickle people in history. Chapter 14 records the remarkable, marvelous event of Israel crossing the Red Sea on dry land, and the subsequent destruction of the Egyptian army. It was an awesome event, one that frightened even the inhabitants of the land of Canaan when they heard of it. In Joshua 2:10-11, Rahab the harlot tells the spies whom Joshua had sent to Jericho, “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt…and as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” The children of Israel had a brief moment where they “feared the Lord, and believed the Lord,” but it didn’t last long. This is a solemn example for us. Our faith must remain consistent, not haphazard. It isn’t true faith if we only “fear” and “believe” at certain times in our lives when the Lord acts in our behalf. There will be good times, and there will be bad, and if we truly trust in Jehovah, we will remain loyal to Him through them all. As the great man Job admonishes us, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). Israel had a momentary oasis of fear and faith in an otherwise desert of selfishness and disobedience. Let us not be the same way.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 11 and 12

Exodus 11:5“And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals.” This sounds cruel to us, in our wimpy, politically correct society. How could a good, loving God just butcher so many innocent people? Such an act doesn’t sit well with out modern sensibilities. Of course, God can do anything He wants to, and if we don’t like it, that’s just tough. But there is much more to this event than that. There comes a point, in national wickedness, when punishment must be meted out. The Egyptians were a pagan peoples who had rejected the one, true God for centuries. They had brutally conquered other lands and had enslaved the Israelites for over 200 years. There are some people that just aren’t fit to live on God’s earth, and so much of this is a lesson for us today. Sin will be punished; not only eternally, but certain malevolent, inexcusable actions have consequences on this earth as well. The death of the firstborn of Egypt will not be the only time in the Bible God punishes people nationally; in fact, it happens many times. And though we do not know exactly what God is doing today in His providence, we can rest assured that if we do not learn the great lessons these Bible events teach us, that we will suffer, individually and collectively, as well. Don’t blame God when people snub Him and get their due. Castigating God for killing the firstborn of Egypt is simply another excuse for not obeying Him. If the Egyptians had honored Him according to the light they were given, then they wouldn’t have suffered this catastrophe.

Exodus 12:25-27—“It will come to pass when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' that you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.'” It is arguable that the Passover was the most important of all Jewish feasts. It was to be kept yearly, of course, although there are indications later in the Old Testament that the Jews didn’t do this. The idea behind the Passover is stated in these verses—a memorial for what the Lord did for Israel in Egypt. Jehovah did something here for the Hebrews that they could not do themselves—escape bondage. Their deliverance from slavery was wholly on God’s part and none of their own. Of course, at the appropriate time, they had to move and follow His directions, but they were to be reminded, through this yearly feast, of the grace of God in delivering them from Egypt. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 5:7, “Christ [is] our Passover.” Our deliverance from the bondage of sin was totally actuated by God. Just as with the Israelites in Egypt, there was absolutely nothing we could to release ourselves from slavery (to sin). Christ’s “Passover” blood was necessary for our release. Now, we, too, must move when we are told to do so (belief, repentance, baptism, etc.), but without God’s grace, none of this would happen. The Lord’s Supper, observed each week in the early church and by His church today, reminds us of our Passover, Jesus, and the blood He shed in order to deliver us from “Egypt”—bondage. The parallel is perfect. The Israelites were in bondage with no way they could deliver themselves. God acted, led them across the Red Sea into freedom, the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land. Tragically, many of them did not enter in because of unbelief (Heb. 3:19). So with man today. We are in “bondage” (to sin). God acted (through Jesus). We cross the Red Sea (baptism), freeing us from sin (Acts 2:38), and into the wilderness of life on our way to the eternal Promised Land. They type-antitype is remarkable, and of course, planned by God. The mind of the Lord is so wonderfully plain to see for those whose eyes are open.

The final question here, though, is, how many of us will not enter into our Promised Land because of unbelief?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 9 and 10

Exodus 9:18—“Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause very heavy hail to rain down, such as has not been in Egypt since its founding until now.” A couple of interesting thoughts come to mind about this whole section. Notice that the Lord (through Moses) told Pharaoh that the plague would come “tomorrow.” If Pharaoh had had sense enough to repent of his hardness of heart and allow the children of Israel to leave, then no doubt the Lord would have recanted on His plan. Pharaoh was given a chance to save his people, but he refused. Nearly always in the Scriptures, the Lord gives man space to repent; for example, Noah (apparently) preached 120 years before God sent the flood (Genesis 6:3). The Canaanites were given 400 years to repent before God sent the children of Israel into the Promised Land and obliterated them (Gen. 15:16). Pharaoh had his chance, and didn’t take it. We have a chance, too, and if we refuse God’s call, it won’t be His fault.

Exodus 10:14-15—“And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt and rested on all the territory of Egypt. They were very severe; previously there had been no such locusts as they, nor shall there be such after them. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt.” One traveler describes for us the swarms of locusts: “Clouds of locusts frequently alight on the plains of the Noguais, (the Tartars), and giving preference to their fields of millet, ravage them in an instant. Their approach darkens the horizon, and so enormous is their multitude, it hides the light of the sun. They alight on the fields, and there form a bed of six or seven inches thick. To the noise of their flight succeeds that of their devouring actively, which resembles the rattling of hail-stones; but its consequences are infinitely more destructive. Fire itself eats not so fast; nor is there any appearance of vegetation to be found when they again take their flight, and go elsewhere to produce new disasters.” The Tartars lived in the Russian steppes, but the impact is the same. Famine nearly always followed a locust swarm, and perhaps the only reason such did not happen in the Exodus plague is that the land of Goshen, a very rich, fertile area in the Nile delta region, was spared the devastation. That’s only speculation on my part, however. It’s distinctly possible that famine did hit Egypt, after the Israelites left.

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 7 and 8

Mark 7:3—“For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.” The washing was to be of the hands and wrists; there is a rabbinic tradition to that effect. This kind of washing is apparently still practiced in certain eastern countries; the Islamic Qur’an commands it: “O believers, when ye wish to pray, wash your faces, and your hands up to the elbows—and your feet up to the ankles” (Surat 5:7). They probably borrowed that from the Jews, with whom early Muslims had much contact. The Jewish doctrine was “If a man neglect the washing, he shall be eradicated from the world.” For the Hindus, bathing is a prerequisite before the first meal, and washing of the hands and feet before the evening meal. Jesus certainly wasn’t defending filthiness in this section of Mark, but washing before a meal was not a command of the Law of Moses. The Pharisees made it such, and condemned Christ on the basis of their interpretations of the law, not on what it actually said. Jesus wasn’t about to be bound by their traditions.

Mark 8:36-37—“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Here are two of the most piercing, thought-provoking questions in all the Bible. They teach us, so clearly, the value of our souls. Let’s just suppose for a moment, that you or I owned the whole world, or, more rationally, had the resources to buy anything we wanted, go anywhere we wanted, do anything we wanted. There are, of course, many people on earth in that position. But then, supposing we could do that, we die and are lost eternally. What will we have in hell to compensate us? Are a few short years of earthly pleasure worth an eternity of damnation? The Lord is trying to get us to focus on our priorities, on what is truly important—the eternal destiny of our eternal soul. The second question, “what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” is equally haunting. What is it that we love so much that we simply won’t give it up, even if it costs us a home in heaven? The Lord Jesus will brook no higher allegiance than to Himself (Luke 14:26). When you think of it, that is an awfully arrogant demand—if Jesus were only a man. Only God can insist upon that level of loyalty.

Gentle reader, is there anything you are more loyal to, anything you won’t give up, for the Lord Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 7 and 8

Exodus 7:5—”And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them." The Egyptians might have learned that Jehovah was God, but they didn’t remember it for very long. They had a very complex religion which included just about everything from totem poles to theology, and influenced literature, government, art—all aspects of society except perhaps morality. In the beginning was the sky; that and the Nile River were the chief divinities. Constellations and stars might be gods, too. Sahu and Sopdit (Orion and Sirius) were tremendous deities. Sahu ate gods three times a day regularly. Sometimes he ate the moon, but only for a moment; prayers of men and the anger of other gods forced him to vomit it up. The moon was a god, too, but the greatest god of all was the sun, Amon-re, or sometimes called Horus. Nearly everything, at some point in Egyptian history, was worshipped—the bull, crocodile, hawk, cow, goose, goat, ram, cat, dog, chicken, swallow, jackal, serpent—and they allowed some of them to roam as freely as the cow in India today. Sometimes women were offered to certain of these animals as sexual mates; the bull in particular received that honor (the bull was the incarnation of the god, Orisis, who was god of the dead). What it all pointed to was immortality. To the Egyptian, the body was inhabited by a small replica of itself, the “ka,” and also by a soul—all three, body, ka, and soul survived the appearance of death. When an Egyptian died, he made his appearance before Osiris. If he was clean from sin, he would be permitted to live forever in the “Happy Field of Food,” those heavenly gardens where there would always be abundance and security. These nice fields, however, could only be reached with the aid of a ferryman, and this old gentleman would receive into his boat only such men and women as had done no evil in their lives. Osiris would question the dead, weighing each candidate’s heart in the scale against a feather to test his truthfulness. Those who failed this final examination were condemned to live forever in their tombs, hungering and thirsting, fed upon by hideous crocodiles, and never coming forth to see the sun.

One last point about Egyptian religion, of which I only touched the merest hem of the garment: Pharaoh was a god-king, and it was his association with the gods that was the source of his power and authority. We read of no police force in ancient Egypt; since they had a supreme “god” on earth—Pharaoh—that was sufficient for social control. Of course, crime happened, but for the Egyptian, Pharaoh’s divinity was enough to ensure proper living. It would be nice to see religion have that kind of effect in America today. As James Madison said, if all men were angels, we wouldn’t need government.

Exodus 8:19—“Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.” Up until this plague (the lice), the Egyptian magicians had been able to, at least to some degree, duplicate what Moses and Aaron had done. These conjurers probably believed that the two Hebrews were tricksters like themselves. Frankly, magicians of today have little over the magicians of the ancient world. They knew ruses that would stump the ablest of modern conjurers. But, with the plague of lice, the power of Jehovah exceeded the Egyptians’ best efforts and they were honest enough to recognize and admit the limitations to their abilities. Unfortunately, it would take several more such exercises of true divine power before Pharaoh would be convinced of the superiority of the Hebrew God and allow His people to leave Egypt. And even then, he had a change of mind (see Exodus 14).

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 6

Mark 6:12—“So they went out and preached that people should repent.” Jesus sent His apostles out two by two to gain some experience. I find it interesting that their message wasn’t the love and/or grace of God, but “repent.” I suspect they probably mentioned God’s mercy, but there is much more to the plan of salvation than that. People need to understand that God’s blessings—including salvation—are conditional, and they always have been. Read Leviticus 26 for just one example among the hundreds that could be brought forth. “Repent” is not as pleasing a message as “love,” which is why a lot of preachers preach much of the latter and not much of the former. But, folks, Jesus wasn’t crucified because He preached “love;” He was killed because He told people what they had to do to be right with God and they didn’t like it. Nobody likes to be told to “repent.” The very concept of “repentance” implies that we are doing something wrong and must change, and if we are doing what we want to do, we don’t want to change. It is much easier—or at least, more palatable for us—to shut the messenger up than it is to reform our lives to put them in harmony with the strict teachings of the Bible. But, after teaching God’s part in the scheme of redemption—His love and grace—we must teach man his responsibilities and duties, which can be summed up in the word “repentance.” The word “repentance” is a translation of the Greek word metanoia, which literally means “change of mind.” That “change of mind” implicitly requires a reformation of life; one doesn’t truly change their mind unless there is a concomitant change of life. But again, that’s the message that gets preachers in trouble—convicting sinners of sin which unreservedly means making amendments to one’s behavior. And it was that message Jesus sent His apostles out to preach.

It is also the message Jesus preached. Mark’s first recording of Jesus preaching has the Master saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Indeed, the Bible never once records Jesus using the word “grace.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 4 and 5

Mark 4:23-24—“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Then He said to them, ‘Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.’” Jesus makes this statement, “if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” twice in this chapter, and He says it to all seven of the churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3. “Do you have ears?”—and everyone does, of course (theoretically), “Then listen to what I’m saying.” In other words, pay attention to what the Lord teaches. “Hear ye Him” (Mt. 17:5). It is His word that will judge us on the last day (John 12:48). Listen—but also obey.

But it’s interesting that Jesus says not only to take heed how you hear but also “take heed what you hear.” “Many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). Knowing this will make us rightfully cautious. We owe the Lord Jesus, Who has done so much for us, faithful, devoted service—according to His will, not the will of man. By doing so, and serving others according to His dictates (“with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you”), we will be effective in His kingdom and be given the privilege of even greater service—“and to you who hear, more will be given”—which, concomitantly, leads to greater blessings. We cannot outgive the Lord.

Mark 5:13—“And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.” Demon possession, as it occurred in the time of Christ, does not take place today. And we read no instances of it in the Old Testament. Thus, it was allowed by God for only a short period of time, during the age of miracles that accompanied the ministry of Christ and His apostles. Why did it happen? Jesus, of course, was God in the flesh. To prove that, He needed to demonstrate His power and authority over all aspects of creation. In Mark 4, nature submitted to Him when He calmed the storm and the seas. A little later on in this chapter, He is going to cure a sick woman (healing the sick was something He did frequently, of course), but He is also going to raise a dead girl to exhibit His authority over death. So, the natural world, the physical world, even death are conquered by Jesus. But how about the “spirit” world, i.e., demonic forces? By casting out demons, His absolute dominion over all aspects of existence is firmly established. There is nothing that is not subject to His rule, which is exactly what one would expect of God in the flesh. Without demon possession and Jesus’ evicting of these malevolent spirits, someone could perhaps have asked, “Well, does He have power over the spirit world?” But now there can be no doubt of Who He is. That fact being established and confirmed, there is no longer any need to plague mankind or torture humans by allowing demonic forces to inhabit them. Christ’s authority, once and for all—and over all—has been verified.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 5 and 6

Exodus 5:2—“And Pharaoh said, Who is Jehovah, that I should hearken unto his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go.” This is certainly a true statement. Jehovah wasn’t Egypt’s god; that country had a multitude of gods, and Pharaoh was considered one as well, or the representation of the great Egyptian god, Horus, the sun god. So, in effect, Pharaoh was considered a god by his people. The upcoming battle between Jehovah and Pharaoh was a mighty one indeed—the god of the Hebrews versus the god of the Egyptians. I think part of the rationale for this supreme struggle and the 10 plagues was that the Hebrews didn’t know Jehovah, either, or at least didn’t know Him by that name. As He told Moses in the next chapter (6:3), “and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew the name “Jehovah” (or, “Yahweh” as it is popularly called today), but they didn’t understand the full implications of the covenant nature of that name. See my discussion of this in the Chapter Summary of chapter 6. Jehovah, by these mighty works, was trying to build faith in the children of Israel. They had had no communication with Him for well over 200 years, and no doubt were influenced by the Egyptian gods. Idolatry will, of course, be a serious problem in Israel once they arrive in the Promised Land, but it will be the Canaanite gods that tempt them, not the Egyptian ones. The Lord would constantly remind them throughout their history what He had done for them in Egypt—for what good it did. But He did all He could, and in Egypt, had defeated the most powerful monarch on earth at that time. Yet still the Jews descended into pagan idolatry. For that, they will be purged by captivity in Assyria and Babylon.

Exodus 6:26—“These are the same Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said, ‘Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies.’" By this time, Moses and Aaron had been identified several times in the Exodus account; why this seemingly superfluous statement, naming and classifying them again? Liberal, skeptical "scholars" argue that Moses wasn’t the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, but that they were compiled over the centuries (beginning several hundred years after the exodus—if that event really happened) by various priests, editors, redactors, etc. and since there were a number of these editors, there is a lot of repetition, each “editor” putting whatever comments, etc. he wished into the text. Some have even suggested that Moses never even existed. I suppose George Washington didn’t exist, either, that later historians and “editors” have created a fictional history of the United States as well. But, again, to return to our initial question—why this identification, or re-identification, of Moses and Aaron? We must always remember that most ancient peoples were illiterate, and books were few and far between. Every book had to be hand written; there were no printing presses. So how was knowledge disseminated? By word of mouth, or, in the case of the Law of Moses, public reading. For example, in Deuteronomy 31:11, Moses commanded the elders of Israel, “When all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.” Such is not a terribly effective way of learning, but it was basically all they had. So, repetition of important people or events was frequent. One finds it constantly in the Old Testament, especially; education and reading ability increased as time went on, but never were more than a small portion of people literate. By repeating the events, they were more to be remembered. So, Moses and Aaron were obviously extremely important, and to emphasize that to the hearers, they are identified again in Exodus 6:26. Because hearing was such an important means of education, much of the Old Testament was written in poetic form. Poetry is easier to memorize than prose. So repetition such as that found in Exodus 6:26 doesn’t mean multiple authors; modern skeptics need to understand a little bit about ancient history and peoples and grasp the practical circumstances of daily living.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 2 and 3

Mark 2:17“When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’" Perhaps one of the most difficult thing for many of us to do is to get outside our circle of comfort and reach out to those who are “sinners,” those whose cultural or financial situation doesn’t appeal much to us. The church of Christ in America is largely a white, middle-class organization; part of this is understandable, because we all tend to gravitate towards those whom we are most comfortable with; our friends are white, middle class thus they tend to be the people we go to church with. It will be challenging for us to do what the Lord did here—reach out to those who are truly lost, and not just more white, middle-class people. The spiritually sick are those who need our help, regardless of race, economic condition, or social background. God is color and culture blind, and we need to be so as well.

Mark 3:11-12—“And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.” Why would Jesus not want the demons—and others—to announce who He is or what He had done? He tells more than one individual “that they should tell no one” (Mark 7:36). One would think Jesus would want knowledge of Him broadcast as far and wide as possible. A couple of reasons can be suggested as to why He asks many people—and demons—to be silent concerning Him. One, the more that His works were announced, the more people He would attract. In one sense, that would be good, of course, but if the crowds became too large and unruly, this would hinder His mobility and keep Him from preaching everywhere He needed to go. A second reason revolves around the total ignorance people had of His mission. Nearly all the Jews expected the Messiah to come as an all-conquering king, defeat the Romans, and re-establish Israel as a great power. That is not what He came to do. He certainly wanted people to believe and know that He was the Son of God, but only on His terms. If a strong political movement arose because of a misunderstanding of Who He truly was, then this could create social disturbances, bring the Romans into play, and definitely interfere with what He was trying to accomplish. Demons, of course, might deliberately spread erroneous ideas about Him. Ignorance, then, was the underlying cause for His demand for silence. Once people understood more about Him, then obviously He wanted the gospel preached to every creature in the world (Mark 16:15).

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 3 and 4

Exodus 3:14—“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”'” I discussed this passage in my Old Testament Chapter Summary of Exodus 3, but it is important enough to mention here as well. God is the great “I AM.” About the best we can understand that term is the God exists—and He always has and He always will. If we were to speak to Jehovah today and ask His name (as Moses had done), we would get the same response: “I AM”. God just…is. There is a sense, of course, in which I could say “I am,” that is, I now exist. But I’m not “I AM” like God is “I AM.” I haven’t always existed. But God is eternal and self-existent. The question “Who created God?,” as many have asked, is nonsensical. If another being had “created” God, then that other being would be God, which means the created “God” wouldn’t be “God”, the creator “God” would be “God”—if that makes any sense, which it doesn’t. Again, God is eternal—“I AM.” We, as humans, cannot fathom eternality, but that’s because we are finite beings.

In John 8:58, in one of His never ending arguments with the Jews, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” There can be no clearer statement of Jesus’ divine eternal existence than this. Those sects who argue that Jesus was a “created” being and thus not eternal simply are arguing in the face of Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58. The Jews certainly understood what Christ was saying—that He is God—and they wanted to kill Him. And eventually, of course, they did—or at least, His human manifestation. The concept of the “godhead,” or, more popularly, the “Trinity, though that word isn’t found in Scripture, is indeed Biblical. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Again, incomprehensible to man, but only the arrogant and rebellious refuse to admit that understanding eternal deity is utterly impossible for human beings to comprehend.  Humility is not something man is good at, but is essential in the face of an infinite God.

Exodus 4:8—“Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign.” When God worked miracles through man, it was always to reveal or confirm the message given. Obviously, to know the mind of God, He had to reveal that miraculously to man. But in order to convince men that the message was truly from Jehovah, He enabled men to work miracles—miraculous testimony confirmed by miraculous events. Why should anyone have believed Moses when he told them that God had spoken to him? Well, the miracles he did should have proven his word. Only God can suspend and interfere with natural law. There are many who, through trickery, deceit, and magic, have attempted to duplicate true miracles, and they have deceived many. But nobody has been able to do the wide variation of miracles that God and His envoys did. Let one of the modern “miracle workers” still a storm as Jesus did. How about raising the dead? I have asked several of them, over the years, to heal my blind eye; I’ve told them I would put my glass eye on display for all the world to see if they would only heal my sight. Needless to say, my glass eye remains. Has the reader seen any other glass eyes on display from those whose vision has been restored? No. There is a limit to human chicanery. Only God can truly work miracles and they were performed, as in Moses’ case, to confirm the message God had (miraculously) given him.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 1

Mark 1:2-3—“As it is written in the Prophets: Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” This is a quotation from Isaiah 40:3. When citing Old Testament passages, the New Testament writes most often quote the Septuagint, which was a 2nd century B.C. translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Isaiah, and the other Old Testament authors, wrote nearly exclusively in the Hebrew language, and in that tongue (as translated into English), Isaiah 40:3 reads, “The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God.” This is the American Standard Version’s rendition. I cite it here because of the word “Jehovah.” The passage—Mark 1:2-4 being witness—refers to the work of John the Baptist who was “prepare the way of the Lord”—Jesus, of course. But note that Isaiah 40:3 refers to Him as “Jehovah.” This causes great angst among those, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Jesus was a created being, not an eternal one with the Father. Obviously, “Jehovah” is God, and Isaiah 40:3 by referring to Jesus as “Jehovah” classifies Him as eternal deity. We don’t think of Jesus as “Jehovah,” (and the Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly don’t), but when we understand the Hebrew terms for “God,” it is clear that the name Jehovah can certainly apply to Him.

The Hebrews had four basic terms for the Eternal Deity. “El” is most often translated “God” in our versions. It basically signifies “strength.” Any time you see a Hebrew name with “el” in it, there is some reference to God—Israel, Bethel, Emmanuel, and so forth. "El-Shaddai" in the Hebrew is usually translated “God Almighty.” The was the name specially known to the patriarchs. The Hebrew word “Adonai” is translated “Lord” in our versions, which is not really a good translation. It is a difficult word to translate, but the concept is perhaps most accurately stated in God’s pronouncement to Moses “I AM THAT I AM.” When you see the term “Lord” in the Old Testament, it will almost always be a translation of Adonai (I refer mainly here to the old King James Version and old American Standard Version). But when you see the word “LORD” in capitals in the old KJV (the New KJV does not do this), it is the Hebrew word “YHWH”, usually referred to today as “Yahweh.” But, to make the distinction between "Adonai" and “YHWH,” the old ASV translates the latter “Jehovah” (the New American Standard and New International Versions follow the old KJV and translate it “LORD”). The word denotes, in effect, a “covenant” God; in other words, it was “YHWH“ (Jehovah) who made a “covenant” with the Israelites through Moses, not El or Adonai. To return to Isaiah 40:3, Jesus obviously had/has a significant part to play in any “covenant” God makes with man, especially in this New Testament age. So it is in all wise proper and correct to refer to Him as “Jehovah.” The New Testament, of course, was written in Greek, so the word “Jehovah” is never found in the ASV’s translation of the New Testament. This information is simplified for my purposes here, but it catches the major idea of deity in the Old Testament.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 1 and 2

Exodus 1:8—“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This is probably the most famous Pharaoh in history and we don’t even know his name. I’m not going to bother speculating, most of us would never have heard of him anyway. But he was a shrewd Pharaoh, and also one who had no conscience. Verse 7 says “the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them,” so much so that they apparently outnumbered the Egyptians (v. 9). Thus, Pharaoh enslaved them (v. 10), and then started killing the male babies (or ordered such, v. 16). Some have wondered why, if the Israelites had the greater population, they did not revolt. The main reason was the Egyptians had the weapons and the Israelites did not. There were places in the Old South where the Negro slaves greatly outnumbered the whites, but there were only one or two major slave revolts all during the time of American slavery. In Egypt’s case, slavery didn’t help—“the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (v. 12). Israel was getting into the position God wanted them—with sufficient numbers to conquer the land of Canaan. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. Which is no surprise; God’s plans will not be defeated by puny humans.

Exodus 2:11-12—“Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” We’ve already seen that some of God’s greatest men could act in decidedly ungodly ways—Abraham lying and committing adultery, Isaac lying about Rebecca being his wife, Jacob being a deceptive sneak if there ever was one, his sons had their hands full of debauchery, wickedness, and blood, even the saintly Joseph worked a magnificent dishonesty upon his brothers. And now here’s Moses murdering an Egyptian. In his defense, he came to the aid of one of his Hebrew brethren. But his use of force was certainly excessive and uncalled for. Keep in mind, Moses was the grandson of Pharaoh; could he not have used some of that influence to stop the Egyptian from mistreating the Hebrew? Was killing the fellow absolutely necessary? It is highly doubtful that the Egyptian would have resisted the authority of a kinsmen of Pharaoh. Why such barbarism on the part of Moses? We must always remember, in these early books of the Bible, that we are dealing with a very primitive people, men and women who had no written law from God and who lived in difficult, dangerous, and uncultured times. Survival was not easy, and this produced hard, calloused men who did what they thought necessary to ensure that survival. As we shall see, God was often very harsh in His handling of these people; it’s the language they knew and understood because it was the kind of world they lived in. Too many today want to judge ancient peoples by our standards, and that is a gross, egregious error. It was a dog-eat-dog world, often kill or be killed, and we’ve seen some of these rough edges already. Go back to perhaps the best example of this—Genesis 34. Simeon and Levi killed a whole city-full of men because one of them had raped their sister. And their father Jacob did not castigate them for murder—he was worried about his own hide: “You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me” (Genesis 34:30). So what that two of his sons had murdered a huge contingent of men and enslaved the women and children. “Just don’t trouble me.” This doesn’t excuse what Moses did in Exodus 2, but it does help us to understand how an otherwise godly man could act in such a vile manner.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 25

Old Testament

Genesis 49 and 50

Genesis 49:10—“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” It is important to realize that Old Testament prophecies must be viewed through New Testament lenses. That sounds simple enough, but that’s because we have the completed Bible and can do that. But verses like Genesis 49:10 were probably not recognized, at the time of writing, or for long after, as Messianic in nature. Indeed, most of the “Messianic” passages we have studied (e.g., Genesis 3:15, 9:26, 12:1-3, etc.) can only be understood by studying them through the interpretation of the Holy Spirit as given through Jesus and His apostles. We know now that “Shiloh” (“peace bringer”) came from the tribe of Judah, the tribe from which the house of David descended (the “scepter”, i.e, kings came from Judah). Jesus, of course, was a descendent of Judah as well. So this verse gives us one more name to add to the Messianic tree: Adam-Seth-Noah-Shem-Arphaxad-Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-Judah, and if the reader recalls the strange story in Genesis 38, the birth of Judah’s son, Perez. Genesis is a marvelously unified book and only the blindness of crazed skepticism refuses to see it.

Genesis 50:25—“Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, "'God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.'" The great faith of Joseph. Here was his whole family in Egypt, and a small number at that. Only 75 came from Canaan to settle in Egypt; who was to know if that number would multiply or die out? But Joseph believed. His father Jacob had told him that God had promised the land of Canaan to the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So Joseph tells his brothers at his death, “When you go back to Canaan, take me with you.” Joseph probably well understood that it wouldn’t be his 11 brothers who did it; he is simply speaking this for posterity’s sake. It would be almost 300 years before Joseph did indeed return to the land of Canaan. But he knew, because of the promise of God, that Israel’s people would go back. This is a wonderful example of faith in the promises of the Lord. How many of us know where our descendents will be 300 years from now?

New Testament

Matthew 27 and 28

Matthew 27:25—“And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’" In spite of all modern attempts to exonerate the Jews from killing Jesus, it cannot be done. Here, from their own lips, they claim the deed. Peter will accuse them of it in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death,” and they didn’t deny it, many of them repented of it. Indeed, the Jews could not have killed Jesus without the acquiescence of the Romans; that’s what the six trials of Christ were all about. But the Romans had no reason to execute Christ and no doubt would not have done so without the insistence of the Jewish leaders. Pontius Pilate was simply trying to keep the peace. The fact that the Jews were the instigators of the death of Christ is no excuse, of course, for persecuting them. Such has been done down through the centuries by so-called “Christians,” and it has besmirched the religion of Jesus. The Lord wanted to convert the Jews, not persecute and kill them. True Christians will never persecute anyone, period.

Matthew 28:11—“Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.” This refers to the resurrection of Christ. The chief priests then bought off the guards with money. What we see here is the incredible intransigence of these Jewish leaders. What did Christ have to do to convince these people? Well, there wasn’t anything He could, that’s the point. Some people are so hard-hearted, so close-minded, so stubbornly prejudiced and obstinate that no amount of evidence will persuade them. Folks, keep in mind that the rejection of Christ by humans is not because of a lack of evidence; there is plenty of evidence to prove to the honest heart Who He is. Rejection is based on an obduracy that will not believe, regardless of the testimony and proof presented. God does give us freedom of choice. He has not made the evidence so overwhelming that men cannot refuse it; if people want to find a reason to disbelieve, they can do so. But the facts and truth are there for those who will deal candidly with them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 24

Old Testament

Genesis 47 and 48

Genesis 47:27So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and grew and multiplied exceedingly.” The land of Goshen was a very rich, fertile area on the eastern side of the Nile Delta, the “Lower Nile” region. Egyptian geography is a little confusing. The “Upper Nile” is actually in the south, much of it actually south of Egypt. It’s called the “Upper Nile” because it’s in the highlands. The “Lower Nile” is thus in the northern part of the country, at a lower sea level. The Nile River, which is the longest river in the world, flows from south to north, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. Over the last 100 miles or so the river fans out into many branches, and looks like an upside down Greek letter, “delta,” from whence it gets its name. As noted, the land of Goshen was in that area. The children of Israel “grew and multiplied exceedingly.” That will become a problem in a few generations.

Genesis 48

Genesis 48:5—“And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” In this verse, Jacob is talking to Joseph. There will be twelve tribes of Israel in the land of Canaan among whom the land will be divided. These “tribes” will be descended from the twelve sons of Jacob, of course. However, there will not be a “tribe of Joseph.” His portion will be partitioned among his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Thus, Jacob tells Joseph that his two sons “are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” The reason for this is that Levi will be the priestly tribe, and thus will have no land allotment. In order for their to be 12 divisions of land, Joseph’s sons will be given a share each. There was no especial reason why the land had to be divided into 12 portions rather than 11, except there is a symbolic meaning to the number 12 for the Jews; it stood for the totality of organized religion, thus the complete nation of Israel. The number 12, or its multiples, are very prominent in apocalyptic literature, such as the book of Revelation. Check my articles on “Numerical Symbolism” on my “Book of Revelation” blog for a fuller explanation of this.

New Testament

Matthew 26

Matthew 26:13—“Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her." We don’t know exactly who this woman was, though it appears to have been Mary Magdalene or Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:3). Regardless of who it was, she did a noble deed. The oil she used was indeed expensive, 300 denarii (John 12:5), which was almost a year’s wage for an average worker. Yet, Jesus commended her because “she has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). He asks no more than that of any of us.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part 23

Old Testament

Genesis 45 and 46

Genesis 45:8—“So now it was not you who sent me here, but God.” The providence of God is a remarkable thing. Twenty-two years prior to the events of this chapter, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers. He obviously had no clue as to why God would allow such a thing to happen. But now, it becomes evident to him that Jehovah was involved in the process; “God sent me before you to preserve life” (v. 5). He obviously still did not understand all of God’s rationale, but saving his family was sufficient for Joseph. But notice, it took 22 years for God to work His plan out. And it’s further interesting how God used sin—the selling of Joseph into slavery—as a catalyst to this whole providential adventure. And, of course, it wasn’t the only sin in this story; we can recall the attempted seduction of Joseph by Potiphar’s wife, and even Joseph’s own less-than-blameless deception of his own brothers, though I won’t criticize him too harshly for what is a rather brilliant scheme. Still, he wasn’t above board with them. Nonetheless, the providence of God is an amazing thing; but we must have the faith and patience to let Him work out His plans in His own time. Unfortunately, that patience is lacking in too many of us.

Genesis 46

Genesis 46:3—“So He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.” The Lord is speaking to Jacob here. It had been a long time—indeed, decades—since Jehovah had communicated directly to Jacob, and so He appears to the patriarch again, one more time, in his old age, to reassure him. We aren’t given any indication of doubt in Jacob’s mind, but God had told him earlier that Canaan was the land that his descendents would inherit. Could Jacob possibly be wondering if he would err by going down to Egypt, i.e., moving his family from the country God had promised would be his? Well, if there was any doubt in Jacob’s mind, the Lord removes it here, and indeed, in verse 4, tells him “I will also surely bring you up again.” All of this was part of God’s design, thus He didn’t want any worries in Jacob’s mind. The Lord is concerned about how His people think and feel. Yet, more essential is the accomplishment of His purposes.

New Testament

Matthew 25

Matthew 25:35-36—“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus pictures for us the great Judgment Day scene. The “sheep,” who will enter into “eternal life,” were rewarded because of their actions as described in verses 35-36. The “goats,” whose end will be “everlasting punishment” (v. 46), were guilty of neglecting the good works Jesus mentions. It is interesting that nothing is said here about the love or grace of God; our works have much to do with our salvation. No, we aren’t going to work our way to heaven; God will never “owe” us salvation. But, Jesus being our witness here, neglecting godly, Christian service to others will cost us our souls. It is also interesting that Jesus says nothing about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, sound doctrine, church attendance, and other matters that sometimes we perhaps overly emphasize. Now, certainly it is important to note that all of what God commands us is vital, but, at least according to this passage, the emphasis on the Day of Judgment will be on how well we have served others. True greatness in God’s kingdom is not found in sitting on a church pew; it is found in sacrificial service to others (Matt. 20:26).