Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Thirteen

Old Testament

Genesis 25 and 26

Genesis 25:23—“And the LORD said to her: "Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger." Jehovah is speaking to Rebekah, Isaac's wife. She will give birth to twins, though they weren’t identical. The elder’s name was Esau, the younger, Jacob. Esau will become the “father” of the Edomites, whom we run across frequently in the Old Testament, usually troubling Israel. Jacob will have 12 sons who will become the 12 tribes of Israel. Even though, given the law of primogeniture, the greater inheritance should have gone through Esau, God chose Jacob as the son of promise. According to Paul, it was purely an “arbitrary” decision by God, if God makes those kinds of decisions. The point being, God isn’t bound by ancient customs, like primogeniture. It might not have helped matters that Esau was a profane man; later in this chapter he will sell his birthright to Jacob, in effect, despising what was rightfully his. Jacob was a pretty good deceiver early in his life and he (and his mother) will trick Esau and Isaac later on into getting the younger brother a greater blessing. But that seems to have been all part of God’s plan—Jacob was the chosen of God, not Esau. Read the series on “Who Can Say To Him, What Are You Doing?” on my Bible blog for more discussion of God’s marvelous workings to get His will accomplished.

Genesis 26:2—“Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.” God repeats to Isaac the promise He had made to Abraham. Never forget that, through all of this, God is weaving a remarkable plan for the salvation of mankind. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 tribes, the Promised Land, the Law of Moses—all of this is pointing from Genesis 3:15 to Jesus of Nazareth.

Genesis 26:6-7—“So Isaac dwelt in Gerar. And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, "She is my sister"; for he was afraid to say, "She is my wife," because he thought, "lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold.” Like father, like son. At least Abraham was half-right; as noted, Sarah was his half-sister. Rebekah wasn’t that close to Isaac.

Genesis 26:34-35—“When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.” Esau marries a couple of heathen women. He just wasn’t terribly spiritual, but from Romans 9:11, this seems to have nothing to do with why God selected Jacob over Esau. That’s as far as I’ll venture on that subject.

New Testament

Matthew 15

Matthew 15:9—“And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” A few points of interest here. 1. There is such a thing as worshipping Christ “in vain.” Many people seem to think that, as long as they have a good heart, that Jesus will accept their “worship,” regardless of what it might be. That isn’t what this verse says. 2. Notice what that vain worship consists of: “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” If we follow the “commandments of men” rather than the law of Christ, our worship will be vain. Introducing unauthorized innovations into Christian worship—elements that are the “commandments of men” and found nowhere in the New Testament—will constitute “vain worship,” regardless of how sincere we might offer it. Jesus said in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." Note carefully: we must worship Him in “spirit” (with the proper attitude), and in “truth”—“Thy Word is truth,” (John 17:17), thus our worship must consist only of acts of devotion authorized by the New Testament, the current will of God. If we worship “in spirit,” but not “in truth,” we are failing; if we worship “in truth,” but not “in spirit,” we also fall short. Jesus said we can know the truth (John 8:32), thus we can know when someone is teaching the “commandments of men” and thereby know if we are worshipping as God wishes or not. There is this peculiar idea floating around—mentioned briefly above—that God will accept virtually anything as long as we are sincere about it. Gentle reader, if God has told us what He wants, and we do something else, how do we expect to please Him, even if we are “sincere” about it?  If we are “sincere” about our relationship with God, aren't we going to do the best we can to find out what pleases HIM, not what pleases us?  And shouldn't what pleases Him please us? How can we truly be “sincere” in our service to God and then deliberately offer Him something other than what He said He wanted? We owe God everything, He is God, we are human, and I confess, I am greatly disturbed by this flippant attitude that suggests that God loves me enough that He will accept just any ol’ thing I give as long as it pleases me and I’m sincere about it. I respect and adore God enough that I’m going to do everything I can to discover what He wants, and give that to Him. How dare we presume upon the love of God by not having enough respect for Him to offer Him what He asks for—and commands. Let’s find out what HE desires, lest we be guilty of “vain worship” by succumbing, even innocently, to the “commandments of men.”

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Twelve

Old Testament

Genesis 23 and 24

Genesis 23:14-15—“And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.’” This entire chapter (20 verses) is given to the death of Sarah and her burial. Abraham was in land that was controlled by the “sons of Heth,” Hittites, a people who will become quite powerful in the generations after Abraham’s death. They had a significant empire located in what is today the country of Turkey, and were a constant thorn in every major country’s side for several centuries. The man Ephron had a cave at the extremity of his field that Abraham desired in which to bury Sarah. According to custom, Ephron offered it to Abraham for no charge, which the patriarch, according to custom, declined. So then Ephron then set a price of 400 shekels of silver. One commentator suggests that this—according to custom—was a ridiculously high price, because Ephron figured Abraham would haggle over it (for example, 1300 years later, Jeremiah bought a field, which was probably larger, for only 17 shekels of silver, Jer. 32:9). Most non-Western peoples love to haggle. But Abraham was above it. Arguing about money is not the highest of spiritual virtues—if you will pardon my facetiousness—and the godly Abraham wasn’t going to do it. So, probably to Ephron’s surprise, and no doubt, much to his delight, Abraham gave him what he asked for. I wouldn’t claim that it is wrong, if we go to a country where they haggle in the markets, for us to do so. But do beware of covetousness. I believe it was some of the Greeks who refused to place any of their schools near marketplaces lest the young should be corrupted by the swearing, shouting, wrangling, and lying that went on there.

Genesis 24:2-4—“So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, ‘Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.’” A lovely story of Abraham procuring a wife for Isaac. If you aren’t familiar with it, you would be blessed to read about it. It’s too long to relate the tale here, but in a nutshell, Abraham’s servant went to where the patriarch’s brother, Nahor, lived, discovered his Rebekah, "who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother,"  and was able to persuade her, and especially her brother Laban, that it was of the Lord that she become Isaac’s wife. Marriages among relatively close relations like this was not unusual in ancient times, and arranged marriages were the rule (it doesn't appear that Isaac and Rebekah were blood related, though, because the language seems to imply that Bethuel was Nahor's stepson.  If I've got all the eggs in the right basket, that would make Rebekah Abraham's step-grandneice, which would make her Isaac's....what?  You figure it out...). The current Western custom of “falling in love” before marriage is romantic, but quite frankly, fails at a much higher rate than the arranged marriages of other cultures and previous ages. Of course, husbands and wives were more dependent upon each other, thus needed to stay together. But the Chinese had a saying, mocking our Western custom: “You put a hot kettle on a cold stove; we put a cold kettle on a hot stove.” One particularly noteworthy point about the Isaac/Rebekah story as related in the reading above: Abraham did NOT want Isaac to marry among the pagan people of Canaan. He thought his son would have a better chance, spiritually, among his own people. A wise choice, which Christian young people today would be well advised to follow.

New Testament

Matthew 14:23—“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.” There is a lot of interesting material in this chapter—the beheading of John the Baptist, the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Jesus’ walking on the water and Peter’s lack of faith, but I chose verse 23 because it says something that we tend to pass over in order to get to what we might think is more substantive material: Jesus “went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.” Jesus took the time to pray; on one occasion, He spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12). All night! Prayer is mentioned 134 times in the 250 chapters in the New Testament. I truly wonder how many of us spend one-tenth as much time in prayer as we ought. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” (James 5:16), and perhaps one of the reasons our prayers aren’t very effectual is that we don’t availeth ourselves much of it. Being allowed the privilege of approaching the throne of God and making our requests known to Him is, next to the forgiveness of sins, the greatest blessing we have. Let’s don’t neglect or abuse it. “Pray without ceasing,” (I Thessalonians 5:17). It is possible to pray too much, but I wonder how many of us are guilty of that?

Just in case my last statement—it’s possible to pray too much—sounds a little peculiar, let me explain. Don’t pray and pray and pray for God to give you something to eat if you aren’t willing to go out and work for it. There will be no manna from heaven any more. I’d like a job right now, and I pray about it often. But I send out a lot of résumé’s, too.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Eleven

Old Testament

Genesis 22

Genesis 22:1-2—“Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."  This is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. When you wait for something 99 years like Abraham did, and then it’s promised to you by God, and you have to wait 25 more years before He fulfills that promise…it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if you loved very much that thing you waited so long for. Abraham loved Isaac deeply, of course, and he was in danger, by slow degrees and in a way of which he was probably not even aware, of coming to love his son more than he loved his God. This problem must be faced and consciously worked through; we can have no higher allegiance than our allegiance to Him. So God “tested” the patriarch—“Abraham, whom do you love more, Isaac or Me?” The way Jehovah rubs it in a little bit in verse 2 must have been excruciating—“Take your son, your ONLY son, Isaac, the one you love…” “Abraham, do you love Isaac more than you love Me?” God had absolutely no intention of letting Abraham kill Isaac; He simply had to confront Abraham with the condition of his heart.

Abraham’s faith is remarkable here. But, unlike we generally assume, his faith is demonstrated not just in his willingness to offer Isaac, but in His belief in God’s guarantee through Isaac. The Lord has promised the patriarch that he would be the father of a huge multitude: “Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” (Genesis 15:5).  And Jehovah told him that Isaac would be the son of that promise: “for in Isaac your seed shall be called” (Genesis 21:12). But now, in the very next chapter, God is commanding Abraham to kill that son. And Abraham fully intended to obey. He headed for Mount Moriah, and when he saw it—and here is the key to the patriarch’s faith—“Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’" (v. 5). The writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament explains: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham believed that, even if God allowed him to kill Isaac, the Lord would still fulfill the promise He made through Isaac, even raising the child from the dead, if necessary. There’s where Abraham’s faith is truly shown in this passage, though no doubt, upon hearing the command to sacrifice his son, he must have been stricken with severe pain. But he passed the test, and proved his dedication to God: “But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’" (Genesis 22:11-13). There are few examples in the Bible, if any, of a man showing superior respect, reverence, and ultimate allegiance to the Almighty.

Gentle reader, what it is that you are in danger of loving more than you love God?

I’ve been a little rough on Abraham in previous posts, especially chapters 16 and 20. He was human and he had his faults, but there is no doubt he is one of the greatest men who ever walked the face of this earth. Keep in mind two things when considering how noble this man was: he lived about 400 years before one word of the Bible was even written, so he didn’t have any examples to look to, as we do. And also, Abraham was raised in a polytheistic society and family. Joshua 24:2 tells us, “And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.’” All through his early life, Abraham was exposed to idols and false gods, yet he worked his way out of that and came to believe only in the one true God. What he did wasn’t easy, by any means, and he deserves all the praise that can be given him, as a human being.

New Testament

Matthew 13

Matthew 13:44—“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” Jesus taught several parables in this chapter and this is a short, but powerful, one. Notice that the kingdom of God is so valuable that it is worth everything we’ve got—“he goeth and selleth all that he has and buyeth that field.” What the man gave up was much—all that he had—but what he got was far more—the kingdom of God. But notice one more thing, his attitude: “for joy thereof…” The man was more than happy to give up his all, he joyfully did it, because he recognized the matchless value of what he obtained. There is nothing more precious than God’s kingdom and it’s worth everything we’ve got.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Ten

Old Testament

Genesis 19, 20, and 21

Genesis 19:8—The words of Lot to the men of Sodom who wanted to "know" the two guests Lot had invited to lodge with him:  “Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing, forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof.” As incredible as this sounds to us, hospitality was an almost sacred custom in ancient Asiatic culture. A man who invited guests into his home at night was bound to defend them even at the expense of his own life. It’s only in this—very dim—light that Lot’s offer can in any way be excused.

A word about Lot. We don’t have very much information about him in the Bible, which is evident because II Peter 2:7 calls him “righteous.” There is very little about his conduct in any account we have of him in Genesis that leads us to believe he deserved Peter’s compliment. But, of course, the Holy Spirit knows more of Lot’s life than we do. Apparently, in a crisis, he just wasn’t a strong man, not uncommon even among the most upright of people. This chapter ends with his two daughters getting him drunk, laying with him, and having children by him; apparently, he didn’t do a very good job raising his family, either. His wife wasn’t much help, as she apparently loved Sodom more than she did the holiness of God which demanded that such a filthy, wicked place be destroyed. She’s the lady who was turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying the angelic command not to look back as Sodom and Gomorrah were being annihilated (19:26).

Genesis 20:2—“And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister. And Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.” As noted in the study of chapter 18, Sarah, even at an advanced age, must have still been a very attractive woman. We see another weakness here of Abraham; this is the second time he’s pulled this stunt, i.e., lying about his wife, claiming she is his sister, in order to protect his own hide (see Genesis 12:10ff). He thought he would be killed if it was known she was his wife; it’s not quite clear how announcing her as his sister would have made any difference. But, the point is, where is his faith in God? To allow for a minimal amount of fairness here, Abraham only told a half-lie, if there is such a thing; Sarah was his half-sister (Gen. 20:12). But at best, Abraham is being deceptive and disingenuous, both of which are close synonyms of “lying.”

Genesis 21:2—“And Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.” God fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah. It was 25 years between promise and realization; God does things in His own time and we must wait patiently for Him (Psalm 27:14).

Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, and he through whom the Arabic people descended (or so it is claimed by Muslims, see the note on Genesis 16), would have been about 13 years old now. Sarah sees him “mocking” or “scoffing” (21:9), apparently in some way making fun of her son (Jews and Arabs have been fighting each other ever since the birth of Isaac!). Sarah thus boots Hagar and Ishmael out of Abraham’s camp, but God promises Hagar that a multitude of peoples will come from her son. Whether these peoples really are today’s Arabs is unknown, but again, Islam maintains that they are.

Isn’t it incredible that, in one sense, it is possible Abraham is the “father” of three great religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

New Testament

Matthew 12

Matthew 12:37—“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” The tongue is a very dangerous, deadly thing. James 3:1-12 gives us a solemn warning about the proper use of words. Read the book of Proverbs and notice especially how much Solomon has to say about the tongue. Of the seven things that are an “abomination to the Lord” in Proverbs 6:16-19, three of them pertain to an improper use of our speech. I suspect everyone who reads these lines can think of countless examples of how a word maliciously spoken has destroyed a relationship or caused untold hurt or damage to an individual or group. Lying, gossip, slander, cursing, backbiting, false teaching—reader, add more sins of the tongue to the list, and perhaps some of your own. And, according to Jesus in our verse under consideration here, our words can save us—or condemn us. Think before you speak. And it is often better not to speak at all. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).

It is worth noting that Jesus’ stricture about words would apply equally to the written as well as the spoken word. Truth will offend some people; but if someone must be offended, let it be by the truth and never by our harsh, unkind use of it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Nine

Old Testament

Genesis 17 and 18

Genesis 17:8—“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."  Much of the misunderstanding regarding the nature of the land covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendents centers around that word “everlasting.” The belief among many is that Jehovah intended for the Jews to have Canaan “forever,” which means the land belongs to them today. But the Hebrew word translated “everlasting” is ‘owlam, and while it can mean eternal duration, it also has a more basic meaning of “an undetermined duration of time without reference to other points of time, with a focus of no anticipated end, but nevertheless may have limits.” (Dictionary of Semantic Languages: Hebrew (Old Testament)). A good example of this is Exodus 21:6, where the Law says that, if a slave is particularly happy with his master and does not want to leave him in the seventh year, “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.” (Moses’ law required slaves to be set free after six years of service (Ex. 21:2). Verse 6 is an exception to this law.) Obviously, the slave cannot serve “forever,” but only until he dies—an indefinite time in the future. The promises God made to the Jews must always be understood within the context of the whole theme of the Old Testament, which was established in Genesis 3:15—“Christ is coming.” That’s what the old law and covenant aimed at, and since the Messiah has come, everyone, Jew and Gentile, is expected to be obedient to Him, and no one can be saved outside of Him (Acts 4:12). A key point: if God intended for the last 2,000 years to keep fleshly, national Israel in some plan of His, and if He still has them in His plans (as some even in Christendom teach), then He would be to blame for all the Jews since that time who have been eternally damned because they did not submit to Jesus of Nazareth in faith and obedience. People are saved through Jesus only (Acts 4:12). And God had/has a plan to keep Jews for 2,000 years outside of Christ? What kind of God does that make Jehovah? Now, God can use wicked people to accomplish some purpose of His (e.g., Pharaoh and the exodus).  But what possible objective could God have for the Jewish people today?  And more than that, what objective does the Bible say God has for the current Jewish people that would keep them continually outside the embrace of eternal salvation?  None, is the answer. God wants all men to be saved (I Timothy 2:4), and it is beyond belief that He would have a plan that would deliberately keep an entire people lost for 2,000 years for a purpose that He has nowhere explained to us.  There is just nothing further in God's scheme of redemption.  Christ is the end.  He is the promised Redeemer of Genesis 3:15.  What else can the Jews do?  No, all of Jehovah's intentions and promises for the Jewish people ended when Jesus died on the cross. They were given a great privilege—to be custodians of the Old Testament law and Scriptures and to be the people through whom the Savior of the world would descend. They simply weren’t humble enough to accept God’s role for them in His scheme for mankind’s salvation. But, of course, they, too, may have eternal salvation upon obedience to Christ.

Genesis 18:14—“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Abraham was now 99 and his wife Sarah was well passed child bearing age (though obviously still a very attractive woman as we shall see later). God comes to Abraham in this chapter and renews His promise of 24 years earlier that the patriarch would have a son. Sarah overheard the Lord’s comment and she laughed in incredulity. The Lord heard her, rebuked her, and said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Folks, Jehovah is going to accomplish His purposes and nothing is going to stop Him. “He does whatever He pleases,” (Psalm 115:3). “With God all things are possible,” (Matt. 19:26). Now, there are some obvious limitations to that; it is not possible for God to lie (Titus 1:2), or commit any sin at all, but the point of these Scriptures on the abilities of God is what I noted—He can, and will, achieve His objectives and nothing can prevent Him from doing so. And, of course, Abraham and Sarah had a son the following year.

New Testament

Matthew 11

Matthew 11:4-5—“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them.” John the Baptist was in prison but he sent some disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for someone else?” Jesus did not answer directly but replied, in effect, “What does the evidence say?” You see, folks, anybody can claim to be God, or the Messiah, or some messenger from the Almighty. A lot of people had and still do. If Jesus had simply answered the question, “Yes, I am,” and then went His way, why should we believe Him? No, we believe Him, not because He said He was, but because He did things that only the Messiah could do. And that’s what He is telling John’s disciples. God has never asked us to believe anything without evidence—His existence, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible—there is an abundance of proof for all of those truths. Faith is not believing apart from evidence; true faith is based on evidence, and indeed, when we go beyond the evidence, we move into the realm of theory or opinion. Jesus plainly indicates that the evidence provides ample substantiation of His identity. And because we have these “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:2), we are without excuse if we reject them. Read Romans 1:18-21 as further indication of this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Eight

Old Testament

Genesis 16

Genesis 16—This is a remarkable chapter, so rather than simply examine one or two verses, I’m going to consider a few thoughts within it which I believe to be of extreme import.

First of all the basic facts. Some ten years after God’s promise to Abram (Abraham) and Sarah that they would have a child, they still did not have one. So Sarah gives her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham. This was not an uncommon custom at that time; a woman who was barren would frequently allow a servant or concubine to lay with her husband so that he might have an heir. The child would effectively become the wife’s, though that’s not the case in Genesis 16. Hagar bears a child, whom Abraham names Ishmael. There is other matter in the chapter but this is sufficient detail for this short article.

Let me suggest a few lessons here.

1. Abraham committed adultery. It doesn’t matter what the “custom” of the age was, no human custom can overrule God’s law. Genesis 2 establishes husband and wife, and any extra-marital sexual relations by either party is adulterous. We see here a failing of a great man of God. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to read the article “David and Bathsheba” on my Bible blog. Godly people stumble, too. There’s no excuse for it, but there is a bit of consolation in knowing that a “friend of God” like Abraham, or a “man after God’s own heart” like David were guilty of transgression, just as we are.

2. Abraham shows no faith in God. This wonderfully righteous man does not come off well in this chapter. God had made him a promise, but He hadn’t fulfilled it yet. So, instead of waiting patiently for Jehovah—Who will act in His own time, thank you—Abraham and Sarah decide to help God out by joining husband and handmaid. The result, for mankind, has been unmitigated, unparalleled disaster. And it didn’t accomplish what God intended anyway. A great lesson we need to learn: “I waited patiently for Jehovah; And he inclined unto me, and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). “Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:1). Patience in not a virtue many humans can exercise when they want something very badly. But, beloved, you aren’t going to rush God. He’s going to do what is right, and He’s going to do it when He’s ready, not at our demand.

3. What is the “unmitigated, unparalleled disaster” for mankind that I mentioned in point 2 above? The Arab peoples, most of whom are Muslim of course, trace their lineage back to Ishmael. Islam claims the law of primogeniture, that is, since Ishmael was Abraham’s first born, the inheritance comes through him! Thus, Ishmael is the chosen of God. The Arab peoples are His people. And Islam is His true religion. The whole problem in the Middle East today between Jew and Muslim was initiated by Abraham committing adultery! You talk about a sin with long term consequences….Historians today question whether the Arab peoples are truly the descendents of Ishmael; but that’s irrelevant. Islam claims that they are and that’s all that matters. Abraham, great, godly Abraham, because he didn’t have enough faith to wait on the Lord, committed adultery and thereby let loose upon mankind a torrent of destruction, sorrow, and wickedness that will almost surely last until the Lord returns.

Few chapters in the Bible have sadder consequences than Genesis 16. Perhaps only Genesis 3, the sin of Adam and Eve, is more melancholy.

New Testament

Matthew 10

Matthew 10:32-33—“Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Gospel preachers often quote these verses, labeling them the “good confession,” as something a person must do prior to baptism. That’s not the context, though verbal confession of faith before baptism is authorized in Acts 8:37 and Romans 10:9-10. In Matthew 10, Jesus is talking to His apostles about what they would face when He sent them forth to preach. “Beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you” (v. 17); “brother shall deliver up brother to death, and the father his child: and children shall rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death” (v. 21); “ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake” (v. 22); and so forth. In that context, Jesus tells His apostles, “Stay faithful and confess me and I will confess you before My Father; deny Me, and I will deny you” (vs. 32-33). He follows up v. 33 with “think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law: and a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (vs. 34-39). To the apostles—and to us as well—there is a whole lot more to the “good confession” that speaking a few words of belief before baptism.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Seven

Old Testament

Genesis 14 and 15

Genesis 14:18-20—“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all.” We know nothing of the history of this Melchizedek except what is told here. He was king and priest of Salem (Jerusalem), and he was such an honored man that Abraham gave him some of the spoils of victory in the wars that he had just fought. The New Testament, in Hebrews 7, uses Melchizedek as a type of Christ: Jesus is also a King and Priest. No man, under the Law of Moses, could be both king and priest, because priests came from the tribe of Levi, and kings from the tribe of Judah. But Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah “Shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne” (Zechariah 6:13), showing the dual functions of the Christ—He is king and priest simultaneously. Incidentally, this idea proves that there will be no 1,000 earthly reign of Jesus, because He can’t be a priest on earth (Hebrews 8:4)—wrong tribe. He will be king and priest at the same time; but since He can't be a priest on earth, He can't be a king on earth.  He is king and priest right now (I Tim. 6:15; I John. 2:1) from His heavenly abode. And when He returns, that will be it for this world (II Peter 3:10). Further, regarding Melchizedek, Psalm 110:4 made this prophetic pronouncement: “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.’" Thus, in Genesis 14, we are introduced to this obscure man named Melchizedek, and it is only through subsequent reading of Scripture that we learn of his importance. He was of such consequence that even godly Abraham honored him.

Genesis 15—There are a couple of interesting ideas I would like to explore from this chapter. First, verses 13-16: “Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions…But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.’"  Four generations would be the 400 years mentioned—100 years per generation. Thus, this is a prediction of the Egyptian bondage, the 400 years the children of Israel spent in bondage in that country, and the eventual exodus. But notice part of the reason for the Israelite sojourn in Egypt: “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” The “Amorites,” representing all of the people of Canaan, were exceedingly wicked, but they hadn’t, in Abraham’s day, exhausted God’s patience yet. However, by the time God was ready to give Israel the land of Canaan, His tolerance will have ended. So the Jewish conquest of Canaan had two purposes—one, to fulfill the promise to Abraham that his descendents would possess that land, and two, to meet out punishment on a depraved peoples whom God was fed up with. The wisdom of Jehovah is amazing.

Genesis 15:18—“On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.’” This is broadest extent of land that Israel ever possessed. The “river of Egypt” is not the Nile, but a river (Sichor) on the eastern border of Egypt. This promise was fulfilled in the days of David and Solomon, but Israel, because of their rebellion against God, did not possess this entire territory for very long. It’s not really that much land. Israel was never one of the great ancient Middle Eastern empires. They never had the strength or extensive territory that Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome had. We have a little bit of a jaundiced view, if we study only the Bible, which presents ancient history from the Jewish perspective. Israel became more powerful than many local tribes (Girgashites, Jebusites, Kadmonites, etc.), but never a powerful empire. But that’s not what God intended anyway. Israel existed to be the people through whom the Messiah would come—and that’s the greatest blessing God could ever give any people. Unfortunately, the Jews were not—and are not—content with that astounding honor. The world appealed to them too much, so they fell into the trap of wanting to be “like all the nations” (I Samuel 8:20). Very few of us are satisfied with the blessings God gives us; we want more, usually to our own harm. Trust in God, be obedient to Him, be thankful for what you have, and let Him provide other benefits and blessings as He sees fit.

New Testament

Matthew 9

Matthew 9:2—“Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’"  Since only God can forgive sins, this passage proves conclusively that Jesus was fully divine, and not some created “god” as some teach. The scribes who were there at the occasion certainly recognized what Jesus was claiming because they accused him, “within themselves” (v. 3) of blasphemy. But Jesus knew what they were thinking, and to prove that He indeed was God, He then healed the man who was paralyzed. The miracles were performed in confirmation of Jesus’ word. Supernatural testimony—“Jesus is the Son of God” needs supernatural confirmation—miracles. Ordinary events—I was born in Texas—can be proven, or confirmed, through ordinary means, e.g., a birth certificate. But what Jesus and, later, His apostles preached was by no means ordinary. Thus, God gave them miraculous abilities to support their declaration of miraculous truths.

Incidentally, which was the greater blessing Jesus gave to the paralytic—the forgiveness of sins or physical healing?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Six

Old Testament

Genesis 12 and 13

Genesis 12:1-3—“Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." This is one of the most important passages of Scripture in the entire Bible, for from this great promise of God to Abram (Abraham) flow two covenants (Old and New) and two peoples, national Israel and spiritual Israel. There are basically three promises to Abraham here: 1. “I will bless you and make your name great.” Well, I’m writing about Abraham right now, 4,000 years later, so obviously that promise has been fulfilled. 2. “I will make you a great nation.” The physical children of Abraham, the Jews, the Israelites, who occupied the land of Canaan and were given the Law of Moses, which “was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after (the) faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:24-25). The Law of Moses is no longer needed, nor are we any longer obligated to it, because Christ came bringing His law. And actually, non-Israelites were never under the Law of Moses anyway; it was only given to the Jews. 3. “In you all the families of the earth be blessed.” Notice, all the families—Jew and Gentile—would be blessed through Abraham. In Galatians 3:8, Paul wrote, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’” This promise, of course, was fulfilled in Christ. Abraham is the next “step,” if you will, on the road to the Messiah—Adam (Genesis 3:15), Seth (whom I didn’t discuss, Genesis 4:25), Shem (Genesis 9:26), and now Abraham. We’re getting more and more focused on where to look for the coming of that Savior whom the Lord promised in Genesis 3:15. It will be narrowed down even farther, as we shall see as we proceed through this study.

Genesis 13:14-15—“And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are--northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.’” From the loins of Abraham, as promised in Genesis 12:2, a great “nation” would come—Israel. They would need land, since this was a physical promise, and God now shows Abraham what that land would be. The promise to “spiritual” Israel—the church—includes no such land promise for it is a spiritual, not a physical promise. The word “forever” needs a bit of explanation. It actually means an indefinite period of time, to be determined by the purpose involved. Nothing on this earth can be “forever,” since this physical planet is not eternal. Thus, God promised the land to Israel for as long as it suited His purposes. Since God intends for everyone, Jew and non-Jew, to become a Christian, the Jewish religion actually should not even exist today—every “Jew” should be a Christian, thus ending Judaism as a religion. And thereby also ending this land promise. It’s extremely important to remember that the entire theme of the Old Testament was established in Genesis 3:15—“Christ is coming to bring fallen man back into fellowship with God.” The Jews had a part to play in that, being given the Law of Moses, and being the people through whom the Christ would come. Beyond that, they really have no further purpose in God’s scheme of redemption.

New Testament

Matthew 8

Matthew 8:27—“And the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Jesus had just calmed a possibly deadly storm. At a word from Him, the frightening wind ceased to blow and the terrifying waves became tranquil. Envision yourself in that boat and picture in your mind what happened. You, too, would have marveled. Indeed, “what manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Well, He was more than man, and that’s why nature obeyed Him. He created the winds and seas in the first place, so He can control them any time He wishes.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Five

Old Testament

Genesis 10 and 11

Genesis chapters 10 and 11—I’m going to consider these two chapters together because, except for the story of the tower of Babel in chapter 11, they both record genealogical data. Chapter 10 gives the lines of Noah’s sons Japheth and Ham; they are recorded first (even though Shem was apparently the oldest) because they are the least important. Moses does that more that once in Genesis; gets the lesser out of the way before dealing with the greater (compare Esau and Jacob). Shem’s record ends with Abraham, who, of course, is one of the principle men in the Bible.

A note on genealogies. They are carefully recorded by the Jews, who were meticulous with such things, and this is very advantageous for historians, though most of the latter figure somebody just made all these names up (he must have had fun in I Chronicles 1-9). There are gaps in genealogies, though. We know, for sure, of such omissions in Matthew’s genealogy, but it’s probably done for ease of memorization. Matthew divides the line from Abraham to Christ into three groups of 14. Moses has 10 generations from Adam to Noah, and 10 from Noah to Abraham. If we take Moses’ numbers strictly, then we get a creation date (of Bishop Ussher fame) of 4004 BC, and a flood date around 2400 BC. This is surely not correct, but is not a problem because, again, there are almost certainly gaps in these genealogies so that they could easily be remembered. Never forget that most ancient people were illiterate; they could not read, thus keeping things simple was imperative. It is one reason why we see a lot of repetition in the history books of the Old Testament, and why much of that book was written in poetical form. Poetry is much easier to memorize than prose. Literacy rates were somewhat better in Roman times, so the repetition and poetry are not as frequent in the New Testament.

An interesting but wholly hypothetical point: if the creation was not in 4004 BC, then when was it? There is no way of being absolute, but given the need to allow for the spread of man and animals throughout the world after the flood, and the development of the different races (which were no doubt genetically inscribed within Noah and/or Mrs. Noah, and Adam and Eve before them), we must push the creation and flood dates several thousand years prior to 4004 BC. A good a guess as any is that the world is probably 10,000 to 15,000 years old. There’s no reason to go back any farther than that.

The Ice Age would have happened immediately after the flood, and over the process of times, the ice in the polar ice caps melted to divide the “Old World” from the “New World.” Folks, the globe has been warming up for thousands of years and I doubt Al Gore, Barak Obama, and the United Nations are going to stop it.

New Testament

Matthew 6 and 7

Matthew 6:1--"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven."  In the first half of this chapter, Jesus teaches on alms giving, prayer, and fasting (see vs. 5ff. and 16ff. for the latter two), all of which are good activities, none of which value us in the least if not accompanied by a proper heart. It doesn’t matter what we do for Christ, if our attitudes and motives aren’t right, then our actions will be in vain, at least as far as God’s accounting goes. Indeed, this is a major theme of the Sermon on the Mount—the inward man, not the outward. We humans want to emphasize the outward—baptism, church attendance, the Lord’s Supper—whatever it might be. Line up a few commandments, do them, and satisfy your conscience. How convenient. It’s easy to be baptized, folks. But try operating from a pure heart all the time. That will keep you busy for the rest of your life. Yes, give, pray, fast (the latter doesn’t seem to be a new covenant requirement, but still can be valuable). But make sure you do those things with a pure heart (Matt. 5:8). False motivations renders false, unacceptable service (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

Matthew 7:13-14—“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” We have here what must rank as among the saddest, and most frightening, verses in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus, Judge of all, tells us that most people are going to be lost eternally, simply because they aren’t willing to pay the price to go to heaven. I suspect Jesus was not smiling gleefully when He spoke these words. The way to heaven is hard; the road to hell is the easy one. Just follow the multitudes and they will take you right there. “Watch…watch…watch…” Jesus says in Mark 14:33, 35, and 37. And follow the narrow way, “which leadeth unto life.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Four

Old Testament

Genesis 7, 8, 9

Genesis 7:11—This chapter largely records the flooding of the earth and destruction of all living things (fish would have survived in the water). Noah and his family were preserved, of course, along with the animals he brought into the ark. The ark was huge, over a football field and a half long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. It wasn’t a “boat” meant to navigate, it was a box meant to float. The nature of the flood has long been discussed by Biblical writers and there’s no absolute agreement on the matter. Raining for 40 days and nights would not provide the water to do what the Bible says the flood did, so Genesis 7:11 tells us that “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up.” This seems to indicate, and it’s my view, that the flood was more tidal than atmospheric (i.e., caused by the rain). This great geological cataclysm would have significantly changed the face of the earth and explain much of the current surface of the planet. The discussion is much too long to detail here, but perhaps I shall do so in a subsequent article. It is a fascinating subject, but again, one in which absoluteness is impossible. But let it be said that a geologic catastrophe could accomplish the same thing, and much easier, than billions of years of slow evolutionary change. It’s simply a matter of philosophy; does one accept a naturalistic, largely atheistic, view of the world, or does one believe in a theological perspective? It isn’t terribly surprising that most of the “intelligentsia” of the world, who have no desire to humble themselves and admit God is smarter than they are, accept the evolutionary world view.

Genesis 8:21—God promises never to “curse” the earth with such a physical calamity again. The next judgment will be the final one, “in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (II Peter 3:10). The rainbow of Genesis 9:13 was a sign of this covenant between God and man. Think about that next time you see a rainbow—and prepare for the next major world catastrophe (read II Peter 3:10 again), in which “the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (ibid). You don’t know when the thief will come, so you (should) prepare each evening. And we don’t know when the Lord is coming back, so it behooves us to be ready at all times.

Genesis 9:26—“Blessed be the Lord God of Shem.” Here we see a continuation of the promise of Genesis 3:15 (read comments in “Journey, Part Two”). Immediately upon man’s sin, God promised a Savior. He will come in human form—thus, from Adam and Eve. The next step is to look for him through the family of Shem—not Ham or Japheth, the other two sons of Noah. As we will subsequently see, Abraham was a descendant of Shem. Incidentally, the idea in verse 25 that God cursed Ham, the supposed father of all Negroid peoples and thus places a curse on that race of mankind, is simply untrue. The curse is on Canaan, Ham’s son, and the ancestor of the people who dwelt in the land of Canaan when the Israelites arrived under Joshua. This verse indicates that those heathen people in that land would serve the children of Israel—Canaan, Ham’s son, “a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.” This is, in effect, a prophecy of the conquest of Palestine by the Jews under Joshua, not a plague upon black people.

New Testament

Matthew 4 and 5

Matthew 4:5-6—These two verses are in the midst of Satan’s temptation of Jesus. “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down [from the pinnacle of the temple],” Satan dares, “for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Notice Satan quoting Scripture, though obviously misusing it. The devil knows the Bible perhaps as well as any of us, and certainly far better than most. And since he does know it so well, and most of mankind are so ignorant of it, we should not be surprised when people are deceived by the emissaries of the evil one who use the Bible to seduce and deceive the unsuspecting. The Word of God can be handled “deceitfully” (II Corinthians 4:2) and “twisted” (II Peter 3:16). Gentle reader, not everyone who quotes Scripture is a God-fearing Christians, which is why there are repeated warnings, in both Testaments, to be on the lookout for false teachers (see Matthew 7:15 for only one example).

Matthew 5:48—“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This is the King James Version rendering and I like it better than the “you shall therefore be perfect” of some versions. The Greek form could be either imperative or future. I think the Lord is commanding here—“be perfect, as God is perfect.” None of us do that, of course, which is why Jesus died on the cross. But still, the Lord had to set before us a faultless ethical standard—perfection. If He had taught anything less, we would always wonder if there wasn’t something better and purer beyond His teaching. But this is it: absolute moral perfection is the doctrine of Christ and anything less than that is less than what we ought to be. What’s further interesting—fascinating to me—is that this verse is in a context regarding love. Begin with verse 43. We should love our enemies, because God loves everyone, sending His rain and sunshine on the just and unjust, on those who regard Him and those who do not. And we should equally love all men--friends or enemies--and by doing so, we will be “sons of [our] Father in heaven” (verse 45). In other words, if we love perfectly, like God loves perfectly, then we will be perfect as He is perfect. Loving God and loving man sums up, in a nutshell, our total duty on this earth (Matthew 22:37-39). If we always do the loving thing (which we don’t) towards God and towards our fellow man, then we will be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. And anything less than that is a failure. “Be ye therefore perfect” by loving perfectly, just as God does (I John 4:8).

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Three

Old Testament

Genesis 6

Genesis 6:22—“Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” Genesis 6:8 records the first time the word “grace” is used in the Bible: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” But salvation by grace has never been an issue for man; it is clearly taught in the New Testament (see Ephesians 2:5 as only one example). The question of salvation by obedience, however, has led to no small controversy. “How can salvation be by grace if we must obey, too? Aren’t we earning our salvation if we obey?” No, because even after we have done all that God commands, we still haven’t earned salvation. The commandment God gave Noah—to build an ark of specific materials and dimensions—wasn’t an especially difficult one, but is there anyone who would argue that Noah would have been saved from the flood had he not built the ark? “Oh, well, I’m saved by grace so I don’t need to do anything.” I trust no one would suggest such. The problem is, we must get our definitions of great Bible doctrines in line with what the Bible teachers, not what we think the Bible teaches or ought to teach. In Hebrews 5:8-9, we read “Though he [Jesus] were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Salvation by grace—and faith—yes; but by obedience also. No, we will never obey God perfectly; that is why we need His grace. But deliberately ignoring God’s commands because we think His grace will cover it anyway is a very serious path to take. Noah would never have argued such (he would have drowned if he had), and "Noah was a righteous man" (Genesis 6:9). I shall follow up on this theme in subsequent articles for it is extremely important and largely misunderstood by many. I trust that our New Testament verse below will help.

New Testament

Matthew 3

Matthew 3:15—“But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.” John the Baptist thought Jesus ought to be baptizing him rather than visa versa, and verse 15 is Christ’s answer to him. The phrase “to fulfill all righteousness” is a little obscure until we read Psalm 119:172: “For all thy commandments are righteousness,” which makes perfect sense when we think about it. When we do what God commands then we will indeed be righteous. Jesus did everything God commanded him to do—fulfilling all righteousness. Baptism is a command of God which we must obey in order that we, too, can be righteous. Peter told the masses on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Saul of Tarsus (or Paul of Tarsus, as we subsequently know him) was commanded to “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Jesus, of course, had no sins to wash away, but He still obeyed all of God’s commands as an example to us. We, who are sinners, need baptism as a part of God’s grace (see the Noah illustration above, and incidentally, read I Peter 3:20-21 where the situation of Noah is compared to New Testament baptism “which now saves us”), and we are baptized into Christ's death thereby contacting the His blood, which is the real effective agent in cleansing us from sin. Romans 6:3-4 reads “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Let us "fulfill all righteousness" as well by being as humbly obedient to Jehovah as we can, and then, when we have done so, let us get onto our knees and ask for His mercy to cover our sins and failings.

A Journey Through the Bible, Part Two

Old Testament

Genesis 3, 4, and 5

Genesis 3:15—“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Genesis 3 is perhaps the saddest chapter in the Bible—it records the fall of man. Yet, God in His grace, provides a door of hope. Immediately after man sinned, God announced the beginning of His plan for the restoration of fellowship with Him. It’s found in verse 15—the Savior will come from “her seed,” i.e., the seed of woman. Interestingly—unless I’ve overlooked something somewhere (and, reader, please correct me if I err here)—this is only place in the Bible that speaks of woman’s seed, rather than man’s. This is a veiled reference to the virgin birth; a male was, of course, not involved in Jesus’ conception. The other important thing here is the God announced that His scheme of redemption will come through humanity. He could have chosen to save man via another means, but this is the one He selected. The Lord is informing us, in Genesis 3:15, to be on the lookout for a Savior—He will come in human form, and be born of a virgin. As we proceed through the Bible, God will refine this promise, telling us further particulars regarding where to look: the family of Shem (Gen. 9:26), then Abraham, Isaac (not Ishmael), Jacob (not Esau), Judah (not one the other sons of Jacob), and then the house of David. “Look for the Messiah from these people,” God will be telling us, and He’ll give other information as well (such as where He will be born, Micah 5:2, and even when He will die, Daniel 9:24-27). But Genesis 3:15 is the beginning. Man sins, God promises a Savior—and He will appear as a human.

Genesis 4:7—“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” God is speaking to Cain here following the murder of Abel. Notice how close sin is—“it lies at the door.” The ASV uses the descriptive term “coucheth at the door.” The idea portrayed here, at least in my mind, is sin—the devil—hiding behind a door, waiting to spring upon us when we enter. We must be wary of him always. Thus, “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). Or he might be “couching” at the door.

Genesis 5, passim through the chapter: “and he died.” This chapter records the genealogy of Seth, and with almost monotonous regularity, after telling us how long a patriarch lived, the chapter says, “and he died…and he died…and he died….” This is exactly what God had promised would happen (Genesis 2:17), and Satan denied (Genesis 3:4). Eve believed the serpent, and man has been believing him ever since. And thus: we die. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is, however, a second death that can be avoided through faith in Jesus Christ.

New Testament

Matthew 2

Matthew 2:6—“And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” This is actually a quotation from Micah 5:2; compare the note above on Genesis 3:15. The Jews understood many of the Messianic prophesies, including where the Christ would be born, and Jesus, of course, fulfilled this prophesy of 700 years previous, as He fulfilled all the prophesies of the Old Testament. The Jews were quite willing to accept the prediction of His being born in Bethlehem; but they could not—would not—accept other prophesies, such as His suffering and dying (Isaiah 53). Only the conquering King was sufficient for them, and it remains so to this very day. Selective acceptance of Scripture, however, is not satisfactory to God. It behooves us to be cautious lest the same sin emerge in our own lives.

A Journey Through the Bible, Part One

Old Testament

Genesis 1 and 2

Genesis 1—The creation account, of course. Rather than analyzing just one verse, I want to emphasize here the power of the Word of God. Eight times during the creation process, the chapter says “And God said” (vs. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Not only did God create the world by His word, but He is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). I do not believe this is arbitrary or incidental. God could have created the world any way He chose (including through evolutionary processes, which He didn’t), but He did it by speaking it into existence. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth...For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:6, 9). God, through His word, formed a new material creation. And God, through His word, forms new spiritual creatures—Christians. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Peter 1:23). The Word of God is all-sufficient to provide for “every good work” (II Timothy 3:17). It is the tool the Spirit uses in the conviction, conversion, and guiding process (Ephesians 6:17). We do not need, nor does God provide, a direct operation of the Holy Spirit in directing us to heaven. What may be going on in the providential realm I make no claim to knowledge. But what is revealed belongs to us, and what is revealed speaks of the all-sufficiency of Holy Scriptures.

Genesis 2—verses 23-24 tell us of the creation of the family. This divine institution, second only to the church in importance for mankind, was instituted in the very creation process, before man ever removed himself from direct fellowship with God. If one does even a cursory examination of history, he will find that the greatest and most long-lasting civilizations in history were built on the foundation of a strong family (consider especially the Roman empire and the Chinese). It is no surprise, to anyone with an inkling of knowledge of the Bible and history, that the current breakdown of the family structure in America is one of the major reasons for the disintegration of the greatness of this country. The United States is doomed, and much of that is because the liberal and feminist philosophies have undermined the most important foundation of an abiding society—the family—an institution God established as soon as He finished creating the heavens and the earth. The family was intended by Jehovah as the institution which provides education, economic needs, socialization, discipline, spiritual guidance, and care in old age--most of which we today have pawned off to the government, an organization which has extremely limited competence in any of these areas, and indeed isn’t its purpose anyway. As long as we expect our government to perform duties for which it is in no way suited, and that God established the family to execute, then we should not wonder why our country is in the sorry shape it’s in. If you want a preacher to fix your electrical problems, then don’t be surprised when your house burns down. God knew what He was doing in Genesis 2, and it isn’t terribly surprising that man has mucked it up so miserably. When we get away from Jehovah’s intentions, we can expect no less.

New Testament

Matthew 1

Matthew 1—verse 15, Mary was found with child by the Holy Spirit. Ladies, can you imagine the honor of being selected by God to give birth, and to raise, His Son? Indeed, the virgin Mary was the most blessed of all women.

A note on “betrothal.” We do not have this concept in our society. “Betrothal” was stronger than our “engagement,” but not full marriage. It was, however, a legally binding contract, which is why Joseph would have had to “put Mary away.” They weren’t married yet, but because they were “betrothed,” Joseph couldn’t simply “break the engagement.” There was a legal process to attend to.