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?