Jeremiah 44.15-19 – Willful idolatry.
Posted: 7 October 2014 in Jeremiah

Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by….. answered Jeremiah, saying, As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.

The above is perhaps one of the most blatant examples of willful idolatry in the Bible. The motive for which is the exaltation of their own well being, over against the worship God. God is not here regarded as their sovereign Lord, who has the right to their unconditional worship, but is instead somebody who has to earn their worship. Were it not a matter of common experience that such a thing is only too common, and that we ourselves can be guilty of the same sin, such an impertinent attitude of the creature towards his creator would be almost unbelievable. But it is the lamentable result of original sin.

As Jeremiah points out to his interlocutors, in the verses immediately following those quoted, in this particular case they have cause and effect the wrong way round. The misfortune they had suffered was God’s punishment for the idolatry and disobedience which is here on full display.

Also involved in the attitude of Johanan, and that of his colleagues, is an implicit assumption that God can be put to the test, even though Deuteronomy 6.16 explicitly forbids any such attempt:

Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.

God is under no obligation to prove anything to us. He will, of course, reveal himself to the humble petitioner, who desires to worship and serve him, but an arrogant,

“Okay, God, here’s what we want. Let’s see if you are up to the job of providing it,”

will only draw forth his wrath. In our own day it is an attitude very often heard from atheists, who want to “prove” (to their own satisfaction) that God doesn’t exist.

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Deuteronomy 2.30-33 – History and its ultimate end.
Posted: 6 October 2014 in Deuteronomy

But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And the Lord our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.

The above verses describe the way in which human volition and divine intention are both present in human history, and it is the latter which determines the former. God does not merely react to the events, as if we were jointly the lords of history. He determines events in accordance with his divine plan. As far back as the time of Abraham, God had promised to give to Israel the land it is now about to possess. If these events had been observed by somebody without faith, he would have seen only two groups of combatants at war, with the Israelites being triumphant. They were triumphant, but the victory was in the first place God’s; not theirs. We, with the light revelation illuminating history, know that there is more involved in history than serendipity.

What was true then, is true today, and God is always present, guiding history to its ultimate conclusion. The return of Christ will witness God’s final victory over his enemies and the salvation of his saints. All things tend towards the glory of God.

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Luke 10.38-42 – The most seductive idol of all.
Posted: 5 October 2014 in Luke

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

I can think of at least five places in the New Testament, apart from this one, where Jesus warns against worldly carefulness. Here Martha is depicted as being “cumbered about much serving,” whereas Mary is less distracted, and more able to attend upon the words of Jesus. Even though Jesus explicitly recommends it (Matt 6,25), probably very few of us would have enough faith to rely upon God for where the next meal is coming from, unless we attend upon it ourselves. However, a new car in the garage, in place of the old banger which is parked out there now, is another matter. To quote Paul, when writing to Timothy:

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

That is not quite the ethos of the world around us, needless to say, and it is very easy to fall into the trap of wanting to “keep up with the Joneses.” It is even easier to start making excuses for our own innate tendency to idolise mammon – with or without the Joneses next door to act as a spur.

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1 Chronicles 13.2-10 – Doing God’s will.
Posted: 4 October 2014 in 1 Chronicles

And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the Lord our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren every where, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: And let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul. And all the congregation said that they would do so: for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people….. And David went up, and all Israel, to Baalah, that is, to Kirjathjearim….. And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart….. And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.

So, in the above passage David seems to nominally acknowledge that no action is good in itself, not even retrieval of the Ark of the Covenant, unless it is in accord with God’s will. However, in the following verses there is no hint that any attempt was made to determine God’s will – maybe by consulting a prophet, a priest, or in some other manner. Instead we read that “the thing was right in the eyes of all the people,” and so that was good enough. Uzza’s death was, as the narrator says, the result of his own presumption, but it may also be that God regarded the entire exercise as presumptuous, and Uzza was made an example of.

In Matthew 7.21, Jesus issues a warning which here seems relevant:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

So it is not for us to seek to please God with our pious actions. It is only for us to seek out the Lord’s will, and then to do it.

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1 Corinthians 15.3-5, 12-15 – Our resurrection in Christ.
Posted: 3 October 2014 in 1 Corinthians

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve….. Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.

It would seem that an inability to believe in the power of God is no new thing. The reason for the Corinthians’ disbelief is not explicitly stated, but it can easily be surmised that it was because “everybody knows you don’t come back from the grave.” Like the present day John Selby Spong, they valued their own understanding over the words spoken by the Eternal Son, and, even though nominally believers, they didn’t want to be thought fools by their more “enlightened” contemporaries. There is nothing new under the Sun.

Speaking of our resurrection, little further down Paul says:

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

Which verse has been used to argue that the Bible knows nothing of an immortal soul, but only of a bodily resurrection, and that the soul is a concept which the later church borrowed from Plato. But it seems to me that, if we are to be raised with a spiritual body, something must be supposed to survive the disintegration of the natural body, so that it can be equipped with a spiritual body, and that something might as well be called the soul.

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Sometimes it is heard from atheists that “nobody wants to live forever.” One wonders at what age they would joyfully sign their own death certificate. But leaving that aside, servants are not well advised to rebel against their master, and oblivion for all eternity is not an alternative on offer from God. It is the Lord’s will that all his creatures glorify him (without exception), and if we refuse to do that voluntarily in this life, and the life to come, we will do it involuntarily, and for all eternity, in hell.

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