Posts for January 2011
5 Posts found

Psalm 136.10-20 – God’s “unfairness”
Posted: 31 January 2011 in Psalms

To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever:
With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever:
But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:
Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy endureth for ever:

It is scarcely possible to read psalm 136, with its repeated refrain “for his mercy endureth for ever,” without wondering whether Pharoah, Sihon, Og, and others, might not have had a slightly different perspective on the matter. This psalm contains one of the uncomfortable truths to be found in the Bible; namely that God’s mercy is only available to those upon whom he chooses to bestow it, and for everybody else there is only wrath. It would seem that the full revelation of his divine nature requires God to put both his mercy and his wrath on display. Abstract theological truths, such as divine sovereignty, will otherwise not be sufficient for humans to take them on board. They need to be backed up by hard concrete reality.

The same thought might account for another apparent unfairness. Namely that some of God’s most faithful servants can live in conditions of dire poverty and hardship, whereas others, who never give God a second thought, can live a life of comfort and ease. The lesson here might be that serving God is not about obtaining material success, or some other reward, and that he must be loved and served for his own sake. For God’s true disciples, their service of him must be its own reward. (Which does not, of course, excuse anybody from trying to relieve suffering wherever it occurs.)

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Isaiah 37.1-7 – Trust in God and humble obedience
Posted: 28 January 2011 in Isaiah

And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left. So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.

Elsewhere Isaiah criticises Ahaz for relying upon Assyrian help in a time of crisis. Here it is the Assyrians who pose the threat, but, unlike his father, Hezekiah’s first instinct is to turn towards God for help. Since God’s purposes will invariably be fulfilled in their season, to conform himself to God’s will is really the only completely sane thing any man (or woman) can do. Nevertheless, obedience does not come naturally to us, and a humble submission on our part requires the inestimable gift of God’s grace. Inestimable because, only through trust and obedience, can salvation be ours.

In Hezekiah’s case he hears that the Assyrian threat will come to nothing. Later on in the chapter it transpires that the Assyrian king is to learn the price of blaspheming the only true God.

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John 17.1-4, 9 – Predestination
Posted: 27 January 2011 in John

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

The first and fourth verses in the passage quoted above identify the purpose of the Incarnation to be the glorification of God. The second verse says, in words of more or less one syllable, that Jesus came to give eternal life to as many as God had chosen to give him – with the implication that eternal life is given only to those whom God has given ears to hear. The last verse quoted reiterates the point when Jesus says that he prays only for those who have been given him by the Father.

That we human beings feel uncomfortable with the picture of God thereby presented to us is perhaps not surprising, but it is not for us to reject the testimony of scripture, and come up with a god who is more to our own liking. To do so is idolatry – a refusal to give God, as he reveals himself in scripture, the worship and glory which is rightfully his.

The Old Testament prophets make it very clear that idolatry is the one thing which the Lord of all Creation does not tolerate.

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Isaiah 37.21-29 – God’s Majesty
Posted: 25 January 2011 in Scripture

Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: This is the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel. By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel. I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places. Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up. But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.

Although coming the lips of God himself, the above is basically a hymn to God’s sovereign majesty. The Assyrian king Sennacharib has been victorious in all his other campaigns, and now he intends to include Judah to his list of conquests. His pride and arrogance in not seeing God as the author of his successes is now going to lead to his downfall.

All the actions of men lie in the hands of God, and nothing can happen unless he ordains it. God has settled upon Judah as his chosen people, so Judah will ultimately triumph. And nobody can say unto God, “What doest thou?” The fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.

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Luke 6.1-5 – Legalism
Posted: 24 January 2011 in Luke

And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days? And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him; How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone? And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

The Pharisees problem was that they wanted to obey God’s commandments, not through a sense of duty or love towards their Creator, but as a way of winning brownie points with God (and at the same time with their contemporaries). Such an approach to the commandments leads straight into a narrow legalism. The idea gains hold that, the more minutely the letter of the law is observed, the greater will be the number of brownie points gained.

Jesus would have been the last person on the face of the Earth to say that God’s commandments were unimportant, but, as far as he was concerned, they were to be obeyed in spirit, and not in letter. The sabbath law does not mean that people cannot attend to their physiological needs on the sabbath, and still less does it mean that acts of mercy are ruled out on the sabbath (as with the healing which follows in Luke’s Gospel).

Even worse than his attitude to the law, from the Pharisees point of view, was the greater humanity thereby revealed in Jesus. Compared with the Pharisees’ legalism, people found Jesus attractive, and so his authority grew, until he became a threat to the establishment.

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