Posts for January 2013
5 Posts found

Ecclesiastes 2.14-15 and Proverbs 3.7 – Foolish pride
Posted: 31 January 2013 in Ecclesiastes, Proverbs

“The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.”

“Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.”

The slight despair to be heard in the first of those two quotations is appropriate if the wisdom being spoken of is anything other than the God given wisdom which seeks to serve him in lowliness of spirit. And yet that is not a wisdom which comes naturally to men, because we have been engaged in an open rebellion against God ever since the fall. When we eat from the tree of knowledge in a vain attempt to put ourselves on an equal footing with our Creator, we display a foolishness which amounts to a complete disregard for our own eternal welfare. We want the admiration of our contemporaries more than we want to serve him for whom all things (including us) exist.

Anybody who doubts the extent of human sinfulness, should perhaps reflect upon the fact that the Old Testament prophets are never once found singing Israel’s praises. Always they are either condemning some sin, or else they are pronouncing God’s judgment upon sin. There is no reason to suppose that the God, whose mouthpiece they were, is an unnecessarily grumpy God.

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Isaiah 40.5-10 – Sin and salvation
Posted: 30 January 2013 in Isaiah

To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like? They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble. Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Israel had been soecially chosen by God, and it is because they had been so gifted by God that Isaiah was able to clearly percieve the idolatry of the heathen nations. Nevertheless, the fact that other nations had not been similarly gifted did not exonerate them from sin, which was still all theirs. The fact that they felt the need to set up idols, and to worship them, bears witness to some vague remembrance they had of a true God, who was to be worshipped in all things. But they, like all their forebears, were now steeped in the consequences of original sin – dishonouring and insulting God in their every action. Even amongst the heathe nations there seem to have been a few people, such as Moses’ father in law, and Rahab the harlot, who had been chosen by God to fulfil his will. For the most part, however, the same punishment awaited them which would await all of us were it not for the grace of God.

Although the New Testament speaks of salvation, the Old Testament seeks to make it clear why we are in desperate need of that salvation. A genuine and deep seated gratitude to God, for the sacrifice of Christ, is probably only attainable with a proper perception of why we need to be saved, and of our inability to save ourselves. Any attempt to tone the potential consequences of sin will neither serve us well, and nor will any consequent dimminution in our thankfulness redound to the glory of God. He could rightfully be doubly angry if, in our insolence, we were to throw Christ’s sacrifice back in God’s face. We have a warning:

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10.29)

We do not need a return to fire and brimstone sermons, but neither do we need a god who is a pale image of the God revealed in scripture, and whose wrath is as real as his mercy. Both are present in the One who is.

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Jeremiah 28.1-6 and Jude 3 – Faithfulness to the word of God.
Posted: 29 January 2013 in Jeremiah, Jude

“And it came to pass the same year….. that Hananiah the son of Azur the prophet, which was of Gibeon, spake unto me in the house of the Lord….. saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon: And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah….. Then the prophet Jeremiah said….. Amen: the Lord do so: the Lord perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring again the vessels of the Lord’s house, and all that is carried away captive, from Babylon into this place.”

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

More than any other, the attribute required of somebody who is be a prophet of God is that he or she desires to be nothing more than a passive channel, through which God speaks to the world – adding nothing, and subtracting nothing. Humility in other words. As a citizen of Judah, Jeremiah could hardly have felt happy about the message God had charged him to deliver (the destruction of Jerusalem), but, as a faithful servant of the Lord, he delivered it nevertheless. That is why he is still remembered many centuries after he lived. Hananiah, on the other hand, seems to have imagined that he could negate the revealed will of God simply by asserting his own will. That, it need hardly be said, is the height of foolishness.

In the New Testament, as the verse from the Epistle of Jude illustrates, there is a similar emphasis upon the need to be completely passive in passing on the faith once delivered to the saints – again adding nothing and subtracting nothing.

Our duty in the twenty first century is to faithfully communicate the word of God, which is now to be found in the scriptures; whether that be through a careful and reverent translation of the Bible, or in our verbal communication of its contents. But there is now, as in Jeremiah’s time, the ever present temptation tone down anything (such as eternal punishment) which sits ill with the passing spirit of the age. However, confronted with that which is spoken by the eternal God himself, how little our culturally conditioned thoughts matter!

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40.8)

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Numbers 32.21 – God’s Choice of Israel
Posted: 28 January 2013 in Numbers

And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the Lord to war, And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the Lord, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him, And the land be subdued before the Lord: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the Lord, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.

The context of the above passage is that the Israelites have arrived on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, prior to the invasion of Canaan, and some of the tribes had asked for the land just conqered to be allocated to them. Moses remonstrated with them, saying they were renegades who were refusing to join their brethren in the invasion of Canaan. They replied that they would take part in the invasion, but they still thought that the land east of Jordan was ideally suited to them. The above verses are Moses’ reply.

In the above passage those whom Israel had been commanded to annihilate (there is no other word for it) are described explicitly as being God’s enemies. The early chapters of Genesis spare no pains in describing the extent of mankind’s rebellion against God’s rule over them. And yet out of the fallen mass of humanity, and even though they were as immersed in sin as anybody else, a people were chosen by God to be the agents through which he would bring to himself those whom were called to salvation. There is clearly a temptation here for people to accuse the ancient Israelites of pride. Who were they to imagine themselves to be specially chosen by God for anything? But the real pride would be seen in the resentfulness displayed towards a group God had chosen, and of which neither they nor their ancestors were a member.

There is no answer to the question why God should have chosen Israel; the Bible just records Israel’s election to be a fact. I do not think there is anything to be gained from enquiring after things which God has not seen fit to reveal. We will just come up with an answer of our own invention, and if pride or resentfulness towards God is any part of the motive, sin will be involved. The circular argument Moses uses in Deuteronomy 7.6-8 only serves to underline God’s complete freedon in choosing whom he will, and it is most likely not meant to do no more than that. Also from Deuteronomy:

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29.29)

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Ezra 6.22 and Acts 16.14 – Salvation is of the Lord
Posted: 14 January 2013 in Acts, Ezra

And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Nowhere in the Bible is there any suggestion that we are able to turn to God of our own free will. As in the cases of Darius and Lydia, conversion, or the turning of somebody’s heart to the Lord, is always, and without exception, said to be the result of God’s working. Nowhere is there any suggestion that we are free to remake ourselves. Less frequently, the hardening of somebody’s heart is also said to be the result of divine activity. The obvious example is the hardening of Pharoah’s heart:

“And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had spoken unto Moses.” (Exodus 9.12)

There are, I imagine, a couple of indications that our hearts are being remade by God. One is a genuine and heartfelt acceptance that we are helpless to save ourselves, and that we are wholly dependent upon God’s mercy. Another name for that is humility. A second indication is that we have a desire to please God. As James put it in his epistle, faith without works is dead. We cannot go swanning through life, thinking that we are saved by faith, if we show no sign of that desire to serve God which ought to issue from a genuine faith.

Nevertheless, although there ought to be visible signs of faith, it is the faith which comes from God alone that saves us. Salvation is of the Lord. If we had any part in effecting our own salvation, then some of the glory would rub off on us. As it is, all glory remains with God, to whom alone it is due.

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