1 Samuel 2.13-25 – Sin and Salvation
Posted: 8 January 2013 in 1 Samuel

And the priest’s custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself….. Also before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw. And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force. Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.

It may be recalled from the Law of Moses, that all of an animal’s fat was to be burnt as a sacrifice to God. But here is an account of the situation as it existed in Shiloh some centuries later, and the law God laid down for sacrifices to himself is clearly being treated with contempt. It should hardly come as a surprise that God sought to remove Hophni and Phineas from the priesthood. Later in 1 Samuel there is the story about the way in which King Saul similarly flouted God’s will. But in both cases God not only removes them from the role to which he had appointed them, but also brings about their destruction. We know from the New Testament that destruction does not merely mean annihilation, but eternal punishment. Warnings such as that given in Matthew 25.44-46 are given so that we can take them to heart – not so that we can explain them away, as is sometimes done today:

Then shall he [the Lord] answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

The Bible does not think twice about describing all rebellion against God as wickedness. Probably all of us can think of friends and relations who are unbelievers, but who do not strike us as being especially wicked. Nevertheless, we are not the righteous judge who will judge all men, and he is indeed Lord of all creation whose word will stand forever.

I think we might remind ourselves of the sobering fact that, thanks to original sin, all of us are enemies of God, and deserve damnation, unless we are redeemed by Christ. On the face of it that would mean that nobody in Old Testament times could be saved, since they did not know Christ. But Jesus clearly did expect that the patriarchs, and presumably others from Old Testament times, would be saved. I imagine the conclusion to be drawn from that fact is that, although the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord occurred in time, and although explicit faith in him and his sacrifice is today required of the elect, Christ’s sacrifice is nevertheless efficacious for all those God wishes to save.

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Revelation 3.14-19 – The true riches, and where our hearts really lay.
Posted: 29 October 2012 in Revelation

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods.”
The above passage doesn’t make it clear whether or not it is material prosperity that the author here has in mind, but it puts me in mind of the passage in the Gospel, where Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all that he has and follow him. The problem with material wealth is, of course, that it represents by far the greatest temptation for human beings to direct their attention towards something other than God – as the rich young man’s reaction to Jesus’ injunction makes only too clear.

Which raises the interesting question as to whether or not we should pray that God establish us in relative poverty, in order that that we be more inclined to seek after the “gold tried in the fire,” rather than its yellow coloured counterpart. The greatest disincentive in making such a request is, naturally, that it might receive an affirmative reply. If that is our reaction, then perhaps we should ask ourselves what it is our hearts are really settled upon.

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Isaiah 8.11-14 – Relying upon God
Posted: 18 October 2012 in Isaiah

For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Christians sometimes talk as if only the New Testament, rather than the entire Bible, was God’s revelation to us, but here is an example of a consinstency of theme running throughout the whole Bible; we are to rely upon God, and not our own strength. In particular, Israel was not to rely upon the help of other nations, and worshippers of idols, whom God had yet to call out of their sin, and invite into communion with himself. In the above passage Isaiah probably had Egypt in his sights.

One particular New Testament take on the same theme is that salvation is through faith, not through our own works, and that faith comes from God, who alone can save us. The reason that salvation through faith is a comparatively unpopular idea, and salvation by works a relatively popular one, is that the former takes control out of our hands, and makes us subject to the mercy of God.

There are natural endowments which most of us do not possess, such as those necessary to become a successful athlete or musician, and we are thereby constrained from thinking that we can fulfill any role we like – we just do not possess the necessary gifts. Similarly the ability to trust in God is something which only be received as a gift, and it is not something which can be acquired unless it is given.

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2 Chronicles 30.1-11 – Sin, repentance and the remaking of hearts
Posted: 17 October 2012 in 2 Chronicles

And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel…. For they could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem…. So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written. So the posts went with the letters from the king…. saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria. And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see….. but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them. Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.

Earlier in the books of Chronicles, and of Kings, shortly after the northern kingdom had split away from Juda, the northern Kingdom had been described as being in rebellion. It is easy to see in that the slightly biased attitude of somebody living under the Davidic dynasty, in the southern Kingdom. Nevertheless, it appears in the pages of scripture, and so, whatever the human author’s motives, we must suppose that the Divine Author there reveals to us an objective truth: Namely that the northern kingdom really was in rebellion against God’s rule over them.

In the above passage, centuries later, Hezekiah invites them to return to the southern kingdom, and take part in the yearly Passover festival at the only venue God had established for the purpose: Namely the temple in Jerusalem. In response to the invitation Hezekiah’s messengers are mocked.

This passage speaks much about the recalcitrance of humans when men (and women) are invited to repent of their ways and return to God. In fact there would be no repentance at all, were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit in converting the hearts, and bringing people to God. Hezekiah’s messengers were also God’s messengers, and it must be assumed that those few who did respond had been subject to the Holy Spirit’s activity in remaking hearts. In fact it pretty well says as much (or at least implies as much) in the very next verse (verse 12). Having nothing to offer God except our sin, and yet being undeserving recipients of his mercy, we ought to have all the motive we need for never ending worship of God – both now and in eternity.

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Ezekiel 8.15-17 and Acts 4.12 – Idolatry and salvation
Posted: 16 October 2012 in Acts, Ezekiel

“Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose.”

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

It is difficult to conceive of a more gross insult to the Creator than for his sentient creatures, who are under an obligation to worship him (who alone is worthy of worship), to worship his creation instead.

It is sometimes said that eternal punishment is unjust, but what presumption is it for us to decide what God should be allowed to do? There is nothing finite about the sin which impugns the infinite majesty of the Most High God, and all sin does do that. It would be tempting to say that nothing is less forgivable, were it not for the fact that our merciful God has made available a means of salvation in Christ, which alone can save us from the punishment which otherwise awaits. To question God’s justice and righteousness is a means only to condemnation. If we are arrogant (and sinful) enough to reject both God’s judgment that all men are worthy of an eternity spent in hell, and to reject the only means of avoiding that condemnation, we will most assuredly deserve the fate which awaits us.

There certainly needs to be a return to the seriousness which takes the Bible at its word, and doesn’t try to accomodate it to the spirit of the age by trying to maintain that people have been mistranslating, and misunderstanding it, for 2,000 years. God is not a twenty first century liberal, or a twenty first century conservative, for that matter. He is the God who has made his will known once for all, and for all ages to come: Including our own, if we would but listen.

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