Jeremiah 48.13, 35-37, 42 -Sin, Salvation and God’s Glory
Posted: 15 October 2012 in Jeremiah

And Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel their confidence….. Moreover I will cause to cease in Moab, saith the Lord, him that offereth in the high places, and him that burneth incense to his gods. Therefore mine heart shall sound for Moab like pipes, and mine heart shall sound like pipes for the men of Kirheres: because the riches that he hath gotten are perished. For every head shall be bald, and every beard clipped: upon all the hands shall be cuttings, and upon the loins sackcloth….. And Moab shall be destroyed from being a people, because he hath magnified himself against the Lord.

Although, in Old Testament times, Israel alone was called to be an elect people of God, it is here made clear that idolatry and the worship of false gods, amongst those not chosen to be the especial recipients of God’s favour, was and is a sin, which will be justly punished by God. As Paul says in Romans 1, all men have an innate knowledge of God, and they will be without excuse when judgment falls upon them.

Were it not for the grace of God, we would all fall under a similar condemnation, since we all share in the falleness which is the common lot of all mankind. Of course nothing happens which is not foreordained by the God who rules over all Creation, and so this comes to pass in order that he alone will be glorified in bringing whom he will to salvation, without them being able to claim any glory for themselves.

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Joshua 20.20-21, 24 – The Bible’s hard lessons
Posted: 14 October 2012 in Joshua

So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword….. And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.

Nowadays reading about Joshua destroying whole nations at the behest of God makes us feel uneasy. But I think it needs to be remembered that, following the fall, the whole of mankind stood (and stands) condemned in the sight of God, and that they have no right to expect anything from him except judgment.

It is at this point God’s mercy enters into the picture, and he chooses a people for himself with the intention of bringing them, and eventually the Gentiles, to salvation. In the book of Joshua, however, we read about a time when, in order to accomplish his purpose, God authorises, and even commands, the destruction of entire nations. Especially (but not exclusively) in the light of the fall, God has the sovereign right to do that. The rationale for their destruction was that his chosen people should not to be enticed into the idolatry which was prevalent amongst the pagan nations.

Clearly the God whom the Bible reveals to us is not a picture postcard God, and it is easy to imagine what atheists, and perhaps even some Christians, would make of him. Nevertheless, if we are serious when we profess the Bible to be the inspired word of God, we must accept that it is there to teach us. That leaves us with two choices. Either we can allow it to teach us about God and his ways, even when we don’t like what we are hearing, or we can try to insist that our own ideas are a better guide to God and his nature. The latter being a shortcut to the very idolatry the Bible is there to save us from. Perhaps also, we should focus upon God’s salvific purposes, even in passages such as the above.

Today when men go to war, the rationale is more likely to relate to something like oil than the will of God, and, according to a certain way of thinking, our own greed is a vastly superior motive for warfare. War is not something to be desired under any circumstances, but it is noticable how any secular motive will get a relatively free pass.

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Leviticus 11.1-7 – The bringing of a chosen people to God
Posted: 10 October 2012 in Leviticus

And the Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat. Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.

One of the things I notice about the very detailed dietary regulations to be found in the Old Testament is that nowhere is any explanation given for the stipulations. We may feel tempted to come up with rationalisations of our own, but if the Bible offers none, it is not really legitimate for us to go beyond that which God reveals. The Lord clearly thought the fact that he commanded something should have be a sufficient motivation for obedience on the part of the ancient Hebrews, and so it should be for us. A rationalisation which is often heard is that the regulations were motivated by considerations of hygiene, but that does not seem to me to be very easy to reconcile with the oft repeated (and, more importantly, biblical) assertion that Christ has fulfilled the law. If that is true, something more profound must be at stake than the deleterious effects of eating rotten meat.

Although the reasons for particular regulations is not given, and they must remain hidden within the inner counsels of God, the overall motive for them is clear enough; which is that the Jews were to be marked out as a people specially set apart as the chosen people of God, and who would live under his governance. We now live in the time of the New Covenant, and Christians understand the people of God to be marked out not by aherence to dietry and other regulations, but through their submission to Christ, and through their conscious dependence upon his sacrifice. It is in this sense, of bringing a chosen people to God, that Christ has fulfilled the function which the Law was originally meant to fulfill.

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2 Chronicles 11.13-16 – The Worship of God.
Posted: 1 September 2012 in 2 Chronicles

And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him [Rehoboam] out of all their coasts. For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest’s office unto the Lord: And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made. And after them out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the Lord God of their fathers.

This is another passage where it is said, in no uncertain terms, that God can only be rightly worshipped in the manner he appoints. Not only had Jeroboam set up idolatrous images in Dan and Bethel, in clear contravention of the second commandment, but he had expelled the Levites and priests whom God had specified to Moses as alone being those who were to serve him in the Tabernacle and Temple. Not only that, but he had taken it upon himself to establish a priesthood of his own, and completely without divine authority. The writer does not mince his words when he describes as a place of devils the sanctuaries which Jeroboam, in his presumption, had established.

So what does that mean for us, almost three millenia later? As I said a couple of days ago, it seems to me that the New Testament does not contain overly much by way of stipulation regarding public worship; certainly not in comparison to the Old Testament. Nevertheless, it probably is still incumbent upon us to search the New Testament for indications of what God requires of us.

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Revelation 11.3-11 God’s glory and victory over his enemies
Posted: 31 August 2012 in Revelation

And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.

Here is a passage which speaks of God’s final victory over his enemies. I suppose it could be asked, and often is asked by skeptics, why God did not simply destroy the devil, and all his other enemies, at the beginning of time. I imagine that question might be answered if it is noted that the purpose of creation is to glorify God, and that is in part to be achieved through God’s victory over his enemies. Herein also lies the reason salvation is not universal; which is something the Lord could certainly bring about if he wished to. It may be no accident that this passage is immediately followed by one in which the inhabitants of heaven fall down and worship the God of all glory. However, God’s glory can only be manifested in this way if his adverseries have first had time to emerge and range themselves against him, and that, of course, requires the passage of history.

To give glory God is to locate it in the one and only place it belongs. God is not being narcissistic in seeking his own glory, nor in governing his creatures in such a way as to bring about that end. He is seeking only the proper ordering of all things, and that includes the recognition of his uniqueness and greatness.

I am sorely tempted to add that the God who seeks to glorify himself through his creatures is clearly not the God of much present day theology. Implicit in contemporary theology is the idea that God does indeed will universal salvation, and that he is sorely disappointed when he fails to achieve what he desires – as if he was some kind of incompetent god (spelt with a lower case g) who had yet to complete his apprenticeship. God never fails to achieve what he desires, and he would hardly be worthy of the adjective almighty if he did. We can be certain that whatever God wills will surely come to pass, and nothing comes to pass which he does not will.

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