Psalm 111 – The worship of God.
Posted: 2 August 2012 in Psalms

Praise ye the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation. The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant. He hath shewed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen. The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

Although the psalmist gives specific reasons for worshipping God in this psalm, his central message is that he should be praised simply because he should be praised. There needs to be no motive beyond the fact that God is who he is. Nevertheless, this God has manifested his greatness in the world of men, and of history, so, as Paul says in Romans 1, those who would deny him, and withhold the worship which is his due, are without excuse. Amongst the more specific motives given for praising God are the commandments he gave unto men for their own good. Had they reverenced God and obeyed him, they would never have been cast out of Eden, but now we live in a fallen world.

The psalm ends with an observation which is a common biblical theme: Namely that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Measured by that standard, wisdom is a bit thin on the ground in today’s world.

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Exodus 4.1-4, 10-14 – God’s choice in calling his servants
Posted: 31 July 2012 in Exodus

And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand….. And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses…..

The Bible is full of instances where somebody receives a call from God to fulfil a role. No reason is ever given for the choice, other than it was God’s sovereign will to call that person. Sometimes it is less than obvious that the person called is ideally suited to the task he has been given, and sometimes, as here, the person chosen is well aware of his limitations. So he remonstrates with God, and tells him he has made a mistake. The prophet Jeremiah reacts in a very similar way to his call. But God does not make mistakes, and he never changes his mind. Sometimes, indeed, he loses patience with his recalcitrant servant.

As I said, no reason is ever given for God’s choice of one person, or one group of people (Israel) over against anybody else. But we might guess that one reason he choses people who seem ill suited to the task they have been given is God’s perennial concern for his own glory. It is not his will that his servants should succeed in carrying out their mission by relying upon their own resources, but rather that they should give glory to their Lord by having to rely upon him. Their success rebounds to the glory of God, because his chosen servant was no more than a tool in God’s hands, and the omnipotent God was the real agent of success.

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1 Chronicles 21.1-15 – Sin and divine justice
Posted: 30 July 2012 in 1 Chronicles

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The Lord make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel? Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem….. And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel….. So the Lord sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Sometimes in the Bible God seems to hold us corporately responsible for our sin, whereas at other times we seem to be held individually responsible. The Bible does not really offer an explanation as to why it should sometimes be the one, and sometimes the other. As so often, it simply records, as being a fact, something we are to accept as revealed truth.

Here Israel is held to be corporately responsible for David’s sin, and is punished accordingly. In our culture jndividual responsibility is the norm, and it seems a bit unfair for people to be held responsible for something which they had no active role in. It would be wholly inappropriate, however, for us to accuse of injustice the God who is only to be worshipped. The proper function of all creation is to make manifest the glory of its Creator. For us, to act unjustly means to act in a way which does not accord with the will of God, thereby obscuring his glory. It is impossible for God to act in any way other than in accordance with his will, and he also has infallible knowledge as to how his purposes are best to be accomplished, so God can never act in a way which is unjust – or, to put it another way, frustrates the purpose of Creation.

We do, in any case, all share in the corporate guilt associated with original sin, so we can hardly paint ourselves whiter than white in God’s eyes. That the Lord has the sovereign right to govern his creation in whatever manner he wishes, and that he is always righteous, is a lesson which Job learned the hard way.

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Luke 5.27-28 – Hearing the divine call and the gift of faith
Posted: 27 July 2012 in Luke

And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him.

In the past, when I read accounts of how Jesus said “follow me” to one of the twelve disciples, and they immediately dropped everything in their life to follow him, it seemed to me that they must already have made the acquaintance of Jesus prior to their call. After all, nobody abandons their existing commitments, friends, family and lifestyles in order to follow the first stranger who comes along saying “follow me”. But there is an alternative explanation, which is a direct intervention by God to give the twelve the ability to perceive the true person and nature of Jesus.

There does not seem to be a biblical basis for deciding in favour of the one explanation or the other, and both explanations seem plausible. If the second is the true explanation, however, it is another example of God directly intervening in the lives of men to ensure that his will is fulfilled. This time not to harden the heart of Pharaoh, as in Exodus 9.16, but to soften hearts of those men he had chosen to be Jesus’ most intimate companions; thereby ensuring that they would respond when called by Jesus.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. (Prov 21.1)

God is no respecter of persons, so that which is true of kings must also apply to the rest of us. In his intimate control over history, the Lord and God of all mankind is as far removed from the idol of Deism as it is possible to be.

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1 Kings 16.1-12 – Providence and sin
Posted: 26 July 2012 in 1 Kings

Then the word of the Lord came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, Forasmuch as I exalted thee out of the dust, and made thee prince over my people Israel; and thou hast walked in the way of Jeroboam, and hast made my people Israel to sin, to provoke me to anger with their sins; Behold, I will take away the posterity of Baasha, and the posterity of his house; and will make thy house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat….. In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel in Tirzah, two years. And his servant Zimri, captain of half his chariots, conspired against him, as he was in Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza steward of his house in Tirzah. And Zimri went in and smote him, and killed him, in the twenty and seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his stead. And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, that he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends. Thus did Zimri destroy all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake against Baasha by Jehu the prophet.

The above passage relates how God, in a manner similar to Pharaoh in Exodus 9.16, raised up Zimri, by whose agency he was to accomplish his will in destroying the house of Baasha. But later in chapter 16 it tells how, as soons as God’s prurposes had been accomplished, Zimri was removed from the throne, in order to be succeeded by Omri. The question which comes to my mind is why the Lord should have brought about Zimri’s very short seven day reign, instead of simply allowing Omri to destroy the house of Baasha.

The answer, I suppose, must be that God wanted, for whatever reason, to spare Omri the blood guiltiness associated with the destruction of the house of Baasha – and that in spite of the fact that Omri was, in his turn, to offend against God, continue in the idolatrous worship instituted by King Jeroboam, and finally to be the father of the notorious King Ahab. Murder is still a sin, even when God’s purposes are accomplished thereby, and Zimri will be judged for it when he appears before God’s judgment seat.

Although Omri will also be judged for his many other crimes, in God’s providence he was not to be responsible for Zimri’s crime. The point is that, although the course of history is wholly determined by the will of God, and his creatures actions accomplish his purposes, they are nevertheless not exonerated from guilt for their sin.

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