Isaiah 23.6-9, 48.11 – Giving to God the glory which belongs to him alone
Posted: 7 February 2012 in Isaiah

“Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle. Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days? her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn. Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth? The LORD of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.”

“For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.”

The thrust of these two passages from Isaiah is that we are not, unlike the inhabitants of Tyre, to accrue to ourselves the glory which belongs solely God. If we do so, he will take steps to recover that which rightly belongs to him alone. In particular, this makes illicit the kind of ostentatious piety (or charitable activity) which seeks to draw attention towards itself and away from God. It is for that reason that Jesus told his followers (Matthew 6) not to let their left hand know what their right hand is doing when they give arms, and (later in the same chapter), when they pray, they are to shut themselves away in their closets, so as not to be seen of men. Such activities are virtuous in God’s eyes only if their purpose is not that of self glorification.

No comments

Nehemiah 9.24-28 – Apostacy and Judgment
Posted: 6 February 2012 in Nehemiah

So the children went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would. And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards….. and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations. Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest, they did evil again…..

From biblical times, right up until the presenet day, there seems to have been a recurrent pattern. When things are going well, and people feel prosperous, they soon start to worship their material prosperity, rather than their Creator. When the idol turns out to have feet of clay, as happened in the 2008 credit crunch, church attendance will briefly rise, but when the feared 1920’s style crash fails to materialise (as yet),church attendence soon falls back to what it was. The western world’s favourite idol may be in a poor state of health at the moment, but still people are confident (except possibly in Greece) that it will eventually be fully recovered.

In the Bible apostacy is always, and without exception, followed by judgment. It seems possible that on this occasion, the judgment will take the form of the world economy going into a tailspin; most likely following upon one or more governments defaulting on their debts. Punishment is never for its own sake, of course, and it is always designed to take away our idols; thereby making us once again aware of our dependence upon the one true God.

No comments

Jeremiah 14.7-14 – “Easy Believe-ism.”
Posted: 1 February 2012 in Jeremiah

O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as a man astonied, as a mighty man that cannot save? yet thou, O LORD, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not. Thus saith the LORD unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the LORD doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins. Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart.

Many years ago there was a programme on British television, which involved the comedian Dave Allen in a series of sketches. One of his sketches regularly involved a Catholic priest in the Confessional, and somebody asking him the price of a sin. He would say something like Hail Mary’s, or whatever, and there would be the sound of a cash register ringing up.

It is easy to lampoon the practice of the Catholic Church in that respect, but probably all of us have unconsciously, and at some time, come to think that sin comes cheap at the price. After all, God is a forgiving God, and we only have to repent in order to receive forgiveness. Well, the above passage is a salutary reminder that forgiveness is not always so easily to be obtained, and in doing so it reintroduces a note of seriousness which is not always present in “Easy Believeism.” Furthermore, although the New Testament primarily speaks about the mercy of God in salvation, that shouldn’t mislead us into believing that the God of the New Testament is somehow fundamentally different from the God revealed in the Old Testament. Even in the Old Testament God is known to be a merciful God, but it was part of Jeremiah’s vocation to remond his contemporaries that his mercy does not mean that God can be messed around with.

No comments

Colossians 2.1-10 – Christ and divine revelation as the only means to salvation.
Posted: 31 January 2012 in Colossians

For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.

Although not stated quite as explicitly as elsewhere, there is here a theme which recurs throughout the New Testament: Namely Christ as the only means of salvation. To accept that truth requires a certain amount of humility, and humility is a virtue not always easy to be come by; especially amongst those who pride themselves on their intellectual prowess. God speaks, and, if we would be truly wise, we listen. Without adding anything of our own, and without allowing anybody else to add it for us. That is what Paul means when he warns his readers against being beguiled with enticing words of man’s wisdom, or spoiled through philosophy and vain deceit. Of course that does not mean that there is no true knowledge to be obtained in other fields, and by other means, but when it comes to salvation, and the knowledge of God, divine revelation is the only way to true knowledge. There is nothing to be added to (or taken away from) what God has revealed, in Christ and in the scriptures.

No comments

Numbers 23.28-24.6 – Wanting to control God.
Posted: 30 January 2012 in Numbers

And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor, that looketh toward jeshimon. And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams. And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar. And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters.

Further to the previous post, having been told that it was God’s will that Israel should be blessed, it might be asked why Balak nevertheless tried, no less than three times, to persuade Balaam to curse them. The answer, of course, is that Balak, wanted to bring God (along with Israel) under his control. Absurd though it may be to suppose that anybody can control God, Balak was probably far from alone in that, and we too are, in all likelihood, guilty of it more often than we would care to admit to. We would much prefer to be in control of our own lives and destinies, rather than having the sovereign Lord God reign over us. Unless, however, we want to justify the atheists’ taunt that we are out of touch with reality, we had better adjust ourselves to the reality that God does indeed reign over us, and that our destinies lie in his hands (not ours).

To follow Balak’s bad example, and attempt to frustrate God’s will, as that is revealed to us (whether through scripture reading or throgh prayer); that is not a very good idea.

No comments