2 Chronicles 33.1-7 and Ecclesiastes 12.13 – The First Duty of Man
Posted: 2 January 2012 in 2 Chronicles, Ecclesiastes

“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem: But did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever.”

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man”

If the first duty of man is to worship God (which it is), there can hardly be a more serious offence in his eyes than idolatry. That is why Jesus mentioned the commandment to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” as being the first and greatest commandment. Atheists are sometimes heard to complain that it would be unfair of God (if he existed) to condemn them to hell if they had led a good life. There are a number of possible responses to that, but one of them is that they have simply ignored the first and greatest commandment. It matters not at all if they have their own ideas about what the first commandment ought to be, because it is not a decision which is theirs to make. That does not mean (of course) that the second of the two great commandments can be ignored; it is, after all, one of the two great commandments – just not the first.

Unlike atheists, liberal Christians are not guilty of ignoring the first of the two great commandments. Nevertheless, they show every sign of wanting to reverse their order, and doing that runs the very real risk of turning Christianity into a social program – with God maybe getting a look in on Sunday morning. With that ordering of priorities it is not difficult to see how Christianity might be transformed first into deism, then into a practical atheism, and finally into a full atheism. That, of course, is precisely what has happened in Europe during the course of the last three centuries or so, with humanity, and the accompanying philosophy of humanism, being the idol which has displaced God from his throne.

So the question finally comes down to whether we truly believe that this jealous and holy God exists, and, if we do, just how seriously do we take his worship as being our first priority? It has been well said that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17.9).

No comments

Joshua 2.1-10 – Being faithful servants of God.
Posted: 1 January 2012 in Joshua

And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were: And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof. And the men pursued after them the way to Jordan unto the fords: and as soon as they which pursued after them were gone out, they shut the gate. And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof; And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.

Rahab is unusual in the Bible. She is one of the very few Gentiles to whom salvation is made available prior to New Testament times. The Gibeonites in chapter 9 make their peace with Joshua, but that their motive is fear of the Israelites’ military prowess, rather than faith, and a genuine fear of God. There are examples of other Gentiles who are used by God for the accomplishment of his will, but who are subsequently destroyed in punishment for their pride and sin. One such is the King of Assyria in Isaiah 10. Rahab, however, is someone who has been called by God, and who has had it put into her heart to love and serve the Lord of heaven and Earth. As such, she and her family are saved from the destruction which awaits the rest of Jericho’s population. Why Rahab should should have been privileged in this way, and been given the gift of faith, lies hidden in the secret counsels of God. Without faith, the other inhabitants of Jericho continued to rebel against God, even though they had heard how he had defeated the enemies of the Israelites, and subsequently, they received the just reward of their rebellion.

Implicit in the fact that the gift of faith was made available to Rahab alone, is the further fact that it must have been God’s intention to destroy the remainder of Jericho’s population. If it be asked why that should have been so, I suppose the answer must be that given elsewhere in the Old Testament. Namely that they were not to be an ongoing temptation for the Israelites to worship idols. In spite of that being part of God’s intention in history, Israel was nevertheless destined to betray its vocation as the chosen people of God, and consequently Israel too was to reap the rewards of idolatry, when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 587BC.

The lesson for us, I suppose, is that a similar fate could await the Christian Church, unless it remains faithful to its calling, and witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, unpopular though its message may be in the ears of modern man. The one thing it must not do is to accomodate the eternal word of God to the transient spirit of the age, and effectively become guilty of idolatry. Otherwise God’s wrath will fall upon it, and upon the world it has ill served.

No comments

2 Kings 1-13 – Evil and God’s holiness
Posted: 16 December 2011 in 2 Kings

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD…. And the LORD spake by his servants the prophets, saying, Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols: Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down.

Manasseh, of course, was one of the bad boys of the Old Testament, unlike his grandson whom the biblical writers could hardly praise highly enough. But the thing I notice here is that it is not just Manasseh who has to bear the consequences of his actions – so does the entire population of Judah. It might seem that the wider population of Judah would be able to plead mitigating circumstances, if an absolute ruler gave them no choice but to take part in the worship of pagan deities. The Bible seems to imply, however, that it is not just a matter of immoral deeds being punished by God, and perhaps not even primarily that, but that evil simply cannot be allowed to exist in the presence of God – no matter what the circumstances.

In the New Testament it might seem that Judas Iscariot had the ultimate plea in mitigation; namely that his treachery had been preordained by God as part of his wider plan of salvation. But he too stands condemned, because his deeds were objectively evil, whether preordained by God or not, and the objectively evil cannot be allowed to exist in the presence of God’s holiness.

No comments

John 3.17-19, 36 – Christ as the only way to salvation
Posted: 14 December 2011 in John

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil…..  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

John 16.4 is perhaps the most famous example, but the Bible says more than once that nobody can come to God, except through Christ. Here it is again. Of course that makes Christianity unfashionably exclusivist, but if Christians are to take the Bible at all seriously, they have no option to accept what it says. In the light of biblical revelation, universalism is untenable. Another passage fatal to universalism is Matt 7.13-14, which could hardly say more clearly that not all will be saved:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

What perhaps makes John 3.17-19 different from (say) Acts 4.12 is that it gives a reason for the exclusiveness. It is needless to say that the authority of the Bible would still be absolute, even if no reason were given. We are not to question God, his righteousness, or his word. Nevertheless, on this occasion we are given a reason. Jesus is God Incarnate, so to reject him is implicitly to reject God. The reason for the rejection typically being that men are too wedded to their own deeds, and perhaps also arrogance, to care too much for God’s rule over them. The foolishness of such an attitude could hardly escape people’s notice, if God exists, so there is here one of the motives for atheism. Not the only possible motive, but one of them. You only have to listen to the new atheists to know that it is a motive which applies to many of them.

No comments

Acts 19.13-17 – Calling and God’s will
Posted: 12 December 2011 in Acts

Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the LORD Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.

 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

A priest friend of mine once sounded slightly shocked at the idea that Christian spirituality should involve fear of God. That was the Old Testament, not the New Testament. Well, I suppose the above passage is one of the New Testament passages which should give Christians, just as much as Jews in Old Testament times, reason to fear God. This is not fear in the negative sense, but in the positive sense of a deep respect and reverence for God – such as that which Isaiah presumably experienced during his vision of God, described in Isaiah 6.

One thing which is clear from the above passage is that we have no right to go grabbing after any spiritual gift or vocation unless God sees fit to bestow it upon us, and that he will choose whom he will.

No comments