Isaiah 28.9-13 – Taking God’s word seriously
Posted: 18 January 2011 in Isaiah

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

The word of God is not difficult to understand, and it is meant as much for the most lowly educated as it is for the most highly educated. But if God speaks, and we do not like what we hear, we can always pretend that it is difficult to understand. We can dissect it with a surgeon’s scalpel, subject it to casuistic examination – “here a little and there a little” – and then put it back together so that it says something more to our liking. From Isaiah’s time to our own, it has always been thus. But although we may fool ourselves with such a proceeding, we will not fool God – who knows the hearts of all men, and understands their motives perfectly.

I think I have seen them both conservatives and liberals doing this, and I know full well that I have done it in the past.

No comments

Exodus 18.17-23 and Isaiah 30.1-3 – Consulting the will of God
Posted: 17 January 2011 in Exodus, Isaiah

And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee….. I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee….. thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge….. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.

Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.

In the first of the two passages above Moses’ father in law is making what, on the face of it, a perfectly sensible suggestion. But the thing to notice is that he tells Moses that his suggestion should only be pursued if God commands him to do so. It is not human ingenuity that matters, but the will of God. In the second passage, through the agency of Isaiah, God is complaining about the people’s inveterate tendency to rely upon their own resources, instead of recurring to his will and his wisdom – but most importantly to his will – because we are servants.

Reliance upon God is, of course, a very difficult lesson to learn, but that is one of the reasons we need to read God’s word so assiduously. Over time its message will begin to penetrate our thick skulls, and then, through the Holy Spirit, it will start to inform our actions. But not until our hearts have been reformed, and our motivations changed, will that happen to any great extent.

No comments

Psalm 106 – The purpose of Creation
Posted: 15 January 2011 in Psalms

We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly. Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea. Nevertheless he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known…..

This entire psalm is about Israel’s idolatry and disobedience, and it is a good summary of why mankind stands in need of salvation, and of the grace which comes only through Christ. However, verse 8, amongst many others in the Bible, contains what might be an uncomfortable truth for present day Christians:

Nevertheless he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known.

In other words, salvation for the ancient Israelites, and more generally their election, was not for their own benefit, but because God desired to be thereby glorified. A similar rationale is given for the entire episode involving the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, and so too for us: Our salvation in Christ is not given primarily because God thinks we might enjoy ourselves in heaven, but because he wishes to be thereby glorified. There is a verse in the New Testament where the glory and good pleasure of God is even more explicitly spoken of as the purpose of creation:

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Rev 4.11)

I suppose there is a tendency in all of us to think of creation, and still more of salvation, as being primarily for our benefit, but the Bible reminds us that it is quite otherwise. To properly worship God, we need to keep that in mind.

No comments

John 6.39-45 – God’s gracious gift
Posted: 14 January 2011 in John

And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

At one level the Jews reaction to Jesus is very easy to understand. If somebody from our neighbourhood, whom we known for years, was suddenly to announce himself to be of divine origin, our immediate reaction would probably be to send for a psychiatrist.

And yet, in Jesus’ case there were at least a few people who had been given eyes to see, and who could discern his true identity. This is a very great gift. Why did God choose precisely those people to be the recipients of this gift? Who knows? But we are here made aware of the gracious nature of God’s activity, in giving sight to the spiritually blind, and of our utter dependence upon the God without whom we can do nothing.

No comments

Exodus 14.10-12 – Trusting in God
Posted: 13 January 2011 in Exodus

And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.

The above passage is representative of many in the book of Exodus, where the Israelites demonstrate their lack of trust in God. Next they will be complaining of thirst, then it will because they have nothing to eat. They are given manna, but then complain because it is getting a bit boring, having the same thing to eat all the time. Of course, it is not that these things aren’t actually necessary for survival; it is just that they don’t trust God to provide them as the need arises.

After a time I find myself thinking, “How does God put up with these people?” Well, I suppose it is confession time now. Because, after a little more reflection, I recognise myself in them. I too find it very difficult to trust in God. No matter how often problems seem to resolve themselves just in the nick of time, I never completely dismiss from my mind the thought that it might just have been coincidence, that things worked out in the way they did. Hot on the heels of that thought is the temptation to pay no more than lip service to divine Providence, and start trying to arrange things for myself. Just one more manifestation of original sin, I suppose.

No comments