Isaiah 9.8-12 and Genesis 11.2-6 – Human Pride & Arrogance
Posted: 5 January 2011 in Genesis, Isaiah

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel. And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart, The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars. Therefore the LORD shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together; The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

It is clearly the height of folly to rebel against God, or to try and undo what he has accomplished, but such is the pride of the human heart that men will try and do it anyway. Men want to be God’s equal. In the Genesis story they try to accomplish it by building a tower with a stairway up into heaven. At best men don’t want to obey God, but negotiate with him. Some such idea lies at the root of the idea that salvation can be by works: The deal is that we will lead a good life, and God will repay his debt by granting us eternal life. But the reality is that God is always sovereign, and we are only here to serve his sovereign purposes.

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Exodus 4.1-14 and Mark 3.1-6 – The Call of God
Posted: 4 January 2011 in Exodus, Mark

“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 furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow….. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign….. 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…..”

“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.”

The Bible is full of people who appear to be none too happy with their vocation, but Moses’ argument with God is probably one of the most extended. We should perhaps be cautious of people like tele-evangelists, who too readily reassure us that they are speaking as God’s mouthpieces. In the Bible to be called by the Lord, and to have to rely upon his strength, seems to be regarded as a fearful thing. The Spirit bloweth where it listeth, and somebody who is truly relying upon God’s strength cannot know where it will take him.

The Pharisees were one group of people who wanted to be known for their Piety, and for having their own personal hotline to God. In Jesus, however, they met somebody who directly challenged their self sufficient, and legalistic, religion. What was even worse for them, Jesus managed to draw people to himself because he spoke with the unmistakable authority of God Incarnate:

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1.22)

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were afflicted by the spiritual blindness which results from a desire for reputation, and for the glory which rightly belongs to God alone. Their call was to repentance, and not, as in Moses’ case, to speak on God’s behalf. The same is true, I suppose, of most of us, who are called to follow Christ, not in great renown, but with lowliness of heart and mind.

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Exodus 3.16-19 and 1 Samuel 23.21-28
Providence and the Will of God
Posted: 3 January 2011 in 1 Samuel, Exodus
Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you….. And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand. And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go.”

“And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the LORD; for ye have compassion on me. Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that he dealeth very subtilly….. And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the south of Jeshimon. Saul also and his men went to seek him. And they told David; wherefore he came down into a rock, and abode in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon….. But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land. Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore they called that place Selahammahlekoth.”

The passage from Exodus tells us that the Canaanites, Hittites, and other nations, are due for destruction at the hands of the Israelites, who will be acting as God’s agents. An immediate question which arises from this is to wonder what the poor old Canaanites have done to deserve that fate. The only possible answer to this is that Israel has been chosen by God to be the carrier of his revelation, and that revelation will eventually culminate in the incarnation of Christ and the emergence of the early Church. The Canaanites, Hittites, Perizites and Jebusites, on the other hand, are not God’s chosen people, and will disappear from history. From a human perspective that God should, apparently arbitrarily, choose one nation rather than another, is incomprehensible to us, but the Bible assures us that it is true:

The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuternoomy 7.7-8)

In the passage taken from 1 Samuel it is David who is the subject of God’s providential care. God has previously told Saul that the throne of Israel will be taken from him, and that it will be given to David and his descendants. This, clearly, is not good news for Saul, and so he sets out to frustrate God’s will by killing David. To thwart what God intends is, of course, something impossible for human beings to do, but that does not prevent them, in their sin, from trying to do it: And that even when they suspect that they know what God’s will for them is (and I include myself in that).

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Isaiah 14.18-22 and Deuteronomy 24.16 – Sin & its consequences
Posted: 2 January 2011 in Deuteronomy, Isaiah

All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned. Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities. For I will rise up against them, saith the LORD of hosts, and cut off from Babylon the name, and remnant, and son, and nephew, saith the LORD.

The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

At first sight there is a slight contradiction here. The verse from Deuteronomy baldly states that children shall not be put to death for the sins of the fathers, whereas that is precisely what happens in the passage quoted from Isaiah.

The difference, of course, is that Deuteronomy is setting forth a principle of human juriprudence, whereas the passage from Isaiah is describing the activity of God. God will always act in a way necessary to bring his plans for the universe to fruition, even if that necessitates the death of some apparently innocent individuals.

If we leave aside, for the moment, the fact that it is not our business to sit in judgement upon the sovereign Lord of the universe, who always acts righteously, blame for the deaths of the Nebuchadnzzer’s descendants, if it is to attach to anyone, attaches to the King of Babylon himself. Sin is not just a matter of wrong doing; it is an objective reality which has consequences that echo down the generations.

The same is true of that first sin, which is narrated in Genesis 3. That too has had consequences which echo down the generations.

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John 9.1-7 – God’s purposes
Posted: 21 November 2010 in John

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

The meaning of verse 3 above is clear enough. The man was born blind so that God could by glorified through his healing. And yet at least one commentary in my possession makes the bald assertion that it does not at all mean that. It is easy to understand why it disturbs that somebody’s disability could, according to this verse, be the result of God’s foreordination. But it is nevertheless a besetting sin of modern man to imagine that he can sit in judgment upon God, and try to insist that God must think as he thinks.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55.8-9)

A theme running throughout the Bible is that God’s purpose in Creation is that it should glorify him, and that he governs it with that end in view. The blind man is therefore not consulted as to whether or not he wishes to be healed. Instead he is simply healed, thereby fulfilling his vocation to glorify God.

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