VBS and Bible Memorization

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters (Psalm 24:1-2 NIV).

I am in the process of trying out a Bible app on my cellphone. So far, I like it. From the title, you can see that is not my subject. After a month, I have read Genesis and most of Exodus, along with a daily reading from the Psalms. The other day, it was Psalm 24.

As I read this great psalm, I remembered the first time that I can recall hearing that psalm. My cousin Kevin lived in the house next door. Someone invited us to attend Vacation Bible School (VBS) and offered to give us a ride there and back. At this point, you must understand that my family attended a Regular Baptist Church and my cousin’s family attended an Assembly of God. Almost everyone else in our neighborhood was Roman Catholic, and before Vatican II, they weren’t allowed to attend other churches. This VBS was at a Mennonite Church in the next town. Our parents agreed, and we were set for a great adventure.

On a Monday morning, Mr. Miller arrived to pick us up for VBS. When they built a new elementary school up our road a couple years later, he became its principal. “Oh no! I’m riding to school with a teacher!” One day at school, he had to apply “the board of education” to my “seat of learning”. I’m not sure if I confessed my transgression to my parents, because my dad had warned me that any spankings in school would merit a repeat performance at home. But I digress. Anyway, in Mr. Miller’s car, my boisterous cousin and I were prepared for a “cross-cultural religious experience”, because even young boys understood that Mennonites were neither Pentecostal nor Baptist.

At VBS, we did the usual stuff, including a sign-in with cheerful greeters. Here I met my first cross-cultural experience. The women were wearing doilies on their heads! This was definitely not a Baptist church! But I survived the culture shock, and went in for the opening program, which probably involved several children’s songs. But I don’t remember that. I don’t remember the Bible story or even if they had a missionary story, which was a standard part of a Baptist VBS! I don’t even remember the cookies and juice that have been the normal snack in VBSs everywhere since the beginning of time.

I remember two things. One was playing some version of “King of the Mountain” on a small hill outside the church building. I can assure you that Kevin and I enjoyed that, because we loved to wrestle and wreak havoc. I do remember a lady with a doily urging us to memorize Psalm 24, which was the Bible passage for the week. “You need to memorize God’s word.” How many times I was told that as a child! How many times I didn’t listen to that counsel, I can’t count. But somehow, at that country church for a week in the summer, I learned most of Psalm 24.

I still remember it, though I’ve used different Bible translations since the early seventies. The early learning of God’s word stays with you over the years. The Holy Spirit uses the Holy Scriptures to change us, and the memorized word becomes an always near resource. My advice is to memorize Bible verses and passages when you are young. When you’re old, it’s hard to recall where you put your keys, to say nothing of memorizing verses. I’ve been telling our seven-month-old granddaughter verses already. One of them is 1 Corinthians 13:4a; it’s a verse available for all to see as soon as they enter our apartment. Love is patient, love is kind (NIV). Hide God’s word as a treasure in your heart. Think about what Paul wrote to Timothy: And how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15 NIV). Try to hide a verse of God’s word in your heart this weekend.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-two)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

In our last article about the Spirit of God, we saw that the Holy Spirit had a crucial role in the production of the New Testament Scriptures, just as he did in the Old Testament Scriptures. By the way, this is why it is simply silly to pit the Spirit against the Scriptures. The written word is the voice of the Spirit. He caused people to write what the Father through the Son decided to reveal about himself, his work, and his redemptive activity in the whole Bible. He acted to guarantee that what was written was the word of God.

Next, let’s consider the qualification of the Spirit for this important ministry. What are his credentials? Listen to what Jesus says. The Spirit is qualified because he is the “parakletos”. There has been much misunderstanding about this word, which is used only five times in its noun form in the New Testament Scriptures (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1). All refer to the Holy Spirit, except the reference in 1 John where it refers to Jesus. Part of the problem is that there is no exact English equivalent for this noun. The verb form is used over 100 times with various meanings, like invite, call upon for help, urge, exhort, encourage, request, comfort, cheer up, and beg. But the noun is used differently. “Comforter” is definitely an inadequate translation.

We should not try to determine a word meaning by breaking it up into its “root” parts. Nonsense can result! (Think of our English words butterfly and pineapple. The parts of each word bear little connection with the word meaning.) So, let’s avoid such methodology in our understanding of Biblical words. Since the word as used in the Greek of that time had legal overtones of a friend helping another friend in court, but falling short of what we would call a lawyer, perhaps the best translation in all five passages would be, as Ferguson suggests, “the Friend at court”. The Spirit does whatever is necessary to produce what is in our best interests. Since Biblical revelation is instruction that is binding upon us, the “Friend at court” acted in our best interests by making sure that we have a clear record of that revelation.

The Holy Spirit is qualified because he is “the Spirit of truth” (16:13). This phrase is used three times in John’s Gospel in reference to the Holy Spirit (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Since Jesus is “the truth”, we can again see how the Spirit is “another Friend in court” like Jesus (14:16). Yet as used here, the emphasis is on the Spirit communicating truth. “If the Holy Spirit is the one who completes the revelation of Jesus Christ by explaining things the disciples could not then bear to hear (16:12-15), then it is reassuring to learn that truth characterizes him; for we may be sure his testimony will be true. Just as Jesus authenticates the veracity of the biblical revelation before him (e.g., Matt. 5:17-20; John 10:35), so also he authenticates the veracity of the biblical revelation still to come” (Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, p. 53).

Let us thank the Lord, who came to reveal the Father, that he left the New Testament revelation in such competent hands! It all points to the glory of our Redeemer and his love and mercy for us. Thank him for the provision of the Spirit and the Scriptures today.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

We have listened to Peter’s teaching that the Scriptures are the voice of God in written form. Next, he explains a little about the process. The Spirit acted in a way that made sure that the content was God’s word—as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of mystery. This brief phrase is as close as the Spirit comes to explaining his communication of God’s message through human writers. He carried them along, is a forceful expression. Compare the use of the Greek word phero in Mark 2:3; 4:8; 12:15-16; Acts 27:15,17. But how did he carry them along? “We take the historic fact; but we decline every attempt to explain the inscrutable mode… no finite mind can venture, without presumption, to say how the human faculties concurred and acted with the Spirit’s activity in the expression of a divine oracle” (Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p. 166). Suffice to say that the Spirit took them to his intended destination, which is the breathed-out word of God.

As God the Holy Spirit carried along the apostles and prophets, he “did not destroy the author’s individuality and talents, making the whole Bible stereotyped, with one style from Genesis to Revelation—the style of the Holy Spirit—with all the human differences of the writers overridden and ignored” (Palmer, The Holy Spirit, p. 50). Instead, the Holy Spirit did something different. He used “the experiences of the authors to govern their writing, their different emotions to color their thinking, their individual tastes to be expressed in the Bible” (Ibid.) What would the Bible be like without the strong faith of Abraham in Genesis 22, or the repentant prayer of David in Psalm 51, or Paul’s holy passion to know Christ in Philippians 3, or John’s tender exhortation to his dear friends to love one another in 1 John 4? You see, in the Scriptures you view our holy Maker getting down in the muck of human lives to draw forth gems for his glory and our good. You ought to worship a God like that!

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of God’s sovereignty. This is seen in the various ways that he gave the Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1): “dreams, visions, individual illumination and research, as well as ordinary and extraordinary divine providences, are involved in the process” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 27).

The Spirit carried along the men who spoke in many ways.

  • By directing their heredity, family upbringing, education and personal history
  • By his continual work in the history of redemption—all stood at a particular point of history for a selected purpose
  • By his influence on their hearts through previous revelation
  • By applying Christ’s redemptive work to their hearts
  • By in some way revealing God’s mind to them so that they had to speak it—Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10; 15:16; 20:9)

The Scriptures themselves are one of the brightest witnesses to the sovereign grace of God. The Lord the Spirit reached down among men in conformity with the Father’s choice, molded a life, drew that person to salvation, and worked through them in such a way, so that when they wrote the Scriptures, it was the Spirit of God speaking (2 Samuel 23:2; Matthew 22:43; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Now is the time to worship the Sovereign God, who can so powerfully work in human hearts! And here is hope. The same God still speaks through his word today! God the Spirit can use the written word of God to do great and good things to you and through you.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Nineteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

In our studies in the Holy Spirit, our current focus is about the Spirit and the Scriptures. How did the Spirit of God act through people to give God’s message in written form? Some might suppose that the Scripture writers wrote their own “spiritual journals” about their aspiration to know God. But even a cursory reading disproves that idle notion. The content of the Scriptures does not originate with mankind: for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man (NIV).

The apostle clearly teaches that the prophets did not concoct the Scriptures out of their own choices. They did not have superior insight from their human nature into the human predicament. They did not invent cleverly devised tales. In many passages, you can easily observe the artless words of an eyewitness to an event or those stating what they had been told by God. There is no effort to “clean up the text”. The heroic acts of the people of God are present right alongside their miserable failures. Think of David, Samson, Asa, and Peter, too! Instead, often the prophets wrote things that were beyond their knowledge, like Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus. At other times, they wrote what they did not even like. Listen to Jeremiah Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me, a man who incites dispute and conflict in all the land. I did not lend or borrow, yet everyone curses me (Jeremiah 15:10; CSB, cf. 20:7-18). Habakkuk had a similar experience. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Jonah has been called ‘the reluctant prophet”, and that is a charitable description.

The phrase for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man puts at least two necessary limits and clarifications on our thoughts about the Scriptures. “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men” (Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153). So though we might call it a joint product, both parties did not contribute to the written product in the same way. A chef and a server both contribute to a pleasant dining experience, but their participation is different. The Spirit spoke through people embedded in their place of history, human culture, and spiritual experience. The emotionally charged words of the human writers arose from their authentic, personal experience, but at the same time, the Spirit sovereignly spoke through their situation. Yes, this is mysterious.

Let’s put this another way. The apostles and prophets did not respond to cultural situations out of their own wills. Yet many argue contrary to this text in cases when the Word of God comes into direct conflict with one of the darling ideas of a godless and wicked culture, such as gender issues or various kinds of sexual immorality. Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the church is not because “he was anti-female,” which is a ridiculous statement anyway.  He did not speak out his desires, but he communicated God’s desires, which seek the peace, joy, and unity of his people.

In the light of these verses, we must all submit to God’s authority in his revealed word and bow before it. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). This is not a popular position to take in these lawless, anti-God, and anti-authority times, but it is God’s path. Notice how the Spirit commends the Scriptures to us. They are profitable. They convey God’s words to us. We can listen, understand, be transformed, and rejoice. Over the years I have discovered that popular restaurants can be the worst places to get a delicious meal, while neglected ones provide superb dining experiences. Evaluate everything for what it is, not for what the “people manipulators” tell you. Listen to what the Spirit has breathed out in the Scriptures and be thrilled.

Grace and peace, David

Evil Questioners

Matthew 22:15-40

In our Bible studies, we encourage people to ask questions. This increases understanding, as people explore the passage or subject under discussion. Hopefully, they learn how to put the teaching into effect in their way of life. We ought to always remember that the teaching of the word is not simply to gain factual knowledge, but to increase wisdom and the personal application of the Word to our lives. We also should remember that doing is much more important than knowing. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22 CSB). It is good to memorize Matthew six, but it is better not to worry and to trust God.

In our text, Jesus received three questions from people whose motives were evil. They spoke evil from the evil in their hearts (Matthew 12:34). None of them wanted to learn, so that they could repent (change their minds) and then live for the glory of God and good of others. Their goal was to make trouble for Jesus. Let’s look at each.

The first group tried to cause political problems for Jesus (22:15-22). The question concerned paying taxes to the Roman emperor. They attempted to soften him up with flattery. It seemed that either way that Jesus answered, he would have serious problems. If he said yes, the Jewish zealots could condemn him as traitorous, and he would lose the support of the crowds. If he said no, the Romans could condemn him as rebellious, and the Romans had a habit of crucifying Jewish rebels. Jesus’ answer put the burden on them. Would they fulfill their duty as Caesar’s subjects? More importantly, would they give themselves to God?

The second group tried to embarrass Jesus with a question that seemed that any answer would make him look ridiculous (22:23-33). They presented an improbable scenario from the inheritance laws of the law covenant to make the idea of a resurrection appear unbelievable. (The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, 22:23.) Jesus responded that they were the ones with two serious problems. First, they didn’t know the power of God to resurrect people and to provide them with a higher level of life. Second, they didn’t know the Scriptures. Jesus took them to the account of the burning bush, in which God said I am (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (though all had died hundreds of years previously.) How could they be religious leaders if they did not believe in God’s power and word?

The third group tried to drag Jesus into religious controversy (22:34-40). That the Pharisee had an evil intent is made known by the word “test” (22:35). The rabbis held a variety of opinions about the greatest command in the Torah. Whatever answer Jesus gave might entangle him in debates with the other rabbis and their followers, causing Jesus to be discredited as a prophet in the eyes of the people. This time Jesus answered in a way that exposed them to discreditation. If they denied the first great command, they would be denying God’s supremacy. If they denied the second, well, Jesus had already taught them a few lessons on their need to love their neighbors and show mercy to them.

It is good to ask questions, if we desire to know and love God, his word, and people better. It is evil to ask questions that attempt to show up the teacher or to entrap him. And let’s ask ourselves, “Why do I want this question answered? Do I want to see Biblical change occur in my life? Do I want to walk in love? Do I have a teachable spirit, or am I trying to show off?”

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Six)

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:10-11 NIV)

In verses ten and eleven David declares the value of the Scriptures and the great help he had obtained from them. Here we learn the tastes and felt needs of a godly person. They show that God the Spirit had used his word effectively in David’s heart, and help us understand why God called David “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22 NIV).

Leaving his pattern of the previous three verses, David closes his praise of the Holy Writings by telling of their “absolute desirability and sweetness” (Leupold). The Bible is truth that both enriches the soul and satisfies the heart. Notice how David uses two phrases to set forth the exceeding greatness of the Word. It is more precious than gold, but he cannot stop there, so he adds, “than much pure gold.” Let’s take a look inside the ‘Fort Knox’ of God’s revelation. What do you see? You see what surpasses piles of pure gold. The Lord invites you to lay claim to all of this treasure that you desire. But what good is money if you have nothing to eat? Well David says, “Look again here is something sweeter than honey,” and then he dangles the jar before your tongue and says, “than honey from the comb.”

“As spiritual treasure is more noble than mere material wealth, so should it be desired and sought after with greater eagerness. Men speak of solid gold, but what is so solid as solid truth? For love of gold pleasure is forsworn, ease renounced, and life endangered; shall we not be ready to do as much for love of truth? … Trapp says, ‘Old people are all for profit, the young for pleasure; here’s gold for the one, yea, the finest gold in great quantity; here’s honey for the other, yea, live honey dropping from the comb’” (Spurgeon). “Well then may we count those the sweetest hours which are spent in reading the holy Scriptures; well may we say with the prophet, Jer 15:16, ‘Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and they were the joy and rejoicing of my heart’” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, pp. 36-37).

The Scriptures are a means of God’s grace. “Gold is of the earth, earthly; but grace is the image of the heavenly. Gold is only for the body and the concerns of time; but grace is for the soul and the concerns of eternity” (Henry). So then, if we are wise, we do well to make substantial investments of our resources in what will be for our eternal good. The earthly market is destined to collapse. How much better to invest in the heavenly market that promises a certain, eternal return on all that you invest in it.

This section closes with a response to the Lord about the benefit that David had received from the Scriptures. The Hebrew text conveys the idea that David reviewed how the law of the Lord had affected him; that is, not only is this happening now, but in the past it has happened. David could speak from his own experience. The Word warns of the spiritual dangers we all face. The wise person takes it for his daily mentor and lifelong guide. The Lord does not leave people to wander without warning near the brink of woe. He has spoken; in fact, the Word shouts warnings to us! But the Scriptures not only warn; they also promise comfort. The idea, as has often been stated, is not that we should keep the Scriptures in order to gain reward in a legalistic manner. Many miscarry in this manner! Instead, the idea is that we find in keeping God’s word (not merely in memorizing it or knowing its content) that we do gain great reward. How much joy, peace and hope the Bible sets before us! And every believer knows in experience the reality of this reward, and we look forward to more! “If there be so much to be had in the wilderness, what then shall be had in paradise!” (Brooks)

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Five)

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11 NIV).

In this section, David lifts up the Scriptures, God’s special, written revelation, to those who listen to his song. Remember that the Psalms were written to be sung. God loves art. He designed us to delight in music and to make music. David uses six predicate adjectives that tell us what the Scriptures are. Four of these are somewhat synonymous, which serves to emphasize the quality of God’s message. It is perfect, right, radiant and pure. The Bible covers all aspects of life about living in the presence of the living God, of knowing him and pleasing him, and of relating rightly to other people. There are no imperfections in the Bible, since it is the message of the perfect, righteous Lord. This is one of the foundations of the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Scriptures. God does not lie, and he is all-wise, making mistakes in his revelation impossible. Most of the supposed errors in the Bible are really failures by people to understand the text or stem from people’s disagreement with God about his ways. The rest are basically a lack of information about matters that we suppose the Lord should have told us more about! Many of these have “disappeared” over time as additional archaeological and historical investigation have constantly demonstrated the perfection of the Scriptures.

The other two predicate adjectives (trustworthy and sure) proclaim the reliability of God’s word. In a world of constant change and corruption, we have a dependable foundation for our faith and hope. All of these adjectives “move in a different world from the compromise, insincerity and half-truths of human intercourse” (Kidner).

Next, we observe that David uses six verbal phrases to set forth four ways the Scriptures affect people, and then he praises the word of God in two ways.

  • The Bible “revives” or “turns” the soul (the whole self or person). “Making the man to be returned or restored to the place from which sin had cast him” (Spurgeon).
  • God’s word “makes wise” those who need to be taught the right way to live and the correct attitudes to have (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15; Psalm 119:130). “The beginning of conversion, and so all along, the increase of all grace to the end, is expressed by wisdom entering into a man’s heart” (Goodwin).
  • The Scriptures “give joy” to the heart (the totality of our inner nature). God has a means for making us glad—the teaching of his word. As we reach his understanding of life and bow before him and his purposes, our emotional outlook is transformed. Notice the progression. When we are turned back to God and made wise, joy returns to the person. Joy is a by-product of God’s free grace. The tragedy of the human race is in seeking for joy in empty boxes.
  • God’s message also “gives light” to the eyes. Light in the Scriptures usually means either holiness or accurate knowledge. The eyes are “used to express knowledge, character, attitude, inclination, opinion, passion and response…a good barometer of the inner thoughts of a man” (TWOT). If we listen to God’s voice in his written word, our approach to living will be changed in an observable manner. If we look at the sun, our eyes will go blind, but if we gaze steadily at the light of God’s word, our spiritual sight grows stronger and clearer.
  • The Bible “endures forever.” When all else fails and passes away, a firm foundation remains (Matthew 24:35). The opinions of the wisest men of one generation are discarded as useless trash by the next. Each generation is in love with its own wisdom, only to be called fools by those who follow. How different is the Bible! Throughout the generations its accurate portrayal of life remains constant.
  • The last phrase, which is very difficult to put into English as a verb form, also is a praise of God’s word. Perhaps we can say it is “being righteous altogether.” In all its parts, each and everyone, it shines with being right; that is, it has the same character as God.

Please read the above verses from Psalm Nineteen over and over. Let their music permeate your heart. Think about them, rejoice in them, and choose the ways of God by them.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Four)

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11 NIV).

The creation bears witness to the glory of the I AM, but if we are to know the Sovereign Lord of whom creation testifies, if we are to know how we may be right with him and do his will, we need more. For this reason, David turns from general revelation to special revelation. He takes us to the Holy Scriptures, which he calls by a number of names: law, statutes, precepts, commands, fear, and ordinances. All of which combine to say that God the Creator is also God the Communicator. He has spoken to mankind through his written word.

In the first two stanzas about creation, the I AM was called “God,” Elohim, once. In the third stanza about the Scriptures, he is called “LORD,” YHWH, six times. For now he speaks as covenant Lord—the One who approaches mankind “person to person,” who graciously calls rebellious people to himself.

Verses 7-9 follow a pattern. First, there is a descriptive name for the Scriptures; second, the possessive phrase “of the LORD is used;” third, there is an appropriate predicate adjective; and fourth, David speaks of a beneficial effect or other praise of the Scriptures.

Let us start by considering the descriptive names for the Holy Scriptures that David uses.

  • law” — This word is about used 221 times in the Old Testament Scriptures. Its basic meaning is teaching. When we hear the word “law,” our minds move in the legal-political sphere, but this word means law in the sense of authoritative instruction from God. “In addition, the book of Deut itself shows that the law has a broad meaning to encompass history, regulations and their interpretation, and exhortations.” [Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, TWOT] Due to various theological presuppositions, various writers become confused when they read this verse, thinking of either “the moral law,” or “the ten commandments,” etc. Neither does it mean the law covenant given at Sinai. Here “law” refers to the Scriptures, the inspired, written revelation of God.
  • statutes” — This word is perhaps better translated as “testimony.” It is used many times in this sense; for example, in referring to the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, or the Tablets of Stone. Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:15; 34:29. “This word is always used in reference to the testimony of God.” [TWOT] It is as God, rather than claiming “executive privilege,” allows himself to be examined on the witness stand. But in this case, it is God himself taking the initiative to make known testimony about himself, his will, and his redemptive activity. God testifies about himself, and about what man should do or has failed to do. For example, read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.
  • precepts” — This “is a general term for the responsibilities that God places on his people.” [TWOT] God orders us to do various things and forbids us to do others. It is his voice of authority to us about how to use our lives.
  • commands” — This has the idea of “the instruction of a teacher to his pupil” [TWOT], Proverbs 2:1; 3:1. It is used of the Ten Words. Exodus 24:12.
  • fear” — This is an unusual way of referring to God’s word. David uses a word to describe the Holy Writings that speaks of the effect they are intended to create in the hearts of those who listen to them. This is the “awe or reverence for God that is the basis for real wisdom.” [TWOT] Job 28:28; Proverbs 9:10; 15:33. The Scriptures may not be treated as abstract principles, but as God’s message that is intended to transform our thinking, feeling and decision-making.
  • ordinances” — “Represents what is doubtless the most important idea for correct understanding of government—whether of man or by man or of the whole creation of God … an ordinance of law.” [TWOT] These are the judicial decisions or verdicts God has given for human situations. Final authority! See Deuteronomy 33:10, 21; it is used 16 times in Psalm 119.

“Together, these terms show the practical purpose of revelation, to bring God’s will to bear on the hearer and evoke intelligent reverence, well-founded trust, detailed obedience.” [Kidner] Read through these verses a few times to receive the cumulative impact of their description of God’s special revelation. Consider what each one means for your world and life view and way of life. How will they transform your view of God’s word?

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part One)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1 NIV).

Psalm 19 is a great hymn for public worship composed by David. Its subject is God’s revelation in nature and in the Scriptures. This psalm calls us to consider the excellent nature of God’s disclosure of himself to all people everywhere in nature. Even though it is of such a high quality, it does not exhaust all that the Creator says to those made in his image. God has also given verbal communication to people in his word, the Bible. Only by this higher revelation may we learn about God’s will and his grace. Then having acknowledged God’s revelation, we must evaluate ourselves based on what God has said to us.

True worship is always the worship of God alone. We do not worship the Bible or the creation, but the God who revealed himself in both creation and the Scriptures. So then, this psalm calls us to bow before the God who is able to communicate clearly, consistently, and constantly with mankind. In a world that continually suppresses the knowledge of God, the people of God ought to rejoice that we know the living God, who can speak! We do not walk in darkness, but we have a steady source of light. Be glad, believer in Christ, and sing!

The apostle Paul also discusses the concept of revelation in Romans 1:18-23 and 10:11-21. There we find that general revelation (God’s witness to himself through what has been created) is sufficient to cause all people everywhere to be without excuse, but it is only the Scriptures that can give the knowledge that makes us wise unto salvation (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15).

Here is a brief outline of Psalm Nineteen:

  • General revelation (19:1-6)
  • Special revelation (19:7-11)
  • Response to God’s revelation (19:12-14)

Verse 1

David uses one general example from creation of how God has spoken to mankind. “Look up and around you to the heavens and to the sky. Both tell you the greatness of the living God.” If we would look at ourselves or at all creation on a microscopic level, we would also see God’s majesty. But David tells us to look at the immensity of the heavens and the skies that surround our living space. Look at them and think about the God who is immense enough to make what to our senses seems to stretch out forever.

Notice that God designed the heavens and the skies to communicate. They declare and proclaim. This is not communication by words but by pictures. From our earliest days, our senses are confronted with these living color pictures that say to us, “Stop, look, think. Who made us and who made you?” As the Hebrew text makes plain, this communication always occurs. It intrudes upon us, whether we will have it or not. God speaks through it in a way that it is always in our face.

The person of faith has nothing to fear from true science, for its only materials for thought and investigation have been formed by an all-wise Creator. The “opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20) are a problem, but never true science.

What do the heavens and the skies speak of? They tell us about the glory of God and the work of his hands. “The God who made us is majestic and deserving of honor. Be impressed by the weight of his magnificence.” In our time, few things seem to impress us. Our attitude is “So what? Let me get back to having a good time.” The creation calls out, “No, no, no! Leave your preoccupation with yourself and meditate on the glory of God.” So then in this psalm David invites us to add our praise of the God who speaks to that of creation crying out his glory.

To think about the glory of God means that we must consider his ability to act, to create, to do. Creation says that the hand of God is its maker (Psalm 8:6; 95:5; cf. 1 Chronicles 29:12; Isaiah 59:1). Here we have God speaking through what he has made to tell us that he is able to make all things. And this ought to furnish ample material for praise in public worship. Is it worthwhile to worship? Oh yes, for we serve the One True God who is mighty!

Grace and peace, David

The Scroll of Kindness

IMG_0870Ruth 1:1-4:22

Hello my friends! Today, we begin a new study in the always precious and valuable word of God. Our subject is the book of Ruth, which is by a general consent an extremely well-written love story. Yet you can see that our title for this opening article is “the scroll of kindness”. Why such a title? And why is there such a book in the Bible, God’s written word?

First of all, let us think more generally about the Holy Scriptures (the Holy Writings). When we come to the Bible, we must come to it in conformity with what it presents itself to be. If we fail to do this, we will not profit from it. But what does the Bible tell us about itself? Here are five basic perspectives:

  • It is the word or message of the living God, which means it is sufficient and authoritative for what we believe and how we are to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • It is true (John 17:17; cf. Titus 1:2)
  • It is a Christ-focused message (Luke 24:27, 44-47); its ideas and the way of life it presents are structured according to Christ
  • It is spiritually profitable (Psalm 19:7-11)
  • It must be listened to with faith in God (Hebrews 4:2)

Therefore, we must look at Ruth (meaning the book in the Bible) from the vantage point of all these perspectives. Here is an example from the first perspective. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

  • Teaching – what does Ruth contribute to knowing about God and his ways and the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Rebuking – what areas of our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions does Ruth show us that need godly change?
  • Correcting – how can Ruth promote restoration and healing in our lives?
  • Training in righteousness – how does Ruth prepare us to serve Christ and others better?

With these ideas in mind, let us continue with a brief overview of Ruth. First, let’s think of a few general facts.

The author and date of writing of Ruth are unknown. Ideas vary widely, even among evangelical Christians. It is not a subject worth troubling one’s mind about too much, as long as you accept it as part of God’s word.

Ruth is an historical short story. It is named after one of the three main characters of the book. Ruth (the person) is mentioned only once in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 1:5). The plot moves along by the actions and interactions of the three main characters. In chapters two through four, each in turn takes the initiative: Ruth, Naomi and finally Boaz. If you study the plot carefully, you will find that it seems to be a story about Naomi. (Due to space constraints, I will not demonstrate this now. Read Ruth for yourself this week and you will see this!) So then, if it is a story about Naomi, why is it called Ruth? To find the answer is to discover the purpose of the book.

The book of Ruth has always been accepted by God’s people as canonical—part of God’s word. But there are two divergent opinions about its place in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had three major divisions in ancient times: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44 for Jesus’ use of this general division). Our English Bibles are arranged differently: Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. However, from the time of the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Septuagint, Ruth was placed after Judges, and so we usually think of it as one of the books of History. Regretfully, this might distort the view of some about the book, assuming that it is a mere appendix to the larger book of Judges.

The older arrangement of the Hebrew people placed Ruth among the Writings, and within the Writings, it was considered one of the five festival scrolls. (Remember that the word was originally written on scrolls, not in book form.) Over time in Jewish worship, one of the five festival scrolls was read at each of the five major festivals. Ruth was usually read during the Feast of Weeks. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view each of these festival scrolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) from the standpoint of “promise and fulfillment” in regard to the story of God’s glory and to see each as a necessary contribution to our worship of God.

I encourage you to read Ruth on your own. Try reading it four times this week, making your own notes as you read. If you have a question, please contact me, and I’ll seek to answer it at some point in the blog or answer you directly.

Grace and peace, David