The Appointment Elijah Did Not Keep (Part One)

2 Kings 2:1-14

The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord is sending me on to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel (2:1-2 CSB).

James described human life in this way, What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14b NIV). So it is with the best and the worst of people, small and great, rich and poor, unknown and well-known. We all appear on the stage of planet earth, make significant decisions and actions for which we give account, and yet which God also uses as he weaves the large tapestry of history for his glory. Then we reach the end of our lives, and keep that appointment which all of us must. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27 NIV).

So it was with Elijah. He was born and suddenly appeared in the public life of Israel, announcing a drought on the land. Then God miraculously fed him at the brook and at the widow’s house. By God’s power Elijah raised the widow’s dead son to life. After three years of drought, he called Israel back to God at the contest on Mt. Carmel. The Lord heard his prayer for fire and later rain, and continued to use Elijah for many years to stand for the truth in a country that was religiously twisted and morally corrupt. Then it was time for Elijah to die….

No, it wasn’t! Though Elijah had once prayed to die, the Lord had a different end to Elijah’s stay on earth. Billions of people have inescapably marched into the jaws of death. Only two have escaped: Enoch and Elijah. When the Son of God returns in power and great glory, all his people who are alive at that time will also avoid death. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV). Come, Lord Jesus!  But while we must remain, what are some lessons we can learn from the close of Elijah’s life on earth?

When the situation appears hopeless to us, the living, sovereign God is able to act. As Elijah looked at life from his limited perspective, it often seemed to him that little positive religious change was occurring. He said, “I’m the only one left”—after Obadiah had told him of one hundred other prophets (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah said, “I’m the only one left”—after he had experienced God’s answers to his prayers for fire and rain (1 Kings 19:10,14).

Yes, Elijah thought he was the only one left, but look what the Lord was doing!

  • Elisha was appointed as Elijah’s successor, and he remained faithful to Elijah until the end. God provided Elijah with a friend in the ministry.
  • Micaiah boldly stood up for the truth before Ahab (1 Kings 22:1-28). We might be unaware of their courageous stand, but God has a people for his glory.
  • Elijah was able to start or assist in the ministry of at least two “schools” of prophets at Bethel and Jericho. To train others for ministry is an important task though not very dazzling.

Though it was not God’s time to destroy the altar for false worship at Bethel, he used Elijah to raise up a testimony against it. (The Lord had already announced that Josiah, a descendant of David would destroy it later in history, cf. 1 Kings 13:2. Why did the Lord wait? He acts mercifully to allow people an opportunity to repent.) Though during the time of Ahab, the cursed city of Jericho was rebuilt, God had men to speak for him in that place.

Let us avoid an “Elijah complex”, supposing, “I’m the only one left.” Or as more of us might think, “Our small church and a few small faithful sisters churches are the only ones left to stand for God.” We can waste a lot of precious time moaning over the terrible times we live in, or we can labor for the cause of God and truth with a bold faith.

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Restoration (Part One)

1 Kings 19:18-18

So he got up, ate, and drank. Then on the strength from that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. He entered a cave there and spent the night. Suddenly, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:8-9 CSB)

Years ago I worked in residential construction contracting. We primarily did new construction. Ah, there is something invigorating about watching newly framed walls being raised against the backdrop of an autumn sky! However, we sometimes would restore old buildings. When God saves us, he renews us, but afterwards, we might require restoration. He restores my soul (Psalm 23:3 NIV).

Even God’s prophet needed restoration. Remember Elijah’s problems: fear, fatigue, false view of himself, and failure to work out his theology personally and practically. Now we see God dealing graciously with Elijah, not because he deserved it, but because of God’s free grace. In this section we want to examine God’s wondrous way of working in grace to accomplish his purposes. Remember that the Bible tells us God’s story; God is revealing his surpassing power and significance through what he accomplishes, even when we his people fail.

God does not always work in the way that we expect him to work (19:11-13). The setting was Mt. Horeb. It was at Horeb, also called Sinai, that God had made the law covenant with his people Israel. See Deuteronomy 4:10-14. Consider the physical effects at that time: fire, the mountain trembled, and loud noise. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder (Exodus 19:18-19 ESV; cf. Hebrews 12:18-21).

For unknown reasons, Elijah went to Horeb. From verse nine, we can deduce it wasn’t God who directed him there. People do many strange things when they are troubled spiritually and emotionally. Let’s not be quick to judge suffering people. We don’t know exactly what Elijah expected to find there. Sometimes it is hard to know why people do what they do; to know what they are looking for in religious experience. Here are some ways people seek to charge themselves up emotionally through “spiritual” means.

  • Solemn formalism
  • Entertaining services
  • Heart-wrenching stories
  • Beaten, guilty consciences
  • Dynamic, exciting praise

When I was a pastor in a local church, I’d have people come to me after a service and tell me, “It felt like God was here today!” I wondered how they would seriously answer, “How can you know that God is here? You can’t see him or touch him. You can only experience his presence through faith.” Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6 CSB). Faith requires confidence in his being and the truth of his promises. When you do his will, then you will know (John 7:17). When you know the Lord, you know his love, his joy, his peace, and his hope! Has the Lord, the living God ever met you?

God appeared to him in a different way than he had to Moses and Israel. We can never put God in a box and demand or expect that he will act the way that we want him to act. God acts in conformity with his own will, not ours.

God deals with us in a different way. Seriously and attentively think through Hebrews 12:22-24 and the surrounding context. We are under a new covenant; the old has passed away. Therefore, we should not seek physical signs of God’s power, but the spiritual blessings his power produces.

How did God restore Elijah? By speaking to him on the mount with a gentle whisper. He let Elijah know that he is always present, even if it is in ways that we do not expect. Does God still speak to his people today? Yes, but not in an audible voice, but in the Scriptures. Today, if you hear his voice… (Hebrews 3:7, 15 NIV). Dear friend in need of restoration, the same God who spoke to Elijah still speaks today!

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:17-24

We can know God, trust God fervently, and yet come into situations where our faith in God is incredibly tested. We may even know that God has done miracles in response to our faith in him, but we wonder, “Can God provide the help I need now?” Faced with the death of the widow’s son, Elijah knew that  he must trust the living God for a greater miracle. So, Elijah said a powerful prayer. He believed that prayer was more worthwhile than the other actions he could have engaged in. We need to rid ourselves of the saying, “All we can do now is pray.” Stop it. Ideas like that corrupt our minds. Prayer is the best thing we can do.

  • Elijah prayed instead of argued. We need to follow Christ when we cannot understand the ways of God. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). It’s a good rule not to take offense at the words of a grieving person. Not every saint is able to bow before the Lord as meekly as Job was able to (cf. Job 1:21; 2:10). Love should cover sorrowful, bitter words that occur at a time of grief.
  • He prayed instead of debated. Some are under the totally misguided notion that all times are opportunities for theological debate. As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2 CSB) Sadly, I have observed this attitude. Don’t dispute in the face of suffering. Show mercy! Humbly, let us remember people need compassion rather than our knowledge. Some think they are being “bold for the Lord” when they are merely being brash for themselves. Christ was compassionate; imitate him.
  • He prayed instead of complained. Some would complain, “Now I’m in such a mess! She’s blaming all this on me, and I didn’t do anything. Poor me!” Does it really matter what someone thinks about you, when they need your help?
  • He prayed instead of questioned. “Why did this happen Lord?” It’s very natural to ask, “Why?” But it may be better to invest the greater part of our energies in asking, “What do you want me to do now, Lord?” Or better, “What will You do now, Lord?”

Elijah refused to look at second causes. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” (17:20 NLT) Elijah believed that God is in control, even including the hard events of life. We need to have a larger view of the sovereign God in our thoughts and viewpoints. Think on what the Spirit has written in the Word.

  • [Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22 NIV).
  • I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7 NIV).
  • When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3:6 NIV).

The time of trouble and trials is the time to worship the Lord as God over all, and to call upon him as the Ruler of all.

“Whatsoever is good for God’s children they shall have it, for all is theirs to further them to heaven; therefore, if poverty be good, they shall have it; if disgrace be good, they shall have it; if crosses be good, they shall have them; if misery be good, they shall have it; for all is ours, to serve for our greatest good” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

The Church at Prayer (Part One)

Acts 4:23-31

The setting of our text is the arrest of Peter and John. The religious leadership of Jerusalem made threats against them. The apostles reported this to the church. Notice that they shared their problems with other believers. “This is essential for the children of God—to encourage one another, and to join in godly fellowship so that under the banner of Christ they may vanquish the common enemy” (Calvin).

But experience tells us to add a caution. Some personal problems are not for public knowledge. The Bible does not encourage busybodies. Do not polarize between an excess zeal for sharing in your local church or small group and the violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

The church responded to the problem with corporate prayer. Individual prayer is surely important, and so is family prayer. But corporate prayer is an indispensable part of a gospel church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42 CSB).

What did the church do when they met to pray? They responded with meaningful worship (4:24-28). Again, we must be careful at this point. Their example is not a formula for how to pray. We pray in the Spirit as our hearts respond to his wonderfulness. Having said that, we ought to learn from their example, though we must not turn examples into forms or steps.  They were thinking of how the character of God related to their problem. Knowing the greatness of the Father in heaven, as little children they cried out in their distress.

  • The worshiped God as Creator (4:24) Consideration of God’s creative work involves meditation on his power (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). The One who can create is able to meet our most crucial needs.
  • The worshiped God as Revealer (4:25) The Old Testament speaks about Christ (Psalm 2:1-12). They listened to the word as God spoke regarding their problem. Since they were followers of Christ, opposition to them was opposition to Christ as well. (cf. 4:7, 17-18). The Scriptures are applicable to our needs. As we grow to understand our union with Christ, we come to realize what it means to approach God in Christ’s name.
  • The worshiped God as Controller (4:26-28). They recognized that a spiritual battle was being fought; that is, the then present situation of threats against the apostles was really opposition to Christ. We must not live as though there was no supernatural dimension to life. If we do so, we are living as natural men, rather than spiritual men. The disciples needed to learn in this area’ as in the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. John 6:5-6).

The church’s confidence is in God’s sovereignty. The Lord of all nations has set limits to what sinful people are allowed to do. We have recently experienced several tragic events in the mass murders of many people. It has looked like prayer is useless and that his people are left helpless. But God’s plan for his glory in Jesus Christ will be successfully accomplished. Atheists may mock on their Twitter accounts. Their callous lack of compassion is another matter, and their heartlessness toward grieving and suffering people has been exposed and will be dreadfully judged on the last day. But God’s will is the determinate factor, and his power always achieves what his will designs. Like the suffering early church, we also may confidently pray. Grieve over the fallen. Weep with those who weep. But it is time for the church to pray!

Grace and peace, David

A Father’s Fortress (Part Two)

Proverbs 14:26-27

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death (NIV).

What are the benefits of the fear of the Lord? The man who fears the Lord has a “secure fortress”. He has strength—a stronghold or a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10). Whatever troubles come his way, he can trust in the Lord’s strength (Psalm 61:1-3; 62:5-7). A man, a father needs strength that is far greater than his, in order to handle all life’s pressures. There are many matters beyond his ability. “How can I have a great relationship with my wife? Sometimes we seem to be from different planets! How can I provide for my family? I work hard, but a hundred and fifty dollars seems to buy fewer bags of groceries every week! How can I guide my children in the right way? Everyone else seems to have their attention except me! How can I serve the Lord? Too much else demands my constant efforts!” The answer is found in the strength or security of the Lord’s Almighty power.

He has a fortress—a place of confident expectation (hope). The word translated “fortress” in the NIV in this text has the idea of “the feeling of being safe or secure.” While it means trust, it has the sense of hope. A man’s hope in God is not a questioning sort that seems to be mere wishing, but a confident expectation. It lays hold of God’s trustworthiness. A man who has a strong trust does not act like those who worship false gods and who try to control everything by their ability or sacred rituals. Instead, he relies on the God he can’t control, who nevertheless has pledged to be faithful to whoever trusts in him. An unbeliever wants a god he can control. A believer worships the God he can’t control, but who is totally faithful. And he is content and feels safe in this fortress.

The man who fears the Lord has a “fountain of life”. Since he is convinced of God’s surpassing worthiness, he gains various benefits. In God’s word, he has the “teaching of the wise” (Proverbs 13:14). He has a standard of judgment he can evaluate life by. This gives him understanding (Proverbs 16:22). He can escape the punishment that is the destiny of fools. He recognizes God as the source of life (Psalm 36:9). He does not turn aside to manmade cisterns that break and cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). This is because he has received Christ, who is the fountain of life (John 4:13-14). With Christ as his fortress and fountain, the man who fears the Lord has all that he needs for life and godliness. Do you rejoice that you have all you need in Christ?

What is the outlook of the fear of the Lord? The man who fears the Lord has something to offer to his children. What does the worldly focused man have for his children? Perhaps he goes and watches their ballgames, puts food on the table and gives them a shelter from the weather, shows up for their graduations and weddings, and leaves something for them in his will—maybe, if anything is left. Is that all you want from your life? Is that all you can give to your children? The man who fears the Lord has something better for his children. Since he knows the Lord as his secure fortress and fountain of life, he can point to his children and say, “This is the way of true joy and peace. Don’t waste your lives on the pursuit of lesser things. God will be your refuge, too!”

The man who fears the Lord knows what turns aside death. Yes, we all have to die, but for the man who fears the Lord, physical death is but the passing to be with the Lord and eternal life. Why is this? The man who fears the Lord knows that the “sting of death is sin, and the power of the sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). So, he knows he can escape the power of death through Jesus Christ. He says, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV). I know him who has conquered sin and death. His word teaches me to turn aside from its snares to follow and to trust in the Lord Jesus, who is the fountain of life.” This is the confident expectation of the man who fears the Lord. Is he your fortress and fountain?

Grace and peace, David

God’s Time Is Right on Schedule

Genesis 41:1-36

There are times when it seems like God’s good promises will never come to fulfillment. Many believers have had to live and die waiting for the appearance of God’s plan (Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40). During a long time of waiting, we must maintain our confidence in the Lord. His time is not necessarily our time.

God’s time had now arrived in Joseph’s life. One moment he was suffering in a dungeon. The next he is being honored by the king. Let us seek to learn more about the providence of God in this series on “God intended it for good.”

God revealed the future to Pharaoh (41:1-8). Here is part of the mystery of God’s ways. Usually, he spoke to holy men in ancient times (2 Peter 1:20). But when it was necessary, he spoke to the ungodly. For example, he spoke to ungodly Abimelech to protect Sarah. He chose a method that would lead to the exaltation of his servant and the honor of his name (cf. Mark 4:10-12).

Part of the plan was a defeat of the Egyptian culture (41:8). The religious men of Egypt could not discern the meaning of the dream. The scholars of Egypt could not explain what it meant. American culture worships or at least has overweening pride in education as a cure-all for our problems. It is clear that education has failed as our nation continues its downward spiral into the depths of violence, addictions, and abuse.

God interpreted the dream through Joseph (41:9-32). The Lord brought Joseph to the center of the kingdom in an unanticipated way. The time had come for the chief cupbearer to tell his story. If he had spoken sooner, his story may have been mocked or ignored. Now it is different, for Pharaoh needed a man like Joseph. God’s servant acted wisely (41:14). On occasion, we must offend the cultural feelings of the ungodly. However, in things indifferent we must not. (There was not yet any law pertaining to the shaving of the beard.)

Joseph proclaimed God’s word in the court of Egypt. He honored the Lord as the dream interpreter (41:16). Not to us, but to the Lord, be the glory (Psalm 115:1). While he honored the Lord, Joseph gave hope to his counselee.

Joseph declared the rule of God over all things (41:25, 28). God is in control of the weather. It was not a change in meteorological conditions. It was what God “is about to do”. The Lord can predict the future because he is in control of it. If events can happen outside his authority then things might happen that would be contrary to what he foretold.

For this reason, Joseph confronted Pharaoh with God’s unalterable decree (41:32). People have lost a sense of purpose, due in part to rejection of the biblical revelation of God’s plan. History is headed toward God’s goal. Life is not a meaningless collection of events.

God revealed the way of deliverance (41:33-36). To appreciate his way, we need a full Biblical perspective. If we looked at the seven years of famine in isolation from the rest of God’s plan, we could wrongly infer that he did not care about human suffering. When we think of tragedies like famines, we must also hold two other truths in mind. Evil and suffering are in the world because of mankind’s sin. And God has made a way of deliverance. Our hearts ought always to say, “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord!”

God granted wisdom to his servant. Joseph knew the way to handle the crisis: a proper management of resources during the years of fruitful harvests. Read Psalm 105:16-22. He set forth the importance of organization as a means to God’s end. What is everybody’s business often turns out to be nobody’s business. A skilled manager was required to provide for the general welfare. We should give thanks to God for the good gifts he has given to people.

Grace and peace, David

A Frowning Providence (Part Three)

Genesis 37:29-36

In a few hours, Joseph’s life changed forever. Sold by his brothers without mercy to slave traders, his dreams and hopes apparently disappeared forever. I don’t think that we can comprehend the desolate anguish as he was carried away. And what of questioning God? Had the Lord of all turned against him to deny his hopes and bring him bitterness? It would take over twenty years for young Joseph to see any positive answers to those questions. We should not imagine that the Lord God rushes to resolve our personal traumas.

Joseph’s enslavement had other consequences for the family. The first to experience the outcome were his brothers, who did the evil act. How could they explain their brother’s disappearance to their father? They resorted to an act of deceit.

The occasion was Reuben’s trauma (37:29-30). As the oldest son, he was responsible for his younger siblings. If you’re the oldest in your family, caring for them might have been the first serious responsibility you experienced. “Watch your brothers and sisters while they play outside. Don’t let them go out of our yard!”

Reuben had thought he had everything figured out, but all events are in God’s hands instead of ours. Though Reuben had planned to return Joseph to his father, the Lord had a different plan, and his prevailed. The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:1 ESV). If we cannot control words, what makes us think we can control actions?

Observe that Reuben was not concerned for his brother’s hardship, but for his own predicament. “Where can I turn now?” He had not dared to risk himself to rescue his brother earlier, relying on his own schemes for an apparently easy way out. When a heavy burden had fallen on him, he lost all thoughts of Joseph. Self-interest becomes a dominating force in a course of sin. It becomes every man for himself. Reuben loved himself very well, but self-love did not lead him to love others, especially his father and his brother. This caused them to come up with a scheme to protect Reuben. They took Joseph’s special robe and put the blood of a goat on it. This made it look like Joseph had been killed by some wild beast. People are very skilled at doing an act of deceit to cover up their real acts and motives. Joseph’s brothers were very sure they would get away with this deceit. But God had a surprise for them years later.

What the ten brothers did affected Jacob in a horrible way (Genesis 37:31-36). His sons deceived him even as he had deceived his father. It should not surprise a sinner when his own lies and deceptions turn on him. Many, many years had passed since he, at his mother’s urging and with her approval, had deceived Isaac. Now, he felt the pain he had caused. Jacob was overwhelmed with grief. He had endured years of hard labor for his uncle, the death of Rachel, and the disgrace of incest, but he finally reached the end of his strength. Let us not be too hard on old Jacob. Remember the old Indian proverb about criticizing someone before you walk in their moccasins. I think an even better lesson would be to listen to the Lord’s advice and pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”          

What could be Jacob’s and Joseph’s consolation in this severe trial? The character and promises of God Almighty. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10). Had God forgotten Jacob and Joseph in their grief? Not at all! Even then he was working for their good. We could not have proved that to either man during their sorrows, but it was very true.

Grace and peace, David

A Frowning Providence (Part Two)

Genesis 37:12-36

In part one, we saw how the life of Joseph and his family was about to change through a seemingly insignificant and harmless event: his trip that his father Jacob sent him on out of concern for Joseph’s older brothers. In Genesis 37:18-28, we see how an act of malice started them all on the path to lasting change.

They were intent on venting their wrath wrath against Joseph. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams” (Genesis 37:18-20 NIV).

Their hatred had brewed for so long that the mere sight of Joseph brought them to the verge of murder. Sin long nurtured in the heart waits only for an appropriate moment to wreak destruction. Sin causes hardening of heart. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13 NIV). Hatred and jealousy made them want to murder, but sin did not stop there. For they planned to lie to cover their murder, and pride made them dream of boasting they had defeated Joseph’s dreams.

No person is strong enough to hold the reins of sin. That lusty stallion can drag any presumptuous man or woman off to certain ruin. The wise course of action is to flee from sin, seek cleansing from its guilt and influence by the blood of Christ, and to put it death with the help of the Holy Spirit.

However, while Joseph’s brothers plotted evil against him, the living God was also at work. He acted behind the scenes to restrain their wrath (37:21-28). There are three clear ways that the Lord did this.

  • God worked through Reuben’s intervention. Reuben was an unlikely deliverer (see Genesis 35:22), but for some reason (perhaps fear of further offense against his father or qualms of conscience), he schemed to prevent the murder of his brother.
  • God worked through the appearance of the merchants. In this way, God permitted the hatred of Joseph’s brothers to go unchecked, but refused to allow Joseph to be killed. The Lord allows people to act freely, unless when he intervenes to accomplish his will. He lets people act as free agents, while maintaining his sovereign rule. Wise parents allow their children freedom to act and to fail many times, while stepping in at important times for godly discipline, instruction, and protection. If you were Joseph being handed over to the traders, you would be thinking that it’s better to be a living dog than a dead lion. Yes, he had reason to be thankful. Remember also that he did not have the rest of his life story to read at this point. It seemed that his life was ruined and his dreams vanished. The Lord does not consult us about the details of his plan, nor does he make sure that all will tend toward a life of ease for his children. Sometimes it is impossible to discern how a course of events will be for our good (Romans 8:28).
  • God worked through the greed of Judah. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed (Genesis 37:26-27). There are alternatives in a course of sin. It does not always take the worst path. After all, if you can make a few shekels and still have your malice vented, what’s the problem. I seriously doubt anyone wants to award Judah a medal for his suggestion. However, let’s not deceive ourselves if we do the same thing; namely, leave one path of sin only to pursue a less offensive sin.

The Lord God acts in many ways to accomplish his will. As has been said, God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Our responsibility by grace through faith in Christ is to be “straight sticks” ready for God’s use.  As we read in the New Testament Scriptures, Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work (2 Timothy 2:21 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

A Frowning Providence (Part One)

Genesis 37:12-36

The Lord God has revealed in his word, the Bible, that he is in charge of all things. He is sovereign; he is the Boss (Psalm 115:3; 135:5-6; Proverbs 16:4, 9; Isaiah 46:8-11; etc.). Listen to Romans 11:36: For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (NIV). Providence is God’s direction and care of his creation. The story of Joseph is an important study of how God directs various events in our lives for his glory and the good of his people. Individual events can seem counterproductive to God’s plan; in fact, some seem wrong and we don’t like them. But we must wait in faith for God’s wise result.

In God’s providence, great changes can flow from apparently insignificant and benign events. We can plan to help others and even to advance the cause of God and truth, and then everything blows up in our faces. I know this from sad experience. And it hurts. But the Lord of all can be working a better plan. We see all of this in the life of Joseph.

The game changer for Joseph, his father, his family, and seriously for the whole world came from an act of concern by his father Jacob. Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied. So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron (Genesis 37:12-14 NIV).

Compassion and prudence directed this plan. On Jacob’s part, he was concerned for the welfare of his sons and their family’s possessions. On Joseph’s part, obedience to his father motivated him. Notice how determined Joseph was to carry out Jacob’s orders (37:14-17).

However, right motives could not prevent trouble. Jacob was seemingly unaware of the hatred of his ten older sons for Joseph. He might have known there was no love lost between them, but he didn’t realize how thoroughly jealousy ruled their hearts. We have to face the truth that loving parents are rarely the best judges of their children’s character. We love them very much, so that we fail to see what they actually are and do.

Joseph walked on the path of obedience. He honored God by his choice. But the next events demonstrate that neither faith nor good character are shields against trouble. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV). Watch out for the trap of second guessing a correct course of action when trouble comes during it and after it. You can do the right thing and experience much grief. Please make God’s glory rather than your happiness the standard of your actions.

Grace and peace, David

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Six)

20120605_1038432 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (NIV).

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).

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 acted differently. 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.)

Let’s think of some examples. 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? In the Scriptures you see 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 point of history for his 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, consider Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10; 15:16; 20:9)
  • By leading them to produce a unified message: the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ

The Scriptures themselves are one of the brightest witnesses to the sovereign grace of God. The Lord the Spirit reached down among people 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! He can change your life and the lives of people you love!

Grace and peace, David