Psalm 63 (Part Three)

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory (63:2 NIV).

Verses two through eight presents five vital experiences of the saints (those set apart for God, which is a basic idea about true believers.) Each of us should seek to know each of these experiences in an increasing measure. Salvation is not some kind of “fire insurance policy” but the experience of eternal life with God that begins now. Each ideally will develop in an increasing measure. The five experiences are:

  • God’s glory
  • Praise
  • Satisfaction
  • Meditation
  • Trust

Unfortunately, some approach the Bible and its message with mere intellectual curiosity. They like to hear “steps for successful living” or how to be prosperous or moral or have a happy family or whatever quest they’re into. The Bible becomes a manual that provides a philosophy for life or counsel about how to get through their problems. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said years ago, they have “taken up” Christianity, but Christianity has never taken hold of them. To them, it is practical information without spiritual transformation. This psalm does not permit such an approach. It speaks of the person whom the true and living God has “taken up”. Against a barren assent or knowledge, this psalm tells us of spiritual experience with God as the center, as the great desire of the heart. King David’s purpose in this song is to shout out that God himself may be known!

It is important to remember that David lived during the time when the law or old covenant governed a person’s approach to God. His worship had to be through physical means like sacrifices offered at an altar at the earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle. We must think about the means he needed to use in worship. Certainly, all believers in God in all ages know God himself through faith. My point does not concern the reality of fellowship with God, or even whether any particular believer in one age of redemptive history had a greater desire for or intimacy with God than a believer in a different age. Everything is in proportion to one’s faith. But we ought to keep in mind the historical setting of this psalm.

When David wrote “in the sanctuary”, he meant that physical place chosen by God as the home of the Ark of the Covenant. Earlier in Israel’s history, this had been the tabernacle built in the time of Moses; later it would be the temple constructed by Solomon. David lived in a transitional period, and he meant the tent he had erected to house the Ark. During the law covenant, God revealed his glory in connection with the Ark. The old covenant people could see the cloud of glory arising from above the gold mercy seat of the Ark, between “the wings of the cherubim”. Part of David’s experience was very physical.

In the new covenant, believers in Jesus the Messiah are God’s temple or sanctuary. For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people (2 Corinthians 6:17 NIV; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:4-5; etc.) We do not go to a place to see a physical appearance of God’s glory, but the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us (1 Peter 4:14 NIV). When we are with other believers in Jesus, we form the temple of God that we already are. The Lord Jesus is present in such gatherings (Matthew 18:20). This truth should cause us to worship together with reverence and awe! By faith we can see the Living One in our sanctuary! Since we are God’s temple, we can know his spiritual presence (which is very real; something does not have to be material to be real, witness God himself.) In our gatherings, we should see his power and glory. We should see his power in the transformation of lives. We should realize that there is shining spiritual glory in our meetings. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Four)

Psalm 18:7-19

The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry (18:7 NIV).

In this psalm, David taught his people to sing with him about God’s deliverance of him, so that they might have confidence that God would bring full deliverance one day through the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah. He previously declared the desperate situation he was in. Next, he pointed out in marvelous poetic pictures God acting to rescue him.

We gain our identity from big events in our lives. In birth, we enter this world and a family. That family gives us our name and forms our basic ideas, expectations, habits, and morals. It can take our God-given personality and either nurture it or twist it. When a man and a woman join in marriage, they give what they are to each other, and they form a new family identity, which in turn will nurture the new partners or twist them.

God gives us a new identity when he saves us and makes us part of our people. Our new identity comes from the event of redemption. God intends it to form us increasingly into his image, as we walk with each other in newness of life. Sadly, what we learn and experience with others in a local fellowship of believers can distort us from what our likeness to God ought to be. If you’re with people that are greedy or angry or judgmental or shallow, you will be influenced by their attitudes and behavior. In this new covenant age, the redemptive event is what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross and his resurrection. We ought to be gospel formed people. Our identity then influences how we think and act: You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 CSB). Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1 NIV). The truth of the gospel sets the direction of our way of life.

In the old covenant, the event of redemption was the exodus from Egypt, including the crossing of the Red Sea and the receiving of the law covenant at Sinai. Much of what we hear about the old covenant people Israel in the Prophets and the Writings flows from the exodus. It gave them their identity. They were a physically redeemed people. Why did I go into this matter? It matters because David wrote about his deliverance from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul (see the heading of this psalm) through the “lenses” of the exodus. He used the language of the crossing of the sea and the giving of the law to talk about how the Lord rescued him.

We can speak of poetic language and metaphors, but this is more than that. It is personal and redemptive. David understood that the God of the exodus and Sinai was the Lord who delivered him. It was the God who redeemed his people from their enemy Egypt who delivered David from his enemies.

In our next post on this psalm, we want to look at the imagery that David used from the exodus and Sinai. But at this point, let us examine ourselves. Do we consciously think of ourselves as redeemed people? Does the truth of the gospel events permeate our world and life view? Do we act as people set free by Christ? We have a lot to glory in. Let us move forward with the joy of redeemed people. But the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:9b-10 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

A Promise Fulfilled

Luke 2:25-35

For my eyes have seen your salvation (Luke 2:30 CSB).

Waiting can be difficult. How we all struggled with waiting when we were children! Most of us still struggle with waiting as adults. Think traffic snarls, doctor’s offices, and being seated at a popular restaurant on a busy weekend. Patience to wait for God’s time is a spiritual grace that comes from the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our text is about a man named Simeon who had to wait. We are not told how long he waited, but it is apparent that he waited for what God would do to bring comfort to Israel from the time he came to faith in God, and he was apparently old (2:29). God’s comfort to Israel had been prophesied seven hundred years before Simeon by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:1, 9-11). Since Simeon was righteous and devout (2:25), he waited for God to fulfill his word.

Besides the ancient promise from Isaiah, Simeon waited expectantly for another reason. The Holy Spirit was on Simeon and had told him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Remember that Christ means Messiah or “the Anointed One”.) The Promised Rescuer was about to appear. During the old covenant, the Spirit of God came on a person to enable them to do some task for the Lord. Simeon’s mission would be to say something significant about the Christ, which is the reason God assured him life until he would see him. In new covenant days, the Spirit lives in all God’s people constantly.

In some unexplained way, the Spirit directed Simeon to go into the temple courts at the very time Mary and Joseph obeyed the Lord about the required sacrifices regarding her son. Notice that their walk of obedient faith brought them to the place where they reached confirmation about the person and work of Jesus. It is important to be doing what the Lord wants us to do! For example, when we gather to pray, the Lord often uses the prayers of our brothers and sisters to refresh our spirits. So then, what did Joseph and Mary hear from the Lord through Simeon?

  • They heard an encouraging word that God keeps his promises (2:29). This was soon to be personally important, because this event happened before the terrorist Herod ordered the execution of the infants around Bethlehem. As the Lord God kept his promise to Simeon, so he would keep the promises about Jesus.
  • They heard confirmation that salvation would come through Jesus (2:30; cf. Matthew 1:21). They needed this, because it is hard to get one’s thoughts around the idea that a baby in arms would become the Savior of the world
  • They received insight into the Lord’s global vision (2:31-32). All spiritual blessing for all people from all nations would come through the Messiah, who was their baby (Ephesians 1:3). The great turning point in history had arrived when all people would be brought back together in Christ. Luke gradually builds on this concept through Luke and Acts.
  • Yet from a different angle, they learned that Jesus would bring division to humanity (2:33-35). Jesus would cause some to rise and others to fall in the people of Israel. When Christ began to announce who he was, many rejected his claims, while some bowed before him in faith. In this personal word to Mary, Simeon foretold the cost to her own soul. A sword would pierce it! Oh no! Horrors! This happened when she saw her son hanging on the tree, bearing the sins of his people whom he came to save. Up to this point, Mary had glorified God for the blessings connected with her son. Suddenly, she experienced the painful side of the story of God’s glory in Jesus.

We must listen to all God’s message, not simply what pleases us. In the unpleasant parts, God is also acting for his glory and our good. Don’t try to soften the “rough edges” of the gospel. They also reveal the glory and goodness of the Lord to those who will humbly listen in faith.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Nine)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

As we consider the subject of secret sins, we come to a fourth point. The person who knows the Lord has confidence in the grace and compassion of the Lord. This is the confidence in God that is part of the essence of faith. Here we see a believer that has sinned freely confessing hidden sins to his or her God. But why does the believer confess them? We do because we know that God is ready to receive us, to help us in our weaknesses, to blot out even the stain unseen. Make no mistake, people set apart for God take their sins seriously, because God is very serious in our lives. (In other words, we fear God.) But we also have a large view of the magnitude of redeeming love, and so we ask for forgiveness! However, there is more to our war against remaining sin.

Keep your servant also from willful sins…. The law covenant recognized two categories of sins: unintentional and defiant (Numbers 15:27-31). The law covenant made provision for a sacrificial covering for those who sinned unintentionally. However, there was no sacrifice provided for those who sinned defiantly or willfully. The law had only one word for any such sinner: death. Since David lived under the law covenant, he was concerned not to bring the force of God’s law upon his head. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:56: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (ESV). So, David prayed that God would keep him from such sins. It is good and wise that we pray for God’s help in spiritual warfare. In the new covenant, we have the Holy Spirit as our Helper against sin (cf. Galatians 5:16-26).

David continued with the plea may they not rule over me. Again, we must remember that David is praying as an old covenant believer. In many areas, our spiritual experience is similar to those who lived under the law. But in others, we must never underestimate the difference that Christ established in his new and better covenant. We must understand this phrase used by David carefully, because what David prayed for under the law, we now possess in the new covenant. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). “What he [David] there [Psalm 19:13] so earnestly prays for, the apostle in the words of the text [Rm 6:14] promiseth unto all believers, by virtue of the grace of Christ Jesus administered in the gospel [the new covenant].” [Owen, Works, Vol. 7, p. 506.] Having said this, we must carefully consider the following facts:

  • Sin still continues in new covenant believers (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11). Sin still continues to incite us to rebellion against God and to break his commands. In this way sin has lost none of its character as sin, whether one has been a Christian five minutes or fifty years. Sin is still deceptive and persistent.
  • Yet sin is a weakened force in believers. Though it is still sin, it is unable to rise to dominate the inner person of the heart of the believer. There is a new master in the heart, the reigning grace of Jesus Christ the Lord (Romans 5:21; 6:15-22).
  • Though sin is weakened in believers, it still strives for domination. We are still in a war against sin. Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). And since we are in a war, we need to make use of every kind of privilege and spiritual armor that God has given us to fight sin (Ephesians 6:10-18).

“This is one principal difference between the law [the old covenant] and the gospel [the new covenant], and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, ‘What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?’ Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: ‘The strength of sin is the law.’ But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them” (Owen, Works, Vol. 7, pp. 546-547, my emphasis).

Grace and peace, David

Prayer in a Broken World

img_1175Psalm 10:12-18

David began the twin psalms (nine and ten) with praise as he thought about God’s rule over a broken world. We have seen that in psalm ten, he focused more on human hardships in a broken world than on God’s rule. The Spirit led David to sing about both aspects of reality. This perspective is beneficial for us to have. It makes our worship times real. We do not have to suppose that all of life is beautiful and happy in order to worship the Lord God. This realism guides us to pray.

When we read today’s text, it is important to remember the covenant under which David lived and worshiped. He lived under the law or old covenant. It was a ministry of death and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:6-9). The law, though graciously given to provide Israel with access to the true God, did not and could not provide grace for the disobedient. So then, as David wrote about the wicked and the evil that they brought on others, he prayed for God to exercise justice on the wicked (10:15). We do not live under the law covenant, but we are in Christ. We have a better covenant and a mission that includes prayer for the salvation of the wicked. With that in mind, let’s consider the other requests that David presents to the Lord.

  • David prayed for God’s involvement. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted (10:12; ESV for each verse quoted). This is bold language to use the Holy God, but he understood that he could talk to the Lord of all in a personal manner. David wanted God to act in power (lift up your hand) and compassion (forget not the afflicted).
  • David expressed his frustration about the attitude of the wicked. Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? (10:13) Since David knew the glory of the majestic God, he questioned the way the wicked thought and behaved. We, too, see the heartlessness, cruelty, and malice in the world, and we can express surprise about the cockiness of the enemies of God and his people. One of their ruling motives is their lack of sense regarding eternity and the judgment to come. They refuse to consider it; they do not wish to think on it. This means that we ought to pray, because they will not.
  • David confessed God’s great attributes. But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless (10:14). He knew that God was not far off, though he has said that earlier (10:1). The Lord God did see with purpose. He was not a mere spectator, but watching for the time and place to act. He knew that his God was worthy of his trust and the faith of those in need. We ought always to strive to confess how God’s character and abilities apply to the situations for which we are praying.
  • David worshiped the Lord for his coming victory. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land (10:16). Although David saw the present distress, he remembered that a better day was coming. The truth that the Lord rules over all had not changed, even when God seemed to stand far away. God would act for his people against the nations invading their land. In the old covenant, the people and their land were closely connected. For this reason, this is an important expression of faith by the psalmist.
  • David reassured himself and those who listen to his song. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more (10:17-18). He concluded his prayer in a hope-filled manner. God would act for the good of his afflicted people. Strength does rise “as we wait upon the Lord”!

One day the terror will end, the afflicted will be rescued, the fatherless will find eternal rest in the Father’s house. Until then, we must pray. “Lord, protect your people whom you love from those who act wickedly and who cause terror in this broken world.”

Grace and peace, David

Responding to God’s Word (Part Two)

20150523_1439292 Chronicles 15:8-19

In our last article, we mentioned a couple wrong responses to God’s word: ignoring it and failing to apply it to ourselves. The last mentioned can happen because of distraction, laziness, or some other reason. In today’s text, we learn three good responses to the Word. Anytime that people respond positively to God’s message is a time to give thanks and worship, because it is only God’s grace that makes us live godly.

The right response is renewed reformation or better, transformation (15:8). Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2 HCSB). We must see our lives, worship, and fellowship transformed in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. This is a task that is never completed in this world. Churches and the people who are the gospel partners in them too easily get stuck in tradition, being unwilling to transform their beliefs and practices according to God’s Word, the Bible. Brothers and sisters, we must be willing to walk in the light of the Word that the Spirit of God gives us!

  • The starting point of this renewed reformation was the effect of the message on the leader, Asa. “When Asa heard these words… he took courage.” He had courage to lead his people in change. When we know that we are mired in the ways of tradition and unbiblical practice, we must act courageously and change. The lack of this courage yields churches that are in steep decline. To how many people is your local gathering actively reaching out now? Can you name them? Does your group pray for these people? Please don’t complain about the decline in church attendance if you aren’t involved in outreach. Being filled with the Spirit produces boldness in God’s people.
  • Asa responded by acting to remove the objects of false religion from the land (cf. Deuteronomy 12:4). We must clean out evil, the thorns that choke out the fruit, so that the good fruit may flourish. Anyone who has ever had a garden knows this truth. You must always be after the weeds, or soon the good plants will die. Yet people fail to apply this truth to spiritual matters. If you allow the weeds of false teaching or ungodly living or unrestrained desires for worldly matters to remain in your heart, they will choke out the good fruit of the Spirit.
  • Asa also sought to restore true worship by repairing the altar. Here we must think for a moment according to the old covenant. The altar at the temple was crucial for old covenant worship. The Israelites had to offer their sacrifices there for worship and fellowship with God. If it was in a state of disrepair, their worship would have been hindered. We worship properly when we keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

The response of covenant renewal (15:9-15). Such assemblies had occurred earlier in Israel’s history (Deuteronomy 29:1ff; Joshua 8:30-35; 24:25; cf. 1 Samuel 11:14-15) and also later (2 Chronicles 23:16; 34:31-32; cf. 29:10). Here are the parts of such a gathering: First came the call and gathering of a great assembly (15:9-10). It this case it was around the time of the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), which was one of the three times of the year that all the men were required to assemble in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Asa probably took advantage of this time to impress the truth upon his people. Second, it was a gathering to worship of the Lord (15:11). They presented sacrifices from the plunder that the Lord had given them (14:13-15). In this way they would be acknowledge God’s goodness according to the manner of worship of the law covenant. We should be bringing a sacrifice of praise to the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).

Third, their commitment to the Lord was reaffirmed (15:12-14). This recommitment touched the roots of their being as God’s people. We see:

  • Essence of true commitment ­– They agreed to seek the Lord with all their heart and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5; 11:13, 22; 30:2, 6, 10). The Lord Jesus calls us to the same kind of commitment today (Mk 8:34).
  • Expectation of true commitment – They saw that God was serious about total devotion to him, as he had stated in the Law (Deuteronomy 13). In a physical nation, the penalty was severe. New covenant people are to enforce commitment to the Lord in a spiritual manner, since we are a spiritual people (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
  • Excitement about true commitment – They were glad about the whole-hearted commitment that they saw others make. When we see commitment to the truth in other, we should rejoice, too (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4). Are you making other believers rejoice because of the commitment they see in you? Total commitment leads to great joy!

The Lord God responded to their faith (15:15). He gave them rest!

Asa was affected by the act of reaffirmation. He responded by cleaning his own house (15:16-19) in two ways. He removed the queen mother from her position. She was a descendant of David’s son Absalom and was a source of much evil. She had to be removed. He also contributed financially to the worship of the Lord. Asa got around to giving to the Lord what he had promised. What should you give? The old trite phrase is “put your money where your mouth is.” Generous giving, including the giving of money, should be a priority matter among a people transformed by the grace of God. Give for the glory of God!

Grace and peace, David

A Promise Forsaken (Part Two)

DSCN32041 Kings 12:25-33

After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king, but he acted foolishly. He followed the advice of his young friends and rejected the counsel of older men who understood the mood of the people for change. Jeroboam led the revolt of the people against Rehoboam, and as God had determined, he became the king of the ten northern tribes of Israel. Rehoboam was left with two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and he wanted to start a civil war to regain the other ten, but the Lord ordered him not to do that (12:1-24). This meant that Jeroboam could set up his kingdom in peace.

He had a good opportunity, and his first steps were necessary and wise. Though the Lord had restrained the aggressiveness of Rehoboam, Jeroboam had to act wisely to protect his people from a hostile neighbor. He fortified two cities and made one of them his capital. The Lord expects his people to act prudently in a troubled world. However, prudence can too easily cross the line to fear. This is the outward occasion for Jeroboam’s turn from the Lord God.

To understand Jeroboam’s fear, consider the covenantal context in which they lived. God had made Jeroboam king over the majority of the old covenant people of God. Having a king outside of the line of David did not terminate that covenant relationship. The men were still obligated to journey to Jerusalem three times of year for God’s appointed festivals. The worship of God took place in Jerusalem, where every sacrifice was to be made. The temple made by Solomon was extremely impressive, which would affect everyone who attended worship there. With that in mind, listen to what the Holy Spirit tells us in God’s Word.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam” (12:26-27 NIV)

His fears came from his own thoughts, and they were filled with fear rather than faith in the living God. The Lord had promised Jeroboam an enduring dynasty. In a short time, he feared the loss of both his kingdom and his own life. How ready we all are to trust our own fears rather than the promises of God! The Lord’s promises are used by the Spirit to build hope; unbelief fuels distress and despair.

His fears impelled him to seek advice, but he clearly did not seek the Lord’s counsel. Jeroboam invented a new religion! Notice how he accomplished that evil.

  • He made two golden calves (12:28a). Idolatry was direct disobedience against the Lord and his covenant law (Exodus 20:4-7). Idolatry is the “evil exchange” that people make when they turn their backs on the Lord (Romans 1:21-23).
  • He appealed to the people’s love of ease (12:28b). He posed as their benefactor, who was troubled that they had to take such a difficult trip to Jerusalem. He built shrines in many places to make worship “easier” (12:31a)
  • He referred to the Scriptures, though in a twisted way (12:28c). His words about the two golden calves he made are almost an exact quote from Exodus 32:8. Please understand that the quotation of a few Bible verses does not mean that the teacher is telling the truth. Jeroboam intended them to pursue evil. He put the golden calves at the two extreme ends of his kingdom: Dan in the north and Bethel in south (12:29-30).
  • He made people priests that were not from the tribe of Levi (12:31). God had restricted the priesthood to the tribe of Levi, and Israel had suffered greatly in the wilderness when they had rebelled against God’s will in this matter (cf. Numbers 16-17).
  • He instituted a new religious festival as an alternative to what the Lord had ordered (12:32-33). The purpose was to deflect the people from the longtime worship of the Lord. And it was easier: they didn’t have to go three times a year, but only once!
  • He set an evil example (12:33). Jeroboam practiced the evil imaginations of his heart. He showed people that they could do his new religion and “get away with doing it”.

In all this, we are not told of any objection made by his people. They readily bought into their new king’s new religion. By all this, Jeroboam strengthened their desire to forsake the Lord. And he abandoned the promise that God had made to him.

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I on a course of my own fears and the love of personal ease? Are we determined to follow the Lord Jesus? Read Mark 8:34 for his way.

Grace and peace, David

A Dangerous Encounter

IMG_2088Ruth 3:1-9

In the Bible we read of many actions of believing men and women that we are not to imitate, though we are to learn from them. Some of these are easy to discern. For example, Moses and the people of Israel sacrificed a lamb at Passover and sprinkled the blood on the doorposts of their houses. Clearly, we are not obligated to do that, because Jesus Christ is the better and final Passover Lamb. Many actions are controlled by the covenant under which they occur. Circumcision was mandatory under the old covenant, but now it is nothing (Galatians 5:2-6). Other matters were plainly for one event, like walking around the city of Jericho to have its walls fall down. As tempting as it might sound to some, God is not calling you to walk around Congress in session until the walls come down.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit does want us to see what faith in the living God can accomplish (cf. Hebrews 11; Romans 15:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). For this reason, we must read the Bible wisely, especially the narrative portions. When you read of someone doing something, pay attention to the historical and covenantal setting. The Lord may simply want you to learn from their faith or their failure to walk in God’s ways.

In our text we read of a dangerous encounter. It was planned by Naomi for the good of her daughter-in-law Ruth. I think that both acted in faith at this point. However, the plan was very risky for many reasons, which we will consider. If parts of the Bible were rated like movies are, this passage would have an “R” rating for language and adult situations. Such accounts do not embarrass God, since he created us as sexual beings, and these are matters that he wants us to think about. So then, let us listen to God’s word.

Naomi came up with a risky plan (3:1-4). To see the risk, we need to understand the historical setting. In that culture, parents were responsible for the marriage of their children (cf. Judges 14:1-3). Ruth, as a widowed daughter-in-law, had put herself under Naomi’s authority. For this reason, Naomi wanted to “find rest” for Ruth; that is, a husband for her. At this point it is reasonable to ask why Naomi simply didn’t approach Boaz directly about marrying Ruth. The Bible provides no answer. Given Israel’s history with Moabite women (Numbers 25: 1-3), some suggest that Boaz might have been reluctant to get involved with Ruth, but then we ask, how would a midnight rendezvous at a threshing floor have improved the situation? We must say that we simply don’t know.

In addition, Naomi seemed to approach this marriage proposal under the concept of a kinsman-redeemer (not levirate marriage, which concerned the responsibility of a brother-in-law toward his deceased brother’s wife, Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) Naomi was not asking Ruth to act like a hussy and throw herself at the first man she meets in a bar. No, Ruth acted as a woman in need of redemption. She sought the liberation of herself and the land inheritance of her deceased father-in-law and deceased husband.

Yet Naomi used a daring method to bring Ruth and Boaz together. Clearly, Naomi had been doing some feminine thinking about this first date! She knew where Boaz would be and that he would be happy from celebrating the threshing of grain, which to him meant a full stomach and a full bank account! This was a perfect time to approach a man! Naomi advised Ruth to make herself attractive, which is a good idea for any young woman who is thinking about marriage. Men usually aren’t that attracted to a woman who is dressed like construction worker in a blue jeans commercial. Appearing clean, feminine and sweet smelling is a better way to attract men. A woman needs to dress for the kind of man she wants to attract. It is possible that Naomi might have been telling Ruth to dress like a bride (cf. Esther 2:12; Ezekiel 16:6-14). However, Naomi sent Ruth into a dangerous situation. She had already spoken to Ruth of the danger of being out alone (2:22), but here she sent Ruth out alone at night to a threshing floor, which was a place of sexual encounter in that culture. (Think a cheap motel for current images in our culture.)

People tend to make plans that have a mixture of good and evil and of wisdom and folly. This is the reason we need counsel continually from God’s word and godly people. So then, what are you currently reading in the Scriptures? Are you part of a small group? Read the Bible together as a small group. I encourage people to do this constantly, because it gives not only mutual accountability but also a basis for shared spiritual knowledge. We need to learn together who we are and what we have in Jesus Christ, so that our way of life would show forth his glory.

Grace and peace, David

Lessons from Ruth’s Conversion

IMG_0855Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth had chosen to follow the Lord, instead of making the choice for her former gods, as her sister-in-law had. Along with that choice came other immediate consequences that produced a new identity for her. Ruth knew this and was ready to accept it, though she could not realize the dramatic changes would follow. It is only when we begin to experience the reality of following the Lord that we start to understand the radical, new life that results from being part of the family of God.

When we become a believer in the true and living God, the way we look at ourselves changes. As a believer who lived before Christ’s death and resurrection, Ruth became part of the old covenant nation of Israel. She was joined to Yahweh and his people. This meant that she would from that time on live as one of the Lord’s people, keeping the law’s commands and regulations. What she ate, how she dressed, her thoughts, attitudes, words and actions were now within the boundaries of old covenant life. For example, she could longer have a ham sandwich for lunch! She had to keep the Sabbath. She had to keep the laws of ritual cleanliness. Yes, even the basic desire of her heart had to change.  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

As new covenant people, we become part of Christ’s body or church (assembly or gathering). We are united to Christ by faith. Everything in our way of life must change. When we wake up every morning, we must remember we are in Christ and part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have a new mission statement and a way of life that agrees with it (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:1-4:1; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3; etc.)

With this union with Christ to God the Father’s family, we gain a new passion for life. We stop wandering aimlessly through life and begin to live for the kingdom of God. Ruth’s passion showed up in the strong promise and oath she made (1:17), probably made with a fitting gesture, such as slashing one’s throat. (Remember that when people speak with emotion, we tend to use gestures!) She was very willing to join the people of God and to worship the true and living God the rest of her life.

True Christianity involves living with passion for the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. The good news has forever changed us, and we want others to hear the good news of Jesus and be saved! And so we gladly make sacrifices of wealth, health, leisure, honor, and perhaps even our lives for the Lord Christ.

Our daughter Sarah once attended at a meeting for managers, where the founder of the company told the story of the start of that company and the sacrifices many had made to launch it. Christ’s church grows in the same way. People make sacrifices for the benefit of others and to extend the spread of the good news. Are you passionate about what the mission of the church, the new covenant people? Are you glad that you’re part of the people that follow Jesus Christ?

Our hardships can become the doorway to faith in the Lord for others. What must have Naomi been thinking as she listened to Ruth’s confession of faith? We are not told! The writer allows us to ponder the scene in solitude. In any case, to the praise of God’s glory, all of Naomi’s complaints failed to have a detrimental influence on Ruth. But clearly, Naomi was not filled with joy at the moment, as this “pest” of a daughter-in-law walked by her side, because Naomi’s words were filled with her bitterness when she arrived in Bethlehem. However, God has told us the rest of the story that neither Naomi nor Ruth knew at that moment. God wants us to share his smile, as his sovereign grace as provided a kind, loving, believing sister-in-the-Lord to walk beside struggling Naomi. For at that time, the story of God’s glory was very much wrapped up in Ruth, and through her, Naomi’s life is about to change from bitter sorrow to sweet joy.

My friend, why not trade in your bitterness, sorrows, frustration, disappointment, and anger for the opportunity to serve the Lord with gladness, because he delights in joy and offers to share joy with you? Life is short. Don’t waste your life being peeved and pouting.

Think on the words of the last stanza of “The Master Has Called Us” by Sarah Doudney, 1871.

“The Master has called us, in life’s early morning,
With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God:
The Master has called us, His sons and His daughters,
We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.”

Grace and peace, David

Unnormal Provision

IMG_4249Ezra 1:1-11

We anticipate that people will act according to their character and their worldview. Moms are supposed to be tender and affirming; judges are supposed to uphold justice; servers in restaurants are supposed to be happy and considerate (at least if they want a generous tip). When we meet people, we tend to classify them immediately. We may or may not approve of their actions and personality, but we assume that they act consistently. Then we make adjustments when they are in our immediate world. Think of the grouchy boss or the snoopy person on Facebook. We learn how to adapt our interactions with such people.

Israel had been in exile from the Promised Land for seventy years. During that times they suffered at times and thrived at others. This happens. Some live in misery and bitterness, while others profit from the situations. One reality that all the exiles in Babylon and then Persia endured was that they were not free. They had been taken out of the land by the will of the Lord, and they had lost the old covenant way to worship and to draw near to God (at the temple offering sacrifices through the priests). Oppression and separation had become the “normal” for them after seventy years. There wasn’t any reason to look for change, as long as they were under the heel of the world’s superpower of their time. Or was there?

The Lord teaches us in his word that he is able to change the normal situation and to provide unnormal provision for his people. Yet we are so accustomed to the normal that we feel that the normal we are in now will always be normal. The post-exilic books (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) are unfamiliar territory to most readers, with the exception of Daniel. We ought to read them, since the Lord God has much material in them which will build hope (Romans 15:4). Since the new covenant people are “scattered exiles” in this world (study 1 Peter), there are many lessons in these writings for our profit.

  • God acted in conformity with the purpose of his will: “in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” (1:1; cf. Ephesians 1:11). God acts according to his plans, which he sometimes makes known to his people. We saw previously that God acted in the exodus according to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here, God did what he told Jeremiah he was going to do (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10-14). God will always do what he has promised, but we should never expect him to do what people speculating about “Bible prophecy” have taught. For this reason, we need to know the word, and we learn it by carefully reading it.
  • God acted directly on the heart of Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, in order that he might make a proclamation (1:1). He was going to speak in a manner very unnormal for an emperor, most of whom have been very oppressive in the history of the world. The Lord can act directly on the hearts of the rulers of nations to turn them to do what he chooses (Proverbs 21:1). He is sovereign over the affairs of kingdoms. For a man in his high position who led an empire that followed other gods, this was very unnormal.
  • God revealed to Cyrus a mission for him to accomplish (1:2). The Lord taught him that he and not Cyrus was the true ruler of the world and its nations and so Cyrus received his position from the Lord. With this idea of his purpose in God’s world, Cyrus was faithful to the mission that God gave him. We must remember our mission (Matthew 28:19-20). Let us ask ourselves who is more faithful: a pagan emperor or us? Cyrus knew that this was a specific mission. He was to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem. We are to help build a temple for the Lord from all nations.
  • God instilled a spirit for the mission in Cyrus (1:3-4). He became a coach to help God’s people participate in the fulfillment of the mission. He encouraged them to return to Jerusalem and to build his temple. He told people to contribute to the task. This is very unnormal, especially when you read today’s news and see how opposed human governments are to God’s people today.
  • God changed the hearts of his people to become involved in the mission (1:5-6). God stirred up some to return to Jerusalem. He moved others to give to help them on their way. From the unnormal of captivity (which they had got used to as normal), the Lord led them to return to the normal for the old covenant people: life in the Promised Land.
  • God induced Cyrus to return the articles of worship that had been taken from the temple (1:7-11). Everything in old covenant worship had to be done according to the pattern that the Lord gave Moses (Exodus 40:16-33). The people needed those articles to reestablish worship of the living God. Therefore, the Lord made sure that they received them. These articles were worth a large amount of money, and for Cyrus to part with them was truly unnormal provision.

The Lord God who acted in Cyrus’ life is the same Almighty God today. The Lord Jesus, who rules over everything for the good of his church, knows what we need for the mission he gave us. He can change human governments, in order that we might be able to reach people. Or he can give us Holy Spirit boldness to act during opposition and adversity. May we be encouraged that the Lord is able to give whatever “unnormal provision” we need.

Grace and peace, David