The Judging of Israel’s Neighbors

Amos 1:3-2:5

As we start to look at this long section, we need to remember the main purpose of the message of Amos. He was sent to minister God’s Word to Israel. Notice the phrase “concerning Israel” in verse one. Was Amos using this section to gain a hearing among the people of the northern kingdom? That is a possible explanation. People like to hear someone else’s sin exposed and denounced, which is one reason that tabloid journalism is so popular. However, it might be that he was “circling in on them” as a bird of prey might do.

Each of the judgments against Israel’s neighbors is presented according to a set formula.

  • All open with the phrase “this is what the Lord says,” and some close with the reinforcing phrase “says the [Sovereign] Lord.”
  • All contain the phrase “for three sins… even for four….” This seems to be a Semitic expression to stress that the sins of these nations were great. “Is judgment coming on them for just three sins? No, it is coming for much more than that!”
  • All contain a phrase that says something like “I will send fire… that will consume the fortresses….”
  • All present the judgment as coming from the Lord. Israel’s neighbors will not be overcome by some chance or random calamities but by the act of God, regardless of the intermediate agent that he uses.

To help us understand this section, we need to answer three questions.

Who were these people groups?

  • Their location: they surrounded the northern kingdom of Israel. Tyre was northwest of Israel and Damascus (Aram) northeast. Gaza and the other Philistines were southwest. Edom was to the southeast, with Moab and then Ammon north of Edom on Israel’s east, and Judah was directly south of Israel.
  • Their descent: the Arameans, people of Tyre, and the Philistines were all Gentiles. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, while the Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The people of Judah and Israel were descendants of Jacob.

What were the sins of these nations? First, let us consider the sins of the Gentile people groups mentioned.

  • They were guilty of a lack of compassion. They sent some of Israel into captivity and slavery (1:6, 9). Selling them to Edom was especially wicked, because Edom was Israel’s ancient and incorrigible enemy. They were filled with uncontrolled anger and a lack of pity (1:11). In both of these they showed themselves to be most ungodly. God expects people everywhere to reflect his glory as self-controlled and merciful and compassionate.
  • They were guilty of treaty breaking (1:9). Loyalty and honesty are very important to the God of truth and faithfulness.
  • They were guilty of cruelty. They “threshed” Israel (1:3). A threshing sledge had “sharp iron teeth attached to rollers which passed over the sheaves to thresh the grain and to crush and shred the straw” (Laetsch). You can have a nightmare thinking about the pain and death this would cause as people when thrown under the threshing sledges. They ripped open Israel’s pregnant women (1:13). Compare 2 Kings 8:12; Hosea 13:16. As bad as this sin is, it is aggravated by its motive: greed for territory. God examines the motives of the human heart. Both of these demonstrate the perversity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 1:31).
  • They dishonored the dead (2:1), turning their bodies into simple materials. Since we are made in the image of God, humans are to be treated with respect. Notice that Gentiles against Gentiles committed this last sin. God takes notice of what nations do and judges them for it.

We are watching our world descend back into the pit of cruelty from which the revivals of the Reformation and the First Great Awakening lifted it out of for a time. Only a knowledge of God’s glory in Christ can stop this descent.

Second, notice the sins of Judah, the southern kingdom.

  • They rejected God’s law, both as God’s standard of instruction and in its particular commands. Notice that they are the only surrounding nation judged by this standard. This rejection included their heart attitude and their actions. Not to practice God’s message is to despise it in some way.
  • They followed false teaching. Every person is responsible for the teaching that they listen to (Mk 4:24-25). They allowed their hearts to be led astray (2:4).

What leads people astray today? Many wrong ideas about the purpose of life, like materialism, hedonism, addiction and substance abuse, and false religions.

How were these nations judged?

  • They were judged impartially. God gave no special respect to any group (Acts 10:34). God did not vary from the standard that he had revealed to that group. Each was judged according to what God had made known, whether through creation, the conscience or through the Scriptures.
  • They were judged inescapably. Consider what happened to Aram or Syria (2 Kings 16:9).
  • They were judged by the Lord. The Sovereign God acts in history to rule his creation, including the nations of mankind. Notice the number of times that God says, “I will….” The fate of Tyre, its complete destruction in part by Nebuchadnezzar and then totally by Alexander, is one proof of God’s action. Observe how many times God said, “I will not turn back my wrath.”

This is the message that we need to tell our neighbors (Romans 1:18). You have to start the “Romans road” in the right place. God does judge people (Hebrews 9:27). All people only have hope when they repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,

The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part One)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

I once attended a disaster preparedness meeting for churches. During the meeting, one of the speakers presented a number of possible disasters that could affect us all. What are some of these? The speaker put up a PowerPoint slide listing floods, hurricanes, food-borne diseases, chemical accidents, vector-borne diseases like the West Nile virus, pandemic influenza, bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, and agro-terrorism. Then he asked something like, “Are you worried yet?” At that moment I must confess that I felt underwhelmed. Perhaps I’ve heard too much hype about any number of possible disasters with the words “it could happen tomorrow!”

I can understand the situation that disaster preparedness presenters are in, because we who follow Jesus Christ have a very difficult time arousing interest in the subject of God’s wrath against sinners. Many times we get a “yeah, right, tell me later” response, because it seems some far out compared to the usual course of daily life. But our task, like the disaster presenters, is to tell people that they must be prepared to face God. Our text answers the question, “Why the cross?” And it shows the power of the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The cross addresses two judicial situations.

The first is God’s wrath against sinners (Romans 1:18). When we speak about God’s wrath, we are not talking about some kind of whimsical or capricious anger or a hot-headed explosion of a self-centered tyrant. As we will see, the cross dismisses those ideas at once. Instead, the wrath of God is the settled opposition of his entire being against sin, which is rebellion against God and twistedness. God knows that his glory or worth is the most important reality in the universe. It is soul-satisfying and he wants to share it with his creatures. Our horrifying problem is that we actually imagine we can have glory, significance and pleasure forever apart from God and in opposition to his ways. God must set himself against that delusion.

That means that God will judge sinners. We should realize that sin cannot be separated from the sinners who commit sin. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong (5:5 NIV). And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment (John 3:36 NLT; cf. Psalm 7:11; 11:5; Ephesians 5:6; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 6:16-17; 20:11-12).

Next, the apostle says the surprising words that God let sin committed prior to the cross go unpunished. The idea Paul talks about is not forgiveness of sins, which is the way that some try to translate the Greek text, but as the NIV correctly translates, leaving sins unpunished. What is Paul talking about?

“Paul’s meaning is rather that God ‘postponed’ the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant, allowing sinners to stand before him without their having provided an adequate ‘satisfaction’ of the demands of his holy justice (cf. Hebrews 10:4)”. [Moo, Commentary on Romans] It might have seemed that God, who is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4), did not really care about sin. How could God accept Abraham as his friend, since Abraham was a liar? How could David stand before God after committing adultery and murder? How can we, because we have sinned? We’ve rejected God as God, refused to love him, and rebelled against his word? We need a Savior!

Grace and peace, David

Destroyed from Lack of Knowledge (Part One)

Hosea 4:4-9

But let no one dispute; let no one argue, for my case is against you priests. You will stumble by day; the prophet will also stumble with you by night. And I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from serving as my priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your sons. The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against me. I will change their honor into disgrace (4:4-7 CSB).

In our two previous posts we considered God’s indictment against Israel. The Lord brought three charges of a lack of godliness and five charges of breaking the law covenant. Then he presented the consequences of Israel’s breaking of the covenant.

We humans are masters of blame-shifting when faced with charges of guilt. Instead of admitting our sinful ways and consequent guilt, we are quick to point the finger at someone else. This does not resolve our spiritual problems but complicates them, adding self-deception and false peace. Like a slip cover on an old couch, things seem more presentable, but underneath the old person remains.

In this follow-up to the indictment, the Lord pushes the finger-pointing aside to warn Israel of her serious danger. Israel was ripe for serious judgment. Time for a change of mind was being wasted in excuse making. Israel needed to return to the Lord immediately. Though the tone of this section is stern, we should honor the love and compassion that issues the warning. The Lord warns people to lead them to experience his goodness. God begins this section by removing Israel’s excuses.

Their root problem was a blameworthy lack of knowledge (4:6a). The priests, who were supposed to teach the people, rejected and ignored God’s law, the written revelation of God’s person, will and redemptive activity. Biblical worship begins with the mind (Romans 12:2; 2 Peter 3:18; Matthew 22:37). There is no secret knowledge for the gurus or the favored few. God speaks plainly through his word, and we are to tell it plainly, purely, and publicly.

The lack of knowledge is destructive. Whatever we do not know, we do not value. What we hold in low esteem, we neglect and perhaps despise. How many parents threw out their sons’ baseball cards that were collected during the 50s and 60s and that later became valuable? How many people have tossed out old furniture or dishes that someone else recognized as valuable antiques? Something can be old and worthless, but it might be old and extremely valuable. The Scriptures are in the second category.

They followed a path of those who reject truth.

  • They substituted an idol for the God of glory (4:7); see Romans 1:21-25. People cannot live as humans without an object of worship. Those who try not to worship become machines or animals… or simply desperately deceived!
  • They increased their rebellion against God (4:7; cf. Romans 1:24-31). Opposition to God’s will is habit-forming but with a twist. Every sinful experience darkens the heart, creating a lust for something more opposed to God and dulling the heart to what is truly beautiful.
  • They delighted in the sins of others (4:8; cf. Romans 1:32). Has anyone ever heard of television or the internet?

The Lord brought the threat of judgment. Whatever the pretenses of the priests, the Lord would not acknowledge them as his priests. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing. Too many people call themselves “Christian ministers” while they promote antichristian ideas and religions. Both people and priests would face punishment together. Why? Everyone is individually responsible to the Lord! God’s witness in creation, the conscience and the Bible combine to make everyone without excuse. Did the preacher lift up the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior? Did he present God’s word as absolute truth? Did he tell you that the only way to be right with God was by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone? Did he urge you to live godly? If he did, then you should have repented and believed. If not, then why did you listen?

Everyone brags in some way about how smart they are, until they want to make excuses for not understanding the Bible. God sees through such deep and deadly hypocrisy (cf. Mark 4:24).

Grace and peace, David

The Danger of Forsaking God (Part Two)

Hosea 2:2-13

And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord (2:13 ESV).

Previously, we considered that old covenant Israel abandoned the Lord by refusing to acknowledge God as the source of the blessings she enjoyed. Next, we see that Israel also abandoned the Lord by giving to her false gods what God had given to her (2:8).

You can sense the Lord’s disgust with her conduct. What a wretched woman Israel had become, taking from her husband to give to another lover. Notice her twisted thinking. She thought her blessings were the pay from her lovers, and then she returns a part of her pay for her meretricious conduct to the lover who had used her (2:13).

America, the wealthy nation, is rapidly heading for the day when she will find herself impoverished by seeking after idolatry and pantheistic forces. People refuse to look at the present misery of those who serve idols, and instead gladly welcome foolish, idolatrous ideas as the latest and greatest way to prosperity.

What should be done to a fallen woman like Israel? In this section, God uses the “powerfully tough” approach that we mentioned in our start pf this series. How would the Lord punish Israel for her sins?

First, the Lord would punish Israel by putting obstacles in her path (2:6). The Lord sometimes places “stop” or “warning” signs in the ways of sinners, because he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. God commands all people everywhere to repent. Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). These obstacles were intended to help Israel lose her adulterous way of life. When we can’t reach satisfaction in our sinning, we should be glad. God is opening a way out of the mess we have made of our lives. Consider the story of the lost son (Luke 15:17ff). Are you experiencing dissatisfaction in your sin? Turn back to the Source of joy!

Second, the Lord would punish Israel by judging her productivity (2:3, 9, 12). The Lord threatens to take back what he had given. This is a most just judgment on those who refuse to praise God who blesses. The Lord threatens to ruin what had supplied her with happiness and sustenance.

Third, the Lord would punish Israel by exposing her wickedness (2:10). Wherever you have sinners, you will have sins. But western civilization has delighted in displaying her debauchery to a watching world. We should listen to what the rest of the world says about us. No one would be able to deliver Israel when she fell into the Lord’s hands. Let us reflect on Hebrews 10:31. People have hated the sermons of Jonathan Edwards for nearly 300 years. One day the haters of the truth will know the terror of the Lord.

Fourth, the Lord would punish Israel by ending her religious festivals (2:11). God had given Israel set times throughout the year to remember him and to thank him for the blessings he showered upon her. Every opportunity to thank God ought to be considered precious! But God would end it all. He tired of the travesty of having celebrations seemingly intended to remember him, but which were really riotous worship of idols.

Will you remember the Lord this week? Is he really precious to you? As I write, YouVersion is having a twenty-one day Bible challenge to read God’s word each day during that time. Certainly, we ought to read properly. But will you invest time in listening to God’s Word? You don’t need YouVersion. All you need is a Bible.

Grace and peace, David

Clouds and then Sunshine (Part One)

Hosea 1:4-2:1

Our passage is like a day that begins with thick, dark clouds. A storm is brewing, and skies put an ominous feeling into one’s heart. Far off, you can hear the low roll of thunder, and you sense that now is the time to prepare for the storm! In our previous posts we looked at the opening words of this prophetic message. God reveals his message through the symbolic actions of his prophet and then through revelation by word. Hosea was to marry a sexually immoral woman to show how Israel herself had been unfaithful to the Lord, who loves his people. The storm clouds were beginning to rise.

Now the scene is darker. Clouds fill the sky with the naming of Gomer’s children. The first son is clearly said to be Hosea’s, but the others may have been the offspring of Gomer’s adulterous adventures. As each child is named the storm draws nearer. Will there be any escape from it? Is there any ray of light amid such darkness?

We hear symbolic names for Hosea’s children (1:4-9). The Lord names all of the children to warn Israel of judgment that would soon come, if Israel did not repent.

Jezreel (1:4-5) was the first child. God’s message is that we must do God’s work in God’s way. The child’s name recalls the atrocities of Jehu (2 Ki 9-10). This would be like naming a child Andersonville, Dachau or My Lai to cite just three notorious examples. God had appointed Jehu as his executioner (2 Kings 9:6-10). And so Jehu went to Jezreel and put Joram, Ahaziah, and Jezebel to death. But in the process, Jehu used deceit and brutality to carry out God’s commission. His heart was not right with God, though he did what the Lord righteously willed to be done (cf. 2 Kings 10:6-31). He was not working for the Lord in the Lord’s way.

Jehu was like the Assyrians (Is 10:5-7); he was just like an ax used to cut down a broken tree, but he paid no attention to the desires of the owner in cutting the tree down. We must always do God’s work in God’s way. It is necessary to renounce the ways of deception, coercion, and manipulation. It does no good to get someone to make a decision, if they lack any heart for God in his or her decision. In fact, it compounds their problem before the Lord.

The reversal of a name’s significance. Jezreel had been the birthplace of Gideon’s greatest victory (Judges 6:33-7:21). Think of Saratoga or Gettysburg or Normandy in our history. But now it becomes the sign of Israel’s complete military defeat by the Assyrians. The military power of the northern kingdom was destroyed forever.

The second child was Lo-Ruhamah, which means “not loved” (1:6-7).  God’s message is that he is not merciful to the unrepentant. The people of the northern kingdom had walked for centuries in the ways of Jeroboam I, and also they had turned to Baal worship and astrology (2 Kings 17:16-17). Therefore, God announced that he would no longer be merciful to Israel. They had been living like God did not care about what they did. The name of this girl would show that God did care and would judge them for their guilt. Hosea’s message is a wake-up call to those who assume God doesn’t judge the guilty.

However, God would continue to have mercy on Judah, the southern kingdom. While Israel fell to the Assyrians, God would protect Judah without human help (2 Kings 19:35-36). God is very able to deliver his people. Israel’s fall was not due to any lack of power on God’s part. This is true today. The sovereign God is still able to turn the hearts of people to himself, and yes, he is doing that today! Jesus still saves sinners.

How concerned are you about God’s mercies? Are you crying out to him for mercy? We have not yet prayed as we should!

Grace and peace, David

Fire from Heaven (Part Two)

2 Kings 1:1-18

So King Ahaziah sent a captain with his fifty men to Elijah. When the captain went up to him, he was sitting on top of the hill. He announced, “Man of God, the king declares, ‘Come down!’” Elijah responded to the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men. So the king sent another captain with his fifty men to Elijah. He took in the situation and announced, “Man of God, this is what the king says: ‘Come down immediately!’” Elijah responded, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” So a divine fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men (2 Kings 1:9-12 CSB)

Ahaziah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, had been severely injured by a fall in his house. We usually assume that our homes are places of safety, but how many have been critically injured there by falling! Ahaziah’s injuries were severe enough to make him wonder if he would survive. While naturally concerned (who wouldn’t be?), he walked further away from the Lord. How much better, to think and act like the psalmist. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees (Psalm 119:71 NIV).

So then, let’s focus on the attitude of the transgressor. It was utter rebellion (1:9,11). Ahaziah should have cried out to the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. While the sinner lives, there is still opportunity for repentance. God delights in mercy, and when he sends a message of judgment, he is giving those who hear an occasion to turn from their evil ways. But the threat of death did not soften Ahaziah’s heart.

Instead, he became more obstinate and struck out against God’s message in the only way he could: by attacking the messenger. “When a true servant of God is sent and delivers a searching word, people seek to evade it by occupying themselves with his personality, his style of delivery, his denominational affiliation—anything secondary as long as it serves to crowd out that which is of supreme moment. Yet when the postman hands them an important business letter they are not concerned about his appearance” (Pink).

The great idols of America are money, greed, and pleasure. The burning question is “Am I having a good time right now?” People expect the same lust for pleasure to be satisfied in church on their terms. Church after church have abandoned the Lord Christ and his gospel and have prostituted themselves to attract the pleasure seeking masses (cf. Jeremiah 2:20-25). Elijah was not concerned about Ahaziah’s approval of the message or whether Ahaziah would want to join his church. Elijah was faithful to God’s word, and we must be faithful today!

How do you react when confronted by the word of God? Too many professing Christians have reacted violently in an emotional sense: “He’s preaching against me!” or “I don’t like what he said; I’m not coming back!”

The result was judgment. As we read in Isaiah 45:9, Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” Does your work say, “He has no hands”? (NIV) The basis of the judgment was written in the Torah (cf. Deuteronomy 6:13-15; 8:19-20; 13:6-11). Who were the recipients of God’s judgment? The first two groups of Ahaziah’s officers and their men (1:10,12) that were rather daring and arrogant when they approached Elijah. The third group demonstrates that death did not have to take them. Elijah’s credentials as God’s prophet had been proved many times. Ahaziah himself was judged by God, though not by fire from heaven (1:16-17). The Lord does not always act the same way, as we have observed many times. Ahaziah’s soldiers met a violent, supernatural end, while God lets the king die of natural causes. Strangely, the wicked king is not summarily executed like his soldiers, but the judge of all the earth does what is right (Genesis 18:25). Many times the underlings of wicked people die more terribly and tragically than their cruel leaders! Let us not assume that we can escape by “passing the buck” to our superiors, because “we acted on their orders”. Everyone is responsible for their own sin. There are many lessons to learn from this incident. We plan to look at them in our next post in this series.

Grace and peace, David

The Sinner Found Out (Part Two)

1 Kings 21:17-29

Still, there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the Lord’s sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him. He committed the most detestable acts by following idols as the Amorites had, whom the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites (1 Kings 21:25-26 CSB).

God indicted Ahab as guilty for Naboth’s death and the seizure of his inheritance. Why did the Lord proceed against Ahab, besides the murder and the greed, which were worthy of death under the law covenant? Let’s examine the Lord’s view of Ahab’s sins.

  • Ahab had provoked God to anger; this is the key (cf. Psalm 51:4). The most important part of life is one’s relationship with the living God. Have you wronged him? Have you offended him?
  • Ahab had caused Israel to sin. No person lives to himself. We all affect the lives of other people, whether by neglect or by inducing them to sin. One person’s sin can affect a whole church (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6). We should ask, why is this important in our lives? Our lack of zeal can have a chilling, a dampening effect on the rest of the church. Do we have a warm love for the Lord?

The Holy Spirit, provides an assessment of Ahab’s character (21:25-26). First, he sold himself to do evil. Ahab put a price tag on himself. “Available for sin; make an offer.” He was glad to go wherever any sin led him to go. Second, he accepted encouragement to sin. He may still have had the crown on his head, but he had abdicated in his spiritual responsibility as Israel’s leader and as the head of his home. Third, he behaved in the most vile manner. Idolatry was usually accompanied by sexual immorality.

The Lord God pronounced judgment on Ahab. Think of its nature. It was complete (cf. 21:21-23). It would fall on Ahab himself and his children. Why the children? Read the second command of the law covenant (cf. Exodus 20:4-6). And it would also fall upon Jezebel. The judgment also was terrible (21:19b, 23-24). We should ask, “Why is this important in our lives? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31 NIV).

The judgment was just. The Lord had exactly and completely observed all that Ahab had done. Nothing was hidden from the all-knowing God (21:19a; cf. Jeremiah 23:24.) Why is this important in our lives? God will judge the world with justice (cf. Acts 17:31). Ahab received justice from God, life for life, as God had commanded from the time of the Flood and in the law covenant (21:19b; cf. Leviticus 24:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:21).

Yet it was lessened in severity due to Ahab’s outward repentance. God is merciful, and mingles mercy with judgment so that we may know that if we do repent, we will receive mercy. But Ahab did not really change in the inward person of his heart. He had an outward show, but lacked an internal change of mind. He still hated God’s prophets (cf. 22:8). An outward show of repentance is no proof of a genuine change of mind. In order to be right with God, you must repent and believe the gospel.

What is your relationship with the living God? Have you turned from your sin to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? If God is merciful toward wicked Ahab, how much more so to a repentant believer.

Grace and peace, David

The Lord’s Sudden Coming (Part Two)

img_4308Luke 17:31-37

Pause for a moment and think about your life today. What did you do? Probably you did stuff you usually do, starting with your wake-up routine, unless you work third shift like I used to. Third shifters begin their days with work! In any case, most of what you did was what you usually do on any work day: get dressed, have breakfast, commute to work, work, talk to people, work, lunch break, work, commute home, take care of your pet, talk to family, have supper, try to relax, and go to bed.

The world is often deceived by “usualness” (2 Peter 3:3-7). Worldly-mindedness ignores the next world and only lives for and in conformity with this present world. Everything went along fine for those people, up to the day Noah entered the ark or Lot left Sodom. But you see, they had not thought about any sudden catastrophe ending their world! Everyone proceeded on the assumption that everything would always go on as it always had (2 Peter 3:4)! God and judgment were not in the thoughts. They thought that God will never bring judgment, just as everyone thought jets would never be used as bombs to destroy buildings. “It will never happen,” is the carefree attitude.

The people of Noah’s day and of Sodom were not expecting judgment. The sun rose on both mornings, as it had on all other mornings. You can almost hear them taking about the weather, breakfast, their plans for the day, Uncle Herman’s bad knee, and how nosy Aunt Mabel had been lately. Yet sudden judgment fell. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3 NIV).

The worldly-minded person ignores God, his kind warnings, and his gracious offers of salvation. Again, we see that human nature does not change. People ignorantly imagine that to be godless, irreligious and antichristian is very modern or postmodern. “Don’t be bound by the chains of a worn-out religion! Be chic, urbane, sophisticated and pleasure loving!” The truth is that godlessness and wickedness are very ancient. Noah was a preacher of righteousness and the whole world ignored him. Lot pleaded with his sons-in-law, and they thought he was just joking (Genesis 19:14).  “Irreligion and godlessness should never cause a true Christian to be pessimistic or to be filled with doubt as to whether the gospel is true or not after all. For it has all been predicted” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 292). When people ignore God’s warnings, they only spite themselves. The refusal to hear Noah or Lot did not stop those judgments from coming. My friend, do you think shutting your ears to Christ’s kind words will prevent his coming? You deceive and injure only yourself.

Christ’s return will be a time of separation (17:34-35). Some will be rescued from the wrath about to fall; others will be left for judgment. The Bible does not teach in anyway “universal salvation”. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to flee, and all people will experience both: some the one destiny, some the other. The Lord’s sudden coming will affect the righteous and unrighteous at the same time. In a moment, the godly will be removed from the judgment about to fall, just as Noah and Lot were. Life was going on normally for God’s people, too, when God rescued them from wrath. Salvation will come suddenly. So will wrath. Some people will be left for judgment, just as those of Noah’s day and the people of Sodom.

Physical closeness will not save. In this way, the coming judgment is different from the Flood and Sodom. What mattered then was whether you were inside or outside the ark or outside or inside the city. Physical relationship or personal friendship will not matter when Christ returns. One will be taken and the other left.

Though Christ will come to rescue his chosen people, his return will be the instrument of judgment on those who do not believe (17:27, 29-30, 37). Universal judgment will fall on all those left (17:27, 29-20). The haunting refrain is “and destroyed them all”. Certain judgment will fall on all those left (17:37). As vultures feast on carrion, so the ministers of God’s wrath will come on the spiritually dead.

Are you ready for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? In the Gospels, Jesus often spoke about his return. He exhorted people to be prepared and alert. The only way to be ready is to turn to God in repentance and faith in Christ. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Uncertain Journey

IMG_0942Ruth 1:1-5

Years ago in upstate New York, our family had a pastor from the Virgin Islands return to New York with us following a Bible Conference on the Jersey shore in mid-September. Now you must realize that mid-September in upstate NY is like early or mid-November in Philadelphia. This brother in Christ had never seen frost until he visited us. He wore my winter coat the entire time during his visit with us, including when he was inside our house! He was cold and told us, “If you would bring us up here to live, you’d kill us all!” Not only did he see frost for the first time, but he also saw fog when I took him to the Albany airport. The fog was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I actually had to stop the car one time in order to read a road sign. We thank God for safety on the road that morning, and for the many times we had to travel in thick fog in that area. But when you travel in fog, it makes for an uncertain journey.

Our text is about a family who started out on an uncertain journey. Given the increasing violence, the turbulent political scene, and the economy, you might feel like you’re on an uncertain journey today. What will happen? No one is really sure. I have always thought that a realistic, rather than a pessimistic or optimistic approach, is best at such times. Take a full view of what is happening, and remember to keep the all-powerful, wise God in the center of your view. In any sequence of events, it is better to trust the living God, the Maker and Ruler of all things, than to put your confidence in people.

What was the cause of their uncertain journey (1:1a)? People in Israel faced troublesome times. The religious and political setting was terrible. Israel lacked a stable, central government. Various judges, raised up by God, rescued and led his people after times of religious decline. But the people suffered constantly from actual physical danger or fear of danger because of weak government. Raiders and robbers were an ongoing problem, and they experienced civil war. All these things threatened the young nation’s survival. Israel continued to go through a recurring religious cycle a number of times: rebellion against the Lord, judgment by the Lord, repentance by the people, and deliverance by God. Any return to the Lord was short-lived and did not affect the whole nation.

Next came an economic disaster. God sent a famine in the land, probably in most of the land; otherwise, there would have been no reason for leaving Israel at all. Since Israel was God’s covenant people under his law, we must view this correctly. In our day, most people do not see God’s hand in anything, especially the weather. Jesus taught his followers differently (Matthew 5:45). God had promised to bless Israel (Deuteronomy 28:1-6, 8, 11), if they obeyed him. But he had also promised to punish them, if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 28:15-19, 23-24). At such a time of famine, everyone in Israel was responsible to confess their sin to the Lord and turn from it. The question that confronted the people in this story was simply this. Would they believe God and return to him? Or would they seek their own solutions to the difficulties of their lives? This is the great choice facing God’s people today. Will we believe on and act according to God’s word, or will we rely on our wisdom and the opinions of so-called experts?

Please read the following carefully. America is not old covenant Israel or God’s nation. But the Scripture still warns any nation of judgment that turns its back on God. The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God (Psalm 9:17). It is time for us to seek the Lord. The living God is gracious and perhaps he will have mercy on us. Do not wait for current events to improve. Now is the right time for each of us to humble ourselves before him. We need to follow Christ’s leadership through the Spirit and the word of God.

Grace and peace, David

A Picture of What Might Have Been

DSCN2766Judges 1:1-7

I think in every human heart there is a desire to know what might have been. Everyone makes countless choices daily. Most are seemingly minor and we give no thought to them. Others are more major, and they can trouble us, especially if the decision produces consequences we do not like. Then we ponder, “Did I make the right one? What if I had done such and such instead?” Yes, it’s that “what if” that troubles us.

Judges is not the book in the Bible that you read if you are looking for peace and encouragement. The book disturbs people greatly, because of its record of the sins of people and God’s judgments on those sins. Yet it is part of the story of God’s glory that leads us to realize why people need God’s king. The old covenant people of God (Israel) had been given many opportunities and advantages to live with God in peace and joy. But the first section of Judges (1:1-3:6), reveals their failures and judgment that fell upon them, because they did not in faith obey the Lord. In other words, we see the cause of Israel’s spiritual decline after the time of Joshua. As a contrast to the rest of the section, in the opening verses the Holy Spirit records how Israel should have acted after the death of Joshua.

Before we come to the text, we must remember a crucial difference between Israel and the church. The church is God’s spiritual nation, which is not of this world, and since it is not of this world, it does not fight with the weapons of this world (Jn 18:36; 2 Cor 10:3-6). However, Israel was a nation like the other nations of the world, except that they were to live for God’s glory and had God’s word and promises and the way to live with God (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5). Since they were a physical nation, they had to use worldly weapons to maintain their existence. Their enemies, the Canaanite people groups, were to be removed from the Promised Land, because of their total wickedness. During the time before Christ’s death and resurrection, God let the nations walk their own way, and this they did, turning their backs on God, and in the process committing great acts of wickedness (Acts 17:26-30; Romans 1:18-32). The Canaanites were notoriously wicked in their rebellion against God, and God decreed that their civilization was to end (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). Again, this is uncomfortable, since people do not like to hear about judgment, until they have a deep and bitter experience of the ruin that sin causes.

The Lord caused Israel to prosper when they submitted themselves to him (1:1-2). The people started the post-Joshua period with a wise request. They did not allow the passing of their leader to deflect them from their duty. There was still much land to be conquered and effectively occupied (cf. Joshua 13:1-7; 23:1-13). As you can read in Judges 2:10ff, this did not last long, but at least they started out in the right way. Some don’t even make it this far! Godly leadership is a good gift from God. We ought to be concerned about the next generation.

They recognized God’s rule over their nation. This is the important point. Here is the theme: The Lord’s kingship over his people. In this event, they wanted to do as he pleased, instead of pursuing their own pleasure. When God’s people have this desire, they are showing the character of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:5-7). The sons and daughters of God are to act like the Son of God.

The Lord graciously responded to their request. The Lord provided them with an answer. He specifically directed that Judah was to act first. The Lord used means in this answer, for Judah was the most powerful tribe, and the one God had already chosen to lead (Numbers 2:9; cf. Genesis 49:8-12). The Lord promised them the victory: “I have given the land….” As ruler over all things (Ephesians 1:11), God assured them of triumph consistent with his purpose and promise.

We should lay hold of this truth in our own lives (Romans 8:37). The truth of who and what we are in Jesus Christ frees us to trust in our sovereign Lord, even when life seems to be against us. The promise of victory is just as sure to us as we walk by faith (1 Jn 5:4).

Grace and peace, David