Psalm 119:3

Psalm 119:3

Continuing on the theme of being blessed (i.e. content, satisfied, and secure in the Lord, not merely happy), the Psalmist says something which may seem unrealistic. He’s referring to those “who also do no wrong” as blessed. How is this possible?

Throughout scripture we see things which may on the surface seem contradictory. But if we want to be thoughtful and consistent, we’ll dig deeper. The bible says that all of us do wrong; “None is righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) So how do we understand Psalm 119:3 in light of this truth? Well, we certainly want to strive for perfect obedience. Given the fact that we can’t be sinless this side of heaven, what does it mean to do no wrong?

I think our answer lies in Matthew 18. Jesus gave instructions on how to handle believers who were persistent and unrepentant in their sin. After gently and carefully walking alongside such a person (read more about biblical church discipline and membership here Continue reading

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Job 19-21

Job 19-21…Why is this world broken?

Why is there evil in the world? Related to this is the question of why the wicked seem to get away with their wrongdoing. There’s no easy answer to this problem, and this fact forms the basis of Job’s reply to round two of his friends’ speeches. In this speech, for the first time, Job does not address the Lord, but instead counters his friends’ claims. This speech is also much less emotional.

The biggest problem with retribution theology, Job begins, is that it doesn’t really explain the ways of the world. As he looks around, he finds numerous examples of the wicked prospering. They grow old, they are safe, and they are successful. What’s more, they die happy, even though they deny God. The picture that Job paints here is similar to the one that Eliphaz drew of the good man, so it may be that Job intends a deliberate contrast. Ironically, Job’s friends have accused him of opposing God by challenging His ways, but it is they themselves who have been, in essence, telling God how the world should be run.

The book of Job doesn’t answer the problem of evil. We need to look elsewhere in Scripture to consider various aspects of this difficult question. Psalm 73 is a good place to start. Here the psalmist considers the apparent success of the wicked and wonders if he has been faithful in vain. The turning point comes in v. 17, where the psalmist begins to understand the final destiny of the wicked beyond this life. Then his heart is encouraged, as he considers his own eternal destiny with the Lord.

2 Kings 17-19

2 Kings 17-19…Invisible reality.

Scripture records many occasions on which the kings of Israel and Judah rebelled against the larger empires of their day (i.e. Rome, Egypt, Assyria, etc.) with whom they formerly made treaties. Violating these alliances invariably earned the wrath of these empires. This section of 2 Kings records the point at which Hosea of Israel broke covenant with Assyria, and the result was that the northern kingdom was taken into exile in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:1–6). Almost 150 years later, in 586 BC, the same thing happened to Judah when that land rebelled against Babylon (24:1–25:21).

This is a perfectly reasonable and correct explanation of the aforementioned historical realities, and is in fact what we are told in Scripture. Yet history is always more complicated, and this interpretation, while accurate as far as it goes, does not tell the whole story. The author of 2 Kings also goes “behind the scenes” to give us God’s perspective on what happened. As we see in 17:7–23, even though the rebellion of Israel against another empire might have been the immediate event that sparked the exile, the ultimate cause of Israel’s expulsion from the land was flagrant covenant violation, especially the grievous sin of idolatry. Thinking they could rebel against the Lord with impunity, God’s covenant people brought judgment on their own heads, just as their covenant Lord promised would happen (Lev. 26:14–39).

Sin is no small matter, and its consequences are severe. Those who regard lightly the Lord’s holiness cannot be surprised when they feel the fury of His wrath. If we are in Christ, we need not fear that we will be exiled from the blessed presence of God forever. However, God may still discipline us for our sin, and we may feel the effects of His disciplinary rod on the covenant community just as the righteous remnant went into exile along with the unfaithful Israelites. But if we live a life of repentance, we will learn from the Lord’s discipline and experience joy even in our pain and struggle.

Numbers 31-33

Numbers 31-33…Vengeance on the Midianites, the Transjordan tribes, and stages in Israel’s journey.

God waged war on the Midianites, and used Israel explicitly for that purpose. He enabled them to conquer by miracles, and the war was just and right. Their war was initiated and carried on expressly by Divine direction, and they were enabled to conquer by God’s hand. Waging war is not as clear today, as there are no theocratic nations selected by God to carry out His purposes like Israel in the Old Testament. There is nothing special about the actual nation of Israel today, nor is the United States “set apart” to carry out God’s purposes in the world in a peculiar way like we see in Numbers 31.

In Numbers 32, the Reubenites and Gadites wanted possession of the land before crossing the Jordan with the rest of Israel. There is much to learn from their selfishness. They consulted their own private convenience more than the public good. We see this in our churches today, as individualism has seeped in and pushed out living as a community. Many Christians go years without any consideration of the other members of their church. Sadly, many Christians go years without joining a church, and try to live out the Christian life on their own.

The people were about to enter the promised land. Now that they were close to getting what had been promised, they entered again into temptation to follow idols. They were warned if they spared either the idols or the idolaters, their sin would certainly be their punishment. This is also the result of local churches who aren’t careful about membership. When the church looks no different than the world, she lies about what Christ is like. Her corporate witness is diminished, and the message of the gospel loses power.

Leviticus 1-3

Leviticus 1-3…The burnt offering, the grain offering, and the fellowship offering.

Burnt offerings were the propitiatory sacrifices in ancient Israel. For God to maintain His justice, He must punish sin. To forgive at the expense of His just wrath would be inconsistent with His character; according to His holiness, those who have sinned must die (Gen. 2:15–17; Rom. 6:23). Once the Lord satisfies His wrath, it passes away, allowing fellowship between the Creator and His people. The burnt offering temporarily accomplished propitiation (satisfied God’s wrath) under the old covenant (2 Chron. 29:7–8), allowing God’s wrath to be appeased against Israel.

In this section of scripture (Leviticus 3 in particular), we also see God’s concern for His glory being made known through a corporate witness. God has always wanted His people to live together in unity, love, and holiness, so His name would be glorified. Today, this is done practically through the local church. This is Christ’s plan for his people, and it includes you if you’re a Christian. Commitment to a local church is they way in which we live out all the “one another” imperatives in the New Testament.

Exodus 26-28

Exodus 26-28…Design plans for the tabernacle, the altar of burnt offerings, and the priestly garments.

There is much that could be said about the tabernacle’s design, but perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it was designed to be a copy of the Almighty’s heavenly throne room. The ark of the covenant sat within the Most Holy Place as the Lord’s footstool (Exodus 26:34), and the cherubim woven into the curtains of the tabernacle were depictions of the heavenly host that glorify God day and night in heaven (Exodus 26:1).

Clearly, the details of the tabernacle, altar, and priestly garments were to be a sign that there is a massive separation between our holy God and sinners. Entering His presence is no small matter, and His worship must be carefully guarded so His name is not profaned. The care given to entering God’s presence because of sin shows just how desperately we need a savior to intercede on our behalf. Christ’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, because of His holiness. It is a healthy spiritual practice to remember this huge chasm each day, so we esteem Jesus properly, and cling to His righteousness, seeking to grow in righteousness ourselves.

Exodus 23-25

Exodus 23-25…The last few laws, the covenant confirmed, and offerings for the tabernacle.

Three observations about these chapters:

1) God desires our worship

In Exodus 23, the last of the laws are given, and God expects the people to obey. He desires our worship of His word and His ways. He tells Moses in Exodus 23:13, “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.” This piece of instruction closes the loop on the commands in Exodus. Back in Exodus 20, the first commandment was “you shall have no other gods before me.” Now, as the Lord concludes, He gives them some hints on how to carefully live this out practically. Carefulness, specifically avoiding speech that includes other gods. For us, this means being intentional about what we talk about. Do you ever discuss God’s word with someone else? Or are you constantly obsessed with talking about your troubles, your difficulties, your life? What are most of your conversations about?

2) God provides spiritual help for His people

Exodus 23:20 tell us, “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” God has sent His Son for us and His Spirit to work in us to preserve us until we’re called home or He returns. But not only that, Christ has established His church, which is like a foreign embassy for heaven. Are you struggling to pursue Him joyfully? Commit to a local church, and live out this spiritual battles in this life with other believers. Share your life with them. Pour into them, and let them pour into you. The bible has no category for the long ranger Christian.

3) Salvation requires bloodshed

As we’ve progressed through this year-long study, beginning in Genesis 1 and now through Exodus 25, we have seen clearly that humans don’t initiate with God, but He pursues them. The blood of the covenant in Exodus 24 is a symbol of the blood Christ would shed for us. To pretend that one can come to God without blood atonement simply means that one is not coming to the one true God, to the God of the Bible, for the God of Holy Scripture lives in holy love. Yes, some have invented a convenient God of “love” who has no character of holiness in which that love functions, and to which he holds his image-bearers accountable. But this is a mere idol of the mind, who can be used to do the bidding of his deluded inventors. You will not meet such a “God” in the Scriptures. On the contrary, the true God of infinite love is at the same time a God of infinite holiness. That is why Hebrews 9:22 states: “without shedding of blood is no remission of sins.”

Exodus 17-19

Exodus 17-19…God brings about water from the rock, Jethro visits Moses, and God instructs Moses at Mount Sinai.

The Rock is one of the titles of Jehovah (Deut. 32:15). In 1 Corinthians 10:1–4, we read that the Rock (of Horeb) was Christ. Christ would stand in our place, the place of the accused, and bear judgment for the sins of His people. The rod is a symbol of judgment—in this case, divine judgment, for Moses was God’s representative. By the rod, Jesus was smitten, and by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5) from sin. In the same way, by the smiting of the rock at Horeb, water flowed forth, just as the Holy Spirit flows forth from Christ to nourish and equip His church. And so, in the Old Testament, we see this beautiful picture of God’s grace in the salvation of His people, for He stands in our place so that by His wounds we will be healed.

In Exodus 19, Moses gives us an inspired account of what happened at Sinai when the Israelites arrived. God made His presence known on the beginning of the third day, descending as fire and enveloping the mountain in lightning, thunder, cloud and smoke (vv. 16–19). This was truly an awesome sight, and it was meant to remind the people that the God who set them free was no deity to be taken lightly. Other passages of Scripture tell us that angels were also present (Galatians 3:19), their submission to the Lord being a further indication of His glory and power. God’s holiness is also demonstrated in His appearance to the people at Sinai, as the need for the people to be purified is stressed. They are also forbidden to touch the mountain lest they be destroyed (Exodus 19:9–15).

Our need for a Savior is woven throughout these chapters. Each day, we need to be laid low, humbling ourselves before God in repentance, and esteeming Jesus greatly. The more we grow in our understanding of the massive chasm between God and us because of our sin and His holiness, the more we’ll love Christ. If we believe in Him for any other reason, we’ve missed the entire point of Christianity.

Exodus 11-13

Exodus 11-13…The death of the first-born is threatened and then brought to fruition, the passover instituted, and the Israelites flee and are rescued by God miraculously parting the Red Sea.

The death of all the first-born in Egypt had been the first threatened, but the last to be executed. See how slow God is to anger. Also, notice that this was for everyone. The prince was not too high to be reached by it, nor the slaves at the mill too low to be noticed. God does not change. He has this same patience with us. We too, are not exempt from His wrath. It doesn’t matter if we grew up in church, know all the Bible stories, and prayed the sinner’s prayer. We desperately need Jesus. The fruit that comes from submitting our lives to Him should be evident. We cannot just agree with the gospel in principle, but need to be transformed by it in our daily lives.

In Exodus 12, the passover was instituted. It was to be kept every year, both as a remembrance of Israel’s preservation and deliverance out of Egypt, and as a foreshadowing of Christ. Their safety and deliverance were not a reward of their own righteousness, but the gift of mercy. They would be constantly reminded that all blessings came to them through the shedding and sprinkling of blood. It is that way for us with Christ. His perfect life had to be laid down for us to be made righteous. Apart from the loving sacrifice of our Savior, we are not safe, and have no hope.

There were two ways from Egypt to Canaan. One was only a few days’ journey, and the other was much further. Through the wilderness was the way in which God chose to lead his people Israel. The Egyptians were to be drowned in the Red sea, and the Israelites were to be challenged and humbled in the wilderness. God’s way is the right way, though it can sometimes seem more burdensome and tortuous. In some of our trials, we may not ever understand God’s purposes this side of heaven. But, God’s wisdom will clearly appear when we come to our journey’s end.

Genesis 48-50

Genesis 48-50…Jacob puts Joseph’s younger son first, instead of his firstborn, Jacob blesses his own sons, then dies, and Joseph reassures his brothers that he will show them mercy and kindness.

At the end of the book of Genesis in chapters 48-50, we see three themes which are indicative of the entire book, as well as the whole of scripture.

1) God fulfills His promises despite man’s sin

In Genesis 48:3, Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’” God is perfectly faithful. He promises us that He will preserve us until we die, or Christ return, whichever comes first. The God who we read about in Genesis, who did everything He said He would do despite a hard-hearted people, is the same God who came and rescued us, and offers the promise of eternal life in Christ. We should be filled with joy and thanksgiving because of his grace and mercy to us, in saving us from our sins.

2) God’s ways are not man’s ways

As humans, we’re all wired to think that God is like us. But, He doesn’t tend to choose those who are important from a worldly standpoint. This is the opposite of how we tend to think. In other words, the people we’ll be most likely to care for and love are the ones who are important. In Genesis 48, Jacob chooses Joseph’s youngest son to bless, which is a picture of God blessing the least important. It is this perspective that we often miss, because we want to appear as being important and worthy. The Pharisees thought this way, and pretended to love God to appear righteous. We’re no different, and like to get cleaned up each Sunday, and go to church to show that we’ve got it all together. But we don’t have it all together. We need a Savior, desperately. And, we need to pursue God each day, with just as much fervor as we do when we get excited about our favorite songs at church.

3) God’s people will take on God’s character

If we are saved, we will grow in holiness. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). This applies not only to our vertical relationship with God, but also to our horizontal relationships as well. In Genesis 50:19-21, Joseph displays God’s mercy and love. He says to his brothers:

But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

We are not justified by our own holiness, but Christ’s. Therefore we need to run to Him daily, and place our faith in Him. If we do, we will grow in becoming more like Him.