Psalms 119-120

Psalms 119-120…Contemplating the Lord.

Scripture tells us time and again that the practice of meditation involves not forgetting the Word of God (Josh. 1:8), reading it, and contemplating it so that it might penetrate our hearts and sanctify us by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16–17; Heb. 4: 12–13).

Many of the Old Testament verses on meditation are found in the Psalms, particularly in Psalm 119, which extols the virtues of the Lord’s inspired teaching that makes up the canon of Scripture. Verses 97–104 of this psalm are particularly pertinent for giving us a more thorough explanation of the kinds of things we should think upon as we meditate on God’s Word. In speaking of the blessings of the law of God, the psalmist gives us some insight into the practice of meditation.

First, we are told that the commandments of the Lord make us wiser than our enemies (v. 98). It is appropriate, then, as we are meditating on God’s Word, to consider why the passage before us is superior to the accepted ways of the world. Furthermore, the psalmist links the continual presence of the commandment with him to the wisdom it provides (v. 99); thus, mulling over a portion of Scripture should include asking how we can make its teaching a perpetual part of our lives.

Second, there is an emphasis in today’s passage on hating “every false way” and avoiding evil in order to understand and keep the Word (vv. 101, 104). Achieving the right meaning and application of a text as we meditate on it requires attention to personal holiness. A refusal to repent of known sin and a complete failure to put into practice that which we already know from Scripture will guarantee that we miss the point of what the Spirit wants to teach us in the text.

Finally, meditation should also include a consideration of the text in light of the new covenant in Christ. Since the Word of God gives us wisdom and understanding (vv. 98–99), we profit from it only if we read it with an open eye on Him who is the incarnate wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18–25). By the Spirit and in communion with the church, Jesus gives us the meaning of His Word.

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Leviticus 19-21

Leviticus 19-21…Various laws, punishments for sin, and rules for priests.

We need forgiveness not merely because we have sinned against others; rather, we need forgiveness because we have failed to reflect the image of God, having fallen far short of the glory He intended for us (Rom. 3:23). Our Creator demanded that His old covenant people be holy just as He is holy — set apart from all uncleanness and pure in character. This is very clear in Leviticus 19-21, especially when we consider the severity of the punishments. Ultimately, holiness is a call given to all, Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 17:22–34), and especially to the church (Matt. 5:48; 1 Peter 1:13–16).

The demand could not be higher — everyone is to be as holy as God is holy; our predicament could not be greater — sinners cannot possibly be this holy; and the Father’s answer could not be more gracious — His Son died in our place to satisfy His wrath, making Him able to forgive without forsaking His own righteousness. May we always recognize our failure to be holy as God is holy, our inability to obligate our Creator to forgive us, and the great mercy He has shown us in His Son, Christ Jesus.

Leviticus 10-12

Leviticus 10-12…The death of Nadab and Abihu, and outlining things unclean.

Many biblical texts clearly teach that our holy Creator takes His worship very seriously. In these chapters, for example, we read of the occasion in which God struck Nadab and Abihu dead for worshiping Him in a way that was strange (Leviticus 10:1–3). Commentators are not sure about the exact nature of their error, but they do agree that the seriousness of the offense is related to their worshiping God in a manner that He had not commanded. They sought to be innovators in worship, and they paid the price for it. The Lord does have some lines within which we’re to color, especially when we consider 1 Corinthians 11:27–30. Many of the Corinthian Christians were taking part in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper inappropriately, and some of them died for their unworthy partaking. These passages, and many others, make it clear that it is a very serious matter to worship God according to his command.

Exodus 20-22

Exodus 20-22…The ten commandments and the judicial laws.

Following the commandments of God is one mark of the true Christian. After all, Christ lives in His people (Gal. 2:20), and since Jesus’ food is to do the will of His Father (John 4:34), He certainly works in us so that we see following God as essential to our sustenance. Yet may we never forget that our obedience is always grounded in grace, for apart from the Lord changing our hearts, we have no desire to please Him (Rom. 8:7–8). Following God’s law, therefore, does not mean obeying it to secure our right standing in His heavenly court, for we can stand before Him by His grace alone (Eph. 2:8–9). Also, following God’s law does not mean obeying it in order to boast of how we are more godly than others. We are always to confess our failures and remember that “there but for the grace of God go I” (Luke 18:9–14).

Until we trust Christ, God’s law can merely restrain the extent of our sinning, encourage us to love sin, and condemn us as sinners who need the Savior (Rom. 7:8; Gal. 3:23–25; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). But once we are converted, God’s law becomes something in which we rejoice. Redeemed hearts no longer experience the Lord’s regulations as burdensome (1 John 5:3), and they see the importance of keeping “the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19). Through obedience, we thank Him for the right standing granted to us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 5:12–6:14).

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.

Genesis 45-47

Genesis 45-47…Joseph makes himself known, Jacob goes to Egypt, and Joseph leads Egypt during the famine.

After having patiently held back his true identity, Joseph finally tells his brothers who he is, and he shows them mercy. This represents the Divine compassion toward repentant sinners. “I am Joseph, your brother.” This would humble them even more for their sin in selling him, but would encourage them to hope for kind treatment. When Christ converted Paul, he said, I am Jesus. When he comforted his disciples, he said, It is I, be not afraid. When Christ manifests himself to his people, he encourages them to draw near to him with a true heart. Joseph does so, and shows them, that whatever they thought to do against him, God had brought good out of it.

Jacob travels with his entire family to Egypt. We have here a particular account of Jacob’s family. Though the fulfilling of promises is always sure, it is often slow. It was now 215 years since God had promised Abraham to make him a great nation. However, the branch of his seed, to which the promise was made sure, had only increased to seventy, of whom this particular account is kept, to show the power of God in making these seventy become a vast multitude.

There is rich symbolism in Genesis 47, where Joseph gives life (via food) in return for the material things of the Egyptians. It is plain that the Egyptians regarded Joseph as a public benefactor. The Egyptians believed that Joseph had saved their lives. Similarly, we will gratefully say to Jesus at the last day, you have saved our souls from the most tremendous destruction. The Egyptians parted with all their property, and even their liberty, for the saving of their lives. How much more should we count all but loss in this present world, in return for eternal life.

Genesis 39-41

Genesis 39-41…Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker meet Joseph in prison, and Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and is put in charge of Egypt.

Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, and was taken down to Egypt. Genesis 39-41 is a remarkable part of God’s history as He continues to use the most unlikely circumstances to bring about His glory. In these chapters, we can observe three things Joseph did which demonstrate his love for the Lord.

1) He trusted God’s sovereignty. If anyone had reason to grumble and complain about unfair circumstances, it was Joseph. Clearly God had given him a miraculous ability to interpret dreams, but on the surface it seemed that this gift only resulted in trouble. Later, in Genesis 50:20, Joseph explains what God was doing when he tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s trust in the Lord’s goodness was not shaken one bit. Our Father in heaven loves us and disciplines those He loves, so we need to trust His plan, even if we don’t understand it. He will undoubtedly bring us trials in this life.

2) He remained faithful. Joseph was put in a very difficult circumstance with Potiphar’s wife. She tried to seduce him, but he resisted. Notice the way in which he avoided sin in Genesis 39:10; “And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her.” This is the kind of vigilant faith Jesus described in Mark 9:47 when He talks about pursuing holiness. He says, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.” Joseph was wise enough to know that it wasn’t enough to simply avoid sleeping with her. His faith was big enough and his love for God passionate enough, that he decided he could only remain pure by avoiding her altogether. A helpful example of how we should approach similar situations.

3) Joseph sought to change his circumstances. A common misconception of reformed theology, especially by those who are not reformed, is that it removes free will and human responsibility from the equation. However, this would be hypercalvinism, which is wrong. Any teaching that assumes we must sit back and let God do whatever He is going to do because we have not control over anything is false. The scriptures are full of imperative commands, as well as examples of saints throughout history who took action. Joseph certainly understood God’s hand in his difficult circumstances, but he aggressively tries to change them to better himself. In Genesis 40:15, when he interprets the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer in prison, he says, “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” The story of Joseph is a great example of both God’s sovereign hand orchestrating events, as well as man’s responsibility to act, and his freedom in doing so. This is difficult to grasp in our finite humans minds, but God is 100% sovereign and man 100% responsible. This is true throughout scripture, and therefore is to be believed.

Genesis 27-29

Genesis 27-29…Jacob and Rebekah deceive Isaac, Jacob has a dream, then goes to Paddam Aram (Northern Syria) and marries both Rachel and Leah.

Rebekah knew that Isaac’s blessing was intended for Jacob, and expected he would have it. But, she wronged Isaac by working to deceive him; she wronged Jacob by tempting him to sin. She put a stumbling-block in Esau’s way, and gave him a pretext for hatred toward Jacob and God. All were to be blamed. It was one of those crooked measures we often adopt when we don’t trust God. Since the fall of man, we’ve always been a people lacking trust in God. Even though we know the truth about Him, we choose to not believe and trust.

In Genesis 28, Jacob’s famous dream occurs (Jacob’s ladder as it’s well-known). Jacob saw a ladder which reached from earth to heaven, the angels going up and coming down, and God himself at the head of it. This represents:

1. The providence of God, by which there is a constant interaction, kept up between heaven and earth. This let Jacob know that he had both a good guide and a good guard.

2. The mediation of Christ. He is this ladder; the foot on earth in his human nature, the top in heaven in his Divine nature. Christ is the only way for this relational interaction to occur, and all God’s spiritual favors come to us, and all our services go to him, by Christ, John 1:51. By this way, sinners draw near to the throne of grace with acceptance. By faith we perceive this way, and in prayer we approach it. In answer to prayer we receive all needful blessings of providence and grace. We have no way of getting to heaven but by Christ.

Jacob was drawn into the sin of multiple wives in Genesis 29. He could not refuse Rachel, for he had espoused her; still less could he refuse Leah. As yet there was no express command against marrying more than one wife. It was in the patriarchs a sin of ignorance. Today, God’s will is plainly made known by the Divine law, Leviticus 18:18, and more fully since, by our Savior, that one man and woman only must be joined together, 1 Corinthians 7:2.

Genesis 15-17

Genesis 15-17…God establishes his covenant with Abram, Hagar and Ishmael become part of the narrative as a result of sin, and the covenant of circumcision between God and Abraham is put in place.

We’re only 17 chapters into the first book of the Bible, and the pattern of interaction between God and man is well-established. God creates and blesses His people. He wants fellowship with them, and they consistently turn to their own selfish wants and needs. Prideful unbelief and selfishness mark all people from Adam to us. But, despite this stiff-necked opposition to our Creator, He consistently shows grace and mercy.

In chapter 15, we see exactly what God wants from us. Genesis 15:1 says:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

He wants us to believe in Him, and to find contentment in Him. He is our reward, and our interests should align with His. We should pursue righteousness if we love God, because He loves righteousness. This text is married beautifully to Romans 4. We have to have a savior, and we must have righteousness come from outside ourselves, because we cannot be righteous enough. God’s covenant with Abram requires faith in return for righteousness. And so it is for us as well. We cannot be justified by works, but need the works of one who was without sin. Our faith in Christ and repentance from sin is the only way to be shielded from God’s wrath, because He is both perfectly holy and perfectly just.

Genesis 16 outlines a pattern of human unbelief and pride which marks our own lives. Abram’s wife, Sarai, does not believe that God will bless her with children. She convinces Abram to sleep with her servant, Hagar, and he gets Hagar pregnant. This is the same Abram who had just been miraculously saved by the Lord in the previous chapters. Sarai is then upset by the outcome, which is not surprising. However, this is exactly what we do. We don’t like God’s timing and/or word, so we take matters into our own hands. We sin, choosing to somehow please ourselves and find happiness. The outcome of our sin is usually not great, then we are upset with the circumstances that we put ourselves in by not obeying God in the first place. This cycle of prideful unbelief marks all of our lives, but it can be broken. We have to first recognize that we are in desperate need of a savior because of our sin. Through repentance and faith we can be changed. This is what true conversion looks like.

God’s interaction with Abraham in Genesis 17 follows the same course. He promises to bless Abraham with a son, and Abraham laughs at him. But God, being abundantly patient and merciful, blesses Abraham anyway. He is a loving father, and exercises this same patience with us. He wants our hearts, and desires that we put down the trinkets and toys that we worship. Those idols we try to find contentment in will not be in heaven. Are you looking forward to heaven for the right reward? Because if you a longing for eternity with something other than God, you aren’t going to like heaven.