The Church at Laodicea

Below are my notes from yesterday morning’s teaching on Revelation. I hope you enjoy!

To the Church in Laodicea

Laodicea is an ancient city in present-day western Turkey, founded by Seleucid King Antiochus II in honor of his wife, Laodice.[i] The city was originally called Diospolis, which is “the city of Zeus.” The city of Laodicea was in the Lychus valley, and it was near two other cities – Colossae and Hierapolis. Like the other cities, it was in the general area of the SW corner of modern day Turkey, but it was actually one of the furthest to the East of the others – about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It was located on a very tall plateau and had a prominent position along several trade routes, making it an ideal city economically.

John MacArthur notes on its economic situation:

It was strategically located at the junction of two important roads: the east-west road leading from Ephesus into the interior, and the north-south road from Pergamum to the Mediterranean Sea. That location made it an important commercial city. That the first century BC Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero cashed his letters of credit there reveals Laodicea to have been a strategic banking center. So wealthy did Laodicea become that it paid for its own reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in AD 60, rejecting offers of financial aid from Rome.[ii]

The city’s only weakness was that it didn’t have its own source of water. It had a culvert that ran into the city and provided it with water from several miles away. This would have been a problem if the city was ever under attack, but I didn’t read a lot about attacks on the city.

So this city was basically economically and socially stable, non-controversial, and boring.

In fact, one of the things I found most interesting in my study about the city of Laodicea was that the city itself was not very remarkable. In fact, Ramsay says, “There is no city whose spirit and nature are more difficult to describe than Laodicea. There are no extremes, and hardly any very strongly marked features.”[iii]

Life was pretty easy in Laodicea, and “even the Talmud spoke scornfully of the life of ease and laxity lived by the Laodicean Jews.”[iv]

All of that seems an appropriate segue to what Jesus has to say about the Christians living in this part of Asia…

3:14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

Let’s just take a moment to notice Jesus’ words about Himself and what they mean. Jesus calls himself the “Amen” because He is the truth. The only other place in Scripture where “Amen” is used as a name is Isaiah 65:16 where God uses it to describe Himself, and the word used is also translated “truth” (that is how the NASB, ESV and NIV translate it). The context of the passage is worth bearing in mind, because the next verse in Isaiah also provides help:

So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes. [17] “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:16-17)

When commenting on this passage in Isaiah, Peter Gentry says this:

God’s plan of restoration brings us back to the pristine state of Eden – in a world now much better and greater. Augustine once said that he feared to entrust his soul to the great Physician lest he be more thoroughly cured than he cared to be. God’s plan of salvation is absolutely thorough, and He is not going to be satisfied with some half job of reformation and renewal.[v]

We’ll return to verse 17 momentarily…

Next He says that He is the “faithful and true witness” which has to do with the work that God has been doing in and through redemptive history from Adam up until His own life, death and resurrection. Jesus has been a faithful witness to this work, and His word can be trusted because He is “true.”

As Christians we want to be “true” witnesses of the work God has done not only in our lives, but most especially of the work done by God in Christ.

Lastly, He says that He is “the beginning of God’s creation.” Just as mentioned in the context of Isaiah 65:17, which deals with the new creation, Jesus is calling Himself the first creation – not in the sense that He was first made at the beginning of the world, but in the sense of how Paul mentions this in his letter to the church at Colossae “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)

When Jesus tells this church that He is the “first born”, the faithful “witness” and the “Amen”, He is quite simply stating that God has been working in and through redemptive history to bring it to a teleos, a specific goal. And that goal was Jesus Christ. That is Why Paul can say, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

He is the beginning of God’s work of renewing the entirety of creation. What He inaugurated in Christ, He continues with us, for as Paul says to the Corinthians:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV)

And what does it mean to be a minister of reconciliation but that we are fellow witnesses to the work of God, and His great purposes in this world. What began as a promise in Genesis 3:15 has come to fruition in Christ, and now includes us, His new creations!

3:15-16 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! [16] So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Once again Jesus begins his exhortation with the words “I know.” Therefore let us pause and once again remember that while Jesus was indeed man, and is indeed ever making intercession on behalf before the Father, yet He is God and He shares in the power and wisdom and knowledge of the eternal Godhead. All things are known to Him. He has eyes like a “flame of fire” (1:14) “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)

Now, a lot has been made of the chastisement here to this church in past sermons and teachings on this passage. The charge is that they are “lukewarm” – they are basically going through the motions. They hold to the faith – for He is writing to believers, to the church – yet they are lukewarm in their heart attitude about Jesus.

G.K. Beale provides some helpful background:

Laodicea had two neighbors, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis had hot waters which possessed medicinal effects, while Colossae had cold water, which was also though to be healthy. Laodicea had no good water source, however, and it had to pipe it in. By the time it arrived, it was lukewarm and dirty – only fit for spitting out. In fact, it was generally held to be true in the ancient world that cold and hot water or wine were beneficial for one’s health, but not water which was lukewarm.[vi]

Of course Jesus’ reaction is brutal. He says He’d like to spit them out of His mouth!

It got me thinking – what is it that causes Christians to become lukewarm?

I think that constant trials, discouragement, lack of time in the Word of God, lack of prayer, and especially a forgetfulness of the privileges we have in the Gospel. Perhaps all of these things contribute to this state.

John Owen put it well, “Our greatest hindrance in the Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”[vii]

Christians become lukewarm when we forget the length to which Christ has gone to bring us life and joy. Contemplation on the Gospel of Christ so crucial for helping remind us all that we have in Christ. This is why I love the passage my discipleship group is working to memorize right now from the book of Titus:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

This is one of the reasons why Paul resolved to preach nothing but Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1) – because if our foundation in life comes from ourselves, it’s easy to fall away. It’s easy enough to fall away when we believe all the right things! We need help – and we need to remember the Gospel.

Now, one other thing also pushes us away from God, and that is idolatry. That is more specifically what was going on with this particular group of people…

3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

They were in this prosperous city, on two major trade routes, and they had everything they needed.

When we are weak, when we are sick, when we are desperately looking for a job – that’s when we turn to Jesus. That’s when we “get religion” isn’t it!

But how quickly we fall away under the weight and distraction of our comfortable lives.

The same thing happened to Israel, which is what Hosea was saying in his prophecy to them. Samuel Rutherford explains:

…that was in Hosea’s days (Hosea 2:14). “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and bring her to the wilderness and speak to her heart.” There was no talking to her heart while He and she were in the fair and flourishing city and at ease; but out in the cold, hungry, waste wilderness, He allureth her, He whispered in news into her ear there, and said, “Thou art mine.”

What was the solution?

3:18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

Jesus urges them to purchase refined gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes. To purchase the truth of His word, the purity of the work of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel opening power of the Spirit so that they could see.

He describes His gospel as gold – and in many ways He is the true treasure, the true inheritance. He is the great prize, Amen? When we have Him we are rich beyond the measure of this world, we have consciences cleansed from all iniquity and we wear the righteousness of Jesus before the throne of God.

And as I mentioned before, it is only through the supernatural power of the Spirit of God that we are able to see the truth of these things.

I am reminded of the story of the blind man in who Jesus healed in John 9. After washing in the pool of Siloam he was not only able to see, but his whole life changed. His heart changed. It was evident that God was working within him.

That’s what we need; we need to see and to savor the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to see reality – and reality is that He is a great treasure.

3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. [20] Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat in sermon after sermon and heard this verse used as a plea to the unbeliever. That would be using this out of context. Jesus here is clearly speaking to believers. He begins by saying that “those whom I love” I will “reprove and discipline.”

God doesn’t reprove and discipline unbelievers – He lets them go their own way and in the final day will judge them by their deeds.

Later on here he closes the letter as He does all the other letters, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Unbelievers don’t have ears to hear. Unbelievers don’t have eyes to see. Those things come from God the Holy Spirit.

Therefore He is speaking to believers here, and knowing this, what He says is all that much more precious. He reminds them that He loves them!

This is very much like what the author of Hebrews says in chapter twelve:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

And He is calling on them to “repent” – specifically to be zealous and repent. The idea here in being zealous is to snap out of the lukewarm condition He has found them in and act as a Christian ought to act – zealously! And in their zeal they are to humble themselves before the Lord and repent, with the promise that all who do will be once again restored to communion with our Lord. He will “eat with him.”

Eating with someone is an intimate form of communion. You’re guard is down. You’re relaxed. You’re enjoying food – and food is an emotional thing. People are connected to what they eat – they care about it, they spend tons of time preparing it, searching for the best restaurants, learning how to make good food, learning what they like to eat and so on. If you eat a bad meal it sort of angers you. When you eat with someone that is another level of fellowship with them.

And this is the aim of what Jesus is doing here. He is working to restore fellowship with mankind. He is reconciling them to Himself. He is bringing us into a loving relationship with God. All of this is part of His grand program of redemption, and recreation. Once we walked in the Garden with God, now He wants to walk with us through this life and forevermore after this. But fellowship with God requires holiness – it requires repentance. That is what God is calling on them, and on us, His children to do day by day.

3:21-22 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. [22] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Jesus finishes the letter with another wonderful promise that is also grounded in the covenant of creation. Mankind was made to rule the earth, to represent God as His image bearers here on earth. He is now promises that we will reign with Him. This is a HUGE deal. And note what its all hinged upon – the fact that He has already conquered (the resurrection) and that He is already reigning even now.

You see, Revelation helps us understand that Jesus has indeed come into His kingdom, He is reigning now – not simply spiritually in the hearts and minds of believers, but over all the created order. His kingdom is not an ethereal idea that simply illumines our hearts and minds, it is a reality.

We are called to be faithful witnesses as He is faithful. Witnesses of an invisible kingdom, declaring that which is invisible to those who are blinded by their sin and desperately need to be reconciled to their Creator.

This requires faith that isn’t lukewarm. You see the incongruity here. Those who are concerned primarily with the treasure of this earth will never make a difference for the kingdom of God. And there is the challenge: let us rise out of our slothfulness, let us shed our old man with his desires for worldly possessions and gain. Let us repent, and put on the new man. Jesus is calling you Christian to repent for the express purpose of restoring you to Himself, both for your joy and His glory!

 

Footnotes

[i] According to manifold commentaries, but also summarized here: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/laodicea

[ii] John MacArthur, Commentary on Revelation Volume I, Pg. 135.

[iii] Ramsay, Pg.’s 422-423.

[iv] MacArthur, Pg. 135.

[v] Peter Gentry – this came from notes in my Bible’s margin, and I believe he said this at a Bunyan Conference in 2014.

[vi] Beale, Shorter Commentary, Pg. 91.

[vii] As quoted by Rev. Ian Hamilton: http://www.reformation-scotland.org.uk/articles/cross-of-christ.php

 

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Samuel and David: An Overview

Last night I had the privilege of walking through an overview of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles for a group of ladies devoted to the Word of God. In their preparation to study 2 Samuel, they graciously invited me to discuss the book in an introductory fashion.  My notes from that study are below.

Introduction to 2 Samuel

The Approach to this Introduction

I’m going to discuss 2 Samuel in three categories in honor of the three horizons of interpretation: textual, epochal, and canonical (not that we’re doing exactly this form of interpretation, as this is only an overview). So first we’ll look at some of the textual issues like authority, dating, themes, some of the characters and David himself. Then we’ll zoom out and see how this book fits into this period in history, and the surrounding events and characters of this time. Finally, we’ll look at how this book fits into the overall canonical context of the Bible, including how David typologically and covenantally fits into the larger schema of redemptive history.

Textual Horizon

Authorship and Dating

1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book. So in order to understand 2 Samuel, you must first understand that you are picking up in the middle of a story.

Let’s talk first about authorship and the flow of 1 Samuel. The book as one unit covers about 135 years of history from 1105 BC to 971 BC and mostly focuses on the story of David as the central character.

The first 7 chapters of 1 Samuel are very focused on Samuel, who is the last man in a line of judges that have led Israel for hundreds of years. We learn about his upbringing, his parents, his lifestyle, his dedication, the plight of his mother Hannah, the state of the nation of Israel, the state of the priesthood, and other significant things as well.

Internal and external evidence seems to point to Kings having been written with a knowledge of what was written in Samuel, and Samuel seems to have been written with some knowledge of what occurred in Deuteronomy (Firth). However, the author is unknown. Traditionally the writing is ascribed to the namesake of the book by Jewish traditionalists, but that can’t be the case since Samuel’s death is recorded for us in 1 Sam. 25:1. Others say that Gad, and Nathan (both prophets during the time of David) wrote the book, but it is more likely that their writings helped serve as a foundation for the book since it is obvious the book was written after the kingdom was divided.

We don’t know the exact date of the writing, but MacArthur notes that it must have been post divided kingdom since there are distinct references to “Judah” and “Israel” as separate entities, and because the statement “to the kings of Judah to this day” (speaking of Ziklag belonging to Judah) in 1 Sam. 27:6 indicates that the writing must have been post-Solomonic rule. Some say that Samuel was written by the same author who wrote 1&2 Kings during the Babylonian Captivity, but as MacArthur notes, the writing style differs enough for that not to be a possibility, and therefore it was likely penned prior to the exile but during the era of the divided kingdom.

Notable Cities

  • Shiloh – the residence of Eli and the tabernacle
  • Remah – the hometown of Samuel
  • Gibeah – the headquarters of Saul
  • Bethlehem – the birthplace of David
  • Hebron – David’s capital when he ruled over Judah
  • Jerusalem – the ultimate city where David ruled all of Israel

Notable Nations

Philistines – these were one of two chief enemies of Israel during the time of Samuel/David. They had migrated from Asia Minor and settled along the Mediterranean cost of Palestine in the 12th century BC (to the west of Israel). They also controlled the iron in the region, so they had a distinct advantage over Israel in that way.

Ammonites – these people were settled to the east of Israel and were the second major source of trouble for the Israelites. As MacArthur notes, the Ammonites were descendants of Lot who lived on the Transjordan Plateau.

David conquered both the Ammonites (2 Sam. 12:29-31) and the Philistines (2 Sam. 8:1) during his reign.

The Themes in 1 Samuel

As we open the book of 2 Samuel its important to know what events were covered in the previous book. There are many issues brewing politically and spiritually in Israel. As MacArthur notes, “Israel was at a low point spiritually. The priesthood was corrupt, the Ark of the Covenant was not at the tabernacle, idolatry was practiced, and the judges were dishonest.”

There are four major themes that run throughout the books according the MacArthur:

  1. The Davidic covenant (1 Sam. 2:10 and 2 Sam. 22:51). This is the reference to the Messiah coming in the line of David. He wants to make a “house” for God, God ends up making him an eternal “house” (lineage – see Gentry for Hebrew play on words).
  2. The sovereignty of God – i.e. His power in brining about Samuel’s birth and David’s reign.
  3. The Work of the Holy Spirit – i.e. both Saul and David were anointed as king by the Holy Spirit. Victories in battle were won with the help of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit brought forth prophesy (1 Sam. 10:6).
  4. The personal and national effects of sin. This ranges from the sins of Eli and his sons, to the sins of David, and the disobedience of Saul. These men all had to deal with the consequences of their sins.

I think I would add to these themes a nuance to number four called “the character of David” and here is what I would note about David’s character:

  1. He was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) (DeYoung says, “David was a man after God’s own heart because he hated sin but loved to forgive it”)
  2. He was a sinful man
  3. He was a humble man
  4. He was a man of great faith in God
  5. He came from nothing and God made him something
  6. He was a man of great courage and talent (see Kevin DeYoung’s article)

In an article entitled “What made David great”, Rev. Kevin DeYoung says that what made David great, in a nutshell, was that, “In particular, David was a great man because he was willing to overlook others’ sins but unwilling to overlook his own.” He continues, “More than anyone prior to Jesus, David loved his enemies. Like no other Old Testament king, David was willing to welcome rebels back to the fold and overlook the sins of those who had opposed him.”

Some Final Interesting textual notes:

  • Three different pieces of Samuel were found in the Caves at Quomron – often referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were not entire books or even entire chapters, but rather just fragments of 1&2 Samuel (Firth).
  • There is good reason to believe 1&2 Samuel were originally one book, and should probably be read as one volume. In the original masoretic texts they were one volume (Firth). It was only during the Greek versions of the OT (the Septuagint LXX) that a division occurred (MacArthur study notes). 1&2 Kings were called “3&4” Kings/Books of the Kingdom in the Vulgate and LXX.
  • There are four citation of 2 Samuel in the New Testament, and 1 direct citation to 1 Samuel. However, there are also several allusions to instances within the book in the NT (Firth).
  • There are four poetic texts in the writing. We know that at least one of them is drawn from the book of Jasher – 2 Sam. 1:17-27 (Firth).

 

The Epochal Context

Much of how we understand the framework of 1 Samuel comes through the prayer song of Hannah at the beginning of the book. Much like Mary’s Magnificat – which borrows greatly from its themes – Hannah’s prayer is predictive of the events in the book. The prayer is as follows:

2:1 And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.

2:2-8 “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. [3] Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. [4] The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. [6] The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. [8] He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.

2:9-10 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

Stephen Dempster comments that, “Hannah and David not only echo each other’s desperate prayers at holy sites; they echo each other’s songs of thanksgiving, and these songs focus on a messianic king…These two figures, Hannah and David, are crucially important for understanding the book. Hannah’s song looks to the future for the overthrow of a tyrannical dominion that will be replaced by a just king, a Messiah, who will bring justice beyond Israel to the ends of the earth (1 Sam. 2:10). David looks back and sees how God has delivered him from all his enemies. David some them until they fell under his feet (2 Sam. 22:39-40). God gave him the neck of his enemies (22:41), and this becomes the pledge of a future in which God will magnify his salvation to his king and extend covenant loyalty to his Messiah, to David and his seed for over (22:51).”[i]

So “The poem begins with a renewed Hannah, but by its end there is a vision of a renewed cosmos.”[ii]

With that said, let’s back up even more…

By the time you have arrived at David, it’s roughly 1000 BC, and you’ve seen the slow – sometimes deathly slow – progress of this Middle Eastern nation as they go from 12 boys, to 70 family members traveling down to Egypt. When they come up out of Egypt they are over 600,000. The country is leaderless though, and they will not be ruled by the wise council of judges any longer. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

They’ve been given the Promised Land, and Abraham has more descendants than he ever imagined. Yet the blessing of a united nation, a prosperous people, has not yet come to pass. They are harangued by nations on every side that are stronger than they.

God placed them geographically in the midst of super powers so that they would be a light to the world, a people who would shine in the midst of darkness. They were to show mankind what it means to be in a right relationship with God – the God – and therefore what it meant to be truly human. To rule as God’s image bearers and representatives on earth.

But they failed.

Eventually they call for a king. Not because they want a righteous ruler, but because they want to be like everyone else. They want to look like the world. “No sooner is Saul installed as king than he sins and Yahweh rejects him. It is Israel at Sinai all over again, taking cultic matters into its own hands (1 Sam. 13:8-14).”[iii]

Samuel sees their request as a rejection of his leadership, but God sees it for what it is: a rejection of His divine kingship. So God gave them a king – one that fit exactly what they were hoping for.

That king – Saul – was a failure.

But God, in His everlasting mercy, raised up a man – a shepherd boy – named David. David’s first two acts were to 1. Be a servant of healing to Saul who was plagued by evil spirits who troubled him and 2. To liberate his people from the oppression of a giant enemy.

In the defeat of Goliath, some of the great themes from Hannah’s song are beginning to play out, as Dempster so adeptly tells us:

This clash between the giant and the boy vividly displays the theme of the song of Hannah. But it also does more. That song celebrates the birth of a child (Samuel), God’s demolition of the power structures of the world and the installation of his Messiah to bring justice to the ends of the earth. It thus reaches back to the creation of the world and the promise to restore world order at the beginning through the birth of a child, the seed of the woman. The genealogical focus has shifted from Adam to Seth, to Shem, to Abraham, to Israel, to Judah and finally to David. David has become the focus of world genealogy. The seed of the woman has arrived, and in David’s first action as king he is a warrior, an anointed one who conquers and beheads a monstrous giant, whose speech echoes the serpent’s voice. David will now become the main focus of the storyline and, with his coming, there will be a similar narrowing and expanding of the geographical focus. It will be David who will bring this about as he conquers the Canaanite enclave of Jebus, and it will be Jerusalem that becomes the centre of world geography.

God put David through many trials and tests. He was chased from cave to cave as Saul had a strong desire to put him to death. Saul’s madness eventually drove David away, and David joined the Philistines as a sort of rogue mercenary. While working on their behalf, David ended up plundering many of Israel’s enemies, sending that plunder to the elders of Israel. David did in exile what Saul failed to do from the throne.

Then the final day came for the Philistines to engage in battle against the Israelites. What would David do? He told the king of the Philistines that he would go into battle with him, but the king’s generals would not permit that to happen. They were concerned that in the heat of battle David would not be able to remain loyal to them.

In this brutal conflict, both Jonathan and Saul were slain on mount Gilboa. Jonathan was David’s best friend and soul mate.

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. [2] And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. [3] The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. [4] Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. [5] And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. [6] Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. [7] And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. (1 Samuel 31:1-7)

That is where 1 Samuel ends and 2 Samuel begins, and where you will pick up the story in the weeks ahead.

Dempster concludes his overview of Samuel by saying, “The lesson of Hannah’s song, however, is repeated again and again. The future belongs to the one who says, ‘I am abased (low) in my own eyes (and am not tall) (2 Sam. 6:22). The future does not lie with the strong and secure but, rather, the least likely of David’s sons will inherit a throne of glory (1 Sam. 2:8b). Michal will die childless (2 Sam. 6:23).”[iv]

The Canonical Context

The story of the Bible is a story of redemption. Ever since the Fall God has been executing His plan to reconcile man to Himself and restore what was lost on that day so long ago.

Now from the larger canonical perspective, when we get to David, we have arrived at a time when Israel as a nation is finally going to reach the very peak of the blessings God made to Abraham, and begin to once again fulfill what it looks like to subdue the earth.

In this time we see the kingdom of God seems settled politically, physically, and spiritually in the town of Jerusalem, in the kingship of God’s anointed servant, David, and in Solomon’s time in the temple in Jerusalem. The result is both physical blessing and spiritual intimacy with God. The key here is that His presence is with them – in the tabernacle and then in the temple. Redemptive history is moving from the separation experienced in the Garden of Eden to a restoration of the relationship between God and man, and God dwelling amongst His people in a way that is increasingly intimate. From Abraham to Moses to David this reconciliation of the relationship between God and man is steadily increasing.

The terms of the relationship are defined in terms of “covenant”, this is the framework God operates within as He’s dealing with His people. This framework will become extremely important in your study of 2 Samuel because God will make a covenant with David that is the latest in a series of covenants that began with Adam.

Grahame Goldsworthy says, “Central to the theology of the books of Samuel is the covenant made with David (2 Sam. 7:4-16). David expresses the desire to finish the glory of the city of God by building a permanent sanctuary for Yahweh. Nathan the prophet is instructed to tell David that, far from his building God a house, God will build him a house; that is, a dynasty. David’s son will build the sanctuary, and the throne of his kingdom will be established for ever. God declares of this son of David, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’ (vs. 14). There is a clear reference here to the covenant with Abraham and God’s intention ‘To be God to you’ (Gen. 17:7).”[v]

The Davidic Covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17.

Both Goldsworthy and Stephen Wellum see that in the Davidic Covenant God has now embodied within the king the attributes previously attributed to the nation of Israel. The Israelites are still under the Mosaic Covenant, but now the king will represent them as their federal head. Just as the Israelites were regarded as God’s son (Exodus 4:22), and Adam before that (Luke’s genealogy) so now the Davidic ancestor is seen to be the Son of God – this will be uniquely fulfilled in David’s greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who owns the title (Son of God) in a unique way (ontologically).

Goldsworthy sums up the lead up to this moment well:

Biblical history begins with creation and, after the Fall, as a new beginning with the call of Abraham and the covenant of grace that God makes with him. This covenant underpins the exodus from captivity in Egypt and the binding of the redeemed people to the covenant instruction given by Moses at Sinai. This, in turn, underpins the responsibility of the people of Israel toward their God as he brings them to the Promised Land, gives them possession of it, raises up a king and establishes Zion and its temple as the focal point representing God’s presence among his people.

So you can see that these covenants before David are layered and interlocking. God is progressively revealing Himself and His plan of redemption for His chosen people and for creation itself.

What we see then across these covenants, and in David as well, is a tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice. This is an outgrowth of His character, which we read about in Exodus 34:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

So within God’s character there is both a love for Mercy and for Justice. And God cannot deny Himself.

As the OT story unfolds, this tension grows.

You could say that the tension reaches its peak with the great blessings experienced during the reign of David and then Solomon, and that His justice is shown in the downfall of the kingdom and the exile to Babylon and Assyria.

What we see in the life of David is the very peak of God’s fulfillment specifically of the promises to Abraham: Land, Seed, and finally, worldwide Blessing. All of these elements have come to fruition in the time of David and Solomon. Yet not in a way that can fully usher in the kingdom of God. Why? Because these people are still covenant breakers. They still prefer to do things their own way and chase after the desire of their own heart.

Even in the time of great blessing, which will be seen in the life and rule of David and then Solomon, there is a very clear sense that this can’t be as good as it gets. Sin – even in David’s life – is still predominant, and the author of Samuel does not hide David’s character (warts and all!) from the reader.

Eventually the sin of the king leads to exile.

But even in exile the people believe exactly what David believed, namely that, 1. The Davidic reign would be forever and 2. All the earth and its kings would be ruled and subdued by the Davidic king.

The latter is drawn from David’s response to God’s covenant:

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD! (2 Samuel 7:18-19 ESV)

So the question in exile becomes: “How long oh Lord?”

The end of your study will leave you with this impression – of a need for a faithful convent partner who will obey God and desire to do His will, and the need for a Messianic king who will deliver His people from bondage.

This is why, by the way, the original arrangement of the OT ends with Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra and then Chronicles because it anticipates a day soon to come when a glorious temple (a better temple) will be made, and a time when the city (God’s city) will be built with an everlasting foundation and strong walls, and finally a time when an everlasting king will come to sit upon the throne of David. All of these things point forward typologically to Jesus Christ, the everlasting king who is building a temple with living stones, and a city which John describes as a “bride adorned for her groom” – that’s us!

So as you study 2 Samuel and the 1 Chronicles, you must understand where you’re coming in on the story. This is Israel at its height. God’s faithfulness has remained despite years of the people going their own way. His love has lifted this people from nothing to the richest, most envied nation in the ancient world.

Yet unresolved tensions will point you forward toward a need for resolution. Let me end with a summary from Wellum and Gentry:

As one works across the covenants and the tension increases, there is only one answer to these questions: it is only if God himself, as the covenant maker and keeper, unilaterally acts to keep his own promise through the provision of a faithful covenant partner that a new and better covenant can be established. It is only in the giving of His Son and through the Son’s obedient life and death for us as God the Son incarnate that our redemption is secured, our sin is paid for, and the inauguration of an unshakeable new covenant is established.[vi]

Footnotes

[i] Stephen Dempster, ‘Dominion and Dynasty’ Pg. 134.

[ii] Dempster, Pg. 135.

[iii] Dempster, Pg. 138.

[iv] Dempster, Pg. 141.

[v] Grahame Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, Pg. 124.

[vi] Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant, Pg. 611.

The Earth Remade and Christian Mission

Sunday I took a departure from the Gospel of John and prepared a devotional for both Sunday AM and Sunday PM that looks at Isaiah 66.  This isn’t a sermon, so its not as lengthy as one might expect my notes to be on this kind of passage, but I hope its an encouragement to you.  If you’re a Christian you can take comfort in a passage like this where your place in the larger scope in God’s redemptive tapestry is evident.  From front to back, the Bible proclaims the centrality of God’s glory and our mission to bring Him glory and worship.  Here is just one more passage that points to these truths.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Isaiah 66:17-24

Our text comes from the final verses of the book of Isaiah.  This is not meant to be a sermon, but rather a short lesson to stir up your minds to worship God as you leave this place.  The goal of this lesson is to show that from first to last, from Pentateuch to Prophets to Gospels and General Epistles, God’s purposes and plans have not changed.  They are being fulfilled even now in the church, and will be consummated upon Christ’s second coming.  

The context for our passage is that in the final chapters of Isaiah’s writing (particularly 65-66, though the entire section from 40 onward is markedly different than 1-39) we are learning about what will occur during the interim of the Anointed One’s two advents, as well as some things which will occur upon His final return and kingdom consummation…The notion of “kingdom” and “mission” looms heavy here, but the overarching thrust of the passage is that the end and goal of all things is the glory of God.

As we walk through the passage, I want you to notice FIVE points of importance to our discussion this evening:

  1. The centrality of worship and the glory of God
  2. The mission of God’s people
  3. The scope of God’s kingdom and our mission
  4. The justice of God
  5. The renewal of all creation, and revelation of God’s glory

Alec Motyer sums up the passage this way, “…this final section spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ‘Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21). Jerusalem is not the literal city but the city of Galatians 4:25-26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelations 21. Exactly so but for Isaiah, not privileged as we with hindsight, it was a vision of staggering proportions.”

First of all, this is a passage that tells us of the purposes of God for His people and all of creation.  Central to those purposes is that God’s glory is His primary concern.  His glory and fame and our worship of Him make up the main theme not only of this passage, but also of all redemptive history.  God desires worship from every tribe tongue and nation (vs. 18-20).  Furthermore, the central end (teleos) of all history is that God will receive glory. In fact, we were created for this end, as was all of creation.  Therefore it makes sense that the mission of His people, and the end goal of all things is, “they shall come and shall see my glory” (vs. 18) and that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (vs. 23).  This is not an isolated bullet point, but the truth that permeates this entire passage.

The second thing we notice here is the mission of God’s people.  In verse 19 we read that God will “send survivors to the nations” who will “declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations, as an offering to the Lord…” As Peter Gentry says, “This text in Isaiah comes close to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.”  Motyer says this “is the clearest Old Testament statement of the theme of missionary outreach.”  Hundreds of years before the Great Commission, God had already expressed to Isaiah a plan to send us out to the nations as His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians) who would bring back converts to the Lord – literally turning people toward the Lord in repentance in order to bring Him glory.

He does this by setting “a sign among them.”  This sign is likely either meant to be the cross of Christ (Motyer, Gentry), the gospel of Christ, or the Spirit of Christ (Calvin), which indwells all believers. This work, this mission of bringing people back to the Lord will be our “grain offering” to the Lord (vs. 20).  What is likely in mind is the grain offering or the offering of “first fruits” (Motyer), which is appropriate because as James says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18 ESV – see also Rom. 8:23).

In fact Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  So we see why we were created, and now we see the purpose of our mission as well – to spread the good news of the Gospel to people all over the world in order to bring glory to God.  This is our spiritual act of worship, to obey the Lord in the spreading of His glorious message.

The third thing we see is that the scope of the mission is worldwide.  Remember the context of when God is speaking to Isaiah – this is 700+ years prior to the birth of Christ. Going to reach the nations with the message of God’s kingdom wasn’t exactly on the minds of the Jews right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say they were most concerned about fending off the Assyrians from invasion.

This isn’t because the Jews were unaware of the scope of God’s redemptive plan, but rather they simply had forgotten it, or refused to believe it. As Motyer says, “they (the Jews) knew that the promise that was first their unique privilege was destined to be the privilege of all the earth.”Here are two places in the Pentetech where God’s plans for the nations were mentioned:

  • First in Numbers 14:21 God is speaking through Moses and talking about judgement the Jews will receive for disobedience, and almost as a “throw away” line He mentions that one day the entire earth will be “filled with (His) glory!”  That “glory” comes first in the person of Christ, second in the spreading of His gospel, and finally in the consummation of His kingdom.
  • Secondly, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17-18 that He would bless the nations through His seed. “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  There is a clear tie-in with vs. 20 “your brothers from all the nations” and vs. 22 “your offspring.”  This is a clear reference to the spiritual seed of Abraham – that’s you and me!

Now as we continue to see the worldwide scope of this glory-spreading that we do, we read in verse 19 of a list of cities.  The list is indicative of the worldwide nature of the mission, and the fact that nothing will block the message from achieving its end.  As Alec Motyer says, “The place-names are intended to be impressionistic rather than literal, creating a sense of world outreach.” All the nations will receive this message (vs. 19) and it will cross all bounds of communication, technology, travel method, or means (vs. 20).  As Motyer says, “No distance or difficulty will stand in the way of bringing the brother’s home; every transport will be put under contribution.”

So this plan is expansive in scope, and its blessing will initially be carried to the nations by us, the church, His chosen people who are spreading the message of the gospel of peace.  As John Calvin rightly says of this passage, “The time when he (Abraham) became ‘the father of many nations’ was when God adopted the Gentiles, and joined them to himself by a covenant, that they might follow the faith of Abraham. And thus we see the reason why the Prophet (Isaiah) gives the name of ‘brethren’ of the Jews to us, who formerly were aliens from the Church of God.”

This is clearly articulated by John in his gospel when explaining the prediction of Caiaphas regarding Jesus, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52).

But Isaiah takes it a step further!  Not only will the Gentiles be adopted into the family of God as “brothers”, but in vs. 21 we read that God will take some of them for priests and Levites!  How sacrilegious would this have been to Isaiah’s audience!  And this group of Levites and priests are those saved by the blood of the lamb.  Listen to what Peter says

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

That is your mission to “proclaim the excellencies” of God. Truly “Now Israel as a royal priesthood includes Gentiles; the context puts an emphasis on honor, privilege, absorbing the riches of the nations, and nearness to Yahweh” (Gentry).

The fourth thing we note here is justice and righteousness of God.  God’s reign is like God’s plan for blessing – they both extend to more than simply Jews.  God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and people, and at the consummation of our Lord’s kingdom He will judge every nation and every person ever born on this planet.  He has the right to judge every man and every woman because He is the Creator, but more than that, He judges in perfect righteousness because of His omniscience. 

This is what is assumed by verse 18 when He states, “I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.”  This verse follows a statement in verse 17, which describes what Jesus would later call “the tares” in the church – the pretenders. Jesus promised that all things that are hidden would eventually be brought into the light (Luke 8:17), and that includes those who “sanctify and purify themselves” (vs. 17) and spend their days in the church, while their hearts are far from God. Here He declares, they “shall come to an end together.”

John Oswalt rightly says, “Those who are depending on mechanical rituals and physical membership in the elect people are not the servants of God about whom Isaiah spoke so eloquently in chapters 41-46. They are nothing more than the rebels who were described with equal eloquence in chapter 1. It is those who gladly keep God’s covenant, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, who are God’s true servants.”

We do not do the judging – we do the worship (vs. 18, vs. 23).  God is the One who does the judging. God is able to judge all men (vs. 24) because He can rightly and righteously judge based on His omniscience.  Calvin says, “The Lord here testifies that he sees and observes their works, and that one day he will actually manifest that none can be concealed from his eyes.” Not only is He omniscient, but because He is perfectly holy, he will rightly judge according to his own character.  The warning is that “there is a cemetery beside the city (of Jerusalem)” (Moyter).  The hope of the gospel message (vs. 19-20) resides alongside the absolute reality of eternal punishment for those who reject this message (vs. 24).

Finally, God will finish the work He began.  Upon this great consummation He will reveal to us His glory (vs. 18) – a glory mediated now through the person of Jesus and His gospel of peace (John 1:14) will one day be manifested for all to see.

We read here that upon His return He will renew the heavens and the earth (vs. 22) – a completely new creation which He began inside you and will consummate physically throughout the entire earth when He comes back.

How do we know He will do this?  Well, as Peter Gentry says, “His name and his offspring are preserved because now God has joined Jews and non-Jews into one family. The new world involves two things: a new place and a new people. Verse 22 shows that both of these are certain because they are in God’s mind; he can actually see them before him.”  His promises are sealed by the trueness of His own character – He sees it, He knows it, therefore it’s a done deal.

Oswalt brilliantly sums up:

God has re-created his world, and sin can never stain it again. The tragedies of the old world, which called into question the very faithfulness of God, are gone. God had promised to Abraham a name and seed, children, but the sin of Israel and the rapacity of the world rulers made it seem as if even God could not keep his promises. Nonetheless, God is greater that human sin and human pride and is able to keep his promises. The old heavens and earth had been called to witness the justice of God in punishing his people (1:2); they had also been called to burst into song over the redemption of those people made possible by the work of the Servant (44:23; 49:13). Now the eternity of the new heavens and earth stands as a testimony to the eternity of God’s promises.

So Jesus is the light to which men are drawn or repulsed in blindness (John 3:19-21), and His gospel message is a glorious message that either blinds or softens.  As Matt Chandler says, “The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction…The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him” (The Explicit Gospel).

Paul tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  This is the message that is going out to all the nations. But this message, this glory, which is going out to all the nations right now, will be most fully revealed upon the consummation of the kingdom when Christ returns, for as John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

In conclusion, we ought to be encouraged and awed by God’s plan for us and by the scope of His plan for human history, for it far outstrips our own perspective.  Yet the role we as Christians play is enormously important. We are chosen people, priests to God, and are sent on a mission to proclaim the “excellencies” of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light – a light that will one day cover all creation (Num. 14) and transform us into the likeness of His beloved Son (2 Cor. 3:18).  Until that time, we have a “missionary obligation” as a church: “to create a magnetic community” (Motyer) that reflects that glory of Christ and turns people toward the glory of God, and shares a saving message of the hope of the gospel (Motyer), without which those who reject it will perish in eternal fire and torment (vs. 24).

This passage makes clear the linear nature of history to which all things are driving; the urgency of our mission could not be more apparent.

 

An Odd Story

Last night at our weekly Bible study I taught on Judges 17 and 18.  This has to have been the oddest series of chapters I’ve ever taught on! Yet, there are also profound lessons to be learned.  Below are my notes – they are pretty rough-draft, not polished etc. But they point to a few of the major lessons I learned from my study of these chapters.  I think its fair to say that this story (of Micah and the Danites) is very odd – but also rather funny.  There are satirical nuances laced throughout each chapter, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

PJW

Chapter 17 (Introduction) 

As we enter our study on chapter 17, we’re beginning to examine the final section of this book of the Bible (there are three major sections).  Chapters 17-21 are sometimes called “appendices” of the book because they add further context to the situation in Israel in the form of two additional stories.

Each of these stories is low on commentary by the narrator, but the writing style is extremely subtle, and sophistication marks the compilation of each composition.

Both of these stories are divided up into two chapters each, and they share many things in common with each other.  In fact, Daniel Block mentions 9 such commonalities, but one that I find most significant is his final one:

Both accounts are punctuated by variations of the refrain “in those days Israel had no king” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In the first the formula is inserted at critical junctures in the narrative and functions as an episode marker, in the second the formula frames the entire narrative, appearing at the beginning and the end. Twice, once in each section, the formula is augmented with, “everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25).

Up until this point God has raised up Judges who saved Israel from her slavery to other nations.  The cycle of sin and judgment and delivery has been a downward spiral with each Judge being less and less moral/upright in their behavior and leadership.

By the time we reach chapter 17 (which is not necessarily after Samson, but probably meant to coincide with the times of his judging Israel) the nation has hit rock bottom.  They are pretty much fully “Canaanized” and have become more like the people of the land than the men and women God wanted them to be.  This is almost surely a result of their failure to expel the native Canaanites from their home turf.

Commenting on this, Tom Schreiner explains the reason for needing to cleanse the land of the Canaanites:

The call to utterly destroy the peoples in Canaan is a shock to modern sensibilities, but despite the attempt of some scholars to say otherwise, it is quite clear that Israel believed that these were instructions from Yahweh Himself. The failure to carry out such instructions would imperil the fundamental tenet of Israel’s faith: Yahweh’s Lordship. Israel must cleanse the land from evil, for Canaan is to be a new Eden, a new garden of the Lord, free from evil.

By not expelling God’s enemies from the land, the Israelites have fallen under their influence and are no longer following the laws of Moses.

So here we are, so far from where Moses and Joshua had come both spiritually and physically.  The people are finally in the land, but far from being a light to the nations, they are hardly discernable from the people who originally inhabited the land.

Lastly, one of the things we ought to notice (that a few commentators brought up) is that there are two tribes in the spotlight here from 17-21: Dan and Benjamin.  Dan would one day lead the northern kingdom and Benjamin the southern.  Both were tribes with settlements that were in the heart of Canaan.  The significance of these things is that we’re seeing here in chapter 17 an example of the private/personal apostasy of one man’s home, and then later in 18 we see it with Dan. But its tempting to think “well I wonder if these are isolated instances…”  The author, I think, purposefully uses these examples (sic Dan/Benjamin) to show us the depth and thoroughness of the apostasy of the nation as a whole.  These are kitchen table issues (as we say in politics).  They range in scope and scale from the least to the greatest and the reach of this kind of lifestyle is vast.  We cannot leave these final chapters without understanding how far men will flee from God given their own devices:

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18) 

 

17:1-6 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” 3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Verse 6 helps us explain the bizarre story that precedes it, and the equally bizarre story that continues after it.  This man, who appears to have been a thief and one who disrespected his parents (there goes two of the 10 commandments right there), has the gall to make household idols and then appoint one of his sons to be a priest with an ephod and all the trappings (almost) of a feaux levitical ministry (there goes another one of the commandments).

First I want to offer a note of explanation about the curse and the blessing of Micah’s mother. There’s a good chance that the curse itself was enough to motivate Micah to return the silver, and the reason for this is that at the time a “curse” was seen as something that was alive and active – like a hidden warrior who could strike at any moment without you knowing it.  The blessing was thought of as the only way to undue the curse.  So we ought not to think of Micah’s mother as so elated at her son that she sought to bless him (though perhaps she was), but rather that this is the sort of stock response to undue the cursing she had uttered previously.

Now, secondly, note how syncretistic the situation is here.  This man Micah has made idols out of silver, which is clearly a pagan practice in violation of the law of God, yet he has also made an ephod and appointed one of his sons to be a sort of priest for the idols.  He’s doing all this in his own home, which is clearly a violation of how God wanted to be worshiped.  Much of the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy focus on the fact that God will be worshiped as He wants and where He wants.  But Micah is either showing significant ignorance, or rash arrogance.

So when we read in verse six that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, it begins to make sense – especially in light of the fact that “there was no king” at the time.  Not only was there no physical ruler that united all the tribes under one lawful banner, but the people who occupied the land of Canaan no longer regarded the Lord as their King.

To this end, I thought it right to quote Baptist Scholar Peter Gentry who said the following while remarking on the nature of the Davidic Covenant and the order of God’s bringing the Ark into Jerusalem prior to making the everlasting covenant with David:

The return of the ark in 2 Samuel 6 indicates that Yahweh is returning to live in the midst of his people as king. The fact that 2 Samuel 6 precedes 7 shows that only when the kingship of Yahweh among his people is firmly established can the issue of kingship in Israel be discussed. A sanctuary for the Lord comes before the monarchy

At this point in Israel, everyone is doing what they think is right.  They are following what they believe to be the right way to live their lives.  However, those guidelines are all subjective to however each man feels or thinks (as Dale R. Davis said, the entire law code seems subject to each man’s “glands”!).

17:7-13 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8 And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

We don’t know what the name of the “young man” was in verses 8-13, but he was a Levite, and he seems to have been on a journey when he came to Micah’s house.  We don’t know why or where he was going, but once he comes up on the house of Micah his entire life changes.

Block hilariously describes this young Levite as he’s dealing with the fact that we really don’t know a lot about him:

He is a “laid back” professional minister following the path of least resistance and waiting for an opportunity to open up. And he just happens to arrive at the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim. But what a stroke of luck this turns out to be, for both him and Micah!

Micah, who we’ve seen is a syncretistic idolatrous sinner, sees this man, this Levite, as from God. Why? Because to date he has been making due with one of his sons as priest, but no longer.  Now he can have the real deal – a Levite!

We know that there’s a lot more to being a Levitical priest than simply being a descendent of Levi – there are ceremonial cleansing, and learning and all manner of rules that one must go through.  But not so here, Micah doesn’t care about all that.  And why should he?  In his lifetime, and in the generations that have come before him, I’m betting he never saw the priesthood properly modeled, not only that, but a true encounter with God hadn’t happened in quite some time.

When verse six says that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, it reminds us that there was no fear nor any love for God in the eyes of Israelites.

What this means is that men like Micah would have been more superstitious than religious.  Micah thinks that simply having a Levite as his own personal idol-priest will make him to “prosper” (as Block says, “the Levite is nothing more than a good luck charm”)!

We get a chuckle at this because is sounds absurd, but we see the same thing in our churches today.  In fact, I was just reading Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ and he talks about how in Texas where he is a pastor, there are record church attendees.  It’s a way of life to go to church on Sunday morning.  Having spiritual transformation, obedience and love for God are not necessarily part of the equation.  It’s motivated partly by a way of life, partly based on some superstition (enabled by the prosperity gospel preachers), and partly on feel-good self-help centered gathering that give attendees a helpful trinket of useful to-dos for the week ahead.

So as ridiculous as Micah’s situation looks to us, let’s not forget that many of us have grown up in churches, or know those who still go to churches, that don’t preach the full gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ignorance of the Word breeds superstition, prosperity gospel, and all manner of evil.

Chapter 18

18:1 In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. 

The more clear way of putting this is that there was no inheritance “taken”, perhaps.  They were given an inheritance (as we read of in Joshua 19:40-48) but they were beaten back by the Amorites and could not repel them – see chapter 1.

So instead of going before God and asking for help, they have basically been stuck in these two cities of Zorah and Eshtaol (likely their basecamps from which they launch their initial Canaanite expedition) for several generations, having failed to take the land the Lord gave them.

We might note that this entire chapter is somewhat of a parody of the earlier conquest accounts.  As Block says, “this chapter is deliberately composed as a parody on the earlier spy mission traditions. Nothing in this chapter is normal; people’s values and behavior are all topsy-turvy.”

18:2-6 So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 3 When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5 And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” 6 And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

So like in former generations, the Danites send out “spies” to scout out the land.  The “able men” as the ESV translates it, could also be “noble men” or “noble/mighty warrior” to which Bock comically states, “the present designation would have suited Joshua and Caleb, the two trustworthy members of the original team of twelve Israelite scouts (Num. 14:5-10), but here it is ironic. The Danites may be heroic figures physically and militarily, but they are spiritual pygmies.”  Ha!

It is interesting that these Danites recognize the voice of the Levite, and though we don’t know how (the author doesn’t explain it) they recognize his voice, they begin to immediately interrogate him.  Interestingly, his responses are reflective of his totally self-serving agenda.  He talks about how good Micah has been to him (vs.4) and how Micah has paid him good money to be there (vs.4).

The next thing that happens here is that the Danites seem thrilled to have run across someone who can tell them their fortune – what luck!  As Block says, “Just as Micah’s cult has lacked credibility and authority  until the Levite arrived, so the mission of these scouts lacks authority without an oracular authentication from the deity.”  But now they have a genuine Levite before them – heck, he’s even got an Ephod!

It’s just such an odd situation – it’s as if you’re watching a Monty Python movie or something.  I can picture these guys getting made fun of so badly.  Everything is so whacko…

Then, to add to the oddities, the response of the Levite is pretty much instantaneous…its almost like he just glibly answered, “Ya, looks like you’re blessed…move along.”  Did he even bother to consult with God?  Who even knows!? In fact, its not as if he answers them clearly that God will bless the mission!  But it doesn’t seem to bother the Danites – they take it the way they want to take it and the Levite sends them on their way…and like the dolts that they are, they proceed in the utmost happiness and tranquility of mind. 

18:7-10 Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. 8 And when they came to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” 9 They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. 10 As soon as you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”

Here are more parallels between the original mission to spy out the land of Canaan, and this comical less-than-holy mission of the Danites.  They spy things out, they like what they see, they come back, they report on the situation, and the response seems favorable.  They have scouted a land that is safe, has natural defenses of mountains and naturally occurring ramparts to safeguard the city (see Block), and is far from the Amorites and the Sidonians who wouldn’t want to bother with anything inland anyway.  They have plentiful resources, and they live a sort of idyllic life – a life that the Danites see themselves enjoying soon!

The scouts are so excited, that they accuse their fellow brothers of stalling and even through in that the land has been given to them by Yahweh – no doubt encouraged by their encounter with the fake priest.

18:11-14 So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 And they passed on from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

One of the interesting things that we find in verse 11 is that there’s only 600 men that decide to go with the 5 who spied out the land.  It seems like a small amount given the fact that the whole tribe of Dan had commissioned them. This is reflected in the fact also that in verse 11 the author uses the word “clan” instead of tribe (even though the ESV uses the same word here, the Hebrew is more limited).  So I think that the sense of the text is that many people from the tribe didn’t decide to go – and as Block notes, the rest of them pretty much disappeared from the pages of history.

Once the group gets the Micah’s house, they are definitely going to stop and check in with their lucky Levite.  After all, he offered great advice the first time, so why not stop again – heck, why not stop and offer the man a better job?  After all, he would probably take it…

18:15 And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. 16 Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18 And when these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?”

18:20 And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.

I think its fairly obvious that “the priest’s heart was glad” signals the ambition of this Levite.  He thinks mostly about himself first, and doesn’t seem to give a whit about loyalty to Micah – much less about the blatant apostasy he’s been committing.

This reminds me of the simony that marked the church in the medieval ages.  Becoming a church minister became a normal career to consider like that of a farmer or dairyman, rather than a calling from the Lord.

Lastly, the whole situation here is just odd, as I’ve mentioned before.  The household shrine is now stolen from Micah, who ironically had stolen his mom’s silver which was then used to pay for this shrine by his mom in the first place…not only this, but they have the arrogance to think that wherever they setup shop the Lord will be with them.  “We can plop down a shrine anywhere and be all set!”

18:21 So they turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and the goods in front of them. 22 When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. 23 And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24 And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’” 25 And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26 Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.

If ever you wondered about whether the Danites might have been righteous men, this passage should stop your wondering.  They have stolen what was not theirs, and subsequently stolen into the night.

In his anger and frustration, Micah chases after the band of miscreants and upon catching up to them tries to stop them from stealing all that he has.  You would think, at this point in the story that the Levite might interject himself – that perhaps he would feel a sense of remorse for what he had done.  But that isn’t the case.  Instead, he keeps silent.  He has made his bed and will lie in it.

When Micah realizes that to argue further with the men would result in his termination (“you lose your life and the lives of your household”), he desists and returns home.

Is this the way righteous men act?  Is this the way the promised land was taken?  Is this the way those who fear God and serve Him behave?  With no consideration for others…this is yet another indication of the self-centered idolatry that permeated all of Israel from the least to the greatest, each man followed in his path according to his own ideas and counsel.

Today there are many who call themselves Christians – even claiming to be part of the evangelical church.  But they are nothing short of Danite robbers.  They have no honor, nor do they live according to the word of the Lord.  They are pretenders who are self-centered glory seekers.  They are, in the end, mercenaries.  They are mercenaries because they serve themselves and not God.

18:27 But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. 28 And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29 And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

Laish means “lion” but the Danites named it after Dan, their ancestor, one of the sons of Jacob (Israel).

It is not until verse 30 of this final chapter in the two-chapter story that we really understand the full weight and depth of the Canaanization of the land.  And this is because we finally learn in verse 30 that the Levite who has whored himself out to idols and to the highest bidder is a direct descendent of Moses himself.  His is the son of Gershom (“son” in this case likely means “descendent” but if it does not, then there is good reason to believe this story took place earlier in the Judges narrative than later).

The intent of the story is to leave you feeling nauseous.  You want to throw up because if you’ve been reading the accounts of Scripture up until this point and have any idea as the manifold destiny of this people you can’t help but feel like they have unwittingly charged forward to their lowest point since slavery in Egypt.  Instead of slavery to Pharaoh they are slaves to idols.  They have broken free from service to God and have whored after other gods who are not Gods at all.  They are foolish, arrogant and headed for ruin.

So might you and I be had it not been had it not been for the grace of God.  You and I are like these Danites.  We spy out land that isn’t given to us.  We are always looking for greener pastures – never content to conquer what has been given until our hands by the Lord.  We steal, pilfer, and snub our noses at God and rebel against all that He has intended us to be.  If Christ hadn’t rescued us from ourselves we would be lost.  Forgotten in the pages of history.  Missing in some dungeon in Hell’s dark cavernous landscape never to be heard from again except by those who share our fate.

Praise God that He rescued us.

Most Influential Books Part 3

This is part three (and final post) in a series on the most influential books I’ve read.  I’ve also listed some “runners up” at the end.  To be honest, there are so many good books that I read each year, that a list like this is necessarily subjective, and its always growing. Not that some books don’t have obvious merit for all people, but I also recognize that some may have had impacted me more than they will you. Not only that – but there’s a good chance that next week I could read something that blows me away and it won’t be on the list. Just this past week I read two books that were pretty darn good – Matt Chandler’s ‘Explicit Gospel’ and Michael Reeves ‘Delighting in the Trinity’. Nevertheless, I have to draw the line somewhere!

I hope you enjoy this third installment!

11. The Power of Positive Thinking – No one will accuse Norman Vincent Peale of being a theological genius, in fact much of his teaching undermines the basic Christian message that we are all sinner who need a Savior extra nos, but early in my theological awakening I didn’t seem to realize much of his incorrect teaching. So despite a deeply flawed message, God graciously used this book to help me learn two important things: 1. I need to be praying for others regularly and 2. The importance of Scripture memorization. This book literally pointed me back to the Bible’s importance for my physical and emotional well-being. I was suffering a great deal of anxiety and my doctor had prescribed anti-anxiety medication. My stomach was constantly in knots and I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with the problem…medication seemed like the only option. But when I fervently began to memorize scripture and pray for others and bigger items besides just my own desires, I began to slowly be cured of my anxiety. I stopped taking medication. I was a free man. And its not a big mystery as to why – this wasn’t magic, it was simply allowing the Word of the Lord and the power of the Spirit to become my top priority and renew my mind. The Bible can do that like no other book.  In addition, praying for others got my mind off my own troubles and focused on loving others (even if I didn’t know them). This book helped point me in the right direction. Would I recommend it now?  No way – but its prescriptions, most certainly. In fact if you want to learn more about Peale’s false teaching you can read Tim Challies’ write up on his bio: http://www.challies.com/articles/the-false-teachers-norman-vincent-peale

12. The Loveliness of Christ – During some of my darkest, most stressed-filled days this book has been a balm of healing. I have quoted it, memorized portions of it, I’ve taken it to the hospital multiple times, and it’s been a great tool of perspective in the midst of suffering. It is a small book, but a powerful book. Samuel Rutherford is probably one of the most influential puritan writers of all time, and his influence on me has been significant. If you were to add any one book to your collection as a result of this blog post, this would be the one I’d start with. The book is comprised of probably 100 (small) pages of quotes which are simply excerpts from his letters to other believers. In another way, if you are a Christian, Rutherford’s caring love for others around him ought to be a model for you as you seek to live in a way that is caring and reflective of the Savior.

13. Kingdom Through Covenant – Perhaps no book to date has had such an outsized impact on the way I understand the way in which the Biblical story is put together and unfolds throughout history. It made me feel good to be a Baptist (truth be told), and assured me that I wasn’t giving up any intellectual ground on that score (perhaps an intramural joke there)! It also explained for me a lot of the flow of events in the Old Testament and how they culminate in Christ – especially O.T. promises. This was an important book in my deeper theological development, and for those who have been Christians for a while and have always wondered at the dispensational and covenant approaches (i.e. you are/were head-scratchers like me), then this will prove very fruitful ground for you. You’ll have to ignore all the Hebrew and Greek text that the authors slip in from time to time. They are the scholars in that field and they do that to show their work (like you did in long division in 8th grade). My best advice is to do your best to read around it and not let it bog you down…its well worth it!

14. The Lord of the Rings – Growing up I was somewhat of a stranger to Tolkein’s work. I was aware of The Hobbit (I had seen a play, and perhaps had it read to me by my mom), but had no idea there was more to the story. Finally, while I was in college, my brother Alex introduced me to the story when Peter Jackson’s silver screen rendition of The Fellowship of the Ring came out in the theaters. I went as a skeptic, and left as a man head over heals in love. Later, in the weeks and days leading up to my wedding, I read The Lord of the Rings almost nonstop. I carried it with me everywhere, and my bookmark was our wedding vows which I was endeavoring to memorize. I still read this book whenever I can, and appreciate its depth and literary value more with each passing year.

15. Henry Drummond – This is not a book, it is an author (is that cheating?). During the 2007/2008 Romney Presidential Campaign I lived on the short sayings of Drummond. He gave me hope that science and Christian intellectualism could co-exist, and helped add perspective to my busy life away from home when I was sad and often feeling lost. Drummond lived and wrote in the mid-nineteenth century and devoted a substantial amount of time to standing up to the popular new scientific theory of evolution. He had a sharp logical mind, and I think just about anything he wrote is really fascinating.
Runners up – books that have taught me at least one major concept that has stuck with me:

God’s Greater Glory – In this sequel to Bruce Ware’s ‘God’s Lesser Glory’, Dr. Ware explains God’s “meticulous sovereignty”, a concept that has really been important in my own studies over the past year or so.  His Biblical and logical arguments are beyond arguing with from what I can tell of all I’ve read thus far. If you’ve read Chosen by God, and don’t want to blow your brains out with a puritan reading (i.e. Freedom of the Will) on the topic of God’s sovereignty, then this is the next step in your educational endeavors.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – This is a recent purchase and read and makes the list for how much it makes me laugh. It is easily one of the most enjoyable and hilarious books I have ever read! What I love the most about it is its trueness to the story as well as to Shakespeare’s famous writing style (the entire book is written in iambic pentameter).  If you love star wars and literature, this is the perfect combination – but be warned, this book is not to be read in any location where laughing out loud might be frowned upon!

The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Jerry Bridges explains “dependent responsibility”, which is the concept that men and women are both responsible for their actions and obedience to God’s laws, while at the same time dependent upon God for help to obey.  The tension here is worked out beautifully, and helpfully.

Give them Grace – Elyse Fitzpatrick examines parenting using the gospel. It is probably the best parenting book I’ve ever read, and it is easily the most challenging. There aren’t a lot of “to-do’s” from here, but there is a significant philosophical boost and reexamination that will likely take place.  If you don’t yet understand how the gospel fits into everyday life, this is one you must read.

A Case for Amillenialism – Kim Riddlebarger opened my mind to eschatology and taught me to enjoy it and not be scared to study it. I don’t think he’s the best writer, it seems a little clunky at times.  But he is really helpful in this area, and I find myself going back to his book and his blog again and again for wisdom.

The Trinity – Bruce ware explains divine roles better than anyone I had ever read. Especially subordination in role and co-equality in ontology.  If you’ve never understood the Trinity, this book will be huge for you.

The Freedom of the Will – Edwards proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God initiates salvation.  Extremely difficult read though, so don’t read this unless you’re ready to pop a few Advil along with it! In fact, I would recommend not reading this unless you are an advanced scholar whose already read some other puritan works (or even other works by Edwards). But if you are pretty advanced in your reading and understanding of doctrine, then make sure to put this on your bucket list.

Bonhoeffer – This almost made my original list. I read it at a time when I was going through much pain and angst and it helped distract me and keep my mind fresh. It was a very very good book and a very interesting biography.  It will not leave you satisfied though, I warn you there…but I think that is for the best (though I know some who disagree).

The Pleasures of God – Piper explained how it was the will and pleasure of the Father to crush the Son. This concept just blew me away.  He goes into many other “pleasures” of God in this series, and they are worth reading or listening (there is a sermon series) through.

Holiness – J.C. Ryle explained to me that in order to enjoy heaven later I need to pursue holiness now. That concept is meted out over some three or four hundred pages. It was a very impactful book and showed example after example of how men and women from the Bible lived their lives in pursuit of holiness all pointing forward to the One who lived a perfect life of holiness so that when we fail that goodness, that righteousness, is there for us and keeps us in right standing before God.

The 5000 Year Leap – I read this in 2009 (I think) and it was one of the first books to awaken me to how far off course our country has gotten. It’s a great foundational book for anyone trying to figure out for themselves “what’s really wrong with this country?”

The Children of Hurin – This is one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s posthumously published works and probably the greatest thriller/tragedy I’ve ever read hands down. It was published with the help of his son Christopher and if you get the right edition it will have sketches by Alan Lee, which are really good. Just a fantastic piece of fiction.

Knowing God – This classic work of J.I. Packer helped shape a lot of my thinking on the nature of the Christian life.  Perhaps chapter 19 (on adoption) was most influential because it stuck with me the best. You can hardly go wrong by reading this book multiple times until its truth seeps in and helps you better grasp your life’s purpose, and more of who and what God is all about.

Battling Unbelief – John Piper works out some important ideas here in a book that is basically a boiled down version of ‘Future Grace’ and the idea behind the book is that most of our anxiety and sinfulness (and many issues in our lives) derive from a Christian’s failure to have faith in God.  In other words, we don’t believe Him and don’t trust in His promises etc. It’s astonishing how many times Piper is able to get to the root of things in this small book. I’d recommend this one to anyone who wants to get to the root of the problems facing them each day.

The Story of Christianity Volume I – I read this 500 (or so) page history book last year as part of a seminary class on the history of the Christian church. It was so easy to read and so good that I picked up its sequel (volume II) for reading on my own. What I liked so much about this book was Justo Gonzalez’ ability to simplify complex political and religious issues, and help the reader traverse hundreds of years of history without missing the small things, yet without losing site of the bigger picture.  It’s easily the best volume on the church I’ve read thus far (at least for a beginner like me).

Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God – This book is a compilation of essays written about the holiness of God by noted scholars and theologians.  The essay by Sinclair Ferguson entitled ‘Hallowed be Your Name: The Holiness of the Father’ left a lasting impression on me and I refer back to it again and again.

Conclusion: One of the things that is inevitably left off a list like this are the dozens of commentaries and study aides I read each year as I teach through books of the Bible. Men like Carson, Calvin, Ridderbos, Vos, Stott, Augustine, Boice, MacArthur, Morris, Kostenberger, Frame, Schreiner, Grudem, Beale and others who didn’t get mentioned in my book list have been equally influential on my thinking and understanding of life, death, Scripture, and many other topics under the sun. There have also been men and women whose books I have read and have been helpful or enjoyable, but if I listed them all it would take way too long!

But what I have learned is that reading changes lives, it does this in the way that Bruce Ware describes the study of theology: first it changes your mind, then your heart, then the actions of your hands, which in turn affects your habitat.  But it starts in the minds and hearts of those who seek wisdom. You’ll notice that many of my books are theological or Biblically based, and that isn’t because I haven’t read a slew of Gresham or my fair share of Star Wars, and it isn’t because I haven’t read the classic works from Dickens and Dumas (becauseI have), but its because the books that have shaped me, influenced me, and changed me for the better have largely been books whose topic is heavenly, and whose aim is joy in life and after it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the postings – feel free to comment with any questions!

A Light to the World

In Matthew’s gospel, we are given an extended sermon by the Lord Jesus that has (for centuries I believe) been called ‘The Sermon on the Mount.’  A few years ago a friend of mine challenged me to try and memorize the whole thing – all three chapters!  

Well, I’m happy to say that I got chapter five done, after that…well, I gave up sad to say.  But one of the many things that stuck with me was Jesus’ instructions – his command – to be a light to the world.  To show the world what it is to be rightly related to Him, and to have the blessings of a relationship with Him.

This is what He said:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

God has always wanted His chosen people to show the world what it means to have a relationship with Him.  The same was also true in the Old Testament of Israel.

In Peter Gentry’s exposition of the Davidic Covenant, He refers back to the purposes of the covenant at Sinai and the parallels to Christ’s sermon are strong.  Here’s what Gentry has to say:

The divine purpose in the covenant established between God and Israel at Sinai is unfolded in Exodus 19:3-6. As a kingdom of priests, they will function to make the ways of God known to the nations and also to bring the nations into a right relationship with God. Since Israel is located geographically on the one and only communications link between the great superpowers of the ancient world (I believe Gentry means Babylon and Egypt), in this position she will show the nations how to have a right relationship to God, how to treat each other in a truly human way, and how to be faithful stewards of the earth’s resources. This is the meaning of Israel’s sonship.

This weekend, as you interact with friends and family and strangers over dinner, at the bus stop, at the cell phone store or wherever, I hope you remember that if you are a Christian you are a son or daughter of God. Others who know this ought to see in you something different – something of a changed heart accompanied by changed words and behavior.  Kindness motivated by and rooted in love is the light Christ has planted within every Christian – this weekend I pray you yield to its burning within.  Confess your sins; be reconciled to your fellow man and to God. And show love to others in joyful gratitude for all that you have in this life and the next.

John 15:12-15 Study Notes – Friendship with God

I began the lesson in Sunday School this morning the way I’ll begin this blog post – with a video from Shane and Shane and John Piper on suffering.  Our passage today deals with the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, His surpassing greatness, and His call to follow in His footsteps.

15:12-14 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Disciples Obey because they love Jesus

Before getting too far into this passage we need to note that the entire sentence here is couched in terms of friendship.  Love for Christ and His commands will characterize those whom He calls friends. Christ makes enemies into friends through blood and resurrection.  We’ll get into that more later, but for now its crucial to understand the terms of Christ’s discussion.

Our motivation is to love others because we love Jesus and are His friends. As He says clearly here, “love one another as I have loved you” and “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  It is not only our gratitude for His saving work that ought to drive us to love others, but it is the fact that He has made us to love others.  We love Him because we are loyal friends.

This is part of being a new creation in the new covenant, as it was when God first made Adam. Listen to how Michael Horton describes it:

We were not just created and then given a covenant; we were created as covenant creatures…(because) God’s very existence is covenantal: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in unceasing devotion to each other, reaching outward beyond the Godhead to create a community of creatures serving as a giant analogy of the Godhead’s relationship.

God Himself within Himself in the trinity is loyal and loves as a loyal friend loves.  Peter Gentry says, “Within the being of the one God we can speak of a Father who initiates and a devoted, loyal, and obedient Son whose relations in the fellowship of a Holy Spirit are covenantal, i.e. always characterized by hesed and emet – faithful love and loyal obedience.”

We are made to be like this.  And as I studied these verses I was struck by the cohesiveness of Scripture. God is immutable – He never changes. When we look at God and His laws and actions in the Old Testament, for example, these are motivated and grounded in love with the express purpose of driving His people toward grateful love for His provision, and a loyal servant heart of love for one another.

The major difference in the New Testament is not God’s desire for us to love, but how far He goes to help us love. He gives us His Son as an example, He wipes away the guilt of sin, cleanses our conscience, and then fills us with the very power of God – the Holy Spirit. Commenting on the book of Leviticus and its canonical relation to the NT Tom Schreiner says:

According to the NT, the holy one is Jesus Christ. Believers are holy and blameless because they belong to him. They have been sanctified in Jesus Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11). Believers have also received the Holy Spirit, who empowers them as the new and true Israel to live holy lives, to live in a way that is pleasing to God. The holy conduct of believers (1 Pet. 1:15-16) marks them as God’s people, showing that they are truly in the circle of the redeemed.

The OT Israelites were supposed to be driven to live holy lives and love others because God had rescued them from Egypt and was dwelling among them.  God was a friend to their leader Moses.  Scripture says this, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Ex. 33:11).

Jesus has rescued us from the taskmasters of sin and the slavery that bound us for eternal death, and He calls on us to respond in heartfelt grateful love. But even more than that, He calls us to be His friends – true friends are loyal and follow the wishes of their dearest friends.

I could go on and on about this – but the old Hymn ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ says it best:

Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Disciples Love Jesus Because He First Loved Them

This leads to the second thought, which I have covered elsewhere so won’t spend a lot of time on it here, but it needs to be noted that we love because He first loved us.  John says as much in his first letter:

We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)

Notice in this 1 John passage how closely intertwined love for others is with the love Jesus first gave us. This sums up the Christian life and Christ’s commands, does it not?

This week I was reading Frances Schaeffer’s book ‘True Spirituality’ and came across a portion of the (very long) preface where he was giving some biographical thoughts and told about how several years after becoming a Christian and serving in the pastorate, he was provoked to a season of serious spiritual crisis. The reason?  Because he looked around Christendom and didn’t see Christianity acting as though they were really effected by what they believed.  That is to say, he saw no love, no gentleness, and especially no joy. How could he be a Christian and associate himself with a group of people who were joyless and loveless?

Ultimately the answer came, in my own estimation, in the form of a call to a wider and more impacting ministry to those who were tired of Christianity devoid of Christ’s love and joy.  He began to understand afresh for himself why it is that we have joy.  It is the love of Christ.

So many of us are stoic Christians unrecognizable to anyone who had seen the risen Christ – far from Peter and Paul and Timothy’s joy are we. Men today are reserved about spirituality and will never express emotion – much less joy in the Lord!  Women are catty, judgmental and coy about serving in the joy of their Master. Far from submissive in love to others, we tower above them in scoffs of disapproval expressed verbally, or simply with an eye roll.

If this describes you then I would admonish you to seek the face of the Lord immediately. Is this love as Christ loved? We have been called to joy and obedience and all of this is rooted in love – which He first initiated in our lives. F.F. Bruce says, “The measure of the love enjoined by Jesus – ‘as I have loved you’ – is beyond measuring.”  Ya…that’s about right, is it not?  Measureless love…don’t stop forgiving, don’t stop loving others.  That’s the sum of the parts.

Christ didn’t stoop so far so you could ring in each Sunday with a dour face and a stoicism that would frighten even Stalin himself!  If you are truly a Christian, you ought to contemplate the love He has for you – that love that He first initiated in your life.  Be rejuvenated once again by the remembrance of who you were when He found you – and what He has done for you.

Disciples Are Called to Radical Obedience and Love

…Christ’s Supremacy

Before we can go much further, we must once again bear in mind that all of this teaching from Jesus comes in the context of the farewell address (cf. Ridderbos).  When Jesus calls us to obedience He calls us to follow His example, and that example is couched in the work of sacrifice – namely the ultimate sacrifice of laying down one’s life for one’s friend (Ridderbos aptly notes that enemies aren’t addressed here).

This laying down of one’s life is something we’ve heard many times before – especially if you have grown up in the church you will have likely heard this verse before.  Jesus laying down His life for us is at the epicenter of the Christian story, and all other narratives (yours and mine) ripple out from its center. In short, we are here because He died for us. This isn’t Kiwanis, this isn’t Rotary or the fitness club. The uniting factor of our gathering on a Sunday or Thursday or any other day of the week is the thread of redemption: His death has united us all. We drink coffee, read our bibles, talk and fellowship because this man died 2000 years ago.

Before we look at what His example means for our obedience, we have to look at the example itself.  We have to realize the utter supremacy of Christ.  We talk about sacrifice, He actually sacrificed EVERYTHING…for you.

Can you feel the weight of this now, you sinner? The more you have the more difficult it is to give up.  Ultimate power is very very hard to give up.  You don’t just see a United States Congressman retiring without extenuating circumstances – and when they do, it’s a big deal. Big big deal.

But our sacrifices of power or money or even our lives are not really worthy to compare with Jesus’ sacrifice.  James Boice says this is the case for a few reasons.  First, because Jesus didn’t have to die – He wasn’t mortal, so to speak.  Second, Jesus knew he was going to die – from before time began He knew. Thirdly, Jesus died spiritually whereas we only die physically. Boice explains:

Spiritual death is the separation of the soul and spirit from God. This is what makes hell such a terrible place; those in hell are separated from God. And because God is the source of all good – all joy, peace, love, and other blessings – hell is just the opposite. It is misery, unrest hate, and so on. This is the separate that Jesus endured for us. He died physically also that is true. His death was particularly painful and degrading. But the truly horrible aspect of his death was his separation from the Father when he was made sin for us and bore sin’s punishment.

When we think of the supreme value of Christ’s death, its helpful to remember who we are in comparison to who He is. This contrast is worked out by Paul in a powerful way:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8, ESV)

That is why Boice is right to point out that while Christ couches all of this in terms of His friendship with us – what an awesome thought that is on its own – we also must understand that the friendship is one made from an enemy.  Jesus has turned enemies into friends by dying for them on the cross.  As Boice says:

Here especially do we see the wonderful love of the Lord Jesus Christ. So long as we think of ourselves as being somewhat good in God’s sight we do not see it. But when we see ourselves as God sees us, then the surpassing worth of the love of Christ becomes evident.

Jesus who is King of the universe set it all aside for people who hated Him. He suffered humiliation and death – a painful horrific death. All with love in His heart.

These words come to us just hours prior to that event – this is a window into the mind and heart of the Being who laid His life down for you. What a sacrifice.  What a cost.  Ponder that love first…and then the rest of this will perhaps make more sense.  

…An Example is an Example Because it is Followed

Now, can you imagine the (much smaller yet significant) impact the laying down of a life has for others? As I mentioned before, the supremacy of Christ’s sacrifice cannot be matched – it’s simply untouchable. But there is a sense in which Christ is here calling us to martyrdom.

We are to have this mind of Christ (Phil. 2:4) and see Him as our example. Again, I want to handle this gingerly, and not read something into the text that isn’t there, but I but I don’t think its wrong to hear Jesus’ words as a call to martyrdom if that is what following Christ entails. Most of all I see this in the passages overarching call to ultimate obedience.  So, if you’re wondering at what point you would ever pull the ripcord on obeying Christ (how much persecution can you take etc.), Jesus is giving you the answer – you never pull the ripcord. You die. Remember – He is your friend. True love would die for a friend – and certainly true love would go above and beyond the “call of duty” for a friend, would it not?

Now, in America we have virtually no life-threatening persecution, and therefore virtually zero first hand understanding of martyrdom – praise God! But as Voddie Baucham recently noted, worldwide persecution of Christianity has grown so intense in recent decades that in the past 100 years more Christians have died than in the previous 1900 or so years combined. Combined. That is simply an astounding number and it means that we simply can’t brush this teaching aside.  What may take us mere moments to glance over in John’s 15th chapter is one of the most precious and important truths to tens of millions of Christians today.

It Means Something

We have to assume that when Christ calls us to come and die, when He commands us to take up our cross, when He promises persecution, that He does so because it is driving at an end that is so glorious that it will make everything worthwhile.

That is why Jesus can talk the way He could here just hours before He was about to be tortured and beaten to a bloody mess.  When He suffered it MEANT something.  Likewise, when you suffer for Christ – when life is horrific – you need to know that He suffered first and that He did so as an example – your suffering isn’t wasted.  It isn’t meaningless.  That’s what John Piper was talking about before in that video I posted online.  That’s what separates Jesus from any other sick lunatic leading a cult following.  Those people are genuinely crazy and their suffering is wasted.  Your suffering is building for you an eternal weight of glory.

Jesus didn’t go to the cross as a defeated and hopeless man. He climbed that hill knowing that He was ushering in a victory that would be tasted by millions of souls who put their trust in Him.

Daily Death

Now, how is this done?  How do we look at this and start – where do we start?  I think that what makes this kind of love possible is completely supernatural.  It isn’t powered by you; its powered by God.  But you will be given power to obey.

What does it look like?  It looks like selflessness.

The beginning of following Christ is a daily death to self. This is one of several things Schaeffer came to realize in the pursuit of true discipleship.  When you die to your own desires you necessarily will be more equipped to physically die for others/for the Lord if and when that time comes.

We see this attitude expressed by Paul this way:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

We must – must – look around our church and our neighborhood and our family and be willing to consider them more important than ourselves.

More than this, we must recognize the value of every soul to the degree that those “unlovable” people who are placed in our lives are also worthy of this radical love.  They are also to be targets of our love knowing that the cost could be embarrassment, social death, financial death or simply emotional hurt.

This is not Optional…but there is Help and Hope

Lastly, I want to exhort you to examine these verses closely to show me where these principles are conditional or applicable to a certain select few – perhaps those in full time ministry.  (I think you see where I’m going here…)

When we read these verses they are undoubtedly a challenge. Not only because they call us to love those who are unlovable, but because there are people in our church and our family who we simply don’t “gel with.”  You know who I’m talking about…this is why clicks develop, isn’t it? And its natural to be around people who are more like you or who you enjoy – nothing terribly wrong with that.  But the question must be asked: how are you loving (or not loving, more accurately) those who rub you wrong at work, here at church or in your family.  Do you ignore them? Do you slander them behind their backs?  I am preaching to myself.  We all struggle with some aspect of this.

But unlike the Israelites whom I mentioned earlier on, we have the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. This simply can’t be overemphasized. If Jesus stooped to love you, as vile and wretched as you are (and you are, if you’re anything like me), then surely you cannot simply tolerate but love those who God has placed in your life.  No excuses. Ask for God’s help – you can’t do this in the flesh.

Lastly, evil in the world does not have the last word.  For those who obey by the power of God and lay down their lives and love radically as Christ loved, there will be reward. See what John says later in Revelation 20:

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)

Those martyrs aren’t in heaven wandering around with no head.  They aren’t missing anything now, because they are reigning with Christ. Right. Now. When you die Christian, you will go immediately to be with our Lord Jesus who is reigning right now at the right hand of God. And you will reign with Him.  You will join in that reign the moment you die – that 1000 years began when our Lord’s reign began – upon His ascension into heaven.

This is our hope – you cannot kill a Christian, for a Christian goes from suffering to reigning within an instant.  The moment evil thinks it has triumphed, the moment Satan finds happiness in the death of a Christian, that Christian is translated into glory and power in the reign of Jesus Christ. What a slippery situation for the enemy! There is no winning.  And for us…there is no losing. Let’s live life with this reality in mind.

15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

Bruce rightly says, “The point (of verse 15) is rather that now, n the upper room, he is admitting them to the inner motives of his ministry and impending sacrifice.”  It isn’t as though “Jesus had formerly called his disciples ‘slaves’, or treated them as such.”  The emphasis is rather on His gracious self-disclosure/self-revelation.

He is saying, in essence, “as my friend I am letting you into the plans of the Father.”  He is drawing us into relationship and sharing His plans for redemption with us.

What an unspeakable privilege.

We are, of course, still the slaves of Christ.  That hasn’t changed. But as Ridderbos says:

Not that their subordinate position as pupils in relation to their teacher and servants in relation to their master was abolished by this (cf. 13:13, 16); rather, their servant status solely under the commandment has no made way for their initiation into the purposes of their Lord – into the secret of his own coming and mission in the world, which Jesus refers to as ‘all that I have heard from my Father’ (cf. 5:19, 20, 30; 3:11, 32: 8:26, 40).

I just don’t think I can add more to that, except that to ponder this verse is to ponder the depths of Christ’s love for us (see vs. 9).  When you love someone – truly – you include them in on your thinking.  You bring them into your plans, and you make them a part of your life. That is what Jesus is doing here. He has graciously condescended to include us in on the eternal plan of redemption. The mysteries hidden for long ages have been revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate.

That He stoops to such self-disclosure is gracious because it goes far beyond the deserts of His flock. These evil sheep have been made pure by the blood of the Lamb sent from heaven. And redemption is only the beginning, isn’t it? What an awesome and unspeakably glorious truth that He has come and shown us His plan.  What we can comprehend of His magnificence we take in as eager spiritual children. It changes us, this glory of His, this plan of His, this shared knowledge. It is like a beam of light emanating from the sun. It not only lights our ways, it warms us to the core. We are changed.  And we are His. Praise God! We are His.